In a passing league, consistently running the ball is a mistake. Consistently running the ball well is both difficult and rare. Down 21-14 in the 3rd quarter, the Vikings used a tandem backfield as a crutch, supporting and propelling them over Carolina. The Vikings, who lead the league in Run EPA, relied heavily on both Toby Gerhart and Adrian Peterson. The two RBs were featured on 9 of the 13 plays, 6 of which were successful (2 registered a neutral EPA of -0.06). Here is a look at the evolution of the game-tying drive - which increased the Vikings' chance of winning by 27% - using our Markov model.
Minnesota ran the ball on each of the first 5 plays, slowly decreasing their chance of a punt from 54.4% to 16.7% and increasing both TD and FG odds. They then turned to Christian Ponder on back-to-back unsuccessful pass plays, rocketing the punt probability back up to 45.6%. On the biggest play of the drive, Ponder converted on a 3rd-and-10 completion to Visanthe Shiancoe. Realizing their previous mistake, the Vikings went back to the run and ultimately scored on a 9-yard give to Adrian Peterson.
While there is certainly an element of game theory when it comes to play-calling, there is something to be said for consistent efficient play. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Keith Goldner is the creator of Drive-By Football, and Chief Analyst at numberFire.com - The leading fantasy sports analytics platform. Follow him on twitter @drivebyfootball or check out numberFire on Facebook.