There were a lot of Minnesota Vikings fans and media members invoking the phrase “about time” in the aftermath of their third straight loss to open the season.
It’s about time they got Justin Jefferson involved! It’s about time they got Dalvin Cook rolling! It’s about time the secondary recorded a takeaway! It’s about time that allowed some fans in the stadium! It’s about time they forced an opponent to punt more than twice in a game! It’s about time they had a lead for more than five minutes!
It’s about time!
That phrase was used repeatedly, and it usually was part of an effort to buttress various silver lining narratives on behalf of the Vikings.
The Vikings were supposed to be a playoff team this season. They made the Divisional Round last season and Vegas had them favored to win their division this season. As such, spinning moral victory arguments is simply tone-deaf.
It’s about time alright. It’s about time in more ways than one, in fact. And none of them have anything to do with moral victories, silver linings, or they-almost-didn’t-lose storylines. A big part of the Vikings’ winless start in fact is “about time.”
NOT ENOUGH TIME
Next Gen Stats suggest Kirk Cousins has more time to throw than the league average. However, rollouts and play-action passes take a few seconds longer to develop, making “time to throw” kind of a tricky metric. Moreover, some quarterbacks just get rid of the ball quickly. It doesn’t mean they don’t have more time to throw.
The eye test tells a different story. Cousins has not had what any reasonable observer would describe as ample time to throw this season, especially at critical junctures. Look no further than the chaotic final “drive” of the Tennessee Titans game that went about as well as a fart in a church pew (pun fully intended). This is nothing new, of course. Anyone with a passing familiarity with the Vikings has heard of or witnessed their offensive line issues.
The run blocking has been good enough to get Cook going – at least it was against the Titans – which raises the distinct possibility that (brace yourself) maybe the line struggles when they have to pass all the time. Speaking of time, that’s a problem as old as time – at least football time. If the other team knows you have to pass and doesn’t have to concern themselves as much with stopping the run, guess what happens?
Providing Cousins with consistently enough time to throw is an issue, but it’s not the Vikings’ biggest issue when it comes to time.
TOO MUCH TIME
The unfortunate flip side of Cousins not getting enough time is, of course, opposing quarterbacks getting too much time to throw against the Vikings. It’s a bad combination to have, especially in a league that tilts more toward successful passing games with every season.
Sacks aren’t the only statistic with which to measure quarterback pressure, but it’s a pretty sad state of affairs when your team is tied for next-to-last in the league in sacks. Don’t look now, but that would be your Vikings along with three other teams who each have three sacks this season. For the mathematically impaired, that works out to one per game. And at that rate, they’d end up with 16 for the season. By the way, no calculator used to derive that result. Don’t act like you’re not impressed.
Only two Vikings have managed to record a sack: cornerback Holton Hill has 1.0 and Yannick Ngakoue is running away with the team lead at 2.0. Put another way, only one member of the Vikings’ front seven has a sack this season.
When was Danielle Hunter coming back again?
Want some salt for that wound? Only two defenses have a lower pressure rate this season than the Vikings, according to Pro-Football-Reference. This is a far more telling metric than sacks by the way, and it means that quarterbacks are not being pressured basically 90 percent (okay, 89 percent) of the time they drop back to pass against the Vikings.
TIME OF POSSESSION
If you thought not giving Cousins enough time and giving opposing quarterbacks too much time to throw were the most pressing issues related to time for the Vikings, guess again.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before… the Vikings lost the time of possession battle against the Titans on Sunday. Yes, it happened again. And this issue will continue to be harped upon in this corner of the Vikings Internet because it’s the ingrown toenail on the bare foot of a stubbed toe when it comes to painful Vikings stats.
Teams that win the time of possession battle in football win more often than not. Everybody knows that. Let’s check the data. League-wide this season through three weeks (48 games), teams that have a higher T.O.P. than their opponents are 34-13-1. That’s a .708 winning percentage. That’s a trend.
Want a bigger trend? A trendier trend?
The Vikings have come up on the short end of the time of possession battle in each game this season and have lost all three. They lost T.O.P. in the final two games last season and lost both of those as well. That’s five straight games in which they’ve lost on the clock and lost on the scoreboard.
But wait; there’s more!
Going back to the start of the 2017 season, the Vikings are 5-17-1 when they lose the time of possession battle.
They are 26-2 when the win the T.O.P. battle.
By the way, 26-2 is a .929 winning percentage. That’s a megatrend. It would seem that time of possession is extra important to Zimmer’s Vikings. Hence his emphasis on the running game. It’s about time… of possession!
RUNNING OUT OF TIME
Speaking of time, the Vikings are running out of it.
We’ll forgo the stats lesson on the chances of a team that starts 0-3 of making the postseason. The Vikings need to climb back to .500 before even mentioning playoffs with a straight face. All hope would seem already lost, but this is 2020. Weirder things have happened. Hunter could return soon, which could give the defense enough of a boost to bring it back to something approaching respectability.
And it’s not as if the Vikings have been losing to bad teams. The three teams the Vikings have played this season are a combined 8-1 and all have the look of legitimate playoff squads. Indeed, the Packers look like the best team in the NFC at this early juncture. That’s a bitter pill for Vikings fans, but it’s true.
On the other hand, there are some winnable games upcoming on the Vikings’ schedule if they are at all intent on doing something other than entering the Trevor Lawrence Sweepstakes. They play the 0-3 Texans this week. Two weeks later they get the currently 0-3 Falcons – who might be the most snake-bit team in the NFL. Two weeks after that, the Lions come to US Bank Stadium.
Alas, even if those turn into wins, the Vikings could easily be 3-5 at the halfway point of the season. No, this particular Vikings team has no shot of getting a win on Sunday Night Football in Seattle in Week 5 or at Lambeau Field against the mighty Packers in Week 7. And then Week 8 brings a game in Chicago on Monday Night Football – another sure-fire loss for even good Vikings teams over the years.
So yeah, the Vikings are running out of time to salvage this season… and a big reason for it has been their trouble with time.
It’s about time they make their move.