Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is no fan of Pro Football Focus, and you better believe he’s let Cris Collinsworth know that.
Collinsworth, a former Pro Bowl receiver, is the owner of the analytics site and the analyst for NBC’s Sunday Night Football. He will be in the booth with play-by-play broadcaster Al Michaels for the Vikings’ game Sunday night at Seattle.
Sunday Night Football has an agreement to use Pro Football Focus stats on the air, and expect some to be thrown out during the game at CenturyField Link. Collinsworth could note that Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen are the top two rated wide receivers in the NFL. He also could note that the Vikings’ Dru Samia ranks dead last among 72 guards in the league.
“(Zimmer is) a fan when he agrees and he’s not a fan when he disagrees, so he’s just willing to say what he disagrees with, which is exactly who Mike is,” said Collinsworth, who has a home in Kentucky 45 minutes from Zimmer’s ranch. “I’ve known Mike forever, and we’re friends, and the great thing about Mike is he’s honest with you.
“There’s not one thing Mike Zimmer can ever say that would ever make me do anything but smile and laugh and go, ‘Come on, Mike, you know that I know.’ ”
Zimmer has made numerous negative comments about Pro Football Focus since taking over as the Vikings’ coach in 2014. He was asked Friday what he dislikes about it.
“My issue is, I don’t see how they can grade my players when they don’t know what they’re being told,” he said.
The Cincinnati-based subscription service provides all sorts of data and rankings based on what every player does during every play of every NFL game. Each of the NFL’s 32 teams subscribe.
Pro Football Focus also analyzes college games, and more than 80 college teams subscribe. Collinsworth said it has a staff of about 600, which includes the many individuals who break down games.
The site was launched in 2007 by Neil Hornsby, who lives in the United Kingdom and long had been an NFL fan. Collinsworth said it’s “a very strange story indeed” how he first came across Pro Football Focus and then bought it in 2014 when it had a staff of 50 to 60.
During the summer of 2014, when Collinsworth was preparing to also serve that season as an analyst on a Sunday Night Football post-game show on NBC Sports Network, he was looking for additional ways to get information on all NFL teams. He came across the site at www.profootballfocus.com, and was impressed. He saw a “contact us” link, so he wrote in for more information.
“I just thought it was a bunch of coaches or scouts (who ran it),” he said. “I actually subscribed, so I put my credit card in for $26.99 so I could get even more in-depth. … After I put this contact-us message in there, about three minutes later, I get a call from a guy named Neil Hornsby with a British accent, and all I can think is this Brit just hustled me out of $26.99.
“So, I started firing questions at this guy, about everything, from linebackers and safeties and long snappers, and anything I could think of to throw him off, and he’s answering these questions so fast it’s blowing my mind. … I’m going, ‘You know more about this than I do and this my full job.’ ”
Collinsworth became so intrigued by Pro Football Focus that he bought the site several months later. He wouldn’t disclose how much he paid.
Collinsworth also wouldn’t disclose how much NFL teams pay. The service teams get is called PFF Ultimate, and isn’t available to the general public. It ties all the data in with the video systems of teams.
For a fan, Pro Football Focus is available for different levels of data. The low-end price was listed Friday as $39.99 per year, the high-end price as $199.99.
Fred Gaudelli, executive producer for Sunday Night Football, said the “player rankings and specialized data that PFF provides each week enhances our show by offering analysis on team and player tendencies that help us tell the story of the game.”
Heading into Sunday’s game, Pro Football Focus lists Vikings running back Dalvin Cook as leading the NFL in broken tackles with 21. Collinsworth offered one tidbit he might break out on the broadcast, which shows how much deeper Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins has been throwing the ball this season.
“Cousins’ average depth of target since 2016 has been 9.4 (yards), which is ninth; 8.3, which is 21st; 7.9, which is 23rd, and 8.3, which is 20th,” Collinsworth said. “It’s been nothing to write home about. But this season it’s 12.3, which is No. 1 in the NFL. So, this is a team that under (offensive coordinator) Gary Kubiak is running the ball and then when they bootleg or play action and fake off of it, they’re getting the ball down the field, and obviously these two hot receivers are a big part of it.”
You better believe Kubiak knows all about Cousins’ depth of target. He’s a big fan of Pro Football Focus.
“I think it’s impressive the work they do,” said Kubiak, head coach when the Denver Broncos won Super Bowl 50 in February 2016. “Obviously, we have an analytics team here that we sit down with every Monday and go through our opponent and they give us information because we as coaches are so locked in to week-to-week and day-to-day. So, there’s a lot of information for us to look through.”
The Vikings often tweet out Pro Football Focus numbers, but only positive ones. A big positive in recent years has been safety Harrison Smith, who is the NFL’s fourth-ranked safety this season after ranking No. 1 in 2017 and No. 3 in 2015 and 2019.
“I think it’s cool for fans to get values on things,” Smith said. “I think that’s what people want these days. … It’s definitely not fool-proof, but people seem to like it.”
Well, except Mike Zimmer.