In the last 24 hours, I have listend to commentary and read countless posts from the media, fans, and our beloved staff here at Daily Norseman which questioned the judgement of the Vikings coaching staff's decision to call a pair of timeouts as the 4th quarter was coming to an end in yesterday's game. In full disclosure, I have openly expressed my frustration with the state of the Vikings this year, including the coaches, quarterback, and defensive play. With that said, I left last night's game feeling that the coaching staff had executed the closing of the game with brilliance, and not incompentence.
Generally speaking, a team that is in the lead is not going to be taking timeouts while the opponent's offense is attempting to march down the field for a game winning drive. To that end, the initial reaction by both the fans and the media during and after the game is very much understandable. However, I contend that this was not in fact an err in judgement, but a brilliant move executed by a coach who displayed astute awareness of the defense that he was fielding. Allow me to elaborate.
First and foremost, let's draw the picture. The Vikings were up by 7 points with a minute to play. Washington needed to score a touchdown, which would have brought the game to overtime. It was 4 down territory for them, and they only had one option: get the ball into the endzone in order to extend the game. To this end, the clock is working against Washington. However, as the drive got underway, Washington's offense was marching, clearly not being held down by the Vikings defense. As Washington got into a goal-to-go situation, they were still operating with more than 30 seconds on the clock. As a general rule, an offense is comfortable when they have about 8-10 seconds per down to work with when they can be assured of either a score or clock stoppage. This effectively meant that Washington had more than enough time on their hands to execute every play that they had available to them (barring a Vikings penalty). From Washington's perspective, whether or not the Vikings took any timeouts had no bearing on their ability to get as many opportunities as they had available to them to score. This in and of itself was enough reason to take a timeout.
The second matter at hand was the Vikings specific situation. They entered the game short-staffed. Coach Frasier himself said that first and foremost he called the timeouts to allow the defense to catch its breath. It's hard to find fault in this reasoning - Washington had just gotten into a goal-to-go situation, and the Vikings defense was reeling. Given the situation described above, there was no reason for Coach Frasier to refrain from calling a timeout, thus allowing his team to catch its breath and make sure his defense was well prepared for the final plays to come. In the TV commentary, Mike Mayock openly questioned the Vikings decision to take the timeout because it allowed Washington's offense to plan their next plays. To me, the timeout benefited the Vikings more than Washington, as Washington was already executing a full assault on the Vikings defense, and Coach Frasier had enough lucidity to realize that his team needed a break so they could prepare to stop what was happening to them. Washington's offense didn't need the timeout.
Finally, if Washington did score, by leaving yourself time on the clock you are giving yourself another opportunity to take a potential overtime birth (not a potential LOSS, which is a key point here) and turn it into a win. Vikings post-kickoff field position throughout the night was very good. Cordarelle Patterson is an explosion waiting to happen, and if Washington decided not to kick to him as they had much of the rest of the game, the Vikings were looking at potential field position at the 30-40 yard line. This would have meant that they only needed 20-30 yards to get themselves back into field goal range to set themselves up for a win before the clock expired.
In some ways, this situation is not entirely dissimilar from a team that is up by 1 point allowing the opponent to simply score a touchdown as get deep in their opponent's territory so that they can try and get the ball back with enough time on the clock in order to score a touchdown to win, preventing an opponent from burning the clock and kicking a last second field goal to win the game.
For these reasons, I feel like a lot of the commentary that I have read and heard over the last day has failed to look at the larger picture and the specfics of the situation at hand. As much as I have been frustrated with the state of the Vikings organization this season, the brilliance and steady nature of Coach Frasier in this situation only served to make me re-examine my disappointed perspective on the head football coach of the Minnesota Vikings.