Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer was aggressive in Sunday's game at SoFi Stadium, and it paid off with a 27-20 win over the Chargers.
NFL.com's Next Gen Stats Analytics Team looked at big decisions in Week 10 games across the league and said Zimmer "got every call right" in the Vikings victory. The following was written about Zimmer's success:
Zimmer and the Vikings have quietly been among the sharpest NFL teams on fourth down this season. Across 51 fourth-down situations when the optimal choice helped the team's chances of winning at a greater rate than one percentage point, Zimmer has made the correct decision 86.3 percent of the time (44 times), the best mark in the league this season and a figure up significantly from Zimmer's effort last season (69.1 percent, 25th-best in 2020).
Getting all seven decisions correct on the road against a coach (Brandon Staley) with proven fourth-down shrewdness is a good way to give your team the best chance to win. Really, though, the defining moments of the game came in two second-half decisions to keep the offense on the field. The latter of the two clinched the win for Minnesota in the game's final minutes.
FOURTH QUARTER: With 2:32 remaining and the Vikings (leading 27-20) facing a fourth-and-2 from the Chargers' 36-yard line, Dalvin Cook picked up a game-sealing first down (4-yard gain).
The Next Gen Stats Analytics Team noted that if the Vikings offense converts in the above situation, "the game is virtually over." If Minnesota didn't convert on the fourth-down attempt, however, its chances of winning drop to 85 percent, according to the NGS win-probability model.
By combining each possible outcome with the chances of each happening (i.e., Minnesota had a 55-percent chance of converting in this situation, compared to a 44-percent chance of making a 54-yard field goal), we find Zimmer made the optimal decision in keeping his offense on the field in this situation, by a factor of 2.9 percentage points in expected win probability value.
Next Gen Stats said that play "wasn't the only 'go for it' decision the Vikings got right" in Los Angeles.
Zimmer kept Kirk Cousins and the offense on the field earlier in the game (with 2:39 remaining in the third quarter) on fourth-and-goal from the Chargers 1-yard line. The play resulted in a touchdown catch for Tyler Conklin – and goes down as this week's most obvious go-for-it call, defined as the decision with the biggest difference in win probability value between going for it and kicking it. In Zimmer's case, going for it increased the Vikings chances of winning by 11.7 percentage points: 47 percent if they went for it; 35.3 percent if they kicked it.
Vikings 'can't play it safe' in pursuit of the postseason
Zimmer's tenacity against the Chargers has been noted by pundits across the NFL as key in Minnesota's win, allowing the Vikings to improve to 4-5.
The Vikings are slated to host the 8-2 Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium Sunday, and The Ringer's Kaelen Jones said Zimmer and his team "can't play it safe if they want to turn their season around." Jones wrote:
Zimmer's aggressive approach paid off, opening the door for Minnesota to build on a crucial win entering the second half of a crucial year. Last week, after a second straight loss, Zimmer was adamant with his team about how much he hates losing, and how they needed to start seeing positive results for their efforts. He insisted throughout the practice week that the Vikings would be aggressive on the road against one of the NFL's most aggressive teams in the Chargers. He anticipated that Los Angeles would take chances and decided that his offense needed to raise its game. Or, at least, expand its imagination, particularly in stretching opponents downfield in the passing game.
Jones said the Vikings "are right back in the NFC playoff picture, one game out of a Wild Card spot despite a bumpy start to the year."
They've played up to the level of some tough opponents and down to the level of underwhelming ones, leading to an extraordinary number of tightly contested affairs. Those matchups can often feel as though they're left to chance, where one play or decision can make all the difference. Zimmer didn't allow that to occur Sunday, imploring his squad to be decisive from the outset.
Getting more balls to Justin Jefferson, Jones said, "was pivotal," as he racked up 143 receiving yards on nine catches.
Every game of course is its own entity, but Jones emphasized the importance of taking risks down the second stretch of the season.
It's unclear whether this win is a blueprint the Vikings can replicate. According to ESPN's Football Power Index, Minnesota has played the 10th-toughest schedule through Week 10 but has the 13th-easiest remaining slate. Ideally, the Vikings would avoid competing in more one-score contests, and their star-powered passing game should be able to help. Regardless, Zimmer and his players believe the mettle developed from playing in so many tight games will pay off.