One of the biggest problems the Vikings passing game has faced this year is that, during a time when passing numbers have exploded and records are in line to fall throughout the league, the Vikings haven't jumped on that bandwagon. Eight weeks into the season, the Vikings haven't had a receiver emerge as the "go-to" guy.
The NFL keeps stats on what are termed "targets," which refer to how many times passes have been thrown the way of a specific receiver. As it currently stands, there are 31 receivers in the NFL that have been targeted 50 times or more and 42 receivers that have as many or more than the Vikings' team leader. The Vikings, who have played one more game than most teams, have a tie for the team lead between Percy Harvin and Visanthe Shiancoe at 43, followed by Michael Jenkins at 40.
While being the target of a pass doesn't always mean a player can catch the pass – every pass thrown is assigned a target, which can be the player closest to a pass intentionally thrown away – targets are the best gauge of how often a player is thrown to and his role in the team's game plan. That has been a big issue for the Vikings.
Harvin has led the team in targets three times, but the wealth has been more than spread around. Shiancoe has led or tied for the team lead in three games, Jenkins had led or tied twice, Devin Aromashodu has led the team once and even former Viking Bernard Berrian tied for the team lead once.
The Vikings haven't a player consistently emerge as the primary passing target because they have been trying to learn the new Bill Musgrave offense on the fly and, when Donovan McNabb was the quarterback, the deep pass wasn't a big part of the Vikings' offensive arsenal.
Through half the season, the Vikings have thrown 234 passes. Of those, wide receivers have been targeted 136 times – more than half of the passes thrown. Tight ends have been targeted 68 times, while running backs have been targeted just 30 times. There has been a clear demarcation of the division of passes with twice as many passes being thrown at wide receiver than tight ends and more than twice as many being thrown to tight ends as running backs.
Will that change in the second half of the season? It would appear it will if Christian Ponder remains the quarterback. In the two games Ponder has started, wide receivers have been the target of 32 passes, tight ends have been targeted 20 times and running backs have been targeted eight times.
Individually, in the two full games Ponder has played, the pecking order has been quite different than in the McNabb tenure at QB. Shiancoe has the most targets with 12, followed by Devin Aromashodu (11), Jenkins (10), Harvin (8), Adrian Peterson (6) and Kyle Rudolph (6).
While the quarterback has changed, the lack of a true go-to receiver remains. As Ponder gets more comfortable with his receivers, players will emerge as his favorite target, but if someone wants to point to why the Vikings haven't jumped on the bandwagon in a record-setting year for passing, it may be as much the fault of the receivers as it is the quarterbacks. Without a bona fide No. 1 receiver, the Vikings have been forced to spread the ball around and, as a result, they haven't had the consistent big-play receiving threats that other teams have had.
By the end of the season, one or two players will likely emerge as Ponder's go-to targets, but, as it currently stands, the Vikings are getting by on the receivers-by-committee approach. Will that continue? If it does, the Vikings will likely struggle to find and maintain their offensive identity.
ATTENTION, TARGET SHOPPERS!
Through the eighth week of the season (24 teams have played seven games, while eight, including the Vikings, have played eight games), 31 players have been targeted 50 times or more. The following is the list of league leaders. You won't find a Viking anywhere on this list.
Wes Welker, 83
Calvin Johnson, 74
Jimmy Graham, 74
Steve Smith, 73
Reggie Wayne, 71
Roddy White, 69
Brandon Marshall, 67
Darren Sproles, 66
Anquan Boldin, 63
Dwayne Bowe, 63
Antonio Brown, 63
Mike Williams, 63
Jason Witten, 62
Hakeem Nicks, 62
Stevie Johnson, 60
Brandon Pettigrew, 60
Larry Fitzgerald, 58
Greg Jennings, 58
Mike Thomas, 58
A.J. Green, 58
Kellen Winslow, 58
Eric Decker, 57
Jeremy Maclin, 54
Mike Wallace, 53
Vincent Jackson, 52
Tony Gonzalez, 52
Greg Olsen, 52
Matt Forte, 51
Greg Little, 51
DeSean Jackson, 50
Fred Davis, 50
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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