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What's up with the Vikings on second downs this season? Does it seem like Dalvin Cook keeps running into a wall on second and long or Kirk Cousins throws a short pass that leaves the offense with difficult third downs on an all-too-regular basis?

If so, your observation skills are tremendous because that's exactly what's been happening week after week as the Vikings showcase a maddening mindset of slamming on the brakes and failing to play with a killer instinct. 

Who's to blame? Mike Zimmer and Klint Kubiak, obviously. But Kirk Cousins doesn't get a free pass for the conservative approach. In fact, the stats suggest that his nickname could very well be Captain Conservative rather than Captain Kirk. 

According to Sharp Football Stats, the Vikings have attempted 65 passes on second-and-long situations (2nd & 7 or longer) and they're averaging an NFL worst 5.4 yards per attempt. Unless every receiving option is running five-yard routes, that's on Cousins. 

It'd be one thing to be the most conservative second-and-long quarterback in the NFL if the Vikings were one of the best third down teams in the league, but their third down conversion rate of 35.7% ranks 25th, a statistic that becomes even more glaring when you consider that Minnesota leads the NFL with an average of 14 third downs per game, of which they're converting an average of just five for first downs. 

The second down mystery is even more confusing when you see that Cousins averages 7.4 yards per attempt on first down and 7.3 per attempt on third down. Those are more in line with NFL averages. But the second down check downs are inexplicable. 

When needing at least 7 yards on second or third down, the best teams and the best quarters (Brady, Rodgers, Stafford, Murray, Prescott, Herbert, Jackson, etc.) are all pushing the ball to the first down marker or beyond while Cousins rarely throws past the sticks. 

  • Bucs: 7.6 (yards per attempt on 2nd down), 7.5 (3rd down)
  • Rams: 9.2 (2nd), 10.3 (3rd)
  • Titans: 7.4 (2nd), 7.2 (3rd)
  • Cowboys: 7.4 (2nd), 10.1 (3rd)
  • Packers: 8.2 (2nd), 7.8 (3rd)
  • Chargers: 7.2 (2nd), 8.1 (3rd)
  • Cardinals: 8.3 (2nd), 9.6 (3rd)
  • Ravens: 9.2 (2nd), 5.7 (3rd)
  • Vikings: 5.4 (2nd), 7.3 (3rd)

It's a discount double check down when the play calls don't match the urgency of a situation. There were two such scenarios in the fourth quarter and overtime of Minnesota's 34-31 overtime loss to the Ravens on Sunday. 

Trailing 31-24 at the two-minute warning, the Vikings had the ball first-and-10 at the Baltimore 17-yard line. On first down, Cousins threw incomplete to Thielen, setting up second-and-10. Might want to eliminate a running play to avoid another third-and-forever situation, right? Wrong. 

Kubiak called a run play and Cook only got a yard. 

That set up an incomplete pass on third down, which in turn set up a do-or-die fourth down where Cousins hit Justin Jefferson for a first down. Adam Thielen scored on the next play and the game was tied. They got away with it that time, but Kubiak wasn't so lucky in overtime. 

After Anthony Barr's tipped pass and interception gave the Vikings the ball at their 39-yard line, Kubiak went conservative. On first down he called a swing pass to the left (behind the line of scrimmage) to Cook, who was swarmed and only got two yards. 

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He followed up with an unexplainable run play to Cook, who was swallowed after gaining one yard. That set up another third and long for a team barely converting one-third of their attempts and, as the stats expected, they failed and were forced to punt. 

Three-and-out against a defense ranked 32nd against the pass and you have Jefferson and Thielen on your team? In overtime? With all of the momentum? In a must-win situation and jobs on the line? Oh yeah, it happened. 

Lamar Jackson and the Ravens then ate up the rest of overtime, effectively bleeding out the Vikings before Justin Tucker nailed a chip shot field goal for the kill. 

What's the fix? Armchair quarterbacks probably have the answer: Get the ball down the field to your superstar weapons. But then again, what do the fans know?

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