How the Defense was Bad and Some Defenders Were Good: PFF isn't the Worst

My response to someone's message board comment got too long, so I'm putting it here. It was suggested that PFF says Peterson and Dantzler are top 10 cover CB's and Z Smith and Hunter are both top 10 edges, so how could the Vikings have the 31st defense? The responses were mostly that PFF is dumb. I think PFF is more helpful than not. For the record PFF has Shelley at 7th, Peterson at 9th and they rise to 3rd and 4th in pure coverage. Hunter is 9th among edges and Z Smith is 18th. Here are some other PFF numbers and thoughts that might support the existence of the dichotomy that some are struggling with:

PP was good (according to PFF) and played something like 95% of the snaps (1104 according to PFF). Their base defense was basically nickel because Sullivan played 944 snaps and he ranked pretty terribly, 97th/122. Even worse if you require 50% of snaps instead of 20%, he becomes 64/75 for CB's who played starter snaps basically.

Shelley ranked great but he only played 398 snaps, so the majority of the time the defense had only 1 good CB out there. Dantzler played more snaps than Shelley and he was a little above average per PFF (ranked 56th @ 64.7). Evans and Booth Jr didn't play enough snaps to qualify for rankings but both graded a lot worse than Sullivan and together they played over 250 snaps (like only 2-3 games less than Shelley).

So according to PFF, rough rounded numbers suggest when in nickel (which was most of the time) they had:
1 good CB, 1 average CB and 1 bad CB: appx 40% of the time
2 good CB's, 1 bad CB: appx 35% of the time
1 good CB, 2 bad CB's: appx 25% of the time

The edges are a less dramatic story, and more akin to what happens with every team I think. Hunter (appx 75% of snaps) and Z Smith (appx 65% of snaps) were both replaced by Wonnum and Jones II who ranked 89th and 76th out of 119 edges respectively. They both had higher rankings early in the season and came down as it went along, particularly Jones II.

Cam Bynum was ranked 68/89 or if you restrict to 50% of snaps he's 54/69. Pro football reference has him as giving up 8 passing TD's, 66% completion and 123 QB rating when targeted. He gave up 8, then Peterson with 5 (on twice the targets), then a couple of 2's and a few 1's. H Smith did not grade out badly but he was not a world beater either. He did allow less passing yardage than Dantzler per pro football reference despite playing 400 more snaps.

If you restrict to 50% of snaps (starters), the LBers don't look quite as bad, Kendricks is basically average and Hicks is 29/56. When you just look at their PFF coverage grades, they're terrible... Kendricks is 44/46, Hicks is 39/46. Pro football reference has them down for both allowing over 560 yards, with about 75% completion percentage and over a 100 QB rating. 3rd and 4th most passing yardage allowed on the team after Peterson and Sullivan. It reads to me like the team had the LBers sell out against the run due to the light boxes and they got burned time and again due to lack of depth.

All of the major contributors allowed a completion percentage when targeted of over 65% except Peterson (59.6%) and Shelley (45.7%) per pro football reference. Evans was 64% but it's only 25 targets. I think PFF treats Evans a little poorly but the sample size is pretty small.

The scheme seemed to give up a ton of yards by design in order to limit big plays, which was OK when it was working and then it stopped working when players got beat over the top anyway. Also they became a little more aggressive, but don't quite have the personnel to do that IMO.

Also, PFF disagrees that the Vikings are the 31st defense, they seem to endorse the bend but don't break strategy. I can't see how they have them ranked in the top 10, they must be weighing run defense a lot more than pass defense, which they have as the weakest component to the Vikings' D. For overall D, PFF has the Vikings rated out as 4th, but they're 18th in pass defense. I'd say both are high, the overall is very high. PFF has them as the 2nd best run defense, 4th best tackling team, and 10th best pass rushing team. I think those are all high too.

Maybe the defensive PFF grades are getting inflated by games against the Colts where the defense gave up only 19 points (I'm counting the one FG where they gained zero yards and kicked a 49 yd FG not against the D) and 340 yards, the Bears games, and the first Packers game? Even the Commanders game.

IMO, PFF overrates PP's contributions this year. He has been good, but he played the majority of the season in a system designed to protect him a lot at the cost of giving up lots of yards. When they got more aggressive we started to see him get beat more often. Also keep in mind that Shelley started really playing in week 12, look at the WR's on the teams the Vikings played after week 12. Outside of Detroit (his worst ranked game by a lot, he was worse than Sullivan in that game per PFF) are any of the WRs he faced actually good? I don't think so.

I don't know, I'm not the one that comes up with any of the PFF numbers, nor do I think they're perfect. I just don't think they're as unreliable and useless as some others. And I can totally see a world where PP is good, Shelley is good/average, Hunter and Z Smith are great and the defense is bad.

This FanPost was created by a registered user of The Daily Norseman, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the staff of the site. However, since this is a community, that view is no less important.