Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 15 other subscribers

MN Vikings Tweets

Bleacher Report – Vikings

With focus on game management, will Zimmer be aggressive on fourth down?

By Matthew Coller

Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer went into the offseason on a mission to find areas where he could improve his team’s chances to win.

Back in January, Zimmer said:

“A lot of the things that I have to do better with, some of it is, there were a couple gamemanagement situations I could have done a better job in. Honestly, I put this on myself, what happened there, that I wasn’t able to pull this team out of that slump when we got into that slump, because regardless of all the things that happened – injuries and all that other stuff – are just excuses.”

At the NFL Combine, he talked about following through by meeting with other coaches. The most noticable change in practice is the team going through a different situation before the end of each day.

But will Zimmer simply try to handle his timeouts better this year or take a more radical step based on studies of fourth down success rates?

“Really it depends on the team we’re playing, the quarterback, the situation, their quarterback, to me that’s always the tell-tale sign,” Zimmer said. “I’m aggressive by nature, but I couldn’t tell you if I’m going to go for it more on fourth down.”

To the letter, every study that has ever been done about fourth downs has found that coaches don’t go for it enough.

Many explanations have been tossed around, one of which being that, in the days when modern football was formed, offenses weren’t powerful enough to take the ball the length of the field. The conservative thinking became convention and risk takers would be ridiculed.

The story that best demonstrates the origins of fourth-down thinking comes from legendary coach John Madden, who once said in an interview that he was upset by kids going for it on his popular Madden Football video games.

“I don’t like to see stuff that isn’t real, or isn’t practical,” Madden said, “like going for it long on fourth down.”

But kids playing video games have often been ahead of the real sports. Think about basketball teams spreading the floor and chucking three-point shots for four quarters. Or college football offenses exclusively running five-wide sets and throwing every play. These things were being done by serious gamers 10 years before they hit the field.

On Madden, of course, there are no actual consequences, so you can go for it on fourth down no matter what the situation. That’s not exactly the smartest approach, according to a 2014 study by Brian Burke, a former Navy officer turned senior analytics specialist for ESPN and inventor of the website

Burke found that there are optimal situations to go for it on fourth based on the likelihood of getting a first down and the chances of making a field goal.

In the chart below, Burke demonstrates that teams should be going for it on fourth down in almost all downs and distances between the opponent’s 35 and 40 and in most situations with less than five years to go inside the 30.

Zimmer indicated that he is aware of the numbers, but didn’t want to commit to following along regardless of context.

“The analytics say a lot about two-point plays too, but if you miss one, then you’re catching up,” he said. “It depends on the point in the game.”

In 2014, Football Outsiders studied coaches’ fourth-down decisions and found Zimmer to be the 20th most aggressive in the NFL. Last year, the Vikings went for it 18 times, ninth most in the NFL and seven more than in 2015. The Eagles ranked first last season with 27 fourth down tries.

Since defense is a calling card of the Vikings, it wouldn’t be crazy for the head coach to trust his defenders more often than rolling the dice on fourth down. But if the goal in most situations is to maximize points, the reward is greater than the risk in many situations.

Of course, Zimmer is the type of coach who doesn’t reveal playing time in preseason, so he wouldn’t be alerting teams to his strategy through the media, but if he studied those plays as part of his offseason analysis, he’d might decide to let Sam Bradford and the offense take more swings on fourth down.

The post With focus on game management, will Zimmer be aggressive on fourth down? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>