Donovan McNabb apologists are hard to find. After all, Brett Favre earned the opportunity to suck in 2010 after what he accomplished in 2009. He was more slinger than gunslinger, but there was confidence that no deficit was too large to overcome.
With McNabb, it would seem, no lead was big enough to hold on to. A week after squandering a 17-point halftime lead over Tampa Bay, the Vikings radio broadcast team of Paul Allen and Pete Bercich were asked, half kiddingly, is the lead was big enough this week? At the time, the Vikings had dominated Detroit 20-0 at the half and seemed destined to put the brakes on the talk of Detroit being a legitimate postseason contender. Instead, the Vikings found a way to lose and much of the blame (rightfully) went to McNabb.
The strange thing about the punchless McNabb-led Vikings was that he wasn’t brought into the organization for the reason Favre was. Brett was brought in to generate excitement. He did exactly what he was brought to Minnesota to do – light a fire under a lethargic fan base. He succeeded.
McNabb was brought in for much different reasons. When the Vikings were looking at quarterback options during the lockout, they were looking for someone who could manage games and not create the problems that Favre did so routinely when things went bad. While he could erase a 14-point deficit when he was on his game, Favre could turn a 14-point deficit into a 28-point deficit just as quickly. What the Vikings wanted from McNabb was a technician that could teach Ponder how to read defenses. To that standard, McNabb succeeded.
As frustrating as everyone found McNabb’s penchant for one-hop throws (a historical staple of McNabb’s throwing arsenal), one thing can’t be disputed. A one-hop throw has never been intercepted.
On the first pass of McNabb’s Vikings career, he tried to get rid of the ball in the face of a full-out blitz from the San Diego Chargers. That pass was intercepted – making for one of the most inauspicious debuts for a veteran QB with a new team in recent memory. When the Chargers came down with the ball, there was 12:59 left in the first quarter of the season opener and the Vikings were ahead 7-0.
In the 357 minutes, 59 seconds that took place since, the Vikings offense turned the ball over three times. They sputtered. They wheezed. They punted. But, they didn’t turn the ball over as is expected in the NFL. It happens. Ask Packers fans. Aaron Rodgers has been “credited” with three interceptions. Two of them have come off deflections of perfect passes that went through the hands of his receivers and bounced casually to closing defenders. The Packers are the only 6-0 team in the league and they’ve turned the ball over seven times.
Through six weeks of the NFL season, the average number of giveaways by an offense is nine. It should be noted that 12 teams have played five games, so the number is skewed for those teams that haven’t played six games. The Vikings have turned the ball over via fumble or interception just four times – two fumbles and two interceptions.
After that ill-fated first pass, McNabb was intercepted once in his last 155 throws. If the Vikings lose five of their next six games and Christian Ponder throws one interception, he will be hailed as the Next Big Thing by virtue of that stat alone. McNabb was benched by posting those numbers.
I’m not sure if this mea culpa makes me a McNabb apologist, but you can say one thing about him: He had the Vikings as a plus-4 in the giveaway/takeaway ratio – tied for sixth best in the league. In 2010, the Vikings were 29th in the league in the same category at minus-11 thanks to 37 giveaways. Under McNabb, the Vikings were on pace to have 12 giveaways in 16 games – not too shabby given that the rate of giveaways was looking astronomic when one of the four came on the first offensive play of the season.
McNabb heads to the bench today as Ponder makes his debut, but whether you like him or not, he did exactly what he was brought here to do – lead the offense without turning the ball over and giving games away. He didn’t do much to lead them forward, but he didn’t give many gifts.
VIKINGS-PACKERS BY THE NUMBERS
The Packers have the 4th-ranked offense in the NFL (24th rushing, 3rd passing) and the 23rd-ranked defense (5th rushing, 31st passing). The Vikings have the 23rd-ranked offense (3rd rushing, 31st passing) and the 15th-ranked defense (4th rushing, 24th passing).
The Packers are averaging 424 yards a game (325 passing, 99 rushing). The Vikings are averaging 311 yards a game (169 passing, 142 rushing).
Defensively, the Packers are allowing 384 yards a game (300 passing, 84 rushing). The Vikings are allowing 353 yards a game (269 passing, 84 rushing).
The Vikings are both third in rushing yards and average gain per rushing attempt. The Packers are 24th in rushing and 27th in yards per attempt.
In terms of average yards gained per pass attempt, the Packers are first in the league. The Vikings are 28th.
The Packers are fourth in third-down efficiency, converting 53.3 percent of their chances (40 of 78). The Vikings are 17th at 36 percent (27 of 75). The league average is 38.8 percent.
Defensively, the Packers are 20th in third-down efficiency, allowing opponents to convert 40.5 percent of their third-down opportunities (30 of 74). The Vikings are lagging near the bottom of the NFL at 27th, allowing opponents to convert 44.2 percent of their third downs (35 of 86).
What does allowing massive passing yards translate to in the modern NFL? Duh, winning! The Packers are 31st in pass yards allowed. New England is 32nd. Buffalo is 30th. Between those three teams, by the numbers the worst pass defenses in the NFL, they have a combined record of 15-3. Bring on the passing yards if that is the end result.
Perhaps a more accurate sign of team success is how often its defense faces third downs defensively. The Vikings’ 86 opponent third-down opportunities are just one behind the most in the league – shared by Indianapolis and Jacksonville. Those three teams have a combined record of 2-16.
The Packers lead the NFL in points scored per game, averaging 33 points a game. The Vikings are 21st, averaging 20 points a game.
Both teams are near the top of the league in giveaway/takeaway ratio. The Packers are fourth at plus-7 (14 takeaways, seven giveaways). The Vikings are tied for 6th at plus-4 (eight takeaways, four giveaways).
The Packers are tied for second with 14 takeaways, behind only Buffalo (16). The Vikings are tied for first with Detroit for least giveaways (four).
The Packers are tied for ninth place in red zone offense, scoring touchdowns on 58.3 percent of their red zone drives (14 of 24). The Vikings are 21st at 45.5 percent (10 touchdowns in 22 chances).
Both defenses have been strong in the red zone. The Vikings are second in the league, allowing touchdowns on just 36.4 percent of opponent red zone trips (eight of 22) – trailing only San Francisco (six of 19, 31.6 percent). The Packers are tied for fourth at 38.1 percent – eight touchdowns on 21 chances.
Through six weeks of the NFL season, there have been 452 touchbacks. Thanks to the new NFL rules moving kickoffs from the 30- to the 35-yard line, last week the NFL surpassed the total for touchbacks in the entire 2010 season (416). The league average is 50.2 percent of kickoffs being touchbacks. Mason Crosby of the Packers is above league average at 51.3 percent (20 touchbacks on 39 kicks). Ryan Longwell has seven touchbacks (two more than he had in all of 2010), but he ranks 28th in the league at just 22.6 percent of his kicks.
Want to win a bar bet? Wager that Aaron Rodgers throws for 300 or more yards. Through six games, he has topped 300 yards five times and the one game he didn’t, he had 298 yards. Now you just have to find someone to take the other side of the bet.
The Vikings haven’t had anything close to a 300-yard passing game this season.
Defensively, the Packers have allowed four 300-yard passers in six games. The Vikings have allowed three.
The Vikings have yet to have a 100-yard receiver. The Packers have done it four times – twice by Greg Jennings and once each by James Jones and Jordy Nelson.
Defensively, the Packers have allowed four 100-yard receivers. The Vikings have allowed three, two of those coming in the same game (Calvin Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew of the Lions).
Adrian Peterson has two 100-yard rushing games. The Packers have yet to have a runner gain 100 yards.
The Vikings defense has yet to allow a 100-yard rusher and the Packers have allowed just one – Willis McGahee of Denver.
Rodgers is eighth in the league in pass attempts (208), fourth in completions (146), first in completion percentage (70.2), third in yards (2,031), first in average gain per attempt (9.76 yards), first in touchdowns (17), first in touchdown percentage (8.2) and first in passer rating (122.5).
Peterson is sixth in the league in rushing with 537 yards. James Starks leads the Packers with 299 yards – 24th in the league.
Nobody has more rushing attempts this year than Peterson’s 122.
Jennings is seventh in the league with 35 receptions. Percy Harvin is tied for 31st with 25 catches.
The Packers have three receivers in the top 40 in receiving yards. Jennings is sixth with 530 yards, Nelson is 16th with 412 and Jermichael Finley is tied for 34th with 323 yards. Percy Harvin leads the Vikings with 261 yards – tied for 65th in the NFL.
Peterson is third in the league in scoring among non-kickers with 42 points (seven touchdowns). He trails only LeSean McCoy (eight touchdowns) and Calvin Johnson (nine touchdowns).
Crosby is seventh in the league in scoring among kickers with 53 points. Longwell is 15th in scoring with 43 points.
Peterson is 15th in total yards from scrimmage with 586 (537 rushing, 49 receiving). Jennings is 18th with 530 (all receiving). Harvin is 33rd with 419 (261 receiving, 158 rushing). Nelson is 35th with 413 (all receiving) and Starks is 36th with 412 (299 rushing, 113 receiving).
Marcus Sherels is third in the league in punt return average at 13.9 yards per return.
Green Bay’s Randall Cobb is second in the league in kickoff return average at 32.5 yards a pop. Lorenzo Booker is ninth with a 26.6-yard average.
The Packers have four players with two or more interceptions. Charles Woodson and safety Morgan Burnett have three each and CBs Sam Shields and Charlie Peprah have two each. Jamarca Sanford leads the Vikings with two and he is doubtful to play with a concussion.
Jared Allen leads the league with 9.5 sacks – two more than his nearest competitor, Jason Pierre-Paul of the Giants. Brian Robison is tied for 13th with 4.5 sacks. No Packer has more than three sacks.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.