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Projecting Week 14: Vikings Offense vs Jaguars Defense

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The Daily Norseman looks at some overall game stats to project what might happen when the Vikings travel to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars in Week 14.

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Projecting NFL statistics is an extremely difficult business, because the NFL is rarely very predictable.  In fact, NFL teams actively strive to be unpredictable as it gives teams an edge in competition when the other team has a tough time figuring out what their opponent is trying to do.  But after every team in the NFL has logged 12 games, certain trends can be spotted.  And it is the job of NFL statistical prognosticators to try to determine just what might happen in a game.

The first place to start when projecting an NFL offense is to figure out how many offensive drives and plays that team is likely to run.  This can be impacted by any number of things, but in the case of the Vikings they average 10.25 offensive drives per game, nearly a full drive less than the NFL average.  They also have a drive success rate of only 67.9%, or in other words, every 2 out of every 3 series they either make the 1st down or score points (or 1 out of every 3 series they fail to make the first down).  That 67.9% drive success rate ranks 23rd best, nearly 10 percentage points below the league leading Dallas Cowboys.  While the Vikings actually do run a lot of plays per drive (6.24, ranked 11th most), as we all know they are of the short dump-off, or stuffed run variety.  Hence, they only average 28.3 yards per drive, ranked only 29th best.  These large-scale game stats tell us that the Vikings are trying to beat teams with an offensive philosophy that features quick, short passes in a kind of "death by 1,000 cuts" style.  If the ultimate goal of the offense is to score points, then the Vikings are failing miserably as they only average 19.4 points per game, 26th best.

If you've been watching the games, these large-scale stats probably aren't telling you anything you don't already know, but it's nice to see the confirmation.  If we dig in a little deeper, we can see that the Vikings average about 62.6 offensive plays per game, more than a full play less than the NFL average. This would be expected based on the lack of efficiency seen above. The Vikings split of passes vs runs is nearly identical to the NFL average with a 57/43 split favoring passing (1 percentage point higher in passing than NFL average).  The Vikings average 6.8 yards per pass (ranked 23rd and 0.4 below average) and 3.0 yards per carry (ranked 32nd and 1.4 below average), showing us that the Vikings are much more efficient passing the ball than they are running the ball, which is probably why they pass a just a tiny bit more often than most NFL teams.  So taking those overall game averages into account, this has been a typical box score for the Vikings quarterback and running backs so far this season compared to the NFL average at those positions:

Average 2016 Season

Att.

Comp.

Yards

Avg

TDs

Vikings QB

35.7

24.9

242.8

6.8

1.1

NFL QB

36.1

22.9

259.9

7.2

1.6

Vikings RBs

24.5

n/a

73.5

3

0.58

NFL RBs

25.7

n/a

105.4

4.1

0.83

From a passing efficiency standpoint, the Vikings are only a small amount below average, but the running game is suffering by a significant margin.  This explains the lack of efficiency from the previous paragraphs: the Vikings can't sustain drives and score points, because they aren't able to move the ball on the ground consistently.  But that doesn't explain the whole story.  You would think that the Vikings strategy of quick, short passes would neutralize opposing teams pass rush, and you would expect the Vikings to be ranked very highly in pass protection with that approach.  Unfortunately, you would be wrong as the Vikings are still allowing more sacks than the NFL average and are only ranked 19th best in Adjusted Sack Rating from Football Outsiders.  We all know this offensive line is bad, but even an offensive philosophy that seeks to neutralize this deficiency is not able to do it, probably because the talent we have had to put on the field due to injuries is just that bad.  You can understand Peterson's hesitation in wanting to get back on the field is likely due to that very weakness.  In fact, he said earlier today he would only return this season if the Vikings were in the playoff hunt.

Ok, so that paints a pretty good (or bad I guess) picture of the Vikings offense, but how do they matchup against the Jacksonville defense?  Well, the Jaguars allow an average of 11.25 drives per game, about a quarter drive more than the NFL average.  This bodes well for the Vikings offense to maybe get an extra chance to score on offense.  However, while the Jaguars are allowing more offensive drives per game, they allow slightly less plays per drive than average (5.76, 9th best).  This will be an interesting element of the game to watch since the Vikings tend to run a lot of plays per drive, something Jacksonville does not really allow to happen much.  Fortunately for the Vikings the Jaguars defense allow 2.13 points per drive, only 22nd best and are ranked worst in the league in take-aways.  In a nutshell, the Jaguars defense has been able to limit the yardage output of opposing offenses, but has given them an extra drive in 1 out of 4 games, and therefore they haven't able to prevent opposing offenses from scoring points as a result.  This could also be related to the fact that Blake Bortles has thrown 15 interceptions so far this year (second most in the league) and the team as a whole is -18 in turnover rating, thus giving opposing offenses more chances to score points.

If we dig in a little deeper we'll notice that the Jaguars allow an average of only 6.4 passing yards per attempt, 3rd best in the NFL.  They also allow an average of 4.0 yards per carry, 11th best.  In other words, the Jaguars defense is pretty good, and that -18 turnover differential is a real killer for them.  Interestingly, teams run the ball about 49% of the time against them and only pass the ball 51% of the time, a stark difference from the NFL average (56/44 split).  Although with a 2-10 record this could be explained because teams are likely running the ball a ton in the 4th quarter to put the game away.  It speaks to how good the Jaguars run defense is to only allow 4.0 yards per carry despite this lopsided pass/run ratio with teams trying to drain the clock.  Below is how the Average NFL quarterback and running backs have fared against this Jaguars defense, and how that compares to what an average NFL defense has allowed:

2016 Season

Att.

Comp.

Yards

Avg

TDs

QB vs JAX

32.1

20.6

205.4

6.4

1.3

NFL QB

36.1

22.9

259.9

7.2

1.6

RBs vs JAX

28.7

n/a

114.8

4

1.2

NFL RB

25.7

n/a

105.4

4.1

0.83

You can see by the stats in the table above that, again, teams are running the ball much more frequently against the Jaguars than they are throwing it, and they are scoring much more often on the ground.  Unfortunately, (or perhaps fortunately depending on your perspective) this does not matchup well with the Vikings offensive strength and weaknesses.  The Vikings are a much better passing offense than running offense.  So if the Jaguars are able to shut down the Vikings passing game, their offense won't have much to lean on in the run game.

This is where the projection fun comes into play.  The Jaguars pass defense knocks off nearly a full yard per attempt from the average NFL QB (0.8 to be exact).  If that is the impact they will have on a Vikings pass game that averages only 6.8 to begin with, Bradford might be in for a rough go of it on the road.  Seeing as how teams also average exactly 4 pass attempts less than average, we might project Sam Bradford for only 30-32 pass attempts and only 6.0 yards per attempt.  That would amount to about only 180 passing yards.  The Jaguars also impact the average NFL QB by about -0.3 passing TDs per game, but Bradford only averages only 1.08 passing TD per game to begin with.

If you're still with me, let's say Bradford throws 31 passes.  Where are those targets going to go?  So far this year Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph have received a nearly equal market share of the targets: about 22% each.  Adam Thielen has received about 16.7% of the targets and Cordarelle Patterson has received about 12% of the targets.  After that, the following players have scooped up about 5-6% of the remaining targets each: Jerick Mckinnon, Matt Asiata and Charles Johnson.  If we follow those total season percentages (and it's likely not going to split so nicely between them all) that means in this game we should project about 7 targets for Diggs and 6 for Rudolph.  Throw in 5 for Thielen, 4 for Patterson and the remaining 9 attempts will be split evenly between Mckinnon, Asiata and Charles Johnson, with maybe 1 random pass to somebody like Rhett Ellison or maybe LaQuon Treadwell.

If Bradford only averages 6.0 yards per attempt in this matchup, that means that those 7 attempts towards Stefon Diggs will only amount to 42 yards.  And those 6 attempts to Kyle Rudolph will only amount to 36 yards.  If Bradford is only projected for 0.78 passing touchdowns as well, we might say he is only 78% likely to throw a touchdown.  And who is most likely to get it?  Well, only five Vikings players have caught a receiving touchdown, but Rudolph has 5 of Bradford's 13 TD passes and Adam Theilen has caught 3 of his 13 TD passes, so it's probably going to one of those two guys if at all.  But it's very difficult to predict where a touchdown pass might go.

It gets much more interesting on the ground though. The Jaguars run defense only knocks off 0.1 yards per carry from the NFL average, making them almost a neutral matchup.  But they also allow three more rushing attempts per game to opposing offenses than the NFL average.  The Vikings currently average only 3.0 yards per carry and in this matchup let's assume they average 2.9.  The Vikings also average only 24.5 runs per game, but in this matchup they should end up running a bit more, so we can project them for 27.5 runs in this one.  At 2.9 yards per carry that adds up to 79.9 rushing yards, which is 7.5 more rush yards than they currently average (it's league worst at 72.4 rush yards per game).

Even though Mckinnon has missed a game and played hurt in a few others, he is the preferred running back by the Vikings by a significant margin.  Mckinnon averages 10.5 carries per game while Asiata averages only 8 carries per game.  I know this only adds up 18.5 carries per game (and the Vikings average 24.5), but Peterson's 1 and a half games influences that average (he adds about 3 more carries over the course of the year) and Bradford averages 1 carry per game.  Patterson and Zach Line combine for another carry per game on average, and then the likes of Shaun Hill, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen all have at least 1 rush to their credit on the year.  To make a long story short, I think that Jerick Mckinnon will be the biggest beneficiary of those extra carries and could find himself running the ball 13-14 times against Jacksonville.  When you toss in a few passing targets, we could reasonably project that Mckinnon might touch the ball 15-16 times this week while Asiata could touch the ball 10-11.

But don't take my word for it.  Here is a consensus projection of four different sources from FantasyPros.com for some of our top statistical players on offense.

Week 14 Projections

Att.

Comp/Rec

Yards

TDs

Sam Bradford

34.9

22.5

226.9

1.4

Jerick Mckinnon

12.5

2

60

0.4

Matt Asiata

8.4

2.2

45.7

0.4

Stefon Diggs

n/a

6.2

69.4

0.4

Kyle Rudolph

n/a

4.2

41.7

0.3

These projections are much more optimistic about the Vikings passing offense, and it projects the Vikings for 77.6 rushing yards combined for Mckinnon and Asiata (about where I pegged it too).  It's worth pointing out that the yardage total in the table is combined rushing/receiving.  Do you buy that the Vikings passing game will average 6.5 yards per attempt and that Bradford is likely to throw for at least 1 touchdown and maybe even 2?  I'm not so sure, but let us know what you think in the comments below.