Taking a closer look at the last decision of the Vikes game against the Cards

To kick it or not to kick, that is the question.

I know Coach Zimmer took a lot of heat this week because he sent out the fg team with 40 seconds on the clock to try and win a road game against an up and coming Cards team. DId he get too conservative on that play call? Or are the hindsight heroes at it again? I thought we could take a closer look to see what some data tells us.

First thing I wanted to understand was the average fg by distance in the NFL. As we know, the Vikings were looking at a 37 yarder. Bruce Arians is known for his "No Risk it No Biscuit" approach, but then again, he never won anything without Tom Brady and the last time I looked, Brady wasn’t wearing the purple. Arians never won anything when he was leading the Cards.

Anyway, here’s some interesting field goal numbers:

Distance Percent # of attempts

18 Yards100% 15

19Yards 100%100

20 Yards 99.51% 202

21 Yards 97.67% 215

22 Yards 98.02% 253

23 Yards 98.19% 277

24 Yards 94.62%223

25 Yards 99.23% 261

26 Yards 96.88% 224

27 Yards 97.00% 267

28 Yards 95% 300

29 Yards 94.36% 266

30 Yards 93.07% 274

31 Yards 94.49% 272

32 Yards 94.62% 260

33 Yards 94.10% 339

34 Yards 86.04% 265

35 Yards 90.55% 275

36 Yards 87.76 % 286

37 Yards 84.75% 295

38 Yards 83.29% 353

39 Yards 85.77% 274

40 Yards 85.21% 311

41 Yards 83.51% 279

42 Yards 81.65% 278

43 Yards 77.04% 331

44 Yards 80.31% 259

45 Yards 78.82% 288

I’d give attribution for that data, but I found it in a reddit forum. Looked legit, so I am going with it. Now taking a look at the numbers and trying to account for anomalies, we can see that a 37 yard fg is roughly 85% likely, where just getting 3 yards on another play would have made the kick 1% more likely, but 5 more yards would have been a whopping 10% more likely. Lets average that out and suggest that a decent positive play, most likely a run, would have netted about a 5% better chance for a successful kick. That’s more than I expected to be honest, and its not trivial.

We can investigate the odds of a successful play in a bit, but lets look at some of the risks involved in this approach first.

There’s a chance the Vikings would have been called for a penalty. Using the average number of plays per game per team of 75, and the average number of penalties against the offense of 4.5 per game, numbers I found on multiple sites online, there was a 6% chance of that happening, and it would have resulted in about a 4.5% less likely make if we estimate the penalty yards at 7 yards (5 or 10 yard penalty…).

What other bad things could have happened? Turnovers of course. That would have likely resulted in an automatic L, and there are ~2.6 turnovers per a total game that has 150 average plays across both teams. That would have been about a 2% percent chance of happening. Then again, the Cards were actively ball hunting, and we actually fumbled the ball TWO TIMES in the last two vitally important drives of the game, once by Kirk on a sack and once by Theilen after a reception. Luckily we managed to get both fumbles back. Two dodged bullets, but would we have dodged a third one? I am going to double that 2% chance to 4% given the situation and the obvious need for the Cards to create a turnover at all costs there.

The final negative possibility is just a loss of yardage. I think we had 3 negative plays (not counting penalties, which we calculated earlier, out of 26 offensive plays in the second half this week. That’s about a 12% chance of a play that would have made it harder. Interestingly, if we include plays where we got zero yards, that shoots up to a 41% chance. If we included plays where we got less than 2 yards, which honestly wouldn’t have likely made it significantly easier to kick, lets be real, and our odds moved to about a 50-50 chance. So we really had a fifty percent chance of improving our fg range in a material way of at least 3 yards.

So what have we learned?

  • I took some liberties here. Yes, of course, but let’s not quibble, just looking at odds, which is not the same thing as reality no matter how we cut data up.
  • There was about a 50% chance we could have improved our fg make percentage by about 3-5%. Not inconsequential and some will gravitate to YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME.
  • There was also about a 50% chance we wouldn’t improve our odds, including a 12% chance we would have made it harder by losing yards, and of course the overall 6% chance of an offensive penalty in that camp too.
  • Independently there was also a 2-4% overall chance we had a straight out turnover to lose the game in heart breaking fashion for the second consecutive week.
  • I am not really looking at the odds of us throwing a TD because I personally feel that throwing a ball up 20-25 yards into the end zone would have been asking for trouble. Even had we scored, maybe we would give up a run back or a Hail Murray, seems like that’s our luck.
  • Math is hard.

I think the above illustrates one thing, it’s not really an easy decision that Zimmer faced, and both approaches had their merits. Maybe the odds indicate to go for one more play there, but do we really think that’s why we lost? Really? What I find ironic is that our PPOOPP collection of doomers grow optimistic for theoretical wins after we lose by making for a shorter field goal attempt. Until we missed it, and then they would have all rushed in here to say "I told you so".

Same as it ever was.

This FanPost was created by a registered user of The Daily Norseman, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the staff of the site. However, since this is a community, that view is no less important.