Last game, against the Washington Redskins, the Minnesota Vikings offense started with three good drives that went into the opponent red zone. The result: 3 field goals. No touchdowns. Before that the Vikings did score three touchdowns against the Tennessee Titans, but who on the other hand doesn’t against them? The game before that, game four, against Detroit? Harvin and Sherels made the only touchdowns from a kickoff, and punt return respectively. The Vikings didn’t score in the Red Zone at all.
With the above premise, I was set on making a post about the red zone woes of the Minnesota Vikings. I started out writing (painstakingly slowly) with the assumption that the red zone touchdown scoring percentage must be poor, poorer than the league average. After a while I decided to remove my “insert stat here” note, with some actual stat. After a quick consultation with a certain Google, I became convinced that www.teamrankings.com would fulfill my statistical needs and desires. I headed to the team red zone scoring section to get my much needed below average percentage for the Vikings: http://www.teamrankings.com/nfl/stat/red-zone-scoring-pct. But what did I find? I found out that I had to rewrite my story, I did.
Despite the struggles against both Washington and Detroit, the Vikings have an average 50 % touchdown scoring ratio in the Red Zone. "League average is not bad", one could say "a team should strive for excellence, but average isn't a woe, is it?” another could ask. That one is not me though. I was set on writing a story about the Vikings red zone woes, even if I had to make some stats that served my purpose. Not make, as make up, but more as dissecting wherefrom the team’s touchdowns per game are coming from and what relative importance the red zone scoring has. The end result:
|Team||RZ TD %||Total||Red Zone||Defensive||Special T||Long||RZ/Tot|
|1||Minnesota||50,0 %||2,3||1,8||0,0||0,3||0,2||78,3 %|
|2||San Diego||56,5 %||2,7||2,2||0,3||0,0||0,2||81,5 %|
|3||Detroit||52,6 %||2,2||2,0||0,0||0,0||0,2||90,9 %|
|4||Arizona||47,1 %||1,8||1,3||0,2||0,0||0,3||72,2 %|
|5||Atlanta||64,0 %||3,2||2,7||0,2||0,0||0,3||84,4 %|
|6||Carolina||61,5 %||2,4||1,6||0,4||0,0||0,4||66,7 %|
|7||Dallas||50,0 %||2,0||1,6||0,0||0,0||0,4||80,0 %|
|8||Philadelphia||42,1 %||1,7||1,3||0,0||0,0||0,4||76,5 %|
|9||Indianapolis||41,2 %||2,0||1,4||0,2||0,0||0,4||70,0 %|
|10||NY Jets||52,6 %||2,7||1,7||0,3||0,3||0,4||63,0 %|
|11||St Louis||35,7 %||1,5||0,8||0,2||0,0||0,5||53,3 %|
|12||Tennessee||42,9 %||2,0||1,0||0,2||0,3||0,5||50,0 %|
|13||Houston||56,5 %||3,3||2,2||0,3||0,2||0,6||66,7 %|
|14||Miami||56,3 %||2,3||1,5||0,0||0,2||0,6||65,2 %|
|15||New England||55,2 %||3,5||2,7||0,2||0,0||0,6||77,1 %|
|16||Pittsburgh||50,0 %||2,4||1,8||0,0||0,0||0,6||75,0 %|
|17||Jacksonville||33,3 %||1,2||0,6||0,0||0,0||0,6||50,0 %|
|18||Tampa Bay||61,5 %||2,6||1,6||0,4||0,0||0,6||61,5 %|
|19||Oakland||41,7 %||1,6||1,0||0,0||0,0||0,6||62,5 %|
|20||Seattle||33,3 %||1,6||0,9||0,0||0,1||0,6||56,3 %|
|21||Baltimore||57,9 %||3,0||1,8||0,3||0,2||0,7||60,0 %|
|22||Washington||65,0 %||3,7||2,2||0,8||0,0||0,7||59,5 %|
|23||Denver||68,4 %||3,5||2,2||0,5||0,0||0,8||62,9 %|
|24||NY Giants||44,8 %||3,0||2,2||0,0||0,0||0,8||73,3 %|
|25||Green Bay||77,8 %||3,3||2,3||0,0||0,2||0,8||69,7 %|
|26||Kansas City||26,7 %||1,7||0,7||0,2||0,0||0,8||41,2 %|
|27||New Orleans||66,7 %||3,4||2,4||0,0||0,2||0,8||70,6 %|
|28||San Francisco||57,1 %||2,6||1,7||0,1||0,0||0,8||65,4 %|
|29||Cincinnati||42,9 %||2,8||1,5||0,0||0,2||1,1||53,6 %|
|30||Cleveland||41,7 %||2,3||0,8||0,3||0,0||1,2||34,8 %|
|31||Chicago||46,2 %||3,4||1,2||1,0||0,0||1,2||35,3 %|
|32||Buffalo||60,0 %||3,0||1,5||0,0||0,2||1,3||50,0 %|
|51,2 %||2,5||1,6||0,2||0,1||0,6||64,3 %|
Armored with the above stat sheet I felt like I could continue with my story. There are only four teams that are more dependent on their red zone touchdown ratio (“RZ/Tot”) than the Vikings (78,3 %). Only Detroit, Atlanta, San Diego and Dallas have higher ratios. The Vikings are in the bottom pack in long plays (“Long”, including both run and pass plays) for touchdowns: only one such touchdown in 6 games. Therefore it’s safe to say, that is essential that the Vikings do an above average job in the red zone, because they are so heavily dependent on it.
But why are the Vikings struggling in the red zone?
Well, to answer that let us first have a look under the hood of the car that is the Vikings offense. Right away we’d notice that there is a part missing, and two parts that are looking good. The good looking parts are:
1) The running game, which rely on Adrian Peterson being Adrian Peterson, and the Offensive line (and possibly a lead blocker or tight end) making blocks.
2) The short and intermediate passing game. Or in other words in Percy Harvin, complemented with some other guys (Ponder and Rudolph and Wide Receivers not named Harvin).
The above two factors also rely on each other being relevant, and thus enabling each other. It would be nice to have that missing third part as well: deep passes. Sadly the last time I saw the Vikings having a legitimate deep threat was when Sidney Rice had a working hip and was receiving passes from grandpa Favre. Now, we have Jerome Simpson. I do have high hopes on the fellow. But so far he has been suspended 3 games for being high himself, and was practically out two games with back troubles. So he, as the Vikings long passing game, has been a non-factor.
The missing long passing game shouldn’t be a problem in the red zone. Per definition you can’t have long plays inside the 20. Instead a team must rely on their running and short to intermediate passing game. But if I already stated that those parts are looking good for the Vikings, then what’s the problem? Harvin is, or his exclusion more precisely. Against the Redskins he was underutilized in the red zone. Which is amazing if you think of his importance the offense in general and if you consider his performance against the Titans. (Imagine embedded video of Harvin making Titan’s defenders look silly juking his way into the end zone here). So please stick to the game plan. Stick with Harvin. If the wheel is working, then don’t try to reinvent it when in the red zone! Throw the ball high to Rudolph up the middle, or wide to Harvin. If they are double-teamed then let out the Beast (AP)!