Here's a piece I wrote up about the fate of Leslie Frazier. I hope the peace to be balanced regarding the Pros and Cons of keeping him around. I would love any feedback regarding things that I possibly failed to consider.
The overwhelming feeling amongst Vikings fan turning to talk radio like KFAN or AM 1500 or popular Vikings sites like the Daily Norseman is that Leslie Frazier needs to go. The Vikings have fallen off from 10-6 and a sport in the playoffs to 4-10-1 (One of the Ten Worst Teams in the NFL). The topic I want to look at for tonight is whether this evaluation is fair or accurate. I happen to believe that record is a terribly short-sighted way to evaluate a NFL Head Coach since it assumes that teams have equal true talent levels and other variables being equal. No one would ever compare Teachers using purely test scores with widely divergent variables such as socio-economic status, parental stability or baseline academic aptitude. No one would compare sales numbers across widely divergent businesses as indicative of the ability of a salesman.
Let’s start with the Case against Leslie Frazier.
1. Christian Ponder-You ask any Anti-Viking Fan the reason of why Frazier needs to go the inevitable answer that you’re given is Leslie’s blinding loyalty to Christian Ponder. The Vikings are 0-5-1 in games which Ponder has both started and finished. The Vikings are 2-3 with backup QB Matt Cassel starting and Cassel finished 2 other wins after Ponder got injured. Pro Football Focus which evaluates and grades players on the basis of their performance on a play by play basis apart from stats has rated Ponder well-below average all three years that he’s been in the league. Leslie Frazier’s tenure as Minnesota Vikings coach has been marked by horrible QB play. The Minnesota Vikings have been ranked in the negative according to Pro Football Focus all three years of Frazier’s tenure. The only other teams to do this are Jax (11-36), Clev (13-34), TB (15-32), Buf (18-29) and the NYJ (21-26).
I actually feel that this is one area where Leslie Frazier in unfairly blamed. Frazier seems to have been justified in his loyalty to Ponder in 2012 when Joe Webb collapsed starting in the playoffs at GB. In 2013- Matt Cassel had a sample size of six previous seasons which of NFL performance. Josh Freeman was given one questionable start. One could make the case that on account of youth that Christian Ponder did give the Vikings the best chance to win in 2013. Pander’s issues seem to be those of pocket presence and nerves which tend to be more innate then a product of coaching.
One could argue that Poor QB performance is a direct result of the intervention of the Head Coach. Yet statistics don’t necessarily bear this out. Most people would believe that Aaron Rodgers in one of the 3 best QB’s in Football. The previous 3 seasons before Aaron Rodgers got hurt the Packers they were 30-7 with him as the starter. Since Rodgers got injured the Packers have gone 2-5-1. Coach Mike McCarthy has proven himself to be mortal. John Fox the current coach of the Denver Broncos was fired in Carolina after 2010 having gone 2-14 with Jimmy Clausen and Derek Anderson at QB. Perhaps the greatest testimony to importance of QB play is the legacy of Former 49ers coach George Seifert who went 98-30 with Joe Montana and Steve Young then 16-32 with Steve Beurlein and Chris Weinke. Jim Caldwell of the Colts went 24-8 with Peyton Manning then 2-14 without him.
It’s more complicated then just having good ways with QB’s. Mike Martz is an example as the architect of the Greatest Show on Turf only to be fired then ran out of three additional stops as Offensive Coordinator (Det, SF, Chi). Norv Turner has led Cleveland to the 26th ranked Offensive DVOA. Scott Linehan after leading Daunte Culpepper to best season of Career in 2004 failed by any objective measure in Miami and St. Louis only to experience middling success in Detroit. Josh McDaniels and Brian Billick are further examples of how a lack of QB talent can effective an Offensive Guru’s ability to produce.
2. The Vikings Defense- Leslie Frazier’s background is on the Defensive Side of the Football. Leslie Frazier has been the Vikings Defensive Coordinator or Head Coach from 2007-2013 (A seven-season time-span). The Vikings have ranked in the Top 10 of DVOA only once in 2008. DVOA seeks to take into account a Defensive’s value on a play by play basis seeking to equalize things a Defensive can’t control such as field position, offensive turnovers, and strength of schedule. The 2013 Minnesota Vikings Defense currently ranks 27th in the league according to DVOA being 11% worse then the average defense on a typical play. The Vikings Defense has blown Five Leads in the Last Two Minutes of Football Games. Most criticism of the Vikings Defense boils down to a criticism of the Vikings Cover-2 Defensive System with critics saying that such a scheme has passed the game by. This criticism seems inaccurate since the Chicago Bears finished in the Top 10 in Defensive DVOA four times in a five year span under Lovie Smith (2008-2012). The problems with the Cover 2 seem to have been magnified with the expansion of three WR sets leaving WR covered by LB’s, quicker drops by QB’s to neutralize pass-rushes along with a Golden Age of QB play-http://mmqb.si.com/2013/09/25/bears-lions-preview-cover-2-endangered-species/.
The Vikings primary weakness in the Cover 2 Scheme has been the coverage ability of LB’s along with struggles in the secondary. Off the 11 players seeing the most snaps in the Defensive Backfield only 1 has graded in the positive according to Pro Football Focus in Xavier Rhodes. Shaun Prater and Andrew Sendejo have graded close to neutral. The struggles of the Vikings defense through Frazier’s tenure seem to be more concerning then the struggles of Christian Ponder. Especially when you consider the prevalence of high-end talent such as Kevin Williams, Pat Williams, Jared Allen, and Antoine Winfield. The 2013 Vikings Defense performance can somewhat be excused due to age and decline on Defense (Allen, Chad Greenway, Kevin Williams). It seems much harder to excuse seven years of such a trend. Continual issues with back-seven throughout Frazier’s tenure.
3. Personnel Decisions-Three players have been criticized for insufficient snaps throughout 2013: Cordalle Patterson, Xavier Rhodes, and Audie Cole. Patterson lost snaps to Jerome Simpson and Gregg Jennings two of better players on team at WR. Even in none three WR sets snaps were lost to guys like Jerome Felton, John Carlson, and Rhett Ellison all above average performers. Rhodes until the Green Bay game fluctuated from about ½ snaps to ¾ of the snaps, Rhodes problems are an issue of snap load more then anything. Audie Cole would possibly have a case yet no other team valued him highly enough to pick him up upon being cut by Vikings on November 7th. These criticisms seem overdone.
The Case to Keep Leslie Frazier
1. Locker Room Leadership- One thing that fans can’t measure is a coach’s ability to keep a Locker Room. This explains the failure of Brad Childress. The Vikings after starting 1-7 have played 3-3-1 including a last second loss at Baltimore. Comments by players such as Adrian Peterson have been supportive of Frazier staying.
2. Game Management- Bill Barnwell a more neutral observer then I tends to make similar observations in his Tuesday column on Coaching Decisions for Grantland. Frazier has a tendency to go for it on fourth and short which plays to the strengths of his team (Offensive Line and 28). Frazier tends not to blow timeouts on challenges. Frazier’s issue doesn’t seem to be game planning as the team would be 9-6 if every game ended after 58 minutes.
3. Frazier and the Vikings roster. The 2009 Minnesota Vikings were an old team. If one were to look at the best players on the 2009 Minnesota Vikings according to Pro Football Focus they would see that Brett Favre (Gone), Sidney Rice (Gone), Bryant McKinnie (Gone), Percy Harvin (Gone), Steve Hutchinson (Gone), Jim Kleinsasser (Gone), Kevin Williams (Age-Related Decline), Pat Williams (Gone), Antoine Winfield (Gone), EJ Henderson (Gone), Jared Allen (Age-Related Decline), Ray Edwards (Gone), Chad Greenway (Age-Related Decline). The only players currently with the Vikings who would be considered in their prime would be Adrian Peterson, Phil Loadholt, and Brian Robison. The Vikings don’t have much from the 2007-2010 draft on their roster (which would be a player’s prime years). It seems unfair to blame Frazier for this weakness in personnel.
4. The Vikings depth-Pro Football Focus’ Nathan Jane wrote an article for ESPN Insider which made the case the Vikings had the fourth best depth in the league due to the Total Grades of their back-ups according to PFF. This is either a byproduct of good player development or putting players in the best position to succeed.
5. We just don’t know the future-Switching scheme requires acquiring new personnel. Football Outsiders figures that teams tended to perform at about a 2% negative variance with a shift in Defensive schemes. The Chicago Bears would be a particularly nasty example dropping from 1st to 24th in Defensive DVOA after firing Lovie Smith. When people figure that Frazier is a lost cause a good example or case study would be Marvin Lewis from 2008 to 2010. Lewis went 4-11-1 in 2008 followed by a 10-6 playoff appearance in 2009 (where they lost in the 1st round) then 4-12 in 2010. Lewis kept his job and Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer (2008-Hired) as the Bengals have made the Playoffs three straight seasons with 1 division title in 2013.
Conclusion- Zygii Wilf does not have an easy decision regarding Leslie Frazier’s fate. While I believe that Sunday will be Leslie Frazier’s last game. I by no means hold the belief that he can’t be a successful NFL Head Coach given different circumstances. Perhaps Frazier will save his job if he agrees to changes with the Coaching Staff. I could be convinced to go along with this if it didn’t require a change in scheme which required different personnel. I believe giving Frazier another year only if he switches to a 3-4 would be futile. Considering the Vikings seem likely to pursue a different direction at QB then the same principal might apply on the Offensive side of the ball. Basically the commitment level in keeping Frazier at this time might be greater then what would make Wilf comfortable. Perhaps this is a decision that can only be properly made after exit interviews with players and coaches.