Statistical Improvement Against the Pass

The Vikings get lots of kudos for their run defense, which consistently stuffs the ground game, especially between the tackles. But most still think their pass defense remains awful. There certainly remains room for improvement, but statistically their pass defense is better than most realize.

Pass defense better than portrayed

Anyone who remotely follows the Vikings knows their run defense is excellent.  In fact, the numbers don’t lie.  They lead the league in allowing just 70.5 yards per game on the ground.  They are actually ranked second behind the Baltimore Ravens with an average per rushing attempt of just 3.0, with both teams head and shoulders better than the rest of the league.

But the presumption continues to be that their pass defense is still among the very worst in the NFL.  However, the numbers put them much more toward the middle of the pack.

The team’s secondary, particularly cornerbacks Cedric Griffin and rookie Marcus McCauley, have been much maligned at times this season, but statistically they have at least moved up into the middle of the pack against the pass.

Heading into their Week 17 matchup against Denver, the Vikings pass defense is ranked No. 16 in allowing an average of 7.0 yards per passing attempt.  The average yardage allowed per pass play is a much more accurate statistical gauge than total yardage allowed, which is often dictated by the circumstances of the game.

One category where they do lead the league on pass defense is in the average number of pass attempts per game – 40.6.  A victim of their own success against the run, opponents try to pass on the Vikings more than any other team in the league.

That puts the team’s defense No. 12 overall, according to year-to-date statistics.

Key matchups against the Broncos

The tale of the tape gives Vikings left tackle Bryant McKinnie (6-8, 343) a huge size advantage going against Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil (5-11, 260) this week, but the quick, explosive, undersized pass-rusher has been the type of player McKinnie has had some trouble with this season.

McKinnie will get a test on pass protection as he faces the undersized Elvis Dumervil this week.  Dumervil enters the game with 11.5 sacks on the season.

Another challenge on offense will be if Minnesota’s wide receivers can get open against Broncos cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Dre Bly.

But the real key will be if the Vikings can regain their dominance in the rushing attack.  While the Broncos will likely stack the box like the past three opponents have done so effectively, they are somewhat undersized in their front seven and might not have the personnel to be as successful as the Redskins, Bears and 49ers have been.

In particular, the Broncos are light on the edges, where the Vikings have had some of their best success running the ball this season.  Statistically, the Broncos are ranked No. 30 overall against the run, allowing 140.7 yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry from scrimmage.  With that in mind, the Vikings are hoping Adrian Peterson can close the regular season on a 100-yard plus note once again.

Defensively, the Vikings need to contend with the emerging Brandon Marshall, a big, tight end-size wide receiver (6-4, 230) who enters the week’s final season with 92 catches for 1,211 yards and 6 touchdowns.

Pat and Kevin Williams should be effective against the interior of the Broncos offensive line – ORG Montrae Holland, C Chris Myers and OLG Chris Kuper.  In particular, Myers has struggled with an ankle injury of late.  These guys are no slouches, but they also aren’t going to any Pro Bowls this season, so the Williams “brothers” should make some plays this week.

Higher draft pick also at stake

Not only will the Vikings be playing for a potential playoff spot this Sunday, they will also be playing for a higher third-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.

If you’ll remember, the Vikings and Broncos worked a draft-day trade this past spring.  The Broncos selected Florida defensive tackle Marcus Thomas with the fourth-round pick they received from Minnesota.  In addition to the sixth- and seventh-round picks the Vikings got in 2007, they will also receive Denver’s No. 3 pick in 2008.

So if they can pin another loss on the Broncos this week, the pick will be slightly better.

With the sixth-round pick, the Vikings selected linebacker Rufus Alexander, who spent his rookie season on injured reserve with a knee injury.  With the seventh-round pick, the Vikings nabbed wide receiver Chandler Williams, whom they cut heading into the season.  Williams spent the season on the practice squad with the Miami Dolphins.

The real value of the trade for Minnesota, however, was getting next-year’s third-round pick.  A victory over Denver to push them down to 6-10 could mean as much as five slots in next year’s draft.

Extra Points

Despite his struggles last week against the Redskins, quarterback Tarvaris Jackson was an excellent fantasy football play, as he threw for one touchdown pass and rushed for two more.

The Houston Texans released running back Adimchinobe Echemandu earlier this week.  Echemandu was with the Vikings from July 2005 through September 2006.

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>Skins threw a lot of new looks at Vikings’ offense
>Vikings-Broncos scouting report
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>Vikings beat top 10 pick curse with Peterson
>Peterson already tabbed as top fantasy pick for 2008
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>Best of 2007:  Peterson’s dazzling debut

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