The Watchtower: Lions at Vikings

>> 9.25.2011


My apologies for the fallen Watchtower this week. Between wedding season, and the unexpected opportunity to interview Justin Durant, I ran out of time. Also, I forgot I’d have to re-reasearch the Vikes’ offensive coordinator (the bulk of the time crunch) until it was kind of too late. I’ll make it up to you today with a Bleacher Report liveblog of the game itself, and a Fireside Chat containing the audio of the Durant interview.

I started this blog the day the Lions fired Rod Marinelli. Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier was among the few serious candidates for the vacancy, and I profiled Frazier’s resumé in my first title post series, “To Whom It May Concern.” As it turns out, Frazier had a “difference of opinion” with the Lions’ brass, specifically as regards how quickly the Lions could be turned around:

“[W]e had different perceptions of where to go and the length of time to get there,” Frazier said.  “We were really far apart in that. . . .  I will just say we had a different philosophy and vision for two years from now or a year from now.”

Two years later, here we are: Jim Schwartz’s Lions are taking on Leslie Frazier’s Vikings—and though the contest will be in Minnesota, the Lions are four-point favorites. One wonders what Frazier thinks now—of the length of time it would take to turn the Lions into contenders.

Bill Musgrave vs. Gunther Cunningham

Bill Musgrave seems like a pure Bill Walsh WCO disciple. As a player, he backed up Joe Montana and Steve Young under George Seifert. When Musgrave retired, he immediately went into coaching, joining Joe Bugel’s staff in Oakland. Seifert eventually took over the Carolina Panthers, and brought in Musgrave to coach the quarterbacks. According to Wikipedia, Seifert increasingly leaned on Musgrave for playcalling help, even over OC Gil Haskell. The following offseason, Haskell left and Musgrave was promoted to coordinator.

After four games as OC, though, it’s rumored Seifert dressed down Musgrave in front of the team for his poor playcalling. Musgrave resigned. That year, those Panthers played Gunther Cunningham’s Chiefs, but Musgrave was long since out.

After running Al Groh’s offense at Virginia (and developing Matt Schaub) for a year, Musgrave was hired as Jacksonville’s OC. After two years where the offense finished 25th and 29th in scoring, Musgrave was let go.

Musgrave landed in Washington, serving as quarterbacks coach for one year, then spent five years in Atlanta in the same position—though by the end, he’d been promoted to Assistant Head Coach.

The long and short of it is, Musgrave was a pure Bill Walsh disciple with impressive pedigree, but has run a diverse set of offenses since then. Musgrave has ditched Brad Childress’s complicated Andy Reid-style WCO verbiage, and switched to the Ron Erhardt system, which was used by Ken Whisenhunt in both Pittsburgh and Arizona.

Everywhere I’ve looked, I’ve found that Musgrave’s offense in Minnesota is going to be simpler, more flexible, and better suited to maximize the talents of Adrian Peterson—while making it easier on the Vikings’ young quarterbacks. Ironically, it’s this switch in verbiage and approach might have introduced a learning curve for Donovan McNabb, who was supposed to be a plug-and-play fit in Minnesota.

Long story short, I can't find any game where Bill Musgrave faced off against a Schwartzingham defense as a playcaller, at least not while running anything like this offense.

With no schematic advantages either way, we must project the Vikings’ offense to meet expectations. Though I don’t typically use data from the current season until after the third game, at this point I’m left with no choice. The Vikings are currently scoring 18.5 points per game, after averaging 17.6 points per game in 2010. The Lions are the second-best scoring defense in the league, allowing just 11.5 points per game. I don’t expect the Lions to finish the season allowing so few points per game, but I do expect the Vikings to score fewer than their season average today.

Therefore, I project the Vikings to score between 10 and 13 points. I have extremely low confidence in this projection.

Mitigating/Aggravating Factors

Well golly. I'd need some real data to have some factors to mitigate or aggravate, eh? One thing I'd keep an eye on: the Vikings have started hot in each of their first two games, only to fall apart. They’re pretty much playing for their season, at home, in a place where the Lions almost never win. If they jump out to an early lead, momentum may carry them beyond expectations. If not . . . well, not.

Scott Linehan vs. Leslie Frazier

Lin Fraz Ornk PgG YpA YpC Drnk PpG DYpA DYpC PTS YpA INT YpC Fum Sack
MIN TBB 8th 24.4 6.60 5.3 1st 12.2 4.88 3.79 24 7.78 2 7.52 3-11 2-1
MIN IND 6th 25.3 7.16 4.71 19th 21.9 7.15 4.43 28 8.89 0 5.75 2-1 2-15
MIA TBB 16th 19.9 5.94 3.69 8th 17.1 6.15 3.46 13 6.21 0 3.56 3-2 4-24
DET MIN 27th 16.4 5.27 3.92 10th 19.5 6.89 4.14 13 5.07 2 3.79 2-1 2-16
DET MIN 27th 16.4 5.27 3.92 10th 19.5 6.89 4.14 10 4.39 0 4.23 2-1 3-20
DET MIN 14th 22.8 5.99 3.99 16th 21.9 6.36 3.92 10 5.51 2 3.32 1-1 1-15
DET MIN 14th 22.8 5.99 3.99 16th 21.9 6.36 3.92 20 6.62 1 3.96 1-1 1-8

In Watchtowers past, I’ve found there is a mild systemic advantage for Scott Linehan offenses against Leslie Frazier defenses. However, in each of the last two games, critical red zone turnovers have short-circuited that advantage, and the Lions’ offense has  underperformed expectations. Today, Matthew Stafford will leading the offense, instead of Shaun Hill—and I’ll presume the Lions’ systemic advantages remain intact.

The Lions are scoring 37.5 points per game, but I don’t expect that to last all season. I’ll project the Lions to outperform what I think will be their season averages on the year, scoring 34-37 points. I have extremely low confidence in this projection.


This has been an awfully frustrating season for Watchtowers so far, and I appreciate your patience. Today, I project a 34-13 Lions victory. My gut feeling on the relative strengths of these two teams agrees with that projection. However, I feel like this Vikings team is backed against the wall at 0-2, and—though they’re saying all the right things—I have to believe the Lions are believing their own press at this point, too. I worry about the Vikes getting the jump on the Lions and popping the hype balloon.


MrMomWorld,  September 25, 2011 at 12:21 PM  

Maybe I'm more optimistic. I'm thinking more like 38-10.

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