The analytical process of studying the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings showed how significant the numbers are for Christian Ponder.
As a rookie, as would be expected, Ponder was consistently ranked near the bottom of the league for NFL quarterbacks. You didn’t have to factor in the obvious categories – attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns, etc. But in the comparative categories – completion percentage, yards per attempt, TD percentage, interception percentage, passer rating, etc. – Ponder still ranked near the bottom of the league.
An apologist would make excuses that Ponder was a rookie and came in blind due to the lockout and didn’t work with the first-team offense until it was clear that Donovan McNabb’s career was over before he or head coach Leslie Frazier would admit it. It was a good time to be an apologist, because there were so many excuses that could be thrown out.
But what Ponder has accomplished through three games is really quite astounding, even though it would seem only Vikings fans and those who watch game film for a living are currently giving Ponder his due props.
In three games, Ponder has thrown just 97 passes. There are 19 others who have thrown more times and thrown for more yards. But what he has done with those 97 passes puts him in pretty rarified air.
Most stats are based on simple numbers. Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are going to throw more passes than Matt Schaub or Joe Flacco because both of the latter have running backs that are the focus of their offense. But the often confusing passer rating (not quarterback as some will say) speak volumes to the efficiency of the passing that takes place when he drops back – the only thing quarterbacks have in common on pass plays.
In the numbers that immediately catch the attention of most football fans, Matthew Stafford is the better quarterback going into today’s game. He is tied for fourth in pass attempts, first in completions and ninth in yards. Yet, when it comes to the factors that determine a passer rating, Stafford is 22nd, behind Sam Bradford, Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker.
Ponder has pedestrian numbers in terms of prolific passing, but, when it comes to the numbers that count in terms of the accepted passer rating (ESPN can take their “new” rating system and file it away in terms of relevance by hearing Chris Berman say, “back, back, back, back!” for the millionth time), Ponder has put together a more impressive body of work.
Only Atlanta’s Matt Ryan has a higher completion percentage than Ponder’s 70.1 percent (Ryan is at 72 percent). Ponder hasn’t thrown an interception – one of only three starting QBs that can claim that. Then again, he’s only thrown 79 passes. Add to that Ponder’s success on third downs (a passer rating of 93.0) and in the fourth quarter (114.5), his numbers are even more impressive.
Through three games, according to the established benchmark for quarterback success, Ponder ranks fifth – with a passer rating of 104.9. Stafford is 22nd with a passer rating of 83.5.
What makes the passer rating pertinent, aside from the fact that the Vikings are 2-1 and the Lions are 1-2, is who is in the top 10 among quarterbacks early on in the 2012 season. They are more a “who’s that?” than a “who’s who” among the big-ticket NFL signal-callers.
Through the first three weeks of the season, the top nine passers by the league’s rating system are Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, Kevin Kolb, Andy Dalton, Ponder, Robert Griffin III, Alex Smith, Schaub and Flacco.
Nowhere on that list will you find Eli Manning, Tom Brady, Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning, Stafford, Drew Brees, Michael Vick or Jay Cutler – who, for the convenience of fans, are listed in order of their descending passer rating.
If you use the NFL’s official barometer of what makes a good quarterback, the Vikings are the better team heading into today’s game. But what does that mean?
Well, the QBs with the top 10 passer ratings through three weeks have won 21 games. The QBs for the 10 teams with the lowest passer ratings have combined to win 11 games. Take it for what it’s worth. Reality can kick you in the head sometimes. In a QB-driven league, numbers speak volumes, which could explain why today’s game may be a must-win for the Lions four games into the season.
VIKINGS-LIONS BY THE NUMBERS
The Lions have the second-ranked offense in the league (14th rushing, 1st passing) and the 15th-ranked defense (11th rushing, 20th passing).
The Vikings have the 15th-ranked offense (9th rushing, 18th passing) and the eighth-ranked defense (12th rushing, 9th passing).
Detroit is averaging 436 yards of offense a game (334 passing, 102 rushing). The Vikings are averaging 353 yards a game (232 passing, 121 rushing).
Defensively, the Vikings are allowing 308 yards a game (209 passing, 95 rushing). The Lions are allowing 365 yards a game (250 passing, 95 rushing).
The Lions have allowed just four sacks on 139 pass plays, ranking them third in the league – behind only Buffalo and Tennessee.
The Lions have picked up 79 offensive first downs, which is second only to New England.
Detroit has yet to intercept a pass. Only Oakland and Cincinnati can also say that.
Special teams may play a big role in today’s game. The Lions are near the bottom in both punt return and kickoff return yardage. They are allowing 17.4 yards on punt returns, which ranks 28th in the league. They’re also allowing 28.4 yards on kickoff returns, which ranks 29th – and could be good news for Percy Harvin.
The Vikings are ninth in the league in rushing yards, but 18th in rushing average – with just a 3.8-yard average.
The Vikings are tied for fifth in red zone offense, scoring touchdowns on six of nine opportunities (66.7 percent). The Lions are 10th at 58.3 percent (seven TDs in 12 attempts).
The Vikings have scored points every time they have gotten into the red zone. Detroit has come away without points three times in the red zone.
The Lions have the second-best red zone defense, allowing just one touchdown in five red zone opportunities. The Vikings are seventh 33.3 percent (nine red zone opportunities, three touchdowns).
Detroit’s offense has converted 36.1 percent of its third-down chances (13 of 36). The Vikings have converted 16 of 39 (41 percent). The league average is 39.1 percent.
The Lions defense has allowed opponents to convert 37.1 percent of third downs (13 of 35). The Vikings have allowed 45.5 percent of third downs to be converted (20 of 44).
The Vikings haven’t had a 300-yard passing day or allowed one. The Lions have had one (vs. St. Louis for Matthew Stafford) and allowed one.
The Vikings haven’t had a player with a 100-yard rushing game. Mikel Leshoure had 100 yards rushing last week.
Calvin Johnson has two 100-yard receiving days. Percy Harvin has one.
Adrian Peterson is 12th in the league in rushing with 230 yards.
Harvin leads the NFL in receptions with 27. Megatron is third with 24 catches.
Johnson leads the NFL in receiving yards with 369. Harvin is seventh with 277 yards.
Johnson is fifth in the league in total yards from scrimmage with 369 (all receiving). Harvin is ninth with 319 yards (277 receiving, 42 rushing).
Jason Hanson is second among kickers with 37 points. Blair Walsh is tied for sixth with 28 points.
Harvin is fourth in the league in kickoff returns with an average of 30 yards per return.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for 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.