Like many of you, this has been one of the most memorable and enjoyable Vikings season I have ever experienced. From losing our starting quarterback, rookie starting running back and opening the season 2-2 with a lot of question marks, to almost running the table the rest of the way on the excellent play of Case Keenum and this all-pro defense, there hasn’t been a single moment this season that wasn’t pure entertainment. The pieces have finally fallen into place to give this team not only it’s second division championship in the past 3 years, but the #2 seed, a home game, and a precious BYE week heading into the playoffs. And with that, it’s time for a retrospective on some of the most impressive statistics and facts about this team during an awesome 13-3 regular season.
The Vikings offense may not be the best in the league this season, but they are still very good. Overall, the offense is ranked 10th in Points and 11th in Yards. Both of those marks are dramatic improvements from their 23rd and 28th ranks respectively last year. There are three big reasons the offense is performing so much better.
1. The offensive line is vastly improved in 2017.
Everything starts up front. Maybe this is an understatement, but there are many measures that show the dramatic improvement of this offensive line from the dumpster fire it was last year, to the dominant line it has been this year. It started with the jettisoning of some veteran talent in Matt Kalil, Brandon Fusco and Alex Boone and bringing in outside free agents Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers, as well as drafting rookie Pat Elfein. The front office did a whole-sale make-over of the offensive line and the following stats should speak for themselves:
-The Vikings offensive line allowed a total of 27 sacks on the year, 6th best in the league. Compare that to last year where they allowed a total of 38 sacks, 24th best in the league.
-The Vikings offensive line allowed 85 quarterback hits in 2017, merely 17th best. But compare that to 2016 where they allowed 104 (ranked 26th best).
-Case Keenum Averaged 2.78 seconds in “Time to Throw” this season, ranked as 9th longest in the NFL. Compare that to Sam Bradford last year who had 2.48 seconds, ranked 39th longest in the NFL.
-The Vikings averaged 3.9 yards per carry in 2017, but only 3.2 yards per carry in 2016.
-Football Outsiders ranked the Vikings Offensive Line 19th in run blocking and 6th in pass blocking in 2017. In 2016 they were ranked 30th and 17th respectively.
2. Case Keenum has played very well this year.
Say what you will about Case Keenum, and there are still a lot of non-believers out there, but he’s playing at an extremely high level. Thanks to the improvements in the offensive line mentioned above, the Vikings offense overall is dramatically improved and Case Keenum’s performance has been outstanding. Whether you want to use traditional passing efficiency measures like QB Rating, more advanced measures like Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, ESPN’s QBR or even Football Outsider’s DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement), he comes out either on par or even better than Bradford’s great performance last year. Here are some comparisons between the two quarterbacks:
-Keenum 2017 QB Rating: 98.3 (8th) vs Bradford 2016 QB Rating: 99.2 (6th)
-Keenum 2017 ANY/A: 7.03 (7th) vs Bradford 2016 ANY/A: 6.41 (14th)
-Keenum 2017 QBR: 71.4 (2nd) vs Bradford 2016 QBR: 59.0 (17th)
-Keenum 2017 Completion %: 62.4 (2nd) vs Bradford 2016 Completion %: 71.6 (1st)
-Keenum 2017 DYAR: 1,298 (4th) vs Bradford 2016 DYAR: 510 (17th)
3. The running game has improved.
After suffering through the Matt Asiata/Jerick Mckinnon show last year and their league worst rushing attack, again thanks to the upgrade on the offensive line, and a change in personnel, the Vikings running game is actually respectable. Despite losing dynamic rookie Dalvin Cook in week 4, the Vikings ground game has continued to hum along and remain efficient. These stats help paint the picture:
-The Vikings gained 100 total first downs by rushing in 2017. They only gained 66 in 2016.
-The Vikings scored 16 rushing touchdowns in 2017, compared to only 9 in 2016.
-As a team the Vikings totaled 1,957 rushing yards, compared to only 1,205 in 2016.
It’s pretty remarkable what Mike Zimmer’s “Zim Reapers” have been able to achieve on defense, ranking 1st in Points Allowed, Yards Allowed and 3rd down percentage. But this is not the first time a Vikings defense has ranked 1st in both Points Allowed and Yards Allowed. That feat was also achieved by the 1969 and 1970 Vikings teams. Both of those teams were part of the famed “Purple People Eaters” defense, and one of those teams went to the Superb Owl. But those surface level stats don’t tell the whole story of complete dominance this Vikings defense has managed this season. Here are some more eye-opening stats:
-The Vikings defense has allowed an average quarterback rating of 73.0, 3rd best in the NFL.
-The Vikings defense has allowed 83.6 rushing yards per game, 2nd best in the NFL.
-The longest pass play completed against the Vikings defense was only 52 yards, best in the NFL.
-Wide receivers have gained an average of only 10.3 yards per catch, 2nd lowest in the NFL.
-The Vikings defense has achieved these remarkable numbers despite ranking only 23rd in turnover differential and 17th in total sacks.
While the offense and defense has gotten all the praise for dramatic improvement (and rightly so), the Vikings special teams is an often-overlooked element related to their dominating season. Punter Ryan Quigley has quietly had an outstanding year, and while Kai Forbath has seemingly had an inconsistent year, we really have not felt the absence of Cordarelle Patterson at all. And, overall the Vikings Special Teams are still looking pretty good. Here are a few stats to keep in mind:
-The Vikings are ranked #3 in Kick Returns with an average of 24.8 yards per kickoff return. While this is certainly a downgrade from last year, it’s still very good compared to the rest of the league.
-The Vikings are ranked #7 in Punt Returns with an average of 9.5 yards per punt return.
-While Ryan Quigley is ranked only 23rd in Net Punting Yards, he led the league with 0 touchbacks and 33 fair catches, and was ranked 10th with punts inside the 20 yard line.
-The Vikings average starting field position was at the 29.41 yard line, ranked 7th best in the NFL.
There are many reasons this team went 13-3 in the regular season to win the NFC North and earn the #2 seed and a BYE in the playoffs. We’ve not seen a team this good in all phases of the game since 1998. I’ll leave you with one last statistic. Pro Football Reference calculates a “Simple Rating System” to rank every season of a given franchise. The formula is simply this: Margin of Victory + Strength of Schedule for both offense and defense, added together. Using that simple formula, the Vikings 2017 Season would be ranked 6th best so far, behind the following seasons: 1969, 1970, 1998, 1988 and 1976. The Vikings made the playoffs in all 5 of those seasons, including two Superb Owl appearances. The 2017 season would also rank ahead of 1973 and 1974...the Vikings other two Superb Owl years.