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Matchup Index Week 16: Vikings vs Dolphins

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The Daily Norseman once again dives deep into statistical trends and player grades to highlight match up advantages and disadvantages for the Minnesota Vikings.

Joe Berger came off the bench to handle Suh pretty well last week in Detroit
Joe Berger came off the bench to handle Suh pretty well last week in Detroit
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

We're already in full-on draft mode here at the Daily Norseman, but that doesn't mean we can't still root for our Vikings to pull off a couple of wins to close out the year and play spoiler to our opponents.  I will never actively root for the Vikings to lose a game, but I certainly won't be disappointed if we lose these last two weeks as the silver lining is a higher draft position.  With our playoff chances officially eliminated, another pair of losses doesn't really hurt anything except for legacy stats in the way of coach and QB "wins" (which for some reason seems to matter as a statistic for major media folks).  In any case, the Dolphins are still very much alive in the playoff race even if they are on the outside looking in.  A loss to the Vikings pretty much knocks them out of contention as there are already six teams with 9 or more wins in the AFC.  But if the Dolphins pull off a win and a couple of those 9-win teams lose, they are still alive.

The Miami Dolphins have a middle of the road offense that averages 337.2 yards per game (ranked 19th).  There is almost nothing exceptional about this offense that ranks in the middle of the pack in most statistical categories.  They convert 39% of their 3rd downs (22nd best), maintain a +3 turnover margin (ranked 12th), average 23.4 points per game (ranked 12th), and generate 5.3 yards per play (ranked 19th).  About the only thing in which they excel is playing disciplined football on offense, where they have the 2nd fewest penalties in the league.  Even their time of possession is middling at 30:01 (ranked 19th).

The Dolphins are a better running team than passing team, but the combination of both puts them in the middle overall.  Miami averages only 6.7 yards per pass attempt (ranked 27th), but Ryan Tannehill has a 90.8 passer rating this season, with 22 touchdowns to only 11 interceptions.  Conversely, on the ground the Dolphins average 4.5 yards per attempt (ranked 7th).  One would think they are a run-heavy team with those efficiency metrics, but they are actually the opposite as they only average 25 carries per game (ranked 23rd most) and 36.4 passes per game (ranked 12th).  On the surface it would look like the Dolphins could stand to run the ball more and pass less.  In any case, the Matchup Indices below will start, as they always do, in the trenches with a look at the Dolphins passing game, followed by their running game.

Matchup Index: Dolphins Pass Blocking vs Vikings Pass Rushing

Miami Player

RT Dallas Thomas

RG Mike Pouncey

C Samson Satele

LG Daryn Colledge

LT Ja'Wuan James

PFF Grade

-19.9

-13.7

-9.1

-3.6

-11.0

Minnesota Player

DE Brian Robison

DT Shariff Floyd

DT Linval Joseph

DE Everson Griffen

PFF Grade

-6.9

+5.1

-1.9

+11.3

The Dolphins might actually have a worse graded offensive line on the whole than the Vikings in pass blocking, believe it or not.  Earlier in the year they lost starting left tackle Brandon Albert when he was placed on IR and Ja'Wuan James has been a huge downgrade in replacement.  All that said, Pro Football Focus ranks the Miami offensive line 29th in pass blocking efficiency (1 spot above the Vikings) and Football Outsiders ranks them 19th in Adjusted Sack Rating allowed.  The Dolphins have allowed a total of 38 sacks this year (12th most).

The Vikings defensive line continues to rank highly in Football Outsiders Adjusted Sack Rating (7th best) and have recorded 38 sacks on the year (an average of 2.7 sacks per game).   Everson Griffen has perhaps his best matchup of the year facing a struggling, backup left tackle.  In fact, every Vikings defensive lineman is graded higher than the player across from him in pass blocking.  This should bode well for the Vikings chances to apply pressure with just their front four guys.

Matchup Index: Dolphins Run Blocking vs Vikings Run Defense

Miami Player

RT Dallas Thomas

RG Mike Pouncey

C Samson Satele

LG Daryn Colledge

LT Ja'Wuan James

PFF Grade

-12.9

-4.4

+3.1

-15.4

-8.5

Minnesota Player

DE Brian Robison

DT Shariff Floyd

DT Linval Joseph

DE Everson Griffen

PFF Grade

-3.3

+13.0

+1.5

+7.4

On an individual level the Dolphins offensive line has some pretty terrible run blocking grades, which is surprising given their 4.5 yard per carry average.   Football Outsiders ranks their offensive line 14th overall in Adjusted Line Yards though with particularly high marks in "2nd level yards" and avoiding "stuffs" at the line.

This could spell trouble for the Vikings as we struggle with those two very things that the Dolphins excel in.  That said, on an individual basis the defensive line again matches up very well against the Dolphins in the trenches, and it's good to finally see Linval Joseph grade out in the positive in run defense.  Joseph struggled defending the run earlier in the season, but has really turned it on in the 2nd half of the year.  The Vikings run defense allows an average of 4.3 yards per carry, a slight improvement to rank tied for 20th, although teams are still running it frequently against the Vikings as they allow 123.9 rushing yards per game (ranked 23rd).  Shariff Floyd returned to practice this week after missing last week's game, which should help our run defense tremendously, which is still ranked 31st overall in Adjusted Line Yards allowed by Football Outsiders.

Matchup Index: Dolphins Receivers vs Vikings Defensive Backs

Miami Player

WR Mike Wallace

WR Jarvis Landry

TE Charles Clay

WR Brian Hartline

PFF Grade

+1.0

+3.1

+2.1

-9.7

Vikings Player

Xavier Rhodes

Andrew Sendejo

Harrison Smith

Captain Munnerlyn

PFF Grade

+7.9

+0.9

+3.4

+0.1

The Dolphins don't have any truly dominant wide receivers in terms of individual grades.  That said, Football Outsiders ranks Mike Wallace as their best receiver in DYAR, ranked 24th overall among all receivers and he has 62 receptions for 804 yards and 8 touchdowns so far this year.  He is on pace to essentially equal his 2013 production, albeit with nearly double the touchdown total.

The Vikings secondary is excellent with Xavier Rhodes emerging as a shut-down corner.  Safety Robert Blanton missed last week's game due to injury and Andrew Sendejo filled in admirably and looks likely to get another start with Blanton missing Wednesday's practice.  The Vikings pass defense is ranked 6th overall in yards per game allowed (216 yards), but this is due to teams opting not to pass as often against the Vikings as other teams.  The Vikings still allow 7.1 yards per attempt (tied for 11th) and a 91.5 passer rating (19th best).

On offense, the Vikings average 312.9 yards per game (ranked 28th) and now have a -1 turnover margin on the year.  Their 5.1 yard per play mark is ranked 27th which means that the offense is improving ever so slightly compared to earlier in the year.  They still struggle on 3rd down converting only 36% of their tries (ranked 27th).  But they play relatively disciplined football with only the 11th most penalties.

Our passing offense averages 201.1 passing yards per game (a slight uptick ranked 27th) and 6.6 yards per attempt, tied for 28th.  Our running game continues to chug along averaging 4.4 yards per carry (9th best) and 111.7 yards per game (15th most).  As above, the Matchup Indices will start in the trenches, looking at the Vikings passing game first, followed by their running game.

Matchup Index: Vikings Pass Blocking vs Dolphins Pass Rushing

Minnesota Player

RT Mike Harris

RG Joe Berger

C John Sullivan

LG Vlad Ducasse

LT Matt Kalil

PFF Grade

-0.8

-0.4

-1.1

-0.9

-19.8

Miami Player

LE Cameron Wake

DT Earl Mitchell

DT Randy Starks

DT Jared Odrick

RE Olivier Vernon

PFF Grade

+28.9

+5.2

+0.5

+8.1

+9.9

Charlie Johnson missed last week's game against Detroit and Vlad Ducasse started in his place.  He seemed to do better on the left side as opposed to the right.  In fact, our entire offensive line improved each individual grade after last week's performance against one of the best defensive lines in the league.  Still, they have a very tough matchup this week and will be facing a defensive scheme they've not faced all year in the 5-2 setup.  PFF still ranks our offensive line as one of the worst in pass blocking efficiency though, so they will have their hands full as every Dolphins defender has a higher grade than the Vikings player lined up across from them in pass blocking (sound familiar?).

As mentioned, the Dolphins have unleashed a 5-2 defensive front this season utilizing three defensive tackles and two defensive ends, and it's wreaking havoc on opposing offensive lines.  Football Outsiders ranks Miami's defensive line 4th best in Adjusted Sack Rating, and as a team the Dolphins have 45 sacks on the year (3rd most in the league).  Cameron Wake has an exceptionally good individual matchup against backup tackle Mike Harris, and Olivier Vernon has a great chance to exploit Matt Kalil one-on-one with this 5-2 scheme.

Matchup Index: Vikings Run Blocking vs Dolphins Run Defense

Minnesota Player

RT Mike Harris

RG Joe Berger

C John Sullivan

LG Vlad Ducasse

LT Matt Kalil

PFF Grade

-3.4

+7.1

+5.9

-9.6

-5.8

Miami Player

LE Cameron Wake

DT Earl Mitchell

DT Randy Starks

DT Jared Odrick

RE Olivier Vernon

PFF Grade

-2.3

-2.2

-10.7

-1.3

+4.9

The Vikings offensive lineman all received a nice jump in their individual run blocking grades after a strong showing against Detroit.  With as well as Joe Berger has been playing, it makes me wonder why he wasn't considered for a starting spot.  He seems like an upgrade over Charlie Johnson, and that's not the first time I've thought that.  They've climbed up the rankings at Football Outsiders as well, now ranked 17th in Adjusted Line Yards allowed.

The Dolphins defensive line grades out pretty poorly overall in run defense.  That makes sense as their defense allows 4.4 yards per carry (26th best) and 122.4 rushing yards per game (22nd best).  Football Outsiders ranks them 16th in Adjusted Line Yards allowed, which means all told the Vikings have an opportunity to move the ball on the ground.

Matchup Index: Vikings Receivers vs Dolphins Defensive Backs

Vikings Player

WR Greg Jennings

WR Jarius Wright

TE Kyle Rudolph

WR Charles Johnson

PFF Grade

-2.0

-3.6

-2.2

-0.4

Miami Player

CB Brent Grimes

SS Jimmy Wilson

FS Reshad Jones

CB Cortland Finnegan

PFF Grade

+1.4

-1.9

-0.2

+0.5

The Vikings receivers continue to be graded poorly by Pro Football Focus, and that site apparently isn't biased against them.  Football Outsiders ranks Jennings as our best wide receiver, and he's only ranked 41st best.  Charles Johnson finally makes their grades, but doesn't qualify yet in their main ranks.  He is graded -9 in DYAR though, which would rank 70th best if he qualified.

On the upside, the Dolphins secondary doesn't grade out very well in coverage grades, especially after starting safety Louis Delmas landed on IR two weeks ago.  The Dolphins pass defense overall though is pretty efficient thanks to their dominant defensive line.  They allow an average of only 6.4 yards per attempt (tied for 4th best) and a passer rating of 84.2 (10th best).  So even if the Vikings receivers can find room to get open, Bridgewater may not have enough time to find them.

These two teams look eerily similar in their efficiency ranks sporting better defenses than offenses, particularly their defensive lines and pass defense.  Overall I expect the Dolphins to struggle to pass the ball, but if they lean on their efficient run game a little more they could find plenty of room to find open lanes.  The Vikings defense allows an average of 21.2 points per game (tied for 12th), while the Dolphins offense averages 23.4 points per game.  It's reasonable to expect a similar amount of points for them this week at home.  Meanwhile, the Dolphins defense allows an average of 21.5 points per game (15th best) and our own offense only averages 19.8 points per game (24th best).  Teddy could have another tough outing on the road, and with all the losses in the backfield I remain skeptical that the Vikings will be able to take advantage of a good matchup in the ground game.  I expect another close game, but with the Dolphins fighting for their playoff lives, I'm going to have to give the slight edge to the home team and predict a final score of 22-20, Dolphins.

This week, the one Vikings player with the best "Matchup Advantage" looks to be, once again, defensive end Everson Griffen.  He did not have as good of a game as I expected last week, as Riley Reiff handled him just as easily the second time as he did the first, shutting him off from any sacks and limiting his total amount of pressures.  But I think Griffen gets back on track against the Dolphins backup left tackle and will be able to pad his sack total.