Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Vikings-Detroit Lions by the numbers: Rules change forces evolving kicking game

The NFL changed the touchback rule this season and, halfway through the year, changes have reduced the number of kick returns and changed the thinking for return men as to what is a good return.

The NFL has been tinkering with special teams rules over the last several years, the most recent being that touchbacks on kickoffs move from the 20-yard line to the 25.

Minnesota Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said the new rule has created some changes in philosophy and, while the extra five yards have eliminated some returns, it has also reduced injuries – which was one of the goals of the change.

“I think it’s affected it a little bit,” Priefer said. “When they changed the rule I had a positive outlook on it. It’s going to be a little bit more strategy. It’s an interesting rule. I think it’s going to be interesting going forward with what the league does with it as long as we keep the play in the game. It’s an exciting play. It does make a difference on field positioning. The way we teach it here is to teach our techniques to keep guys safe, keep the head out of the game and I know a lot of coaches are doing that now. I don’t think there’s as many injuries as there has been. So, we’re going in the right direction.”

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The biggest change is perception. Getting the ball to the 25-yard line typically means a player has found a seam and might well take it to the 40-yard line because most coverage makes its way to a return man at about the 10- or 15-yard line.

The days of taking kicks from nine yards deep have become more of an issue, because what is viewed as a good return this year wasn’t necessarily one last year.

“Yeah, like whether or not you want to take one out,” Priefer said. “The last few years we put Cordarrelle (Patterson) at nine deep in the end zone and if he gets to the 24 (yard line), that’s a successful return. Now if he gets to the 24, it’s not. He might as well have taken a knee. So, it has effected the way that we think.”

The result has been that Patterson, one of the most explosive return men in the league, has seen his returns limited. But, the upside is that Patterson has seen his role expand, so whether or not kicks are returned as often as they used to be, Patterson will still have a role with the team – maybe just not as much with Priefer.

“One of the reasons he gets less returns is because our defense is so good,” Priefer said. “Our opponents have not kicked off a lot this year. That’s a major factor and that’s one of the things I look at. The other thing is I think he’s handled it pretty well. He’s more involved in offense. He does a great job as a gunner for us. So, he knows that he’s contributing to the success of our football team and not just as a kickoff returner like the last couple of years. I’m excited about him and the chances he may get the next couple of months.”

GAME DAY NOTES

  • The Vikings have the 31st-ranked offense (31st rushing, 28th passing) and the second-rated defense (8th rushing, 4th passing).
  • The Lions have the 21st-ranked offense (27th rushing, 16th passing) and the 23rd-ranked defense (17th rushing, 10th passing).
  • The Vikings are averaging 293 yards a game (221 passing, 72 rushing). Detroit is averaging 341 yards a game (256 passing, 85 rushing).
  • Minnesota’s defense is allowing 297 yards a game (205 passing, 92 rushing). The Lions are allowing 370 yards a game (259 passing, 111 rushing).
  • The Vikings lead the league in takeaway/giveaway ratio at plus-11 (16 takeaways, five giveaways). Detroit is tied for 10th at plus-2 (7 takeaways, 5 giveaways).
  • Only the Buffalo Bills have fewer giveaways (four) than the Vikings and Lions.
  • Detroit is 12th in red zone offense, scoring touchdowns on 15 of 24 possessions (64.5 percent). Minnesota is 28th in red zone offense at 44.4 percent (eight touchdowns in 18 possessions).
  • The Vikings are tied for last in the league in red zone touchdowns scored.
  • Minnesota is 17th in red zone defense, allowing touchdowns on 10 of 18 possessions (55.6 percent). Detroit is 31st, allowing touchdowns on 20 of 28 possessions (71.4 percent).
  • The Lions are eighth in third-down offense, converting on 39 of 91 chances (42.9 percent). The Vikings are 20th at 38.2 percent (39 of 102). The league average conversion percentage is 39.9 percent.
  • Minnesota is eighth in third-down defense, allowing conversions of 34 of 93 opportunities (36.6 percent). Detroit is dead last at 49.5 percent (50 of 101).
  • The league average gain on first down is 5.53 yards. The Vikings are worst on offense, averaging 3.96 yards and best on defense, allowing 4.42 yards.
  • Matthew Stafford has two 300-yard passing games. The Vikings have no 300-yard passing games this season.
  • Minnesota hasn’t allowed a 300-yard passer. Detroit has allowed four in eight games.
  • Both the Vikings and Lions have had three 100-yard receiving games. The Vikings have had two from Stefon Diggs and one from Adam Thielen. The Lions have had two from Marvin Jones and one from Golden Tate.
  • Detroit has allowed four 100-yard receivers. Minnesota has yet to allow one.
  • Neither the Vikings nor the Lions have had a 100-yard rusher this season.
  • The Lions have allowed two 100-yard rushers and the Vikings have allowed one. Both teams have allowed Bears rookie Jordan Howard to rush for 100 yards against them.
  • Stafford is 10th in pass attempts (282), seventh in completions (191), fourth in completion percentage (67.7), eighth in yards (2,154), tied for fifth in touchdown passes (16), tied for 12th in interceptions (4) and fourth in passer rating (103.4).
  • Sam Bradford is 28th in pass attempts (203), 25th in completions (135), ninth in completion percentage (66.5), 29th in yards (1,442), tied for 20th in touchdown passes (8), tied for third in interceptions (1) and eighth in passer rating (98.2).
  • Bradford is second in the league in fourth-quarter passer rating at 120.3. Stafford is sixth with a rating of 105.1.
  • Bradford is seventh in third-down passer rating at 93.7. Stafford is 12th at 90.7.
  • Theo Riddick leads the Lions in rushing with 227 yards, which ranks him 36th in the league. Jerick McKinnon is 41st with 217 yards and Matt Asiata is 48th with 200 yards.
  • Tate leads Detroit with 38 receptions, which ties him for 23rd. Jones is tied for 28th with 36 receptions. Diggs leads Minnesota with 35 receptions, which ties him for 35th in the league. Riddick is tied for 38th with 34 receptions. Anquan Boldin is tied for 43rd with 33 receptions. Kyle Rudolph is tied for 49th with 31 receptions.
  • Jones is fifth in receiving yards with 656 yards. Diggs leads the Vikings with 466 yards, which ranks him 29th.
  • Riddick leads the Lions in scoring among non-kickers with 30 points (five touchdowns), which ties him for 13th place. Rudolph leads the Vikings with 18 points (three touchdowns), which ties him for 49th place.
  • Matt Prater is tied for 13th in scoring among kickers with 57 points. Blair Walsh is 24th with 45 points.
  • Jones leads the Lions with 659 yards from scrimmage (658 receiving, 1 rushing), which ranks him 16th in the league. The Vikings don’t have a player in the top 50 in yards from scrimmage.
  • Detroit’s Sam Martin is fourth in the league in punting average at 49.3 yards. Jeff Locke is 27th with a 43.8-yard average.
  • Martin is first in net punting average at 45.2 yards. Locke is 19th at 40.0 yards.
  • Marcus Sherels in third in punt return average at 14.6 yards. Detroit’s Andre Roberts is fifth with an average of 13.4 yards.
  • There have been five punt return touchdowns in the NFL this season and Sherels has two of them.
  • Patterson is third in the league in kickoff return average at 27.2 yards. Roberts is 11th with a 22.5-yard average.
  • Everson Griffen is tied for 16th place in sacks with five. Danielle Hunter and Brian Robison are tied for 25th with four sacks each. Defensive end Kerry Hyder leads the Lions with five sacks, which ties him with Griffen for 16th place.
  • Three Vikings are tied for seventh in the league with two interceptions – Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Andrew Sendejo. As a team, Detroit has just four interceptions with nobody having more than one.
  • Sendejo is tied for the league lead with two defensive fumble recoveries.


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