To me, the most important concept of the West Coast offense as it was implemented under legendary San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh was not about the specific play designs, but rather a belief that in order to win you must establish the lead early in the game.
Walsh believed teams need to throw the ball to build the lead, then run the ball to keep the lead. Going into halftime with a 10-point lead or more was the main objective for Walsh. Therefore, since learning his wisdom, I have followed halftime point differentials closely.
Normally playoff teams have a huge point differential, and Super Bowl-winning teams are in the top four. For example, last year the top four teams in halftime point differential were the Patriots, Steelers, Falcons and Colts. The Packers and Ravens tied for fifth place. So, last year the theory held up. But this year, the Vikings have destroyed the theory.
Minnesota currently sits in second place this year with a plus-47 halftime point differential, trailing only the Texans. But the Vikings are 0-3 and every other team in the top four is 2-1. So why, if building a lead in the first half is so important, are the Vikings winless?
One simple explanation is that the Vikings can't convert third downs in the second half, having only converted one in three games. But more than just not being able to execute, it appears their playlist runs out of good plays. Even when the plays are open, there is either a breakdown in the offensive line or the quarterback cannot make an accurate throw. Throw in poor coaching decisions to the equation and it all adds up to poor second halves.
The Vikings' personnel at wide receiver is subpar. The one playmaker they have, Percy Harvin, needs to become their version of Wes Welker. Harvin must be the featured third-down player running the option and critical routes because he is the only skill player who can win consistently against man-to-man coverage.
With the game just entering the fourth quarter and the Lions mounting a comeback, the Vikings finally put together a quality drive, working their way into Lions territory. Faced with a third-and-8 situation, Donovan McNabb connected with receiver Michael Jenkins for just seven yards. Now, fourth-and-1 from the Lions' 17, ahead 20-17.
At this point in the game, it is decision time for new Vikings coach Leslie Frazier. His options are to go for it on fourth down, with hopes of converting, keeping the ball and extending a three-point lead to 10. Or settle for the field goal and keep grinding. He has the best running back in the league in Adrian Peterson. However, on the first drive of the game facing a third-and-1, Peterson had to make an incredible run to get the first down -- which he did.
The entire offensive team, led by Peterson, is pleading with the sideline for Frazier to go for the first down -- which he does. But instead of giving the ball to the man the organization gave $100 million to in a new contract, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave tries to trick the Lions and hand the ball off to Toby Gerhart on the fullback belly. Ouch. Naturally, Gerhart was stopped and the Lions drove down the field to tie the score.
Long time ago, I was told by Dan Henning -- a former head coach and offensive coordinator in the league for years -- that if you don't have tendencies on offense, you are not any good. Well, that statement applies to the Vikings. Give the ball to your best player, especially at the most critical time in the game. At the end of playoff basketball games, everyone knew Michael Jordan was going to take the last shot, but no matter who knew, he still took the shot and the Bulls took their chances with the ball in his hands.
What the Vikings needed early in the fourth quarter were points and confidence that they can score. There was too much time left on the clock to put the game away, therefore take the sure three points. Additionally, the Vikings needed a confidence builder at that point, not another disappointment. Being up two scores with 11 minutes would have been great, but not an overwhelming task for the Lions' offense to overcome.
Frazier needed to collect points then, and not listen to his players. He also needed to understand that every yard in the second half has been difficult -- even in the first quarter when things were going well, it was difficult. Taking the points there is not being conservative, but prudent considering the circumstances with his team.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi.