The midway point of any season is time to look both backward and forward. Given the Vikings bye week coming at the exact midway point of their 2011 regular season, it stands to reason that an accurate assessment can be made of the current standing of a team that it would be if, let’s say, they had a bye in Week 5 and hadn’t really got their legs under them – for better or worse.
As we sit at the midway point of the 2011 season, what can we take from a 2-6 start? It could be worse. It could be 2010.
Last year, Brett Favre had a passer rating of 69.9 – brutal by any definition. Of the three quarterbacks who started games for the Vikings last year, that was the high-water mark. As a team, the Vikings had a passer rating of 67.7 and threw a whopping 26 interceptions. Despite any tangible success, Donovan McNabb and Christian Ponder have combined to have a passer rating of 80.8 and have thrown just four interceptions.
In 2010, despite the struggles of the passing game, Adrian Peterson had a career-low 283 carries, gaining 1,298 yards and scoring 13 touchdowns. For anyone else, that would be a career year. For Peterson, fans were asking “Wha’ happened?” At his current pace, Peterson will rush 60 more times for 300 more yards and score seven more touchdowns. Not too shabby when the bar is raised that high.
In his first two seasons with the Vikings, Jared Allen set the standard for what pass-rushing defensive ends should be. After years of mediocrity in getting a consistent pass rush from the outside, Allen notched 14.5 sacks in each of the 2008 and 2009 seasons. In 2010, Allen recorded 11 sacks – a career year for most aspiring Pro Bowl defensive ends, but sub-par for Allen. Midway through his 2011 season, Allen has 12.5 sacks – already surpassing his 2010 total, just three sacks short of his career best and on pace to break the all-time single-season sack record.
In 2010, the Vikings finished 6-10 largely because they got out of the gate slow and played from behind in far too many games. The Vikings were outscored 175-132 in the first half of games last year. To date, they have outscored opponents 123-72 in the first half. If they can get their second halves to compare to their first halves, then they may have something going.
In 2010, Ryan Longwell scored just 81 points – the lowest point total of his career. He isn’t the team’s leading scorer (that would be Peterson with 60 points), but Longwell has 58 points and is on pace to score 116 – close to his career average and 35 points more than he scored last season.
In his first four seasons, Brian Robison had a career high of 4.5 sacks. Midway through the 2011 season, he has 4.5 sacks. He is on pace for nine sacks, which would surpass the career high of 8.5 sacks set by free agent Ray Edwards, who has two sacks in seven games with the Falcons.
As a team, the Vikings scored just 281 points in 2010 – an average of less than 18 points a game. The 2011 Vikings are averaging four points more per game.
Last year, the Vikings averaged 4.4 yards per rushing attempt. This season, they’re averaging 5.2 yards per rush.
In 2010, the Vikings had 37 giveaways and 26 takeaways – a total of minus-11 on the give/take scale. This year, they have just seven giveaways and are plus-4 on the give/take scale.
There isn’t a lot for Vikings fans to hang their hats on during the bye week. After all, the Vikings have lost 13 of their last 19 games – a percentage typically reserved for the Detroits and Clevelands of the NFL world. But, despite the adversities of the 2011 season and the prospect of double-digit losses for a second straight year, it is clear that the 2011 Vikings are better in many respects than the 2010 team. It may not be apparent on the win-loss ledger, but the Vikings are rebuilding. The process is just taking longer (and with less tangible signs of success) after the Crash of 2010.
The midway point of the season for most teams coming this weekend and one on the longstanding passing records of the NFL is in line to fall. With the rules changes in the last decade to open up the passing game, many records have fallen at the hands of guys like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. But one record that has stood for 27 years is the 1984 single-season passing yardage record of Dan Marino, who threw for 5,084 yards that season. It has been challenged since. In 2001, Kurt Warner came within 250 yards of the record, and in 2008 Drew Brees threw for 5,069 and could lament a dropped deep pass during the season as the final hurdle in setting the record. Brees is again in line to break the record – through eight games in New Orleans, he is on pace to throw for almost 5,500 yards. He is averaging 343 yards a game. Marino averaged 318 yards a game in his record season, meaning Brees needs to average 293 yards a game the rest of the way to set the new mark. But, he is far from alone in the pursuit. Aaron Rodgers is on pace to throw for 5,421 yards and Tom Brady is on pace to throw for 5,396. Even Eli Manning, never known as a full-time gunslinger, is on pace to throw for 4,862 yards, which, heading into this season, would be third all-time, passing Warner’s 2001 total of 4,830. As it currently stands, the top three single-season passing totals in the history of the NFL are held by Marino (1984), Brees (2008) and Warner (2001). By the time the 2011 season ends, Marino could be fourth all-time and Warner could drop from No. 3 to No. 7 without too much difficulty.
The 4,000-yard benchmark used to be difficult to reach for quarterbacks. At their current pace, there are 12 quarterbacks that are on track to top 4,000 yards, including youngsters Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford and Joe Flacco. Aside from them, five more quarterbacks are on pace to throw for 3,900 yards.
The 3,000-yard benchmark is used in the league’s official record book. Brett Favre had 18 seasons in which he threw for 3,000 yards or more. At the current pace, 23 quarterbacks are on pace to throw for 3,000 yards, including former Viking Tarvaris Jackson, who has missed time already during the season.
Leslie Frazier’s record of challenging rulings on the field has been pretty dismal. Reversals have been pretty rare – through eight weeks, less the 36 percent of plays challenged (41 of 114) have been overturned. After losing two challenges Sunday against Carolina, Frazier and his staff are just 1-for-5 in challenges. The only teams with a worse percentage are Houston (0-for-4) and St. Louis (0-for-1).
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.