Sunday slant: Midseason tendencies to digest

Bill Musgrave (Jon Dahlin/Viking Update)

What should the Vikings be attempting more often and where have they had their greatest success? We go in-depth with the stats, tendencies and efficiencies in the first half of the season.

Stats might be, as the saying goes, for losers (insert punchline here), but after the Minnesota Vikings have lost two of their last three games to fall to 5-3, we turned to the stats at the midpoint of their season for some insight.

Going deep: Without a doubt, the most mind-boggling stat we dragged up in our stupor-induced squinting session at the midseason mark is from the passing game: The Vikings have only attempted four pass deep over the middle – the entire first half of the season. That's 30th in the NFL.

They have completed two of those for 24 yards.

It's no secret that the Vikings' passing game has been stuck in first gear when it comes to trying to stretch the field, but the middle of the field has been a no-man's land for them. If linebackers are closing in on the line of scrimmage to stop Adrian Peterson, that could open up options for TE Kyle Rudolph, but Rudolph's role has been declining of late.

Rudolph had a season-low four targets against the Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 21, but re-established a new low five days later when he was only targeted twice. It's time to get Rudolph more involved once again, and not just on routes breaking toward the sideline. He needs to stretch the deep middle seam behind the linebackers.

The Vikings deep shots aren't much better to the sidelines, but there is a clear side where they are more effective. They have attempted 14 plays deep down the right sideline – about average for the league – but their 17.36-yard average gain there is third and their 64.29 completion percentage is first. It's a different story going deep down the right sideline, which they have actually have attempted four more times (18), but their 5.06-yard average gain there is 31st in the league and their 27.78 completion percentage (26th) is in stark contrast to their success down the left sideline.

Ponder's short game: The average length of Christian Ponder's passes this season has been 6.42 yards per attempt and 4.11 per completion. Those are both the lowest in the league. The next lowest on yards per attempt is Arizona's John Skelton at 6.68 and no one else is below 7.4 Interestingly, Seattle's Russell Wilson leads the league at 10.13, which should make for an interesting contract Sunday afternoon.

Skelton is also next lowest in yards per attempt at 4.84. Josh Freeman leads the league at 8.37 yards for average pass length per completion.

The YAC factor: Fortunately for Ponder, he has been helped by his receivers, who have a third-ranked 6.09 average in yards after the catch, helping Ponder climb to 25th in average gain.

Running lanes: The Vikings' running game ranks first with most rushes up the middle (97), but it has been only average (14th) in yards gained up the middle (4.40 yards per carry).

They are much more efficient when they deviate just a bit. Over left guard, they lead the league with a 7.67 yards gained per play. They are second in the NFL over right tackle, averaging 6.71 yards there, and third over left tackle, averaging 6.47 yards per carry. They are even seventh over right guard at 4.70 per carry.

Maybe it shouldn't be surprising with Peterson's struggles with knee and ankle injuries that the team's running game has had a hard time getting outside the ends, and they rightfully haven't tried that much. They ranked 27th in the number of plays outside left tackle and 22nd outside right tackle, and they are 26th in yards gained to left end (4.22) and 27th to right end (3.23).

Downs for the count: On first-and-10, the Vikings have rushed the ball 100 times and passed it 96, picking up 15 first downs on those rushes and 22 on those passes. They averaged 4.9 rushing it and only 5.1 passing it.

On third down, the Vikings have run it on third-and-1 seven times, picking up five first downs. They've passed it only once on third-and-1 and didn't make it. On third-and-2, however, the tendency almost flips. In that case, they have run the ball only one time and picked up only half the necessary distance. They passed the ball 15 times on third-and-2, picking up six first downs. Overall on third downs, they are 30-for-82 passing it and 5-for-17 running it, with all five of the conversion coming on third-and-1.

Two tight ends? Really, where? For as much talk as there was in the offseason and preseason about how much offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave would use two tight ends on the field, it hasn't happen much on first down. Only 55 of the 228 first-down plays have featured two tight ends on the field.

Minnesota's ironmen: Sunday's game with Seattle features two of the league's best ironmen at defensive end. Jared Allen is third in the NFL with 86 consecutive games played at the position while Seattle's Chris Clemons is second at 88. Houston's Antonio Smith leads all active defensive ends with 115 straight games played. But when it comes to consecutive games started, Allen owns his position, starting 53 straight games while Smith is second at 53.

Chad Greenway is third among linebackers for consecutive games started at 63, bested by San Diego's Jarret Johnson (88) and Washington's London Fletcher, who has started an amazing 187 straight games in the regular season.

The pounding that running backs take is obvious when looking at their ironman stats. Baltimore's Ray Rice leads the way with only 32 straight games started in the regular season. Incredibly, Adrian Peterson is tied for fifth with eight consecutive regular-season games started.

QUICK SLANTS

  • The design team for the Vikings' new stadium will be visiting two of the larger outstate cities this month, according to Minnesota Public Radio. Representatives from HKS Architects and the Vikings will visit Rochester on the evening of Nov. 13 at the DoubleTree Hotel downtown. Two weeks later, they will be at the Holiday Inn downtown in Duluth on Nov. 27. Both are Tuesday meetings starting at 5:30 p.m. Some of the initial ideas offered by HKS show an open mind to the look and features of the new stadium. The design process will be an interesting one to follow in the next six months.

  • File this under the "don't care, just punt" category: For all the press punter Chris Kluwe has been getting for his outspoken stance supporting gay marriage, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer cares only about how Kluwe has been punting, which isn't too consistently lately. That has led some to speculate that Kluwe is spending too much time on causes outside football.

    "That's a good question, but the only thing I've focused on this week is how we're going to beat Seattle. The other stuff, I don't care. I don't care about his opinions; I don't care about his off-the-field stuff. All I care about is beating Seattle and how he can help us beat Seattle," Priefer said.

    Priefer said Kluwe has been putting in the time to correct his punting mechanics, but Kluwe certainly didn't ingratiate himself to his detractors when he referred to football as a "children's game" while saying he is going to pay more attention to "basic human rights."

  • Short body, high praise: Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is listed as 5-foot-11 but doesn't appear even that tall. It doesn't seem to matter because the diminutive rookie has been getting it done on the field and the Vikings' defenders know it. "He kind of reminds you of a mix of Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck with the things he can do with his legs as well as his arm," defensive end Brian Robison said. "Just his smarts, always looking downfield for guys. That's what he wants to do – he wants to make plays in the passing game, but if he has to tuck it and run, he's got the wheels to do it."

  • There have been plenty of justifiable comparisons in the past week between Vikings RB Adrian Peterson and Seahawks back Marshawn Lynch, who are first and second in the NFL in rushing yards. But there is another top-five battle between the Vikings and Seahawks. Percy Harvin has a 35.7-yard average on kickoff returns and Seattle's Leon Washington is averaging 29.8 yards. In what could be a scoring battle, a broken return could be the difference.

    "He's a really tough guy to bring down. He's got great vision, I call it running back vision because that's what he is," Priefer said. "He runs so hard and once he finds a seam, which a lot of guys can't see, he can see it and he hits it downhill so fast. He's extremely hard to tackle. Great quickness, great toughness. He's a formidable threat."


    Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.


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