Through the first four weeks of the season, the Minnesota Vikings have struggled in their first drive of the second half. This has not only limited their ability to come back in games, but it allowed their opponents to blow them out in Weeks 1 and 2 and make things close in the last two games.
If the Vikings want to climb back into the playoff picture this season, this has to improve.
Week 1 vs. Green Bay
This game may have been decided when the Vikings allowed 14 points in the final 39 seconds of the first half, but Minnesota still had a chance to claw its way back after receiving the ball to open the third quarter. Down 22-10, the beginning of the drive started well. The Vikings tried to establish Dalvin Cook with 23 yards on three straight carries to open the drive to build momentum.
The wheels started to fall off once Alexander Mattison lost a yard before an incomplete pass to Justin Jefferson. After a Brian O’Neill false start, the Vikings blinked and found themselves in a 3rd and 16 situation. Although Kirk Cousins completed a pass to Jefferson for nine yards, the drive was over.
Compared to the other second-half drives this season, this one was good, but not great. The Vikings moved the ball before penalties and a couple of bad plays forced them into third and long. If you’re searching for a positive, the Vikings moved into Packer territory to flip the field position. But in a game where Aaron Rodgers moved the ball at will, Minnesota needed points to keep up, which turned a bad game into an even bigger laugher.
Result: 8 plays, 26 yards, 2:56 (one penalty)
Week 2 vs. INDIANAPOLIS
Although the Packer game was bad, the Vikings were still able to put together a useful drive to open the second half. The Vikings got a stop against the Colts offense to open the half in Indianapolis, but their offense immediately turned the game into a full-blown disaster.
Down 15-3, the Vikings felt a sense of desperation after being dominated in the first half. Cousins finished the half with an interception on a Hail Mary, so offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak tried to get his confidence up with a pair of short attempts.
His plan didn’t work. Cousins misfired on an attempt to Adam Thielen on first down. On the next play, Cousins threw a strike to Bisi Johnson, but the ball was thrown a little behind. As the ball bounced off Johnson’s hands, it ricocheted into the arms of Kenny Moore, who put the Colts in prime position to put the Vikings away.
Much like the Green Bay game, any sort of offensive momentum would have done wonders. A touchdown could have brought the Vikings to within a score, and a field goal still makes this a game. Instead, a couple misfires by Cousins put the Vikings into an even bigger hole.
Result: 2 plays, 0 yards, 0:04
Week 3 vs. TENNESSEE
When the Vikings reached halftime against the Titans, they seemed to have a much different tone. As a team that could have used a preseason to get acclimated, Minnesota looked like a legitimate football team and even held a 17-9 lead coming out of the locker room.
By getting the ball to start the second half, the Vikings had a chance to put their foot on the gas and bury the Titans. Instead, Jefferson made his first rookie mistake: As he cut in on a route, Cousins expected him to go to the sideline. That miscommunication led to a pick-six by Johnathan Joseph that was overturned by a penalty on Jadeveon Clowney.
It’s understandable why the Vikings would come out throwing with a chance to put Tennessee away, but handing the ball off to Cook would have been just as effective. He wound up with a career-high 181 yards in that game, and Minnesota could have executed a long drive that would have put the Titans down 24-9 midway through the third quarter. Instead, Tennessee hung around and came away with a one-point victory.
Result: 1 play, 0 yards, 0:06
Week 4 vs. Houston
Much like the Tennessee game, the Vikings had a chance to put an inferior team away with a key second-half drive in Houston. With a 17-6 lead, the Texans looked like a team that wanted to be put out of its misery. Although that would be the case the following afternoon with the firing of Bill O’Brien, the Vikings’ failed drive allowed the Texans to stay in the game.
The Vikings started off with a four-yard run by Cook, then took to the air on second down. To Kubiak’s credit, Jefferson found some space on the far sideline and would have had a first down if Cousins had seen him. Instead, Dru Samia was beaten by Whitney Mercilus and ran Cousins down for a loss of five yards.
Although a screen pass to Cook gained those yards back, the third and long situation forced another drive to stall. The Vikings took some time off the clock, but with Harrison Smith‘s ejection hampering the defense, the Vikings could have used more of a cushion.
Result: 3 plays, 4 yards, 1:59
How the Vikings CAN Do Better
After the first four games, it’s clear that a better drive to open the second half could turn some of those nail-biters into a more pleasant experience. The Vikings have tried both pounding it on the ground and firing through the air, but neither have had results like their opening drives, which have generated points in all four games this season.
If there’s one thing that is working, it’s Cook’s ability to pound the rock. He has compiled 32 total yards on five touches on the opening drive of the second half, and such success could help the Vikings control the clock. While Cousins hasn’t had the same success (2-for-6, 14 yards, 2 INTs), a lot of that can be attributed to his inexperienced receivers, which should improve as the season goes along.
If the receiver play and offensive line can produce better on these drives, the Vikings should put themselves in position to win the game. Should the Vikings be able to produce, it could lead to better results on the field and less stress on Sunday afternoons.