Craig: Play-callers are easy targets

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 12, 2012 - 5:25 AM

Any seemingly sound decision that doesn't work out is going to be roundly second-guessed.

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Coach Leslie Frazier knows the Vikings will have to be able to run the ball when protecting a late lead.

Photo: Genevieve Ross, AP

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No one in sports gets second-guessed more than the 32 men whose NFL job includes having about 15 seconds to radio in the next offensive play to the quarterback.

Calling three consecutive runs from inside your 20-yard line with a five-point lead, less than two minutes left and your opponent down to two timeouts makes perfect sense.

Unless, of course, it doesn't work.

If it doesn't work, you're too conservative. You're playing not to lose. You are, in Fanland, an idiot.

However, had you thrown the ball incomplete inside your 20-yard line or -- worse yet -- thrown an interception, you would have been considered an even bigger idiot.

Second-guessers win. Always.

"Exactly," said Leslie Frazier, who had the beauty of talking about second-guessers after the most improbable of his seven victories as Vikings coach.

There were a few sequences that attracted the usual NFL-caliber second-guessing following Sunday's 26-23 overtime victory over the Jaguars at Mall of America Field. The above-mentioned scenario came when the Vikings' offense took possession with 1 minute, 51 seconds remaining.

What should have been a game-finishing drive by Adrian Peterson and an offense that's trying to build its identity as a power-running outfit became a 33-second possession that gave the Jaguars the time to score a go-ahead touchdown with 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

Frazier was asked how he and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave should balance a commitment to their budding but still-fragile identity and the risk of the entire universe knowing they're going to play the conservative odds.

"You want to be able to run the ball when people know that you have to run, and we have to get to the point where we can do that," Frazier said. "There are going to be more games where we're going to have to be able to take time off the clock. We'll have to figure out a way to get a first down, and we'll have to get to the point where we are able to throw the ball in those situations as well. Right now, where we are, we took the approach we thought was necessary."

Actually, Musgrave's play-calling would have been OK without a first down in that situation had receiver Michael Jenkins not been penalized for an illegal cut block on Peterson's 3-yard run on second down. The Jaguars declined the penalty, but got what was essentially their third timeout handed back to them.

"That messed us up big time," Frazier said. "We can't have that."

Had Jenkins not been penalized, 40 more seconds would have run off the clock. So instead of having 1:18 left at their 24-yard line, the Jaguars would have had 38 seconds left and no timeouts.

Another sequence that was open for second-guessing came when the Vikings had first-and-goal from the 3-yard line with 28 seconds left in the third quarter. After a run by receiver Percy Harvin, a 2-yard completion to running back Matt Asiata and an incompletion to tight end John Carlson, Peterson looked visibly upset as he ran to the sideline while the field goal unit ran past him the other way.

"He's a competitor," Frazier said. "So obviously he wants the ball."

Peterson had run for touchdowns of 3 and 2 yards up to that point. Of course, had he carried the ball again inside the 5 and been stopped, Musgrave would have been called too predictable.

Second-guessers win. Always.

Frazier was asked how closely he judges the play-calling as opposed to the execution when he's evaluating his team's performances.

"I evaluate the execution more, but I do look at the play-calling," Frazier said. "Usually, the play calls are things we've done that week in practice. So I kind of have a feel for when things should be called and when they shouldn't be.

"It only becomes an attention-grabber for me if there's something being called at a moment where we really didn't talk about this player or using this play at this certain time."

That wasn't the case in that Peterson-free sequence that started with first-and-goal at the 3.

"We thought we had some things that would be effective for us," Frazier said. "Percy had a great game for us and was really running hard. We did some other things we thought would work. We just didn't get the execution that we needed. But I guess you can always second-guess after the fact."

And oh, how people do.

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