As a Numbers Guy™, I am very wary of trends based on small sample sizes. This week, the trend du jour circa 1:30 PM Central Time was the Vikings’ inability to hold leads: through two games, the Vikings blew two huge leads, taking win probabilities of at least 82% into half time. Come halftime against Detroit, and the Vikings held a 20-0 lead and a 95% win probability. This Numbers Guy™ wasn’t buying into the trend.
That’s the thing about probability though. The chances of the Vikings going out and blowing these three leads in a row is 0.00063 (1 in 1587, roughly), but the chances ofany team doing it over three games? There are enough three game stretches played over the course of a season where we at least get into the realm of possibility. The Vikings just happen to be in that one special three-game stretch.
The Vikings coaching staff will likely be panned for going away from the running game in the second half. – Adrian Peterson said he “can’t explain it” himself on Tuesday. After picking up 114 yards and a score on 18 rushes in the first half (6.33 yards per carry), the Vikings abandoned the run in the second half, only rushing eight times against 19 passing plays as the Lions stormed back.
But let’s not ignore just how ineffective those eight rushes were. The Vikings lost two yards on these plays, racked up a whopping -5.4 EPA, and let 21 points of win probability slip through their fingers. Although it’s difficult to envision any team, let alone one with Adrian Peterson, fail so thoroughly in the running game, we should have seen a second half drop-off coming. The Vikings managed two big runs (43 and 39 respectively) when Peterson hit the second level and beyond, but he couldn’t consistently get past the first level. On no other occasion did the Vikings’ run attack gain more than eight yards, and overall they finished with a 39% success rate in the first half.
That’s not usually a precursor to a 1-for-8 success rate in the second half, and a cogent argument could certainly be made for sticking to the run despite the repeated failure — the Vikings could still run clock, Adrian Peterson is probably too good for such a poor streak to be sustained, the Vikings pass attack isn’t great, et cetera – but the ineffectiveness of the running game was as much to blame as the lack of attempts it was given.
The Vikings’ pass attack wasn’t successful either, compiling -6.5 EPA and -0.15 WPA over its 23 attempts in the second half. Credit is certainly due to the Lions’ offense as well — Matthew Stafford continued to impress, putting up +.36 WPA, +11.6 EPA, and 6.6 AYPA, and, not coincidentally, Calvin Johnson (9.8 yards per target) and Brandon Pettigrew (8.6 yards per target, non-Stafford game high 8.8 EPA) impressed with their duties in the air attack.
At this point, the Vikings are pretty clearly better than an 0-3 record — a team simply doesn’t put together the kinds of first halves Minnesota has by accident. But with the Lions atop the NFC North at 3-0 along with the Green Bay Packers, it might already be a case of too late, regardless of how much or how little we see from Minnesota in weeks four through sixteen.No tags for this post.