Upon Further Review

Why is this man smiling? His offense went just 3-for-12 on third-down conversions last Sunday and face a much stiffer test this week vs. the high-flying Giants defense. Maybe he's smiling because that stat wasn't nearly as bad as it looks now.

When can a bad stat not be so bad? When VU's "Upon Further Review" crew breaks it down. VU has never been accused – at least not too often – of being shameless homers who sugarcoat the truth and would have to ask questions like, "Other than the shooting, how did you enjoy the play, Mrs. Lincoln?" We try to send out the truth – even it's painful – so it shouldn't be dismissed that, while the Vikings had an extremely troubling statistic Sunday that can't be repeated, the circumstances made it much more palatable Upon Further Review.

The stat? Third-down conversions. The Vikings were a dismal 3-for-12 converting third downs against the Lions. Why would it be any more troubling to have that stat last Sunday as opposed to any Sunday? Because Brad Johnson was the quarterback.

Brad Johnson has been around the NFL for 14 years – a decade of that as a starter. He's never had top-end arm strength and he's never been called mobile. What got Johnson on the field and what has kept him there is his ability to throw darts on passes of 10 to 20 yards. For teams that Johnson has quarterbacked, converting third downs has become a necessity – more than most NFL QBs and certainly more than Daunte Culpepper, who for years could take the team down the field 80 yards in three or four plays. Johnson's strength has always been to manage the down and distance, move the chains and score on drives of 10 to 12 plays or more. To sustain those long drives, you will almost assuredly have to convert multiple third-down situations.

That being said, the 3-of-12 number can be misleading. Here's why.

* 6:10 remaining, 3rd-and-goal from the Detroit 2. The Vikings are looking for their first score and Johnson is called to roll out to where three receivers are flooded on the right side. The Lions blitz and Johnson is forced to abandon the play. As he's being dragged down, he throws the ball out of the end zone – keeping the ball on the 2 for a Paul Edinger field goal and a 3-0 lead.

* 15:00, 3rd-and-6, Detroit 46. Johnson has Nate Burleson in single coverage and lobs a pass down the left sideline. It is a perfectly thrown ball and Burleson makes the catch. But his left foot catches no more than three of four inches of the white sideline marker and a referee who sees the play correctly makes the call that, ever so slightly, he was out of bounds.
* 10:32, 3rd-and-8, Detroit 29. The Lions, who have been blitzing consistently, come with a four-man rush and no blitz. Johnson has all the time he needs, but still throws the timing route called to Troy Williamson, who makes the catch for 12 yards and a first down.
* 8:52, 3rd-and-2, Detroit 9. Two plays later, the Vikings face another third down. The Lions blitz, but it is picked up and Johnson finds Williamson running a drag route at the first-down marker. He flips a short two-yard pass that Williamson takes another four yards to the 2-yard line. The Vikes score two plays later and take a 10-0 lead.
* 4:09, 3rd-and-14, Detroit 15. At the snap, Lions DE Kalimba Edwards jumps offside. Knowing he has a free play, Johnson, by his own admission "closed my eyes and let it go." A jump ball is tipped and pulled in by Burleson for a touchdown and a 24-0 Vikings lead. The blowout is on and, at the time, the Vikings have converted 3-of-5 third-down situations. They won't convert another the rest of the game. You decide how bad going 0-for-7 is.
* 0;06, 3rd-and-10, Detroit 42. The Vikings have just six seconds and one time out to try to pick up the eight to 10 yards needed to get into Paul Edinger field goal range. Johnson takes a one-step drop and hits releasing tight end Jim Kleinsasser on a pass that, from start to finish, traveled about 10 feet. Kleinsasser catches it and dives forward to the 34-yard line for an eight-yard gain. The play took just two seconds off the clock (hometown clock operation?) and the Vikes call their final time out. Edinger misses the field goal, but it was an opportunity to put points on the board and pad their lead.

* 12:26, 3rd-and-6, Detroit 25. Already in scoring range, the Vikings are looking for a short pass to keep the drive alive. The Lions come with a four-man rush, but DE Cory Redding comes on a stunt and blows over and past Chris Liwienski. Johnson tries to abort the play and avoid a sack, but is hit from behind by Edwards and fumbles. Had he eaten the ball for a sack, he would have been on the 33-yard line, bring up a 50- or 51-yard attempt. Not Johnson's fault per se, but a turnover is a turnover – even if a lineman misses an assignment.
* 7:27, 3rd-and-1, Minnesota 21. With Moe Williams out, Ciatrick Fason is getting his first shot at being a short-yardage and goal-line runner. He takes a carry off the left side and, as many rookies tend to do, instead of burrowing into the designed hole, he rolls the run outside. The Lions linebackers converge and string the play out, bring Fason down on a play that could best be typified as a rookie trying to do too much and abandoning a hole that likely would have given him the yard he needed – but not much more.
* 3:48, 3rd-and-18, Minnesota 2. The Vikings have been pinned deep and, at this point, there aren't a lot of pass plays designed to gain 20 yards when throwing out of the end zone. Mewelde Moore gets a draw play up the middle that wasn't designed to pick up a first down. It was intended solely to give Chris Kluwe room and hope the youngster could bomb yet another punt. He connects on a 61-yard punt and the Lions start from their own 33-yard line. While a failed third-down conversion, it was a successful play that led to good results – as well as taking another 40 seconds off the game clock.

* 13:31, 3rd-and-3, Minnesota 48. The Vikings come out in a three-receiver set and the hot read is Williamson on a slant. Johnson puts the ball right between the "8" and the "9" and, with a vocal contention from fans that R.W. McQuarters hit him early, Williamson flat out drops the ball. Another rookie with a concentration lapse on a key play.
* 8:19, 3rd-and-7, Detroit 19. Ahead 24-14, the Vikings want to make sure that the Lions will need two touchdowns to come back on them, instead of the potential for just a TD and a field goal to tie. The team is still looking to take a shot downfield, but on the snap the Lions come with a blitz and collapse the pocket. Knowing he doesn't have time, Johnson takes off out of the pocket and, as the first forward defender makes a line for him, he does a baseball slide for what gets credited as a 2-yard sack. He didn't force the ball into coverage to potentially get an interception and keeps the ball where Edinger connects on a field goal and a 27-14 Vikings lead.
* 3:12, 3-2, Detroit 43. The Vikings had run the previous two plays and the Lions used both of their time outs to stop the clock and keep some hope alive. If the Vikings get a first down, they can pretty much run out the clock from there. If they run, they force the Lions to call their last time out. If they pass and it's incomplete the clock stops. The teams makes the right decision – run and hope you get two yards – but didn't call the right name. Bennett got the call and he's never been an effective short-yardage runner. He's brought down and the Lions call their final time out.

The final scorecard said 3-of-12 on third-down conversions, but Upon Further Review, it wasn't nearly that bad and the number is a bit misleading. But, if the Vikings with Johnson at the wheel are going to be successful, that number will have to improve dramatically. If the Vikes are going to win with Johnson, they'll need to convert a lot of third downs.

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