The simpleton statistics say the Detroit Lions have the top-rated passing game and the Minnesota Vikings are 18th. But, wow, it goes much deeper than that.
The Vikings and Lions are both getting it done with their passing game in different ways – the Lions keep chucking the ball up and the Vikings have a more efficient attack. That statement rings true in looking at both the quarterbacks and the top receivers for each team.
Despite missing the last 20 percent of Detroit's overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans, Lions QB Matthew Stafford still has more passing yards (863) than Christian Ponder (713), but the devil is in the details. Stafford has the most completions and fourth-most attempts in the NFL while Ponder is 15th in completions and 20th in attempts. The Lions have rushed on only 80 of their 219 total plays (37 percent) while the Vikings are more bullish in their rushing attack, rushing 96 of 199 plays (48 percent).
Despite that fact, Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams said he doesn't believe the Lions should be classified as an unbalanced offensive attack.
"I don't know if that's consistently true over the course of the last three ballgames they've played," Williams said. "It may have shaken out that way when they went some no-huddle last week and maybe the second ball game, but when you look at the numbers overall, run-pass, they are fairly consistent. I'm not talking about third down. That may skew it a little bit. We have to do both. We have to stop the run. We don't want to let them be balanced."
But when it comes to efficiency-type statistics, Ponder is winning the battle early in the season. He is one of only three starting quarterbacks in the league to not have an interception while Stafford is tied for 22nd in the league with four interceptions. Ponder also has a better touchdown percentage (4.1) than Stafford (2.5).
While efficiency is well and good, there is a theory that teams need explosive plays to be successful. That's where the Lions stand out with deep-ball threat Calvin Johnson. He leads the league with 369 receiving yards and is fourth with 24 receptions. While the Vikings' Percy Harvin leads the NFL with 27 catches on 32 targets, he is only seventh with 277 yards.
The differences are even more contrasted when looking at how they gain their yards. Harvin is averaging 10.26 yards per reception, but 8.11 of that is yards after the catch, meaning his average length per reception is a measly 2.15 yards – 85th in the league.
Johnson, meanwhile is averaging 15.38 yards per reception and doing it with just about the exact opposite ratio. Of those yards, he averages 11.75 of that in the air and 3.62 on yards after the catch.
The Vikings may have more a deep threat with receiver Jerome Simpson returning to the lineup, but offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said Simpson also has a knack for running after the catch.
"We're hoping just to get him on the field and add to our depth. We know that he's great at running after the catch. He demonstrated that against Buffalo there in the first quarter," Musgrave said. "Like a lot of the guys, we want to make sure and get them their touches and let them do their thing.
Looked upon from the quarterback position, the YAC (yards after catch) numbers come closer to evening out. Ponder's average pass length on completions is 4.68 with an additional 5.81 yards after the catch. Stafford averages 5.36 average pass length on completions with 4.92 yards after the catch from his receiving corps as a whole.
Clearly, the Vikings aren't as accomplished in the deep passing game as the Lions and they haven't even attempted to be at this point. The Vikings have thrown only 12 passes that are considered "deep" by NFL statistical standards so far this year – meaning a ball caught 16 or more yards from the line of scrimmage – completing seven of them. The Lions have attempted 24, completing 11 of them.
What does it all mean? The perception is correct: The Vikings haven't had much of a downfield passing game through three games, relying instead on Harvin to do what he does best, gaining yards after the catch. Meanwhile, the Lions rely heavily on the deep threat and count on Johnson to make it happen.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Vikings, Lions have contrasting passing games
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