I want to make the following disclaimer before I get too far into this piece. Norv Turner is a genius and a coaching legend. The man has forgotten more about football than I could possibly learn in two or three lifetimes. He's forgotten more about football than pretty much any of us know at the present time. That's a big part of what makes the final offensive play call in the Minnesota Vikings' 23-20 loss to the Arizona Cardinals just so completely baffling.
The Vikings were in a situation where they were facing 3rd-and-10 from the Arizona 31-yard line with no timeouts remaining and thirteen seconds left on the clock. From the spot they were at, it would have been about a 48-yard field goal attempt for Blair Walsh, who had hit from 54 earlier in the evening. Rather than attempt the field goal on third down, the Vikings made the decision to try to get a few more yards. In this situation, most of the things that could have happened are bad.
-If Teddy Bridgewater gets sacked, the game ends.
-If you complete a pass in bounds and get tackled, the game ends.
-If you take a holding penalty, you go back ten yards and are, effectively, out of field goal range.
So, let's take a look at the play with the help of the All-22 film from the NFL. Fair warning that my skills when it comes to graphics are a little limited, but I'll give this a go anyway.
This is how the Vikings lined up on the final play. Adam Thielen is out wide to Bridgewater's left, Jarius Wright is slot left, Kyle Rudolph is right next to Matt Kalil on the line, and Stefon Diggs is on Bridgewater's right. Adrian Peterson is lined up next to Bridgewater in the backfield.
Here, Bridgewater has taken the snap and is at the top of his dropback. Thielen is pretty much just running down the left sideline, so he's out of the play. Diggs is blanketed on the right side, and Wright is crossing underneath Rudolph in the middle of the field. Peterson has leaked out into the right flat. Also, you can see that Arizona linebacker Markus Golden has already beaten T.J. Clemmings off of Bridgewater's right side.
A split second later, not only is Golden still getting upfield against Clemmings, but now Matt Kalil has gotten tossed aside by Dwight Freeney. Bridgewater is sliding up to get away from Golden, right into where Freeney is going to be charging in. The two options at this point in the play appear to either be Wright in the middle of the field or Peterson in the flat, and both of those players have defenders in relatively close proximity.
Finally, here's what things looked like when Freeney got to Bridgewater. Wright has been cut off by an Arizona defender, Rudolph is in the middle of too much traffic, and while Diggs appears to have a little bit of separation, if Bridgewater goes there, there's no way to know for sure if Diggs would get to the sideline before getting tackled. Peterson still has some space in the flat, but if Bridgewater had decided to throw the ball away at this point, there's really no chance that he was looking there.
From just sitting here hand timing with my stopwatch, the play went from Bridgewater receiving the snap to Bridgewater getting hit by Freeney in right around 2.5 seconds. The chance of success with a play of this design was really pretty low. . .the play appears to be centered around Bridgewater waiting for Wright to come all the way across the formation, for Diggs to get some separation on the right sideline, or to hit Peterson in the flat. I'm guessing that Bridgewater didn't get a chance to get to his read on Peterson before Freeney was knocking the ball out of his hand. There really isn't a whole lot of space between Rudolph, Diggs, and Wright, either, and each of them has a defender right on them.
I understand that people may have been wary of bringing in Blair Walsh to kick the field goal on third down, given his struggles during stretches this season, but it was still a viable option. If the Vikings wanted to try to get a few more yards, I'm not sure why they didn't go with a designed rollout sort of play, which would have helped to take away from the Cardinals' pass rush a little bit and given Bridgewater the option to a) potentially get a few yards down the sideline and get out of bounds or b) toss the ball into the fourth row of the seats to bring up fourth down.
For all the flak that Norv Turner received for the way the Seattle game was called and for the pressure that Bridgewater has been under all season, he really called a pretty good game against Arizona. (Although I think it's time to tear the pages with the reverses and the end arounds out of Norv's playbook at this point.) Bridgewater responded with what might have been his best game as a professional quarterback against what might be the best secondary in the NFL. . .if the Cardinals aren't the NFL's best secondary, they're on the short list. But this final play call really appears to have been doomed from the start, thanks to a combination of poor blocking from the tackle spots and routes that didn't appear to have a lot of chance of success.
Hopefully the Vikings have learned from this and can transfer things through to their next two very winnable games before the season finale in Green Bay.