A couple of days ago, we took a look at some numbers from the folks at Pro Football Focus that talked about where the Vikings were allowing pressure to come from on plays where their quarterback was pressured. . .specifically, how much of the blame fell on the offensive line, how much on the skill position players that were asked to block, and how much on the quarterbacks themselves.
Well, as part of their look at pass protection in the NFL in 2010, Pro Football Focus threw a couple more categories in the mix. They looked at what percentage of pressures from opposing defenses wound up turning into sacks, and how many blockers teams had a tendency to leave in on each play. Those three categories together combined to give PFF their 2010 Team Pass Protection Rankings.
In what's going to come as a surprise to many. . .and I know it surprised the hell out of me. . .the Minnesota Vikings are in the top half of the league in these rankings, clocking in at thirteenth overall (actually, they're tied for eleventh with the New Orleans Saints and the Miami Dolphins, but PFF puts them at thirteen. . .I'm sure they have their reasons). They're even the second-best team in the NFC North in this category, according to Pro Football Focus. . .and the top team in the division isn't who you probably think it is.In the three big categories that Pro Football Focus looked at, there was a bit of variance. In "Pressure per Play," the Vikings ranked thirteenth out of the thirty-two NFL teams.They finished twenty-third in "Sack Percentage of Pressure Rank," which means when the quarterbacks were pressured, it turned into a sack more often than it should have. Lastly, in the category of "Average Blockers Per Play," the Vikings tied for thirteenth. I'm not sure how much weight to put into that last one, since there really can't be that much variance. The Vikings used 5.52 blockers per pass play, by PFF's calculations. . .the Detroit Lions used the fewest at 5.31, and the Oakland Raiders used the most at 5.88.
What's interesting to me is the commentary on the subject from PFF:
They might not be able to run block all that well, but there are plenty of worse units in pass protection than the Vikings’ offensive line. The real stories coming from the other guys. Along with his struggles in catching the ball, Adrian Peterson’s pass blocking skills leave you wanting – only one halfback finished with a worse rating in pass protection. At the other end of the spectrum, only one tight end finished with a higher rating than Jim Kleinsasser. The quarterbacks didn’t make anyone look better than they were.
So they seem to be putting a lot of the blame on the quarterbacks and the skill position guys, save for Kleinsasser (who we all know is a freaking beast). This bodes well for young Christian Ponder, in my opinion, if the Vikings can keep up their level of O-line performance. Sure, Ponder is going to have times where he holds on to the ball too long early in his development, but having run a pro-style offense in college and with a defensive mind like Leslie Frazier as the head coach, he shouldn't have that much difficulty learning how to pick up blitzes and things of that nature, and since his body isn't physically breaking down like Brett Favre's was last season, the Vikings' passing offense stands a very good chance of markedly improving this year, contrary to popular belief.
However, this leads me to my big question, and the big question that so many other people have about this offensive line. . .why in the hell can't this group run block worth a damn? You have a pair of 350-pound tackles on the outside, a future Hall of Famer at one guard spot, a mauler at the other guard spot, a guy like Klenisasser that basically acts like a third tackle when he's out there. . .is John Sullivan that overmatched most of the time, or has the scheme the past couple of years just been that terrible when it comes to run blocking? I mean, it makes Adrian Peterson's performance the past couple of years seem that much more amazing, doesn't it? Hopefully the addition of Jeff Davidson, the architect of some pretty powerful rushing offenses with the Carolina Panthers, can serve to remedy this.
Oh, and as far as the NFC North, since I mentioned it, the best pass-protecting team in the division in 2010 was. . .the Detroit Lions? Yes, the Detroit Lions (thanks largely to Shaun Hill, according to PFFs commentary) ranked fourth in the entire NFL in PFF's pass protection rankings. The Packers finished sixteenth, while the Bears were given the second-worst mark in the league, finishing at thirty-first out of thirty-two NFL teams.