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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Arif’s Deep Stats Dive: Opportunities Abound for New Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur

By Arif Hasan

With the sudden resignation of former Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner, the duty falls upon the shoulders of interim offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur to give new life to one of the least effective offenses in the NFL, ravaged by injury.

If it’s the case that Turner was forced out in some capacity—either directly as a directive from Vikings staff, or indirectly through pressure from the addition of former offensive coordinators on his staff—then there’s reason to be sympathetic to Turner’s situation.

There’s not a reasonable expectation that an offense that lost three tackles to injury or retirement, a future Hall of Fame running back and its starting quarterback would be good. But the argument for accountability was never about the aggregate offensive performance in a vacuum—it was always about his seeming inability to adapt to the realities of the roster.

Maybe it wasn’t ever going to be good, but could it have been better.

We’ll take a look at the same advanced stats as always, but with an eye towards determining what areas Pat Shurmur can improve upon. Coaches don’t look at most of these kinds of statistics, and often they shouldn’t—they need more immediately actionable information than knowing a more accurate way to rank quarterbacks. But sometimes, they can reveal areas where teams can improve.

Once again, the Week 1 piece should give you a primer for many of the statistics that are used below.

Team Level Stats

The primary statistics we use are drive-level, points per drive and drive success rate—the latter of which measures the ability of teams to create first downs. The Vikings offense had a low success rate against Chicago, where they made first downs on 62.5 percent of their opportunities, only one of which was a touchdown. Over the course of a year, a 0.625 rate would rank 30th in the NFL this year.

Their inability to make downs has expressed itself in terms of points on the board. The Vikings only put up 1.0 points per drive, last among the 26 teams who played in Week 8.

For the season, the numbers don’t look much better. Minnesota ranks 27th in drive success rate and 28th in points per drive.

The points per drive is the indicator that something is wrong, but it’s not necessarily actionable information for Minnesota. The drive success rate might be, because it indicates that despite having a ball control offense, the Vikings cannot create first downs. Their low turnover rate doesn’t mean anything if they’re forced to punt—and the Vikings lead the league in percentage of drives that end in a punt.

When seeing that, it’s tempting to see third down conversion rates as well as how often the team is in third-and-long… but the Vikings have an average third down conversion rate and are in third-and-short or third-and-long as often as the rest of the NFL.

The problem is that the Vikings rank dead last in the league in first downs generated on first down and 25th in the NFL in first downs generated on second down. They unsurprisingly rank last in yards per play on first down as well.

A lot of this has to do with the fact that they’ve run so often on first down (third in the NFL in run rate on first down) but are the worst in the league at running.

Shurmur could remedy this by passing a little more often—though he may want to encourage more aggressive passing too, as the Vikings have below average first-down passing both in terms of yards per attempt and first-down rate.

Defensively, of course, the Vikings are still among the top teams in the NFL. While their showing against Chicago wasn’t great—the Bears’ success rate of .778 would lead the NFL over the course of a full season, if sustained—Minnesota overall ranks third overall in defensive DSR and first in defensive points per drive.

The Bears also didn’t grab many points as they struggled in the red zone, and their 2.0 points per drive is a bit high against a Vikings defense, but is about average in most games.

The problem is that even with a rock-solid defense, their anemic offensive output means they only rank 14th in net points per drive and 13th in net success rate.

When you look at the most successful defensively-driven teams of the past few years, you’ve seen better offensive output and net output. The 2015 Broncos and Panthers ranked eighth and second in net success rate, and the 2014 Seahawks ranked second as well.

The Vikings also have a devil of a time earning points early. Last week, we went over game script scores, which essentially average the point differential over every second of a game. They rank tenth in opponent-adjusted game script, which sheds some of the garbage time scores we’ve seen from the Vikings and their opponents.

Overall, Minnesota is playing like a playoff team but not much more. Shurmur doesn’t have to bring the offense up to dizzying heights, he merely has to elevate them from being a bottom-of-the-league performer to something around average or even below-average.

If Shurmur puts together an offense that hovers around 20th instead of 28th, the team’s net performance jumps to being the third or fourth-best in the league in these various measures.

Passing

No one is particularly convinced that Bradford had a good game, though one’s understanding of the impact of pressure changes opinions. Either Bradford had a pretty poor game against the Bears, or a relatively reasonable one given the pressure from the offensive line.

While the truth to me is somewhere in the middle, we can see how the various advanced statistics and grading systems pare that out:

Metric This Week Total 2016 Rank
PFF 12 8
Implied YPA 13 22
Passer Rating 14 8
ANYA 22 17
ESPN QBR 27 25

Both QBR and ANYA give full blame for sacks on the quarterback, which is why the two of them seem to disagree strongly with the other measures when it comes to play this week. You’ll notice that QBR ranks Bradford 27th for the week, even though only 26 teams played. Kansas City played two qualifying quarterbacks, and they both ranked above Bradford.

Bradford is at fault for some of the sacks in this last game, but it’s more than just sacks that discourages QBR from ESPN—Bradford has the highest percentage of his yards in the NFL come on meaningless third-and-long plays.

9.2 percent of his passing yards come on third-and-seven or longer on plays that do not result in a first down, which boosts his yards per attempt and passer rating above his actual impact on the game. Bradford ranks 24th in yards per attempt overall, but falls to 26th when only looking at YPA on passes that did not result in failed completions on third and long.

This isn’t a criticism of Bradford so much as additional context on all of those advanced statistics. After all, it’s not as if incompletions on third down are better.

Bradford has been pressured on a number of his dropbacks, but Pro Football Focus only found that he only ranked eighth in pressures per dropback. While that’s a pretty high rate, it seems lower than Vikings fans would have guessed.

The Vikings have seen a high number of those pressures converted into sacks, and some of that has to do with how quickly pressure arrives and how long Bradford holds on to the ball—either because of scheme or hesitancy.

How can Shurmur begin to address the problem of empty yards or sack conversion? It’s tough because some of the solutions work at cross-purposes. While they should probably substantially reduce the number of screens or stick passes on third and long, they will increase the pressure rate by doing so.

Perhaps the Vikings need to move their YAC plays from third down to first down to change the run-pass balance while taking advantage of some of the unique skills of their starting receivers, while implementing more bunch sets and crossers on third down to clear out defenders and clear a path for receivers so that Bradford can get rid of the ball quickly while also generating more meaningful yards.

Receiving

We generally only look at yards per route run when it comes to advanced receiving statistics, as it generally encompasses opportunity and folds in target data, largely because yards per target fails to account for the fact that getting open and earning a target is its own skill. But we can also look at two other statistics—drop rate and average depth of target—to get an idea of what kind of receivers they are.

Here are the Vikings yards per route run rankings (among players at their position) for Week 8:

Player YPRR Position Rank
Stefon Diggs 1.85 23
Matt Asiata 1.71 7
Cordarrelle Patterson 1.16 49
Adam Thielen 1.00 55
Kyle Rudolph 0.82 22

And for the year to date:

Player YPRR Position Rank
Stefon Diggs 2.11 16
Adam Thielen 1.73 41
Cordarrelle Patterson 1.64 46
Kyle Rudolph 1.48 19
Matt Asiata 1.46 12
Charles Johnson 0.81 106
Jerick McKinnon 0.48 49

Go Matt Asiata!

This tells us, generally, speaking who has been the most effective at generating offense for the Vikings when they run routes. It allows us to correct for measures like total yards by accounting for how many opportunities players get. After all, Kyle Rudolph has 100 more yards than Cordarrelle Patterson but Patterson has produced more per route run—which has been reflected in Patterson’s increasing snap count week by week.

We can also look at drop rates, to see if there are any receivers who have been particularly poor at securing the ball. For individual weeks, results are highly volatile, but we can look at those results while keeping those in mind:

Player Drop Rate Position Rank
Matt Asiata 50.0% 18
Kyle Rudolph 0.0% 1
Cordarrelle Patterson 0.0% 1
Stefon Diggs 11.1% 43
Adam Thielen 25.0% 52

These numbers come from Pro Football Focus. Other tracking organizations like Football Outsiders or STATS, Inc. may have different numbers.

Asiata dropped two of his four reception opportunities (not targets, but catchable passes) while Stefon Diggs dropped one of his nine catchable throws. Thielen dropped one of his four.

Because the position ranks only look at players who had at least two catchable targets, Asiata’s rank of 18 is actually pretty bad—last among players in Week 8.

But weekly drops are too sensitive to small changes in data, so let’s look at the season. Keep in mind that the average drop rate is 7.5 percent for running backs and 7.0% for tight ends.

Player Drop Rate Position Rank
Matt Asiata 21.1% 38
Kyle Rudolph 6.3% 17
Cordarrelle Patterson 0.0% 1
Stefon Diggs 5.4% 45
Adam Thielen 7.9% 64

There aren’t any worrisome receivers or tight ends, but Matt Asiata looks like a liability. Of all qualifying running backs (any RB with at least 14 catchable targets, per PFF), he ranks last.

Diggs and Thielen have big ranked numbers next to their names, but honestly it’s not a big deal—Diggs has a below average drop rate and Thielen’s is slightly above the league average for receivers. Patterson is pretty clean.

We can also look at average depth of target for the season to see how players have been used in Turner’s offense.

Player ADoT Position Rank
Matt Asiata -0.2 28
Kyle Rudolph 7.9 17
Adam Thielen 13.9 24
Stefon Diggs 11.1 59
Cordarrelle Patterson 2.3 101

The splits are very clear. Asiata ranks last of all qualifying running backs (this time, qualified by having at least 20 targets) and Patterson ranks second to last of all qualifying receivers. For Asiata this tells us that despite his high number of targets and generally good yards per route run, he’s only a dump-off option who gets yards because defenders give him space—and he hasn’t been a particularly reliable dump-off target, either. He might be the biggest reason Bradford leads the league in “empty yards” on third and long.

Patterson on the other hand has been used as a gadget receiver, ranking only ahead of the Packers’ Ty Montgomery in this statistic. He takes screen passes and runs upfield, with very few opportunities to receive targets on more traditional routes.

Kyle Rudolph ranks dead center among tight ends and Stefon Diggs is fairly average among receivers. Adam Thielen ranks in the top quarter and that tells us that he’s used largely as a deep threat with occasional intermediate routes thrown in there.

There might be some reason to worry about how segregated and clear the roles are in the Vikings offense, and making things a little bit more diverse and complicated may help out. Even getting Patterson targets only eight or ten yards downfield will make him a less predictable receiver and possibly deadlier—he should be a prime candidate for the crossing routes and bunch sets mentioned above.

Asiata either needs to prove he can be more dynamic as a receiving back and be given more route options or perhaps should simply stay in to pass block, as he doesn’t seem to offer much in the receiving game with a low ADoT and high drop rate (traditionally, these are inversely correlated).

Running

The Vikings running game was once again stagnant, but it produced a better yards per attempt than it has in a while. That’s not saying much, and I’m not sure this is a trend because the Vikings were able to generate their best yardage after they went down by three scores late in the game, where they probably should not have been running the ball anyway.

Take those away and the Vikings’ yards per carry drops from 3.2 to 2.8.

Even within the context of those runs, Matt Asiata’s success rate was only 35.7 percent, shockingly not his lowest of the season.

Ronnie Hillman had two successful runs of his four.

An enormous problem for the running game was the yards before contact. Typically, Asiata has been able to generate reasonable yards before contact because of his vision and agility, but the quality of the offensive line will always play a big role in preventing contact from reaching the ballcarrier. In this game, Asiata was only getting half a yard before contact arrived, on average.

The average in week eight was 1.5 yards before contact.

It’s an extremely low number and speaks to the problems players like T.J. Clemmings (and to some extent, Brandon Fusco and Jake Long) have in preventing defenders from getting to the runner.

There’s a good chance this is more on the offensive line than the runner in this case, and Asiata’s 2.5 yards after contact speaks well to his ability to push through that adversity.

How can the offense change to generate more success and prevent yards before contact? Shurmur likely won’t mess with the running game too much, but I imagine he’ll be a little happier implementing the kind of zone plays that Hillman is familiar with from his time in Denver—and the zone style of running that Philadelphia ran.

Because Sparano has been installing all kinds of running plays, having a large menu of runs to choose from will still allow Shurmur to implement what he wants. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Vikings were likely to give backside help to Clemmings (if he’s still starting) in order to prevent tackles-for-loss as well as more misdirection to block defenders with deception instead of physical bodies. Those physical bodies weren’t doing so hot.

There are some insights defensively, in one of the Vikings’ worst defensive showings this year (which still stands as an above-average showing), but that’s not as directly relevant to Shurmur and what can change.

Pass Rush

Last week, the pass rush was generating pressure on the backs of two players—Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter—and wasn’t getting home often. They still generally put pressure on the quarterback but it was isolated and less effective.

In this game, they got home a little bit, but not much. They still got to the quarterback, and this time it was a team effort.

Linval Joseph had an incredible pressure rate of 20 percent—most great defensive ends and outside linebackers won’t hit this mark over a season or in most weeks. Granted, that’s four pressures on 20 dropbacks, but 20 percent sounds better. And it’s still an unusual rate for a nose tackle by any reasonable stretch of the imagination.

Beyond that, Griffen hit an elite mark of 17.9 percent. Danielle Hunter struggled this week, only getting pressure on 4.8 percent—and supersub Tom Johnson got nothing. Brian Robison generated pressure on 7.4 percent of his pass-rushing attempts, which isn’t amazing, but Shamar Stephen’s 6.3 percent is, given that he’s primarily in the game to defend against the run.

As blitzers, Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr did a decent job creating pressure—Kendricks logged one pressure out of his three attempts and Barr logged one in one of his seven.

Overall, the defense generated pressure on 42.4 percent of Chicago’s passing dropbacks.

Run Defense

The Bears ran roughshod over the Vikings, at least at first glance. Jordan Howard met a franchise mark that had only been matched by Gale Sayers and he led all skill players in fantasy points.

Still, the Vikings actually hemmed him in on most of their plays. Absent a colossal failure that led to a 69-yard run, Howard had 3.4 yards a carry. Though Jordan Howard still had a decent success rate (50 percent), the Vikings run defense doesn’t look nearly as bad from a play-to-play perspective.

Beyond that, the interior held up well, only allowing 3.1 yards a carry between the guards, according to Pro Football Focus.

The individual players responsible for run stops (tackles which resulted in an offensive running failure) are listed below, and stop rate below is listed as a percentage of total tackles:

Player Total Sacks Stops Stop Rate
Brian Robison 4 0 4 100.0%
Everson Griffen 5 1 3 60.0%
Linval Joseph 6 0 3 50.0%
Chad Greenway 2 0 2 100.0%
Shamar Stephen 2 0 1 50.0%
Harrison Smith 6 0 1 16.7%
Eric Kendricks 9 0 1 11.1%
Danielle Hunter 2 0 1 50.0%
Anthony Barr 4 0 1 25.0%
Xavier Rhodes 5 0 0 0.0%
Jayron Kearse 1 0 0 0.0%
Terence Newman 2 0 0 0.0%
Captain Munnerlyn 2 0 0 0.0%
Trae Waynes 1 0 0 0.0%
Total 51 1 17 33.3%

And here are the season-long stop rates, listed as a percentage of running snaps:

Player Running Snaps Stops Stop Rate
Danielle Hunter 64 11 17.2%
Linval Joseph 134 18 13.4%
Chad Greenway 78 8 10.3%
Eric Kendricks 157 16 10.2%
Harrison Smith 159 12 7.5%
Tom Johnson 54 4 7.4%
Anthony Barr 159 9 5.7%
Captain Munnerlyn 77 4 5.2%
Shamar Stephen 109 5 4.6%
Brian Robison 132 6 4.5%
Everson Griffen 130 5 3.8%
Andrew Sendejo 105 4 3.8%
Jayron Kearse 32 1 3.1%
Xavier Rhodes 98 2 2.0%
Trae Waynes 69 1 1.4%
Terence Newman 149 1 0.7%
Anthony Harris 32 0 0.0%
TEAM 1738 107 6.2%

It’s much better to look at stop rates as a percentage of running snaps because it gives us a better idea of who is doing the best job of getting to the ball when it matters.

Every week, it gets more and more difficult to dismiss Hunter’s elite stop rate. While he still has too few running snaps for us to get a good feel for him, every week he finds a way to bring the runner down behind the line of scrimmage while only in on about five or so running plays. It’s incredible.

Linval Joseph is living up to the early season hype, and Eric Kendricks is quietly playing better than Anthony Barr right now, both as a run stop creator (which is in part due to scheme) and in coverage. It’s one reason Bleacher Report listed him as one of the top fifty players in the NFL partway through the season.

Pass Coverage

The Vikings allowed Cutler to throw for 8.1 yards per attempt, throw a passer rating of 100.1 and an adjusted net yards per attempt 7.7. By those measures, he had a fantastic day.

On the other hand, ESPN’s total QBR rated him at 45.1 and PFF gave him a grade lower than they did Bradford, ranking him 13th of the 26 quarterbacks they have data publicly available for. That’s very good by three metrics, average by another and somewhat poor by another one. What happened?

PFF says Xavier Rhodes only gave up four receptions on ten targets (though was helped by drops or inaccuracy from Cutler) for 61 yards. It follows that Cutler had 191 yards on his 21 other attempts with 17 completions, but who to?

Xavier Rhodes was by far the most targeted defensive back, which makes sense—he followed Alshon Jeffrey all game—but surprisingly, a safety was the second-most targeted: Jayron Kearse, on 22.2 percent of his passing snaps… though that was only on nine coverage snaps, in all fairness.

Anthony Harris wasn’t targeted when he was on the field, though that could just as easily be by the Vikings’ design as it could his coverage capability.

Newman was only targeted on ten percent of his snaps, and really only made the one mistake in coverage to Cameron Meredith. A big problem, to be sure, but largely a solid day. Captain Munnerlyn was targeted even less often—only once on his 11 snaps.

Harrison Smith was targeted even less often, on only 6.7 percent of his coverage snaps—twice over the course of the game. The Bears instead saw fit to target Trae Waynes, who saw about ten snaps in coverage and gave up a touchdown and another reception for his trouble.

Greenway was targeted often as well, four times on his 22 coverage snaps. Those snaps built a lot of Cutler’s positive passer rating as tight end Zach Miller made work of Greenway’s diminishing coverage capability. Barr was targeted on three of his 26 snaps and wasn’t particularly good on those targets while Kendricks only allowed underneath catches on his four targets in 30 coverage snaps.

The issue in this game wasn’t the cornerbacks, largely—Waynes should have done better, but the CBs didn’t allow too much in the way of passing yardage. Instead, it was the Vikings linebacker corps that let them down.

This might also be a reason that sites who knock off points for after-catch work didn’t like Cutler’s performance very much. Throwing against linebackers is a lot easier than throwing against cornerbacks.

Overall, Shurmur has a lot to fix offensively, but the pieces are there for him to make it better. While the offensive line is an issue, the improved play of Jake Long and the sustained play from Boone and Berger means they may be able to craft a solution. Fusco has been improving over the past couple of weeks, though his second half wasn’t great, as Pro Football Focus logged zero pressures in the first half and five in the second half from him.

If they find a solution at right tackle from Jeremiah Sirles and implement some of the concepts Shurmur has been familiar with from his time in Philadelphia, Cleveland and St. Louis, they might be able to craft an offense that’s pretty good.

Or maybe good enough, anyway.

The post Arif’s Deep Stats Dive: Opportunities Abound for New Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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