Friday, December 14, 2007

The Other Shoe

In the wake of the Minnesota Vikings' victory over the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday, one stat line leapt out more than did others for the Vikings. That line--116 rushing yards for Minnesota--seemed improbably low for the well-healed Vikings' rushing game, especially coming against the 49ers.

One explanation for the Vikings' low rushing total against the 49ers is that the 49ers simply improved their defensive play, particularly against the rush. Under that theory, the one commonly supported around local water coolers, the 49ers blitzed the Vikings' running backs, attempting to force the Vikings' offense into the hands of Vikings' quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. That led to more passing plays that resulted in either missed opportunities by Jackson or dropped passes by Vikings' receivers in the face of single- or no coverage.

The play of the 49ers' defense--and the schemes that the 49ers ran against the Vikings' offense--unquestionably offers a partial explanation for the 49ers' success stopping the Vikings' running game. But other explanations are required, as the 49ers confounded the Vikings' running attack even without resorting to the blitz.

The second explanation for the Vikings' relative rushing woes against the 49ers on Sunday is that, in the second half of the game, the Vikings simply reverted to the offense that led them to their 2-5 start. That reversion limited the running backs' total number of rushes to 22 for the game and, not surprisingly, stunted the rushing totals for the game.

Against the Detroit Lions the previous week, the Vikings' running backs rushed 33 times for 192 yards and three touchdowns. Despite holding a 35-10 lead at halftime, the Vikings entered the second half of the game with the plan of attacking the Lions' defense. The result was 184 yards of offense and one touchdown on 30 plays over three second-half drives--the fourth and final drive resulting in two kneel-downs.

With a similar half-time lead against the 49ers, the Vikings went into an offensive shell in the second half, running a meager 21 plays for 47 yards and no points, despite having six second-half possessions. The opening drive of the second half was indicative of the type of plays that the Vikings ran in the second half against the 49ers, with Jackson throwing two passes short of the sticks for four yards total and Peterson attempting a run up the middle on second down for zero yards. The result was five punts in the second half.

As running backs tend to fair better in the second half of games than in the first, it is not surprising that, facing fewer Vikings' offensive plays and less-threatening play-calling, the 49ers limited the Vikings' rushing attack to almost nothing in the second half of Sunday's game.

In the end, the Vikings won by a comfortable margin. But one has to wonder what the second half was all about. If it was about milking the clock, the Vikings' failed, holding the ball for just over 12 minutes. If it was about continuing to establish an offensive rythym, that, too, clearly failed.

About the only thing that can be said of the second half of Sunday's game for the Vikings' offense is that, aside from being ineffective, it did not produce any turnovers. In a must-win, conference road game, perhaps that was the goal of the second half. And that might be just fine. But it might also go a long way to helping explain why it was that the Vikings' running attack never got on track the way that most Vikings' fans have grown accustomed to over the bulk of the 2007 NFL season.

Up Next: Vikings' Greatest Improvement from Last Year. Plus, the Millen Gallows?

6 comments:

Peter said...

It's no secret that winning teams often have significantly more running yards in the second half, and I'm glad you brought it up. I didn't get to see the game, but I've read a lot about the ineffective offense in the second half and it makes me like the "they just coasted" theory.

The Vikings ran hard at a fresh 49ers defense in the beginning of the game, and got few yards. So they beat SF through the air. That's encouraging. It wasn't even as close as the score suggested in the second half, so I'm hoping they were indeed coasting.

Another piece of the puzzle could be explained in that the 49ers actually do have a decent run defense, it just looks terrible on paper because of how many yards they give up late in a game they're losing badly. A game, in all liklihood, that they've also lost the time of posession battle badly.

An offense like the 49ers can make a fairly good defense look awful against the run. I'm not sure if most of the running yards against them come late, but it's worth researching.

Vikes Geek said...

Peter,

I'm not sure I'd go with the notion that the Vikings beat the 49ers through the air. Rather, I'd say that the Vikings made a few big plays here and there after one long opening drive. It's possible that the 49ers played better defense against Minnesota than they had been playing against the league, to date. Bu, under the good defense theory that you've set forth, shouldn't the Vikings actually have mopped up in the running game in the second half?

VG

Bill From Arlington, VA said...

Well VG while I obviously don't access to a coaches tape from just watching the game it appeared to me the Niners were simply shooting the gaps with their LB's knowing they had little to lose. Personally I was astonished that Chili left the first team offense in as long as he did. And TJ still needs to work a whole lot on knowing when and how to slide to avoid the big hit.

Looking ahead to Monday night I hope the Vikings don't pay any attention to what happens Sunday as I think it's highly likely that both AZ and the Skins will lose. The Bears are wounded but keep in mind our lousy kick coverage and the fact that we nearly let them come back and win the first game. If Orton gets protection their receivers are still quite capable of giving the Vikings all they can handle.

Bill From Arlington, VA said...

God almighty. Just checked the Strib website and guess who's been busted for weed smoking? You guessed it -- Dwight "Laughingboy" Smith.

mikemorrow said...

I agree. In the second half of the 49er game we went back to playing Chilly ball. When his job was on the line he changed his offense. Now that he has won his job for next year will he revert back? I'm hoping he has learned somthing but I fear is that he has not.

DC said...

VG:

I agree with you that the Vikings went to a very conservative offence (and defence for that matter) in the second half against the 49ers and that had a lot to do with their lack of success running the ball.

I don't share mikemorrow's concern that now that Chilly's job looks safe that he's reverting back to the previous "play-not-to-lose" offensive philosophy.

I think Childress looked at the 27-0 score at half time and decided the only way a 49ers offence led by Trent Dilfer or Shaun Hill was going to come back from that deficit was if the Vikings offence turned the ball over a few times. So he went with the ultra conservative game plan.

I don't really like that kind of thinking and it was awful to watch. But against a team like the 49ers who have a terrible offence, I can sort of understand it. I don't think we'd see Childress do the same thing if the Vikes were only up by seven or 10 points going into the second half.

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