For the first time in nearly two years, fans attended a regular season game at US Bank Stadium last Sunday. The home crowd was loud and enthusiastic, powering the Minnesota Vikings to their first win of the season.
The noise was in support of the Vikings for nearly the entire game. Nearly, but not completely.
Boos rained down at head coach Mike Zimmer late in the fourth quarter for a questionable decision that could have cost the Vikings.
With just under five minutes remaining, the Vikings held a 27-17 lead deep in Seattle territory. Facing fourth-and-goal from the two-yard line, Zimmer opted to send the kicking unit onto the field to attempt a 20-yard field goal, much to the dismay of the Purple and Gold faithful.
On the surface, this decision is relatively meaningless. The Vikings won the game 30-17, and everyone went home happy. However, Zimmer utilized a poor process in making that decision, which could hurt the Vikings later this season.
Why should Zimmer have been more aggressive? Let’s take a look.
This Twitter account was created by Ben Baldwin of The Athletic. Its purpose is to analyze every fourth-down decision made in the NFL and use win probability metrics to calculate the best decision for that particular scenario. Above is the calculation for this puzzling decision by Zimmer.
According to the win-probability metrics, the Vikings would have had a 98% chance of winning the game if they attempted to score a touchdown on that fourth down. Instead, Minnesota’s decision dropped their win percentage to 96%. Additionally, the chart suggests that the Vikings would have had a 100% chance of winning if they had successfully scored a touchdown. The win probability only drops to 95% if they do not convert.
Thankfully for the Vikings, the Seattle Seahawks did not score on the ensuing drive, and Minnesota came out on top. However, if Harrison Smith had been called for pass interference on Russell Wilson‘s fourth-and-long heave to the end zone, the Seahawks are very much alive in that game.
Zimmer’s lack of aggressiveness late in games has already hurt the Vikings this season. In the Week 2 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, Kirk Cousins had marched Minnesota down the field and deep into Arizona territory. With a timeout still available, Zimmer let 40 seconds trickle off the clock in the final minute so the Vikings could settle for a 37-yard field goal. Hindsight is always 20/20, but the Vikings could have benefitted from a few more plays to either create a closer field goal attempt or score a touchdown.
Why, exactly, is Zimmer managing end-of-game scenarios so conservatively? Perhaps it’s the defensive nature in him, and his first instinct is to trust the unit that he has so much control over. Or perhaps Zimmer has become reluctant after a more forward-thinking, aggressive approach in Seattle last season after a critical fourth down yielded a disappointing result.
Perhaps Zimmer is feeling the heat a little bit and is defaulting to a conservative play-not-to-lose approach instead of playing to win.
Moving forward, the Vikings will need to be more aggressive in late-game situations. The argument can be made that Minnesota’s lack of aggressiveness has already cost them one game, and it could have cost them another. A lack of aggression on fourth down is a problem throughout the league, and teams are losing games because of it. Heck, it cost the Green Bay Packers a Super Bowl appearance last year!
This Vikings team has some fight in them and talent on both sides of the ball. They can win. They can reach the playoffs and potentially go on a run. It would be devastating if Minnesota made a conservative decision in a more consequential fourth-down situation later on this season. With all that’s on the line, the Vikings can’t afford to approach end-of-game scenarios like this.
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