Comparisons in 1*st* Quarters of Seasons Show Differences from 2017 to 2018
EAGAN, Minn. — Head Coach Mike Zimmer's best Vikings teams haven't hit their strides out of the gate, and his best-starting team in his first four seasons didn't fare well down the stretch.
The records of Zimmer's teams in first quarters of seasons are as follows:
2014: 2-2 (win, loss, loss, win); finished 7-9
2015: 2-2 (loss, win, win, loss); finished 11-5 and NFC North Champions
2016: 4-0 (part of a 5-0 start); finished 8-8
2017: 2-2 (win, loss, win, loss); finished 13-3 and NFC North Champions
2018: 1-2-1 (win, tie, loss, loss)
Thus, the coach isn't hitting the panic button.
There are, however, things to fix as Minnesota prepares to visit Philadelphia and face the Super Bowl LII Champion Eagles (2-2).
Aside from being a half-game shy of the Vikings 2017 start, which included a home division loss to Detroit, there are quite a few disparities in numerous statistical categories.
Here are comparisons in four aspects of the game through the first four games of 2017 and the first four games of 2018.
Good: Points for have increased by 11, with the Vikings going from 79 to 90.
Bad: Points against have increased by 34, with opponents going from 76 to 110.
Notable: Opposing teams have combined for 44 points in second quarters this season, compared to 13 points in the first four games of 2017. Minnesota's offense scored 37 in second quarters last season but only has 20 in second quarters this season. Scoring disparities at halftime have shaped the flow of the games in the second halves.
The Vikings have heavily relied on the passing game to catch up and, in related news, rank last in the NFL in rushing.
Minnesota has attempted 56 more passes (189 in 2018) and has 43 more completions (131 so far). Cousins' completion percentage of 69.3 is up 3.1 percentage points over Minnesota's total through four games last season.
His passer rating of 103.6 is in the ballpark with the 106.8 that was totaled by Sam Bradford, Case Keenum and one incompletion on a fake punt through four games in 2017.
The Vikings have rushed for 252 yards on 73 carries for an average of 3.5 yards per run and 63 yards per game. In 2017, Minnesota rushed for 432 yards on 109 carries through four games (4.0 per run and 108 per game).
In addition to the 45 fewer rushing yards per game, Minnesota is also the only team without a rushing touchdown.
Although Cousins has thrown 10 touchdowns, the Vikings could benefit from more balance.
2017 touchdowns through four games: three rushing, six passing
2018 touchdowns through four games: 10 passing, one interception return
Allowing bigger plays
If an opponent gave the 2017 Vikings a lead or was playing from bad field position, the pendulum swung heavily toward a defense that was able to dictate and play games on Minnesota's terms.
Unfortunately, the unit that finished first in the NFL in points allowed and yards allowed in 2017 hasn't had a lead often or benefited from an opponent being pinned deep in its own territory. Minnesota ranks 22nd and 21st, respectively in the categories.
Los Angeles had eight pass plays gain 23 or more yards against Minnesota in Week 4, including touchdowns of 70, 47 and 31 yards.
The Rams propensity to go for big plays can skew statistics with such a small sample size, but Minnesota has allowed opponents an average of 9.2 yards per pass attempt, compared to 7.5 allowed through four games in 2017.
Zimmer was highly critical of the coverage after the game, but on Wednesday said he believes the Vikings can implement fixes by playing the way the unit has played in the past.
Converting third downs and scoring touchdowns instead of field goals in the red zone and goal-to-go situations are often aligned with the blueprint of a victory.
The Vikings invest significantly in each aspect of the game each week and did so extensively in the offseason program.
The Vikings conversion rate on third downs by the offense is down slightly from 46.2 percent (24 of 52) to 44.3 (27 of 61). The conversion rate of opponents has inched up. In 2017, en route to having the best third-down defense since the NFL began keeping the stat in 1991, the Vikings limited opponents to a rate of 25.6 (11 of 43) in the first four games. This season, however, opponents have converted 14 of 45 for a rate of (31.1).
The Rams were just 1-for-6 on third downs, but they were able to do damage on first and second downs. The 70-yard score was on a second-and-5, and the 47 and 31 yarders occurred on first-and-10s.
Despite having 12 more first downs and 76 more net yards, the Vikings have made four fewer trips to the red zone and have only had three goal-to-go situations on offense.
Opponents have scored four more touchdowns (11, compared to seven in 2017), earned five more first downs (85, compared to 80), three more trips to the red zone (6-for-16 in 2018, compared to 5-for-13 last season) and one more goal-to-go situation (2-for-5, compared to 1-for-4).
The remaining three quarters of the season will provide the Vikings with the opportunity to define 2018.