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Increase in ‘three and out’ offensive drives a cause for concern

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One of the main issues for the Vikings offense is the increase in three and out drives.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

There have been a lot of reasons, excuses, and theories thrown out about the drop in production for the Minnesota Vikings offense compared to last year. Some people think it’s offensive coordinator’s John DeFilippo’s inconsistent play calling. Others think it’s a bad offensive line, still others point to some serious off the field issues that could still have lingering after effects.

It could be one, some, or all of those things, but one thing is certain: The Minnesota Vikings offense, for whatever reason, is not nearly as good at sustaining drives this season as they were last season.

Here, let’s look at this graphically. First, we’ll look at the total number of drives, how many total three and out drives they had, and how many consecutive three and out drives the Vikings have had in the last two seasons:

*Through 12 games

In 2017 the Vikings offense had a total of 185 drives. Of those, 40 went three and out with a punt, or three plays or less with a turnover, or 22% of the time if you round it up (I didn’t include three and out drives or less that were kneel downs to end a half or a game). Of those 40 drives when the Vikings offense went three and out and punted or turned the ball over, they only did it on consecutive drives seven times all season, and in three of those games, there were some significant extenuating circumstances.

In week two, against Pittsburgh, they had back to back three and out drives. If you remember, that was the game that Case Keenum became the accidental starter because of Sam Bradford’s ‘week to week’ knee issue that became a season long saga. In consecutive games against Detroit and Chicago, they had three consecutive three and out drives. But if you remember, one of the drives in that Detroit game was when Dalvin Cook fumbled as he reached for his freshly torn ACL, and everyone in the stadium and watching at home instantly thought the season was over. The following week in Chicago, Sam Bradford tried to comeback, and the Vikings opened the game with three consecutive three and out sequences. One of those drives resulted in a safety, because Bradford had about as much mobility as a petrified piece of wood stuck in sand. The following week, with no real issues, they had consecutive three and out drives against Green Bay.

Consecutive three and out drives would not happen again until week 15, against the Panthers on the road.

Let’s contrast that with 2018. So far this season, the Vikings have had 142 drives. In 142 drives, they’ve gone three and out and punted, or three and less with a turnover 40 times, as many as they had in all of 2017, or 28% of the time. They’ve almost doubled their amount of consecutive three and out drives, too.

In 2017, they went three and out on three straight drives twice all year, as discussed above. In 2018 they’ve already done it three times—week one against San Francisco, then against Arizona, and finally against the Jets. Ironically, the Vikings won all three of those games.

So, with that in mind, how does that affect the defense? After that second or third consecutive three and out drive, what did the opposing offense do? Let’s take a look, game by game for the last two seasons. I created a chart that gives us the game and week, the result the opposing offense had after the second consecutive three and out drive, the third consecutive one (if applicable), and the final score of the game. Let’s look at 2017 first, then this season.

2017:

2018:

*Minnesota had two separate instances where they went three and out on consecutive drives.

**Against Arizona, the Vikings had consecutive three and out drives, and then later in the game a three consecutive three and out sequence.

I just assumed that after a second or third consecutive three and out drive by the Vikings offense, the defense would get tired and give up points, but that’s not necessarily the case. The Vikings defense is holding their own, for the most part, giving up only three touchdowns after a second consecutive three and out drive, and no points allowed after a three consecutive three and out sequence. And when they have given up a touchdown, the Vikings have still won two of the three games in which that’s happened.

Still, the fact that the number of three and out drives this year has already equalled all of last year is a cause for concern, and if you want to look at the main root of the Vikings problems offensively, we can start here and move outward.