Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Victory Sullied by Finish

Through nearly 53 minutes of Monday night's game against the Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota Vikings clearly were the better team on the field. Jared Allen did what any self-respecting defensive end does these days by ripping off 4.5 sacks against a pitiful Packers' offensive line, Brett Favre picked apart a short-handed Packer secondary, and Antoine Winfield made the most of his blitz- and route-jumping opportunities. On both sides of the ball, the Vikings were humming. And that, with little contribution from Adrian Peterson.

With just over 7 minutes remaining in the game, the Vikings took what should have been an insurmountable 30-14 lead following a safety of Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The subsequent free kick gave the Vikings the ball at their own 40-yard line. Two first downs and the Vikings would be near field goal range with the opportunity to turn a two-possession game into a three-possession game and foreclose any prospect of a Packer comeback.

Rather than winning the game on offense, however, Vikings' head coach Brad Childress opted to force the Packers' offense to make a comeback. And they nearly did.

After giving the ball to Peterson for a one-yard loss, Childress pulled Peterson for Taylor. On the next play, the Vikings went short to Dugan for one yard. They followed that with a hand-off to Taylor for five yards.

Evoking memories of Denny Green's run in Minnesota, the Packers shredded the Vikings' defense on the ensuing drive en route to touchdown. A missed two-point conversion attempt left the score 30-20 in favor of Minnesota.

On the Vikings' subsequent drive, Childress went back to the drawing board. Peterson was back in the game, but the Vikings still were playing it safe. Following a run up the middle for no gain and a run around the end for no gain, however, Childress audibled. And he did so the one time that he should not have.

With just over three minutes left in the game, Childress called a fly route down the right sideline. It was the type of safe deep route that has become synonymous with the Childress era in Minnesota--deep, requiring a miraculous catch by the receiver, and virtually impossible to intercept.

The problem with the call was not necessarily that Childress opted to "take a shot," however half-hearted it might have been. Rather, the primary problem was the timing. On the previous series, the Vikings played it as close to the vest as is possible without taking a knee. Ditto the first two plays of this series. A deep shot thus introduced an element of surprise--even shock--to the Packer defense prepared for a Childress offensive hold, but the timing was illogical.

As a general rule of thumb, deep routes with a low probability of completion are disfavored on third-down plays with three minutes remaining in the game and a ten-point separation. Even a run up the gut made more sense as the Packers had just used their final timeout.

By going deep, the Vikings stopped the clock, saving the Packers valuable time on the game clock. And the Vikings were forced to punt. It was the worst of all possible scenarios, other than a pick or fumble returned for a touchdown.

The deep play notwithstanding, what remains confounding about Childress' system is why he retains such a reluctance simply to put away opponents? This reluctance was on full display over the last two Vikings' drives, but particularly on the first drive of the sequence when, with the controlled passing game with which Favre had been eating up the Packers' defense the entire game, the Vikings could have readily moved into field-goal range and sealed the game.

The deep route was a tacit acknowledgment of the over-conservativeness of the previous five play calls, but even the deep route was highly conservative. Less conservative, but with a much higher probability of success, would have been a screen, post, or slant, particularly with the Packers stuffing the box.

The Vikings won the game on Monday, but coaching decisions at the end of the game made what should have been a blow-out far too tight. That did not matter for the Vikings' last night, but, as has become a common refrain in Minnesota, it very well could in the future if Childress continues to play not to lose rather than playing to win.

Up Next: Establishing the Run.


Peter said...

I was confused by that pass also. I was hoping for a short pass relying on yards after catch for a first down. It's high(er) percentage and if it doesn't convert, at least the tackle is in the middle of the field and Minnesota eats another 40 seconds off of the clock.

I hope this game isn't forshadowing a heartbreaking come-from-ahead loss later in the season.

ticketkingintern said...

First and foremost I want to say, GO VIKES! The Vikings roster had a great game and although it could have been better, I do believe that they deserved the win they posted. That being said, WTF Childress... its time to start coaching in a way that reflects wanting a winning team.


Cabrito said...

Time for bricks and bouquets, bouquets first. Brett Favre. Chris Kluwe. Sidney Rice, who played a solid game and saved our bacon twice at the end. Antoine Winfield, most of the time. Jared Allen and the rest of the defensive line, obviously. And the offensive line for their stellar pass blocking.

Now for the bricks. The offensive line, for their pathetic (actually, virtually nonexistent) run blocking. (Not once, except for the touchdown run, did they open a decent hole for Adrian Peterson. Superman can run through a brick wall, but unfortunately AP was born on Earth rather than Krypton.) The defensive backs, including Winfield at times, who let opposing receivers get completely open on too many occasions and allowed Aaron Rodgers to chalk up 378 yards passing even while under enormous pressure. And yes, sorry, Adrian Peterson. Despite what I said above about the pitiful blocking, I have to say that AP seemed uncharacteristically hesitant and confused at times, and was even unable to beat single tacklers on the rare occasions he encountered them. I'll forgive his gift fumble, but it was ... well, disappointing, to use the least disparaging word I can think of.

And the last brick should go to Childress, for reasons you explained so well, VG. Not that he needs another brick, as his head so often seems as thick as one. What a bonehead long bomb.

If the Vikings need to run at the end of a game to preserve the win, and the other team knows it and stacks the defense accordingly, can someone please explain to me why Childress doesn't put AP and CT in the backfield at the same time? If the opposition doesn't know who's going to carry the ball, they can't block the point of attack so effectively, no? As for using Tahi as a blocker on such occasions, well, how did that work out on Monday night?

This game wasn't nearly as fun to watch as it should have been.

tcalef said...

"Rather than winning the game on offense, however, Vikings' head coach Brad Childress opted to force the Packers' offense to make a comeback. And they nearly did."

You've made quite the habit of hitting the nail on the head, VG. I remember thinking the exact same thing. Up 30-14, we're getting the ball back, just a first down or two and we've iced it. But that first run up the middle convinced me that Chili was going to challenge the Pack to win it, rather than try to crush them. Lo and behold, that's exactly what he did.

The 3rd down deep pass aggravated the heck out of me, not for the fact that he was trying, but WHEN he was trying it. As you note, after the Pack was out of timeouts. Dude, you just committed to running it up the gut, why give them an extra timeout? Run it up the middle for no gain, take 40 seconds off the clock, and THEN punt it.

Sure, we'd be praising Chili for his brilliant playcalling if the pass had been completed, esp. for a game-icing TD, but it wasn't. It was a low percentage play at the worst possible time.

Very, very happy with the win but we simply CANNOT ever do that with a superior team like the Saints, Colts, or Giants.

Keith said...

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Matt Loede said...
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