I was curious as to how Leslie Frazier and his coaching staff performed last season, especially with some of the tougher coaching decisions, like what to do on 4th down, and replay challenges. When evaluating coaching, it’s helpful to remember what we can hold them responsible for. Generally speaking, the coaches are responsible for the play design, and to a lesser degree, motivating the players. On the flipside, the players are responsible for executing that design and are ultimately responsible for what happens in the field of play. So, with that in mind, read on after the jump, as I break down Leslie Frazier’s 2011 season.
One of the first areas I looked at was 4th down situations. According to this advancednflstats.com article, Leslie Frazier had the highest "Go-For-It" rate in the NFL last season at 36%. The Vikings were in a 4th down situation, in which they should have gone for it (according to their analysis), 44 times last season. They went for it 16 of those times and kicked 28 times. For contrast, the lowest percentage rate goes to Houston, who’s "Go-For-It" rate was a mere 13% (6 out of 45 times). This simple measure ignores a lot of game situation and context though, and the article linked above expanded upon this "Go-For-It" rate by also looking at Win Probability when game situation is taken into account. Whenever a coach decides to kick, instead of go for it, they sacrifice a certain level of Win Probability, by giving up the ball, and that win probability is much higher depending on certain game situations (for example, 4th down in opponent’s territory with the game tied and only 1 minute left on the clock versus 1st quarter, in your own territory and you’re already ahead). So for their analysis, if a team goes for it, they have some chance of winning, and kicking sacrifices some chance of winning. The Vikings scored very well on that, only sacrificing 0.32 wins this past season by not going for it (2nd best, only behind San Diego) because of their relatively high go-for-it rate. The Arizona Cardinals (like the Texans) were very conservative in going for it, and this analysis says they gave up potentially 1.32 wins because of it.
To go even further into the context of Frazier’s 4th down decisions; this Football Outsiders article measured his "Aggressiveness Index." So, while Frazier had a high "Go-For-It" rate and didn’t sacrifice much in the way of win probability, his overall aggressiveness as a coach was actually pretty low. According to football outsiders:
To compute AI, we analyzed fourth-down decisions when the offense was in the opponent’s territory, where a coach’s tendencies were most distinguished from his peers. We also excluded obvious catch-up situations: Third quarter, trailing by 15 or more points; Fourth quarter, trailing by 9 or more points; Last five minutes of the game, trailing by any amount. AI measures how often a coach attempted a fourth-down conversion compared to the league averages in similar situations, based on the field position and the distance needed for a first down.
Frazier was ranked as the 32nd most aggressive coach (out of 35 coaches in 2011). Football Outsiders found 35 opportunities where Frazier could have made a gutsy call, and he chose to do so only twice. For contrast, Mel Tucker and Steve Spagnuolo were the two most aggressive coaches last season, while John Fox and Ron Rivera were the two least aggressive. Since 1992, Bill Bellichek ranks 2nd in Aggressive Index...I guess he likes to go for it on 4th and 2 a LOT.
But coaching isn’t all about how the playcalling is handled on 4th down. Quantcoach.com (despite the Packer love given on the main page) has an interesting method for evaluating the influence of the playcalls on the game by focusing on the "yards per attempt" and a few other interesting equations (found here). For the 2011 season, Quantcoach ranked the Vikings coaching staff 29th in the NFL for "Coach’s Contribution." If I’m reading the chart correctly, Frazier’s coaching staff actually had a negative (or in case of practicality, zero) impact on the game. Interestingly, the players themselves ranked 30th in terms of "productivity" and likewise had a negative impact. That’s a pretty terrible combination and it should come as no surprise that we ranked in the bottom half of the league in turnover margin, pass protection, yards per attempt, and defensive yards per attempt. The only positive was our #1 ranking in pass pressure.
The last thing I looked at was challenge success rate. According to this post from our friends over at the Mile High Report, Frazier had a 57% success rate with challenges in 2011, getting 4 out of 7 challenges right (a big improvement from 2010’s 25% rate of 1 out of 4 correct), ranking him 13th in the league for 2011. The average success rate of all coaches for 2011 was 51%, so he’s was just above average there last year.
Then of course, there’s the obvious stuff to consider. The team's overall win/loss record was 3-13, and they finished dead last in the NFC North. It tied the franchise record for worst record in a season. According to NFL.com statistics, the offense ranked 18th in yards per game, and 19th in points per game. The defense ranked 21st in yards allowed per game, and 31st in points allowed per game. None of that is positive, obviously. It was a bad year, and we’d all like to move on and look to the future of the 2012 season and beyond. But what does all this say about Leslie Frazier?
Well, for me, it doesn’t look promising. The on-field production of the players was pretty abysmal, but then again you also have to look at "coach’s contribution", which was essentially zero. His success rate with challenges is decent, but not outstanding or even top 10. It’s kind of a mixed bag in terms of 4th down decisions, depending on what you want to look at. Let’s also not forget about those communication issues Frazier spoke about at the end of last season. Then look at the coaching turnover from 2011 to 2012: new defensive coordinator, new defensive line coach, and new offensive line coach, etc. At the end of the day, I don’t think you can call 2011 a success for the coaching staff. And therefore, in my opinion, I think Frazier’s job is on the line in 2012. I’m not sure what the expectation is on the part of the Wilf family, but for me as a fan, significant improvement needs to happen on the part of the coaching staff, or else we’ll be seeing a new head coach (and likely an entirely new staff) in 2013. And by significant, I don’t just mean 4-5 more wins than last year, I mean, better decision making, better play calling and better contributions all around. Ideally that gets us more wins too. Hot Seat? You may now welcome Leslie Frazier.