It's been amazing over the last couple of days hearing the talking heads of national sports media distancing themselves from their allegiance to the Green Bay Packers. Suddenly, all of these babbling sycophants have flipped more times than a pancake burned on both sides to erase comments they hope football fans have forgotten.
Ask any of those professional opinion-makers to be honest and, at one point or another, they all believed the Packers would go undefeated. Most made an impressive case to state their claim. Suddenly, after a game in which the Packers self-incinerated, it would seem that every slappy the Packers once had mysteriously had all the answers to why the Pack was fraudulent. They went 15-1 with the statistically worst defense in the league. They were 15-1! Who cares how many yards they gave up? How many wins did they have?
To say Dom Capers is the worst defensive coordinator in the league is ludicrous. When teams are behind by 17 points, they have no choice but to pass and, when they're doing it against defenses guarding against big plays over the top, yards can pile up in a hurry in small, consecutive chunks.
So what makes a coaching staff effective? For my money, it's what they do in the third quarter of games. But when the Packers had eight dropped passes, three lost fumbles (four if you count the one the Giants weren't given) and two interceptions, that was on the players.
For all the planning that coaching staffs do during the week, more times than not it doesn't go as planned – unless said team either scores 35 points or allows the opposing offense to gain nothing. It's what coaches do at halftime that makes the difference.
So critical is this aspect of the game that they have a name for it – halftime adjustments. It's when coaches shine (or don't). In many ways, the extent to which coaching staffs make adjustments and how those adjustments are reflected in the third quarter of games may be the most telling statistic of all in how effective a coaching staff is (or isn't).
How much weight should be given to third-quarter production? Let's put it this way – the top five teams in third quarter scoring disparity made the playoffs and the top three teams earned the four available playoff byes. Only 13 of 32 teams outscored their opponents in the third quarter and nine of them made the playoffs, including all of the top five.
A view from the flipside? Of the 19 teams that didn't outscore their opponents in the third quarter, 15 of them did not make the playoffs – 79 percent. The teams that ranked at the bottom three of the NFL in that category have the top three picks in April's draft.
Coincidence? Not a chance.
Last among those teams? The Minnesota Vikings.
The Vikings not only allowed the most third-quarter points, but their scoring disparity of minus-71 was the worst in the league – behind even 2-14 Indianapolis (minus-56) and St. Louis (minus-63).
Below is the entire list of teams and their fate in the third quarter. Each team is listed, followed by their points scored, points allowed and the disparity in those two numbers in parentheses. While there are a few anomalies – Seattle and Miami are unusually high and the Giants are pathetically low – this may be the most pure form of ranking a coaching staffs in the NFL. And, by that standard, the Vikings were the worst-coached team in the NFL. Here is the list:
New England – 141-50 (91)
Green Bay – 150-66 (84)
San Francisco – 101-40 (61)
New Orleans – 126-67 (59)
Detroit – 125-74 (51)
Seattle – 90-40 (50)
San Diego – 116-67 (49)
Miami – 91-50 (41)
Cincinnati – 86-50 (33)
Philadelphia – 74-64 (10)
Baltimore – 78-71 (7)
Houston – 63-56 (7)
Pittsburgh – 63-56 (7)
New York Jets – 75-79 (-4)
Arizona – 79-85 (-6)
Carolina – 83-90 (-7)
Tennessee – 67-74 (-7)
Washington – 60-73 (-11)
Chicago – 83-95 (-12)
Dallas – 62-75 (-13)
Denver – 75-91 (-16)
New York Giants – 59-79 (-20)
Tampa Bay – 65-86 (-21)
Cleveland – 35-62 (-27)
Jacksonville – 33-64 (-29)
Buffalo – 78-109 (-31)
Oakland – 66-115 (-49)
Kansas City – 43-95 (-52)
Atlanta – 74-127 (-53)
Indianapolis – 36-92 (-56)
St. Louis – 37-100 (-63)
Minnesota – 61-132 (-71)
While no statistic is infallible, this one does as much to explain success and failure as any. Of the 12 playoff teams, only three of them (Denver, the Giants and Atlanta) were on the wrong side of third-quarter scoring. Two of those – Atlanta and Denver – had humbling postseason exits.
But, where Vikings fans should be concerned is that not only were the Vikings the worst in the league in scoring disparity, but their 132 points allowed in the third quarter not only were the worst in the league, but only three other teams allowed more than 100 points in the third quarter – Oakland, Buffalo and Atlanta, all teams that had collapse moments during their seasons that turned momentum and promise into offseason disappointment.
It can be argued that the success and failure of coaching staffs can be accurately measured by third-quarter scoring. Run down the list and it is almost a blueprint of disappointment for most of the 2011 season. It seems fitting that the Vikings are at the bottom of that list. They deserve to be there.
When one looks to assign blame to the 2011 Vikings season, it's equal opportunity. There wasn't a phase of the game – offense, defense or special teams – that didn't have its back-breaking moments that good teams largely avoid. The coaches can prepare players and, a strip sack, a one-handed catch, an incomprehensible punt return for a touchdown can all do in a team effort. But, when it comes to third-quarter performance, the onus lies as much on the coaching staff as it does on the players.
The coaches are asked to spend days preparing for an opponent and 10 minutes at halftime to devise alternate plans to win games. The seamless coaching staffs accomplish that mission. The ragged ones don't. The Vikings were the most ragged of them all. With the exception of Atlanta, you have to go a long way up the list before you find a team that most objective fans can say is better than the Vikings when it comes to players on the roster.
If one statistic could be your guide for regular-season gambling, third-quarter scoring (the result of halftime adjustments) might be the one you would want most. The rankings speak for themselves.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Third-quarter scoring a telling statistic
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