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Bleacher Report – Vikings

A closer look at the Vikings’ game management

By Matthew Coller

The takeaways from the Minnesota Vikings’ loss to the New Orleans Saints last Sunday have mostly related to key turnovers and whether the Vikings are getting what they paid for from Kirk Cousins. Another aspect of the 30-20 loss that drew scrutiny was game management. Several decisions at key times played into the final result. What can we learn from a deeper analysis of Mike Zimmer’s calls? And are the Vikings generally good with game management? Let’s have a look…

On the opening drive of the second half, the Vikings went for a fourth-and-1. They sat at their own 45-yard line, down 17-13 with 12:33 remaining in the third quarter.

The Vikings’ failure to gain a first down was one of the biggest swing plays in the game. According to Pro-Football Reference’s “Win Probability Calculator,*” the Vikings had a 31.5 percent chance of winning the game at that moment.

*PFR’s formula is based on the number of points expected on average for each particular situation. It weighs the talent matchup using the Vegas line.*

If Minnesota had punted the ball to the New Orleans 15, the probability of winning wouldn’t have changed (33.8 percent), but with the loss of downs, it dipped below 25 percent. Had they completed the pass from Kirk Cousins to Laquon Treadwell, the Vikings would have been right back in the game at 43.8 percent win probability.

So how should we judge the decision?

It was certainly risky considering the Vikings were giving the ball back to Drew Brees, who quickly led a field goal drive. Putting the game on the line early in the third could be viewed as a reactionary decision based on Adam Thielen’s fumble that gave the Saints the lead. However, success on the play would have had major benefits.

The part that is worth scrutinizing was the actual play. With QB sneaks having an extremely high percentage of success, that likely would have been a better decision. The odds of converting go down when targeting Treadwell against Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans’ best cornerback.

Put the decision under the category of very aggressive, but certainly defensible. It could have changed the game for the Vikings if executed properly.

Going for the fourth down was surprising when juxtaposed with the Vikings’ electing to run out the clock at the end of the first half. Following a touchdown that put the Saints ahead 17-13, Minnesota got the ball at their own 25 and handed the ball off to Mike Boone for seven yards and bled the final 30 seconds of the half despite having two timeouts.

The Win Probability Calculator indicates that it would have been wise to be aggressive. Had the Vikings put Dan Bailey in field goal position by moving the ball 40 yards — say, using passes to either Adam Thielen or Stefon Diggs — they could have closed a huge gap in win probability. They went into half with a 36.2 percent chance to win, but if the Vikings had cut the lead to one point, it would have jumped to 48.4 percent.

Bottom line: It would have made sense to be aggressive.

Those two choices can be scrutinized in depth like any calls made in an NFL game, but two decisions don’t give us much information about the bigger picture of Zimmer’s game management. We need a bigger sample size for that.

This season the Vikings have gone for it on fourth down a total of nine times this year. According to PFR’s Estimated Points Added, the Vikings have increased their chances to win on five of them. However, one negative play was against the Bills when down 27 points and another was at the very end of the win over San Francisco.

Turns out the fourth-and-1 failure against the Saints was the biggest negative impact play by the Vikings on fourth down this year.

Here are all the times the Vikings have gone for it on fourth down:

Minnesota has only punted once this year on fourth-and-1 and that came in the wind against the Jets. Only two other times punted less than three yards, once from their own 8, other from their own 40.

They have rarely punted on the opponent’s side of the field and all of them required eight or more yards to go.

Looking at field goals, there were two attempts that Dan Bailey made that caused the Vikings’ win probability to go down. Once at the Jets’ 4-yard line when up 17-7 midway through the third quarter and once up 17-3 at Philadelphia’s 4-yard line with 7:35 remaining. Going for a touchdown may have been a favorable decision in those cases considering how far the opposing team would have had to travel to produce points against the Vikings.

Challenges are another part of game management. Zimmer is 0-for-3 this year, including one on the first drive against the Saints. The Vikings’ head coach is only 11-for-26 in his career as a head coach, but went 5-for-7 last year. The broadcast in the press box was noticeably far behind the play on Sunday night, which may have made Zimmer’s decision on a Michael Thomas catch much harder.

There have been instances in which the offense struggled to manage the clock at the end of the first half, especially against San Francisco and Los Angeles. The Vikings probably needed to pick up the pace when down 17 against the Saints in the fourth quarter, but their odds of winning would have been under 10 percent even with a quicker touchdown to go down by 10 points.

The bottom line on the Vikings’ game management is that on Sunday night Zimmer made a difficult call that didn’t work out on fourth down and may have missed an opportunity in the first half, but overall there have not been many areas that have been problematic by the numbers.

The post A closer look at the Vikings’ game management appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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