Statistics can tear a theory down or prop it up. In the case of the Vikings’ offensive players and how the team’s offense fared with and without certain players on the field, the statistics support a claim and rebuff another.
The supporting evidence: The Vikings were much worse with Josh Freeman on the field than off it. No Viking had a worse net yards over average (NYoA) rating last year than Freeman. That statistic is a measure of net yardage gained by the team while the player was on the field compared to a rolling six-year league average, factoring in field position, down and distance. Freeman finished minus-2.5 yards per play, easily the worst of the Vikings last year.
That statistic also shows that Adrian Peterson may have some improvement to make in the passing game if he is to be used the way offensive coordinator Norv Turner envisions. The Vikings were 0.38 yards above the league average per rushing play when Peterson was on the field, but they were minus-0.12 yards on passing plays when Peterson was on the field.
If you were looking for a conclusion to draw on the quarterback race heading into this year, the NYoA statistics favored Matt Cassel. When he was on the field, the Vikings offense gained 0.7 yards more per play than the NFL average over the last six years. Christian Ponder was at 0.02.
When it comes to the receivers, Cordarrelle Patterson said recently he was a “top-five playmaker” in the NFL. But he didn’t lead Vikings receivers in NYoA. That title went to Jarius Wright, who played on 40 percent of the offensive downs, but the offense gained 0.57 net yards over the league average when he was on the field. It gained 0.35 yards more per play with Patterson on the field.
Patterson did hold the edge among receivers in the passing game. When he was on the field, the Vikings offense gained 0.4 yards more per pass play than when he wasn’t. Wright was next at 0.15, followed by tight end John Carlson at 0.11. Kyle Rudolph was at minus-0.21 yards per pass play differential, and so was Jerome Simpson. Greg Jennings was at minus-0.36 in passing differential.
So which Vikings were on the field when the running game operated most effectively? That title goes to Toby Gerhart, whose 2.31 yards per run play differential was easily the highest among the regular contributors. Wright was next at 0.8 and tight end Rhett Ellison was at 0.64. The Vikings’ running game was only marginally better with Jerome Felton on the field than not. When he was on the field, they gained 0.09 yards more per run play, but that was still much better than their other fullback, Zach Line. When Line was on the field for the first three games before going on injured reserve, the Vikings running game produced an average of 2.5 yards less per run play.
So, what are the lessons to be taken away all of these statistics on individual yardage differentials and net yards over league average? Perhaps it’s that variety and keeping the defense guessing is the best strategy. The Vikings were more effective running the ball when Gerhart was on the field, but not as effective passing the ball. Perhaps defenses believed he was mostly there for pass receiving and protection and keyed on that, while they likely keyed more on the running game when Peterson was on the field.
The other conclusion to draw, which most fans already believed, is that the offense was most effective overall with Cassel versus Ponder, and undoubtedly with either of those two versus Freeman.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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