Did Runs Aid Passing, or Delay Cousins?
The Minnesota Vikings won an impressive 27-9 victory at Detroit Sunday, against the long-suffering Lions, who are destined to suffer some more, it appears. On the surface, that victory looks routine enough, with Kirk Cousins orchestrating the victory with three touchdown passes.
It was so form-like, the gang of post-game analysts who gather to “break down” every game agreed that the Vikings victory reinforced the new concept that they are much better when they force the running game to set up the passing game. True, the Vikings had just about as many rushing attempts as passing, but so superficial was that analysis that I was astonished.
It turns out that I was not able to watch the Vikings-Lions game, not a minute of it, because I was out of town in a place where it wasn’t carried. So I found the “Score” app on line and paid close attention every few minutes. First, I saw the Lions led 3-0 on a 47-yard field goal, then they fell behind 9-0 in the second quarter to two more field goals.
I investigated, and to my astonishment, I saw the Vikings running game had made some rushes, but for very few yards. And Cousins, with about four minutes remaining in the first half, had completed one out of three passes for a total of minus-2 yards! I suggested to the folks with me that it was time for Vikings coach Mike Zimmer should abandon that silly notion that his team could only find success - and his offensive coordinator could only keep his job - if they quit depending so totally on passing.
Unbeknown to me, the Vikings then had the ball on their own 11, and Cousins led the Vikings on an 8-play drive, which consisted of 6 rushing yards, and 83 passing yards. Included was a 40-yard pass to Adam Thielen to reach the Lions 9, and from there Cousins passed to Stefon Diggs for the touchdown.
The Vikings got the ball back for one last bid before halftime, at their own 20. After four plays the Vikings had gained 36 yards - all on passes, and none on rushing - to get to the Detroit 44. As time ran out at halftime, Cousins launched a “Hail Mary” pass to the end zone, and big Kyle Rudolph went up and snatched it, for a 44-yard touchdown.
That meant the drive consumed five plays and 45 seconds with all 80 yards coming on passes and nary a yard rushing. The Vikings had a sudden 14-9 halftime lead with two drives totaling 169 yards, and the breakdown was 6 yards rushing and 163 yards passing.
In the fourth quarter, clinging to a 17-9 lead that was anything but safe, the Vikings drove 74 yards in 9 lays, with 16 yards rushing and 58 passing, including a 4-yard pass to Rudolph for the touchdown.
The Vikings had 100 rushing yards for the game, with most of it during the first two quarters when it was paltry enough to result in no point. They also had 240 passing yards, but remember, Cousins was minus-2 yards passing until the closing minutes of the second quarter. Dalvin Cook had 73 yards on 16 rushes, and LaTavius Murray 22 yards on 9 carries. On the receiving corps, Rudolph gained 122 yards on 9 catches, Thielen 80 more on 5 catches, Cook 35 yards on 3 catches, Diggs 10 yard on three catches, and Murray 6 yards on two catches.
Now, I am greatly in favor of running the ball whenever you can, but when you face an opponent that won’t allow you to run, throw it. Often.
An analyst with more of a clue than Howie Long - whose analysis I usually like - might have said: “Instead of running the ball equally set up the passing attack, the Vikings passing attack was dependent upon abandoning the rushing game!”
UMD Women need to find scoring touch
As long as we’re on the topic of misfiring analysis, let’s talk women’s basketball at UMD. I think the Bulldogs have a good chance at making a run at the Northern Sun conference title, but they have some things to work on.
A couple weeks ago, I watched UMD’s women fall behind Southwest Minnesota State 9-0, and it was 18-8 after one quarter. Then the Bulldogs roared back to outscore Southwest Minnesota 15-2 in the second quarter, and raced on to whip the Mustangs 60-39. Remarkable turnaround.
Somebody on the radio was interviewing UMD coach Mandy Pearson and, having not been at the game, assumed UMD was playing fantastic defense to win so handily. Pearson, being cordial, pretty much agreed. In reality, Sarah Grow, a sophomore, led the offensive attack and UMD hustled hard, but had the good fortune that Southwest Minnesota State started passing the ball around and the first player who was open, shot. The Mustangs were throwing up poor-percentage shots and not making them, and I never had the feeling UMD was stifling them with great defense.
After the game, a friend said, “At least they played good defense.”
I responded that I wasn’t sure if it was great defense, or if Southwest Minnesota State couldn’t shoot very well. Open shots, unhampered, missed repeatedly.
Last week, I watched UMD take a break from the NSIC and play Michigan Tech at Romano Gym. Tough start, against a tough Tech team. The Huskies grabbed an early lead and held it, 21-13 after a quarter and then a 20-7 second quarter put Tech up 41-20 at halftime.
Now in this case, I would assess the game as Michigan Tech knowing that Sarah Grow was UMD’s main offensive threat, and making sure she was covered. She got very few openings from within 20 feet, often guarded by Elizabeth Kelliher, who is a tall, rangy 6-foot-1, and while she only scored 1 point, she helped keep Grow from being a problem.
Tech led 53-36 after an aroused third quarter by the Bulldogs, and UMD charged through an impressive fourth quarter to cut the score to 57-54 at one point. But Tech made a 9-3 spurt and left the Dogs behind 66-57 at the finish.
One thing about the mountain of statistics kept in a basketball game, it tells a lot. Tech shot well through the first half, with field goal percentage edges of 66.7 to 23/8 in the first quarter, 56.3 to 13.3 in the second quarter, and 41.7 to 38.9 in the closely fought third quarter, before UMD had an edge of 47.4 to 30.8 in the fourth quarter. That gave Tech 49.1 percent for the game and UMD 31.5 percent - making it easy to see which team won.
Grow scored a bucket in the final minute to reach double figures with 10, while teammate Sammy Kozlowski led UMD with 16 points - topping the career 1,000-point mark in the process - and Ann Simonet added 10. But Tech had Hannah Hobson with 19, Abbie Botz with 16 and Ellie Mackay with 12 in a balanced offense that picked its shots with swift efficiency. Hobson didn’t even start the game, but came in provided more than just a spark. She and Sloane Zenner, who had 5, gave Tech a 24-8 edge in points scored off the bench, as Tech only used two subs.