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Deeper Numbers, Deeper Story

We all know about the "standard" stats that many of the football experts like to cite in their musings.  NFL statistical ratings on offense and defense are based on yards, by and large. . .which, as I've stated numerous times on this very site, is an absolutely ridiculous way of ranking teams in the National Football League.  Teams can rack up all the yardage they want, but it doesn't mean that they're winning football games or anything like that.

But let's take a look at some less conventional numbers from two sites that I've sang the praises of here in the past.  Some of these less conventional. . .and, in many cases, far more accurate than "normal". . .statistics show that the Vikings might not necessarily be that far away from being a good, or even a very good, NFL football team.

The first site that we'll take a look at is the folks over at Football Outsiders.  Football Outsiders is best known for their stat called DVOA, or Defense-adjusted Value Over Average.  To get a more accurate description of what DVOA is, you can look right here.  In a nutshell, what DVOA does is compare different team units (offense, defense, and special teams) to the league average.  The league average is represented by a 0% figure.  In the rating of offenses, a positive number is good, as it means that the offense is more successful than average.  In rating defenses, a negative number is good, as it means that the defense is more successful than average.

Well, the latest DVOA ratings can be found right here.  Now, according to the DVOA numbers, all three facets of the Vikings' team. . .defense, special teams, and even the offense. . .all rank in the top half of NFL teams.  The highest ranked unit is, surprisingly, the Vikings' special teams, which are ranked 11th in the NFL according to Football Outsiders' numbers.  (The #1 special teams DVOA belongs to Cleveland with a Special Teams DVOA of 8.7%.  Minnesota's Special Teams DVOA is 2.0%.

The Minnesota defense is, actually, the lowest ranked unit in terms of DVOA, ranking 16th in the NFL with a rating of 1.8%.  By comparison, the #1 team is the Steelers at -21.1%.  (Remember, for defense, negative is better than positive.)

The real surprise is that, according to the DVOA rankings, the Minnesota offense is #13 in the National Football League at 3.8%.  Yes, according to the Football Outsiders' DVOA system, the Minnesota offense is really. . .get this. . .above average!  The fact that the Minnesota offense ranks this highly with such an obvious, glaring weakness in the passing game speaks volumes to how strong the rushing attack is for the Beloved Purple.  How strong is it?  Well, we can pretty much spell that out using more conventional stats.

The Vikings, as a team, currently average 5.9 yards/carry every time they run the football.  The next closest team?  Denver at 4.7 yards/carry.  The NFL record for highest yards/carry in a season belongs to the 1963 Cleveland Browns, who averaged 5.74 yards/carry that season.  They had some guy named Jim Brown on that team.  I haven't heard much about him, but it sounded like he had some pretty decent talent for his time.

Bear in mind that this offense does this with a) absolutely, positively no discernible passing threat and b) two different primary running backs.  Yes, we know about the spectacular abilities of Adrian Peterson, abilities that have allowed him to average 6.4 yards a carry and go over the 1,000 yard mark in only 8 games and after only 158 rushing attempts.  Chester Taylor, in 83 carries, has averaged 5.6 yards a carry.  At this point, the Vikings could start James Taylor or Taylor Hicks at running back and move the ball effectively on the ground, I think.

Based on this, one could very well say that while Minnesota's defense doesn't look all that impressive this season, there's a very good chance that we're going to see some significant improvement in 2008 and beyond.  Nobody in the league (outside of the great Viking Fan Nation, of course) wants to see that from this team.  They average 5.9 yards a carry with teams loading up every week to stop the run.  Once the pass offense catches up, this offense will be a sight to see.

So there are some unconventional numbers from one site that are positive toward the Vikings.  Another site that folks need to check out is Cold, Hard Football Facts.  These folks have more unconventional stats than you can shake a stick at.  Let's take a look at a few of them, shall we?

Big Play Index:  The folks at CHFF are of the belief that games are won and lost via the big play.  Therefore, they've started an index that gives sort of a ratio of these plays similar to the turnover ratio.  CHFF defines "big plays" as follows:

The Big Play Index is our way of tracking of game-changing plays - who's making them, who's giving them up, and how it all correlates to winning.

The nine "Big Plays" are:

   1. Fumble recovery
   2. Interception
   3. Defensive score (return TD, safety)
   4. Pass play of 40 yards or more
   5. Run play of 25 yards or more
   6. Kick return of 60 yards or more
   7. Punt return of 40 yards or more
   8. Blocked kick or punt
   9. 50-yard+ field goal

So, if you look at the stage, you'll see two things that stand out vis a vis the Vikings.  The first is that only two teams in the NFL have a better "big play ratio" than Minnesota. . .the New England Patriots (gee, who would have thought that?) and some other useless team.  The other one is that, outside of Detroit, no team has generated more big plays than the 46 big plays put out by the Beloved Purple.

Bendability Index:  Measures how many "yards per point" teams make opponents earn.  The Vikings rank 5th in the NFL in this category, which means that when teams score against the Vikings, they've pretty much had to earn it.  The Vikings have a YPPA (Yards Per Point Allowed) of 17.28. . .which, in a nutshell, means that in order for an opponent to generate a touchdown and an extra point against Minnesota, they have to put up around 121 yards of offense (on average).

There is hope for the future, ladies and gentlemen.  There have been times this season where this hasn't always been the case, but you can find hope.  Sometimes you just have to be willing to dig a little deeper for it.

Good night for now, everybody.  I sincerely hope that everybody out there has a Happy, Safe, and Joyous Thanksgiving. . .and that none of my faithful readers show up on a news clip getting trampled at a Wal-Mart or something on Black Friday.

Take care, folks!