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Bleacher Report – Vikings

What do Vikings’ third-and-long struggles say about their offense?

By Matthew Coller

The Minnesota Vikings walked out of Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals about as happy as any team could be with its performance.

But during the the 34-7 smackdown, there was a little pang of 2016 when the Vikings threw short of the sticks on several third-and-long situations. On a third-and-8 with 2:00 to go, Case Keenum completed a pass to Stefon Diggs for one yard. Then on third-and-10 early in the third quarter, he hit Jerick McKinnon for seven yards.

Playing conservative in a blowout might make sense – and the Bengals had a free run at Keenum on the Diggs completion – but overall the Vikings have been one of the league’s worst teams on third downs with more than six yards to go.

Here’s the entire list….

Yards Per Passing Play on third-and-long

Tm G Plays Yards per passing play 1st%
NWE 14 81 8.38 39.5%
PHI 14 99 8.10 38.4%
LAC 14 104 7.63 33.7%
NYJ 14 93 7.26 34.4%
NOR 14 86 7.15 36.0%
PIT 14 90 7.09 28.9%
WAS 14 97 7.01 28.9%
ATL 14 89 6.85 36.0%
OAK 14 98 6.58 34.7%
MIA 14 108 5.90 26.9%
DET 14 103 5.83 31.1%
ARI 14 116 5.80 31.0%
KAN 14 87 5.79 27.6%
CHI 14 97 5.76 23.7%
BUF 14 100 5.70 27.0%
TEN 14 88 5.53 30.7%
CAR 14 93 5.51 29.0%
IND 14 105 5.48 31.4%
JAX 14 101 5.40 28.7%
LAR 14 90 5.37 26.7%
DEN 14 106 5.35 29.2%
CIN 14 97 5.32 29.9%
SFO 14 111 5.26 25.2%
GNB 14 80 5.15 22.5%
DAL 14 86 5.14 24.4%
CLE 14 105 4.85 20.0%
MIN 14 86 4.81 27.9%
HOU 14 96 4.67 26.0%
NYG 14 87 4.62 20.7%
SEA 14 97 4.42 24.7%
TAM 14 91 4.33 30.8%
BAL 14 90 3.47 20.0%

Keenum ranks 27th of 27 quarterbacks in yards per attempt with more than 50 passes thrown on third-and-long. Naturally, Tom Brady is at the top of the list.

On the flip side, Keenum ranks No. 1 in the NFL in yards per attempt on third downs with five or fewer yards to go. He completed a 41-yard pass to McKinnon on third-and-2 on Sunday. The Vikings have the third highest conversation rate on third-and-short at 62.5 percent, only ranking behind the Los Angeles Rams and Detroit Lions.

The Vikings’ wide gap between third-and-short and third-and-long success leads us to one conclusion: Running success is more important to the Vikings than it might be some other teams.

Latavius Murray has been very good on first downs. If you subtract first-and-goal situations, he averages 4.7 yards per attempt, routinely setting up manageable second downs and third-and-short situations.

Kyle Rudolph plays a key role in setting up third-and-short, too. Rudolph has the second most catches on the Vikings on first down passes deemed as “short” by NFL official play-by-play. He’s caught 18 passes on 21 targets. While only seven of those have gone for first downs, the others have acted as glorified run plays, giving the Vikings an opportunity to convert on third-and-short.

The Vikings appear to struggle on third-and-long because opponents have no fear of run plays or screens as they would on third-and-short.

As you can see below on the third-and-7 fail at the end of the first half, the Bengals played two deep safeties. They also loaded up the box and sent an extra man and pressured Keenum off the edge.

Now compare that to the pre-snap look on an earlier third-and-2.

The safety is up at the line of scrimmage. Stefon Diggs, Jarius Wright and Adam Thielen are 1-on-1 in press man coverage. If the Bengals blitz, either Jerick McKinnon or Kyle Rudolph could end up open for a dump off. If the safety stays back, the Vikings could check to a run. This year the Vikings have run the ball 16 times on third-and-short and gained 13 first downs. (Which is also a sign of progress on the O-line and the impact of Latavius Murray).

So one thing to keep an eye on as the Vikings head into the playoffs is whether their opponents are good at stuffing the run.

Another conclusion: We often eyeroll at head coaches talking about “establishing the run,” but in this case, the Vikings have to do so in order to make a deep run.

The post What do Vikings’ third-and-long struggles say about their offense? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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