Cory's Corner: No Fans Have Caused Bold Decisions

Without screaming fans, coaches are taking plenty of risks

Through this weird, uncharasteristic, COVID-filled season, nothing has been normal. 

Including coaching. 

Coaches would never admit to it, but fans influence what decisions coaches make. Take for example, the Vikings-Seahawks game from Sunday night. Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer chose to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the Seattle 6 with 2:00 left. CenturyLink Field is one of the toughest places to play in the NFL. The noise level is deafening and often leads to miscommunication between offensive linemen at the line of scrimmage. 

Do things change if that stadium is packed with nearly 70,000 fans? I would bet that Zimmer would be more apt to take his 23-yard field goal and hope that Russell Wilson cannot score a touchdown and get a two-point conversion which would send the game into overtime. Instead, Zimmer was going for the knockout blow and the swing and miss was so drastic that the Vikings fell flat on their face and couldn't get back up. 

NFL teams have gone for it on fourth down 96 times already compared to 282 for all of the 2019 regular season. Matt LaFleur was 7-for-14 on fourth down in 2019 and is a respectable 4-for-7 this year. 

Coaches have to make swift decisions that impact games. Kick a surefire field goal or try for the six points? Continue to hand off and bleed the clock with a lead or pass it deep and step on the throat of your opponent?

Not having the NFL fans in person has made stadiums turn into open air libraries. The only yelling you hear is from the players after a great play as they make their way to the new "Bud Light Showtime Cam" which has been a fixture of celebrations in every NFL city.

But it has also changed the game itself. Offensive units on the road don't have the pulsating craziness that rowdy fans dish out late in games. And it's that craziness that usually leads to mistakes. Look at the Packers schedule. Two of the first three games were at Minnesota and at New Orleans. Both of those are some of the loudest in the NFL and both were hushed to a whisper which allowed the offense to work stress free. 

The Packers may have been fortunate to not deal with pesky road fans, but I would rather have the sound of normalcy come back ASAP. 

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Cory Jennerjohn is a graduate from UW-Oshkosh and has been in sports media for over 15 years. He was a co-host on "Clubhouse Live" and has also done various radio and TV work as well. He has written for newspapers, magazines and websites. He currently is a columnist for CHTV and also does various podcasts. He recently earned his Masters degree from the University of Iowa. He can be found on Twitter: @Coryjennerjohn

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Comments (28)

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Packer_Fan's picture

October 13, 2020 at 07:22 am

Yup. And Rodgers hard count is working pretty good too.

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Since'61's picture

October 13, 2020 at 09:29 am

I think Zimmer made his decision to go for the 1st down based on field position rather than lack of fans in the stands. He probably figured that if he kicks the FG Seattle would start their from their 25 with 3 TOs left. While if he gets stopped at the 6 yard line he gives his defense 20 more yards to work with and hopefully stop Seattle.

The Seahawks sold out on the run and made the play. Zimmer’s defense could not stop Seattle in either case. We’ll never know about the 2 point conversion. However I would have taken the 3 points in that situation with or without the fans because making a stand on 4th down often gives a lift to the offense. If my defense can’t stop the opponent from going 75 yards we’re probably not going to stop them from going 95 yards either. Thanks, Since ‘61

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dobber's picture

October 13, 2020 at 09:38 am

I agree. I think Zimmer made that decision because he had a lead and wanted to NOT make his swiss cheese defense try to get a stop...even with SEA having to go 95 yards. If you look at that drive, they'd been ripping off big chunks of yardage on the ground and through the air...he probably felt pretty good about their chances to get the first.

That's the thing about that kind of call: it's a gutsy one when you get it right, make the first down, and run out the clock to win. It's still a gutsy one if you DON'T make it, but your defense holds and you still win. It's an awful call when you don't make it, can't stop SEA, and you lose.

I take the FG, too. It puts you up by 8, so even if SEA drives the field and scores, they need a successful 2 pt just to tie. You're not going to get beat in regulation without a chance to respond.

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murf7777's picture

October 13, 2020 at 12:12 pm

Interesting the analytics show either option at about a 98% success rate. So, you can’t fault zimmer for either decision. During the game I thought hit the FG. Now, after thinking about it I like Zimmers decision because “comeback kid Wilson” has been doing this for years now and might be the most proficient due to his scrambling ability and accuracy to achieve success. If they make the 4th and 1, Game over and you don’t give Wilson the opportunity. LaFleur would do the same as he is an aggressive coach, one I agree with whether game decision is a success or failure.

What makes these decisions so tough thou is you have to do it in seconds while us armchair QB’s get minutes or even hours to ponder it. I’m just happy they lost as they seem to be getting better and we don’t need them getting hot.

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Since'61's picture

October 13, 2020 at 08:47 pm

Actually Murf even with a first down it’s not game over because Seattle still has their 3 timeouts. If the Vikings run 3 more plays and fail to score the Vikings probably only run about 20 -25 seconds off the clock.
Assuming Seattle holds Zimmer probably does take the FG and Seattle gets the ball back with a little over a minute to play but no timeouts left and they probably start from their own 25 to drive for a game tying TD and a 2 point conversion. That is difficult even with as well as Wilson is playing. Thanks, Since ‘61

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Tarynfor12's picture

October 13, 2020 at 09:32 am

That 4th and 1 was a dumb decision regardless of fans The FG puts them up 8 points and makes it a TD and 2 point conversion a must to tie. Always make a team get in the end zone twice to tie or win. Stopping them on one has greater odds of success. Failure here makes the game a tie,not a loss and affords another chance for Min to win.

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hobowilly's picture

October 13, 2020 at 10:06 am

Fully agree T-12; a bad decision re: 2 scores; Zimmers stock tumbled with that call. I was pulling for the Queens. Also, the second incomplete pass\fumble was questionable and Cousins ain't taking this team anywhere-Cook is down again. Beats are the div for we need to look out for. Can you believe mlf is 8-0 in the division?! If Cook can't go in week 8, that looks like 9-0!!!

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Matt Gonzales's picture

October 13, 2020 at 03:32 pm

Zimmer was in a catch 22 there. Seattle was moving up and down the field with no issues at that point and Mattison was starting to get hot. Had they kicked the FG I fully expect the game would have went to OT and the Seahawks would get a TD on their first possession, and we'd be asking why he didn't go for it on 4th down when he had the chance to ice the game. I guarantee his assessment was a successful conversion there was their last chance to win the game.

The Vikings had basically no chance of winning this game once Wilson started his typical Wilson magic. They don't have the secondary to play right man coverage, and their offense is not built to keep pace on shootout games.

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jurp's picture

October 13, 2020 at 05:51 pm

I don't know about Seattle's win being a given - IIRC the Vikes had them in two fourth down situations on their final drive and screwed the pooch both times. A little better defense there and this is a non-issue. I wanted the Vikes here because it would've dropped Seattle one game back of the Packers.

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Matt Gonzales's picture

October 13, 2020 at 08:12 pm

That's the point - the Vikings defense just wasn't able to stop Seattle when it counted. It was a gamble, but it's the same choice I would have made given Seattle's propensity for comeback wins.

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The_Justicar's picture

October 15, 2020 at 07:14 am

Actually, the dumber decision was Zimmer going for 2 on the prior td. It wasn’t late enough in the game to do so. Had he kicked the XP, he fg late in the 4th would have put them up 9 - game over.

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dobber's picture

October 15, 2020 at 07:59 am

Maybe. At that point they were down 2, so a conversion ties it up... a PAT essentially leaves them in the same position at that stage as they would be if they missed the 2 pt. It's hard to tell how the game plays out from that position going forward, but I can see your point. But then, I'm someone who thinks that--based on conversion percentages--teams don't go for 2 enough.

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Bure9620's picture

October 13, 2020 at 09:59 am

It goes both ways......Yes its easier on the road for offenses not dealing with crowd noise....but teams have arguably less of an advantage at home now with less crowd noise for opposing offenses......

Also let's not forget the other side of it on defense.....typically defensive communication among players is tougher at home obviously due to the opposing offense and crowd noise....Tramon Williams pointed this put how much easier it was to audible and communicate on defense on the road......this has changed as well......

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Matt Gonzales's picture

October 13, 2020 at 04:13 pm

This is true - you have a level playing field in terms of communications, but I think offenses are benefiting more as they can use pre-snap motions to figure out coverages and the hard count to see what players are going to be coming in for the pass rush.

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hobowilly's picture

October 13, 2020 at 10:20 am

Sorry Cory, I have to continue to share comparison between predecessor & Matt here. It is ultra refreshing to rejoice in the teaming environment Matt has brought and then the scheming & creativity offensively. MM was so plastered to his game sheet he often would forget to "see" the game; I have faith in young mlf to improve upon his goal to goal play calling, as he has admitted at least in 2 separate games, he made bad calls. MM would never admit that and, too, I'm over those stupid 3rd & 4th calls that failed 8 of 10 times in the proverbial cloud of dust; cowboys suffering with him now.. It was only a question of time before he dictated he was going to be the play caller in Dallas, as it appears now he is carrying it again, and now with Dalton as QB.

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PatrickGB's picture

October 13, 2020 at 10:48 am

To be fair, Matt has done that too but at least he owned up to it and did not complain about pad level.

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Matt Gonzales's picture

October 13, 2020 at 04:45 pm

I'm going to get downvoted to hell for this... but the thing is - MM wasn't wrong when he talked about poor fundamentals. We could debate for years about whether his system was fundamentally better or worse than MLF, but when it comes down to it, players were not making their assignments. When I think back to 2016-18, you saw lots of sandlot plays, but you also saw lots of AR state downs where receivers clearly were not running the expected route, RBs were not picking up their man on pass protection, etc. At the end of the day it still fell on MM to better design a playbook for the teams he had - at the end he reminded me of Red Forman trying to bully his family into executing the Packers Sweep, but he wasn't wrong in saying the players were not executing the offense. I just think at some point he got too entrenched to adjust, and I think there was always an undercurrent of "Hey Ted, you need to change your approach to make this possible". I think McCarthy still is a great coach and could be very successful with the right supporting cast, but that time had clearly come and gone in Green Bay.

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jurp's picture

October 13, 2020 at 05:56 pm

"When I think back to 2016-18, you saw lots of sandlot plays, but you also saw lots of AR state downs where receivers clearly were not running the expected route, RBs were not picking up their man on pass protection, etc."

This is called "coaching", and the fact that these were issues during those years shows that MM and his staff were very poor coaches. Not sure how much this had to do with the play calls and executing the offense. By all accounts, MLF's offense is more complex than MM's, and the players are executing it just fine in year 2.

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Matt Gonzales's picture

October 13, 2020 at 07:21 pm

Is it, though? There's a lot more motion and more going on, but I suspect MLF is giving each player a single assignment and making the play complex by stacking different looks across the field. It just "looks" complex. McCarthy was using more complex route trees where the receiver was expected to adjust based on the coverage they saw, which is tougher in terms of individual execution. The running game is largely the same - both are based on a basic stretch run/boot concept, with some additional window dressing.

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Since'61's picture

October 14, 2020 at 09:19 am

Jurp, coaching is the key point here. To me MM was never the same coach after the debacle in Seattle combined with the sudden and u expected loss of his brother. Maybe a fresh start in a new place is what he has needed. I wish him well except when his team plays the Packers. Thanks, Since ‘61

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Matt Gonzales's picture

October 14, 2020 at 11:23 am

Whatever reason, it is pretty clear McCarthy started losing the control of the team as early as 2015/16, and by 2018 had lost their confidence as well. When they had to start trading and releasing players as a statement to the rest of the locker room it was pretty clear the ship couldn't right itself.

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Leatherhead's picture

October 14, 2020 at 12:13 pm

We made the NFC Championship game in 2016 without a running back or a defense. Some people might suspect that doesn’t happen without some good coaching.

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MiraMira's picture

October 13, 2020 at 03:00 pm

Comparison between predecessor & Matt sounds great. But could you please be more specific?

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TXCHEESE's picture

October 13, 2020 at 04:52 pm

I believe Zimmer's decision to run on 4th down, was acknowledging he didn't feel his defense was capable of stopping Seattle, not that he was going for the jugular. I certainly didn't see anything late in that game that would have given me any warm fuzzy feelings about Minny's D.

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Leatherhead's picture

October 13, 2020 at 05:17 pm

You have a chance to win the game by running one play for one yard. If you can’t do that , then you don’t deserve to win.

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Leatherhead's picture

October 13, 2020 at 05:19 pm

Triple

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Leatherhead's picture

October 13, 2020 at 05:18 pm

Double

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Packers0808's picture

October 13, 2020 at 07:11 pm

I just wonder to myself in that Minny game if Zimmer would have faked the FG what results would have been?

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