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Vikings Pull Out Another Win Over Jets

Situational mastery and giving up lots of yards continue

NFL: New York Jets at Minnesota Vikings Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings turned what looked like it might be a comfortable win into yet another nail biter, but once again made enough plays to come away with a win. After getting out to a 20-3 lead at one point in the first half, the Vikings needed two back-to-back red zone stops at the end of the game to preserve the victory.

The Vikings managed to score 27 points against the Jets 5th ranked defense, which was an impressive grind. The run game averaged 5.5 yards per carry, with Dalvin Cook averaging 5.0 yards per carry into the second half before slowing down by the end. That was complemented by Kirk Cousins toughing out some key plays in the passing game against good coverage and pressure by the Jets.

The Vikings offense may have been more productive but Kirk Cousins was uncharacteristically inaccurate much of the afternoon. After the game, Cousins blamed himself for an overthrow of TJ Hockenson that would’ve likely gone for a touchdown, but others he said were a result of disrupted timing as the Jets defensive backs were able to disrupt Vikings’ receivers and their routes, causing the timing and Cousins’ footwork to be a little off. Nevertheless, the Vikings’ offense was able to convert 50% of third downs (9/18) and went 3 for 3 in the red zone.

Overall, it was a good performance by the Vikings offense against one of the best defenses in the league- the Vikings’ fourth straight game against a top 5 defense.

Defensively, the Vikings once again gave up a lot of yards- 486 altogether. The same given up to the Eagles and Bills in earlier contests. But they also held the Jets to 3 for 16 on third down, and 1 for 6 in the red zone. That proved to be the difference in the game.

Yards are for Losers

Earlier in the week, Vikings’ defensive coordinator Ed Donatell said that most of the time, or at least 50% of the time, the team that gained the most yards loses the game. I checked into that, and the nearest I could find is that teams with more passing yards win between 50-55% of the time over recent years.

By contrast, teams that win the turnover battle win 78% of the time.

And, while this study is a bit more complicated, teams that convert more third downs over average than their opponent tend to win at a high rate. The Vikings converted a net of 5 third downs more than the Jets over average (Vikings converted two more than average, the Jets three less). Historically, the team that converted 5 more 3rd downs over average than their opponent won 89% of the time.

So, while the Jets gained 200 more yards than the Vikings, the Vikings won the turnover and third down conversion battle, both of which have a higher correlation to winning. And guess what? They won.

Situational Mastery Key to Winning in a Parity-Driven League

From the moment Kevin O’Connell was named head coach, he’s emphasized mastering the key components that correlate highest to winning: turnovers and third downs. Also red zone and end of half/game. His mantra is that you get what you emphasize.

Certainly a lot of time has been spent teaching scheme and fundamentals going back to the off-season, and the Vikings have been a fundamentally sound team in terms of team tackling PFF grade, low penalties, drops, etc. But in a parity-driven league where roster superiority across-the-board is difficult to impossible to achieve, and every team runs familiar schemes, focusing on mastering the critical situations that correlate highest to winning may be the smartest way to victory.

And so, in addition to the pre-season work and coaching emphasis, every Friday O’Connell has player meetings on situational mastery. You get what you emphasize.

When you go back and look at who won turnovers and third down conversions this season, the Vikings have lost that battle twice. Once to the Eagles, once to the Cowboys. A couple times the combined battle was close, as was the score, but overall the correlation to winning is very high for the Vikings this season.

By contrast, the Vikings have only gained more yards than their opponent five times in twelve games.

Vikings Improving in Key Situation Metrics

The Vikings had a +2 turnover margin against the Jets, which after this weekend’s game should help improve their season rank to third best in the NFL behind the 11-1 Eagles and the 9-3 Cowboys (notice the win correlation).

The defense also improved on third down, allowing just three third-down conversions in 16 attempts. The Vikings now rank 13th in 3rd down conversions allowed and converted on offense. They rank 9th in actual number of conversions allowed and converted per game, and tied for 7th in 3rd down conversion differential.

Defense Still Showing Some Costly Lapses

Given the Vikings’ 3rd down, red zone, and turnover advantage during the game, you would expect a larger point spread in the Vikings victory. Certainly not a one-score game. But the Vikings’ defense had some lapses again in the secondary when it comes to tackling that proved costly.

A blown coverage on a throw to the Jets tight-end C.J. Uzomah was one and allowing a 60-yard reception on a 10-yard throw to Garrett Wilson due to poor tackling was another, and a 48-yard run by Zonavon Knight was a third. Those plays helped the Jets get back into the game and made it a one-score game.

While one cannot expect perfection, given the ‘prevent’ nature of the Vikings defense, not allowing big plays is a key element to its success.

Offense Showed it Can Perform Against Top Defenses

The Vikings offense just completed a five-game stretch against top ten or better defenses going back to the Commanders game. The last three without their top starting left tackle. Apart from the Cowboys game meltdown, they performed well, scoring an average of 10 points more per game than those four defenses have allowed on average this season and winning all four games.

The challenge now moves to the defense against the Lions, who have the 6th ranked offense in points scored. The Lions also have the worst ranked defense in the league. With a win, the Vikings will secure the NFC North crown.

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