As brilliant as the Vikings have been recently in their ability to score in the first quarter, they have been as simple in their attempts to manage the clock and score in the fourth quarter to finish off their opponents.
On the last play of the game, Baltimore Ravens kicker Steven Hauschka missed a 44-yard field goal wide left. The Vikings had won their second game of the season within the last two seconds of the game.
The Vikings stand 6-0 and are one of only four remaining unbeaten teams in the NFL. Ordinarily players on a team that is 6-0 would be ear to ear with smiles in their post game interviews.
However, smiles were scant in the locker room. After all the Ravens had scored 21 points against the Vikings defense in the fourth quarter and had marched down the field to position themselves to kick the game winning field goal.
All of the Vikings knew that they were fortunate to escape with their sixth win after their fourth quarter collapse.
The Vikings stood at 14-0 at the end of the first quarter. The game should have been over given the experience of the defense and the weapons on the offense. Yet, ultimately the game was decided by the Ravens field goal kicker.
The main reason for the Vikings collapse was due to poor tackling in the second half. Ravens running backs and receivers ran over, through and around the linebackers and secondary of the Vikings.
Part of the explanation for the lacking of tackling by the Vikings is attributable to injuries. All-Pro Antoine Winfield left the game with a toe injury in the second quarter and nickel back Benny Sapp missed most of the second half feeling the effects of a helmet to helmet hit.
While Winfield and Sapp are key players, the Vikings can’t afford the drop off in execution when one or both of them are not in the game. The Vikings will likely be shopping for some secondary help before the trade deadline.
The most disturbing part of the Vikings collapse against the Ravens however was the self-inflicted wound brought about by their play calling in the fourth quarter.
Before criticizing the Vikings execution in the fourth quarter, lavish praise for the play calling of the Vikings and what they have recently been able to do in the first quarter is due. In their past three games, the Vikings have scored five touchdowns with the six possessions that they have had in the first quarter.
Against the Ravens, the Vikings deftly kept the Ravens guessing mixing up their runs and passes early in the game. On the first drive the Vikings had three running plays and three passes; on their second drive they had three running plays and four passes. Favre even mixed up his passing targets as he went to five different receivers in the first two drives of the game.
Clearly, the Vikings coaching staff is able to identify weaknesses in their opponents defensive schemes and design and successfully implement an initial offensive game plan.
In watching the Vikings last two home games, Vikings fans had to wonder why their coaching staff wasn’t as effective in the fourth quarter in generating points and managing the clock. Yes, the last two home games .
The Vikings almost squandered a 30-14 fourth quarter lead against Green Bay three weeks ago. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Vikings stopped using play action and went to simple trap plays.
The Packers took advantage of the gift scoring a touchdown with 3:40 in the fourth quarter to bring the score to 30-20. The Vikings recovered the ensuing onside kick at the Green Bay 45-yard line.
At this point, if the Vikings can get a first down or two the game is over. Two first downs and the Vikings will have drained the Packers of their time outs, they can kick a field goal within Ryan Longwell’s range, and they leave the Packers without enough time to tie the game.
The Vikings go conservative and are content simply to run the ball on the first two downs to exhaust the Packers timeouts. On third down, the Vikings run a flag route resulting in an incomplete pass.
The flag route was not disguised in anyway. There was no fake pitch to the running back to bring the safety up.
A stop and go route would have at least given Favre an opportunity to sneak a pass in using a pump fake. Once the receiver demonstrated that he couldn't run pass the corner back, Favre threw the ball harmlessly out of bounds.
The Vikings possession gave them no opportunity to add any points, lasted all of 29 seconds and allowed the Packers to use the two minute warning as an additional time out.
The Packers being gracious guests accepted the gift and marched down for a field goal. While the Packers had no timeouts left they were now within seven points of the Vikings preparing to kick an onside kick.
Disaster was avoided when the Vikings recovered the on-side kick.
Against the Ravens it was déjà vu all over again.
The Vikings had the ball the on the Ravens 18 yard line with 2:51 in the game. At the time, the Ravens were winning the game at 31-30. The Ravens had two timeouts remaining.
The Vikings clearly wanted to have the Ravens use all their time outs and wanted to run down the clock as much as possible to leave the Ravens with only a few seconds to score.
The most pressing need for the Vikings was to score and to take the lead as they were behind. Preferably the Vikings would score a touchdown as a field goal would leave the Ravens the opportunity to win the game with their own field goal.
The Vikings with the ball on the Ravens 18 went ultra-conservative. The Vikings pounded the ball up the middle with three straight Adrian Peterson runs gaining four yards. The Vikings were clearly content with Baltimore calling their remaining two timeouts and having Ryan Longwell kick a 31-yard field goal to give them a two-point lead.
After the kickoff, Baltimore started their final possession at the 33-yard line with 1:46 left in the game. The strategy worked for the Vikings.
However, the three running plays called by the Vikings at Baltimore’s 18-yard line appeared to be playing not to lose as opposed to the Vikings playing to win the game.
The Vikings didn’t need to call a flea flicker or a double reverse on the 18-yard line, but they should have at least called one play that was some type of play-action or bootleg for Favre.
If the play works the Vikings have a chance to score a touchdown or at the very least run more time off the clock as they would have obtained a first down.
The Vikings defense had not stopped the Ravens from moving the ball in the second half. Scoring a touchdown on the Ravens would have at least forced the Ravens to go for the entire length of the field to take the lead.
Yes, calling such a play is dangerous in that there is a chance for an interception. However, the benefits far outweigh the minimal risk.
Favre has 12 touchdowns to only two interceptions and had not made a bad throw in the game. Worst case, Favre takes a knee for a five-yard loss if he sees nothing open. Longwell’s kick is a little longer but it is still a relatively easy 36-yard field goal.
The chance of success on play action with a pass was not insignificant. The Vikings scored three touchdowns against the Ravens in the red zone. All three touchdowns came on pass plays. The Vikings final touchdown pass of the day by Favre came after he faked a pitch to Peterson.
Sometimes you win by playing it safe. The Vikings won by playing it safe on Sunday as the Ravens missed the field goal as time expired.
However, sometimes playing it safe allows your opponent an opportunity to beat you; and sometimes they are willing to oblige. The Vikings need to stop being such gracious hosts as they have the talent to have the route to the Super Bowl go through the Metrodome.