This fan blog entry was originally posted at Purple Pain Forums by Reignman.
This topic came up in MidwinterViking‘s recent Minnesota Vikings’ 2021 season review: Week 4 vs Cleveland article, and I felt it deserved an article of its own. It was a popular narrative all last season and continues to be, so let’s see if we can support our pattern recognition with some cold, hard numbers regarding Klint Kubiak’s play-calling, Kirk Cousins’ play, and the scripted opening drives.
Pattern recognition confirmed. Field-goal drives include both makes and misses (attempts) because it’s not the offense’s fault if the kicker misses.
And here are the game-by-game results.
The narrative holds up for the first part of the season, but it looks like the Klint and Kirk magic ran out in the second half of the season. There were no opening-drive touchdowns after the Baltimore game. Overall, Cousins still had a 134.9 quarterback rating on scripted opening drives.
Kirk Cousins’ fourth quarter stats in 2021
Now for the fourth quarter. For Cousins, it’s strictly fourth-quarter stats, but for the drive data the drive either had to mostly happen in the fourth quarter or it had to begin in the fourth quarter. So, if a drive started with five minutes to go in the third and ended with a touchdown at the beginning of the fourth, it’s not included.
So, the question is: Why did the offense so consistently disappear in the middle of games for long periods of time?
I don’t believe it was simply Mike Zimmer taking his foot off the gas until he needed it again in the fourth quarter. Cousins averaged nearly three full yards more per attempt on opening drives than he did in the second and third quarters. I would argue it was a combination of Zimmer wanting the offense to take its foot off the gas, Kubiak calling a more conservative game, and Cousins being mandated to be more careful with the ball and thus becoming a checkdown factory.
As always, if you’ve enjoyed this piece, please consider hopping over to Purple Pain Forums and debating with other Minnesota Vikings fans about not only this topic, but so much more!