In the world of hyper-analytical statistics, research is king. When it comes to Vikings defenders last year, they were not the kings of much when comparing their performance versus the league average over the last six years.
The NFL statisticians have calculated the net yardage gained by the team while each player was on the field over a rolling six-year league average factoring in field position, down, and distance. With a defense that finished 31st overall and 31st against the pass, it’s not surprising that many of the Vikings’ defenders would finish below the league average, especially when down and distance is taken into consideration.
So which Vikings got the worst of it and which one fared best in a statistically bad defense last year?
Several of the Vikings’ younger players did well, but most of those came in limited action and likely in mop-up duty with offenses looking to kill the clock and preserve a win in a season that saw the Vikings finish 5-10-1. Limited-use players like Gerald Hodges, Michael Mauti, Larry Dean, A.J. Jefferson and Marvin Mitchell were best against the run, but a few starters managed to at least beat the league average by a little bit.
Defensive tackles Kevin Williams, Letroy Guion and Fred Evans, linebackers Erin Henderson and Desmond Bishop, and defensive backs Shaun Prater, Jamarca Sanford, Harrison Smith and Chris Cook were just above the Vikings’ average for rushing yardage differential per play. Vikings opponents rushed for an average of 0.82 yards less when Guion was on the field last year, 0.45 with Evans, 0.34 with Henderson, 0.24 with Bishop, 0.20 with Prater and 0.8 with Williams, Smith and Cook.
What’s interesting about those numbers is that Guion, Henderson and Williams were all starters who are no longer on the roster.
Among the starters tagged with the worst rushing differential was Xavier Rhodes, who was on the field when the Vikings allowed an even 1 yard more on rushing plays than when he wasn’t on the field. Everson Griffen, who is being counted on to step into a starting role, was on the field when the Vikings allowed an average of 0.38 yards more per rush, and Sharrif Floyd, who is also being slated for a starting spot, was on the field when the Vikings allowed an average of 0.16 yards more per rush.
But the Vikings finished 16th in rushing defense, so it figures that the numbers would look worse for their pass defense.
Once again, Williams was among the best, as the Vikings allowed 0.96 yards less per pass play when he was on the field, but Evans wasn’t far behind (0.93).
Among defensive backs, Andrew Sendejo, who could battle for the starting safety job opposite Smith, was tops with a 0.20-yard differential on passing plays. Griffen was at 0.12, Robert Blanton at 0.03 and Chad Greenway at 0.01.
The Vikings showed no statistical difference with Jared Allen on the field or not, despite him being on the field for 90.7 percent of the defensive plays, highest among the team’s defensive linemen.
Rhodes fared better against the pass, with a differential of minus-0.04 yards on passing plays while Josh Robinson, a potential starter in 2014, and Smith followed at minus-0.06.
At the bottom of the Vikings’ chart in passing differential were Guion (minus-0.51 yards) and Floyd (minus-1.27).
What does it all mean? On a defense that struggled to stop the pass, a player like Floyd will have to be a more effective contributor than he was last year, when he played in nearly 40 percent of the defensive snaps, if he is going to hold down a starting role in a defense hoping to improve against the pass.
What about the imports?
Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn had barely negative yardage differentials last year, but was on a much better defense with the Carolina Panthers, who ranked second against the rush and sixth against the pass.
Defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who was with the New York Giants (14th against the rush, 10th against the pass), had a positive 0.34 differential against the run and 0.42 against the pass.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Statistically best, worst Vikings on defense
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