By the numbers: War on rushers, returners

Offenses are limiting their running backs, but the NFL is effectively taking the return game out of the game. Plus, we look at the numbers and rankings for the Vikings and Bears.

The NFL has officially declared war, but, much like government war declarations, they don't come out with a press release saying it.

Some would think it might be their unofficial war (the league prefers the term "police action") on running backs. In Week 1 of the NFL, there were 19 100-yard receivers. There were three 100-yard rushers and one of them was a quarterback. Make no mistake about it. Thanks to rules changes and the infusion of read-option offenses – which will last until the last QB is crippled by a defender willing to take a 15-yard penalty to get a backup pocket passer in the game – the bell cow running back has been placed on the endangered species list. But there's a more covert and insidious war going on.

The NFL has quietly declared a war on kick returners, too. And in this war, we don't take prisoners. Bring your body bags.

It seems a bit ironic because the NFL moved the kickoff line back to the 30-yard line because of too many touchbacks. It should be noted that, back when the goal post was truly a goal post, the kickoff came from the 40-yard line and most kicks were returned. Back then, most kickers had a pot gut and struck the ball straight on circa a 9-year-old at a Punt, Pass and Kick competition. The swinging soccer leg (the only meaningful contribution futbol has made to football) changed how kickoffs took place. The idea was simple. To take away foreigners with a loose grasp of the English language, let's make their job more difficult. That's the American way.

But when concussions came into play, the NFL decided to take the kickoff out of the equation. If half the kickers can bomb touchbacks from the 30-yard line, what about the 35? The NFL crossed the 35th Parallel and moved the line forward. The result was amazing, yet largely unreported. To have a kickoff returned in 2013 is a rarity.

In the first week of the NFL season, there were 159 kickoffs that weren't on-side kicks. When the kicker gave it his full leg-strength effort, 72 percent of them didn't get returned. Blair Walsh and Robbie Gould combined for 10 kickoffs and none of them were returned. Cordarrelle Patterson made the stat sheet because he returned two kicks – both from eight yards deep in the end zone. Of the 32 NFL teams, 22 of them didn't have a player with enough returns (two) needed to qualify for the league leadership. The NFL is quietly winning the war without the public largely aware it's being waged.

The war is almost over. Prisoners are waving the white flag. You win. If the Vikings want to get use out of Patterson this year, they may as well take him off of kick returns because it is largely becoming a good walk spoiled for return men and a chance to get an extra commercial break in for those who sell NFL-related advertising.

VIKINGS-BEARS BY THE NUMBERS

  • Through one week – far from a representative sampling, the Vikings have the 19th-ranked offense (11th rushing, 20th passing) and the 29th-ranked defense (24th rushing, 29th passing).

  • The Bears have the 20th-ranked offense (17th rushing, 19th passing) and the 16th-ranked defense (sixth rushing, 19th passing).

  • The Bears are tied for second in the giveaway-takeaway ratio at plus-2. The Vikings are tied for 25th (with only the Giants being worse) at minus-2.

  • Both the Vikings and Bears have scored on all of their red zone offensive opportunities. The Vikings have scored touchdowns on both of their chances. Chicago scored on all three of its red zone trips.

  • The Vikings allowed Detroit into the red zone six times – the most of any defense in the NFL. Detroit scored touchdowns on just three of them. The Bears allowed Cincinnati into the red zone just twice, but the Bengals scored TDs both times.

  • As is no surprise, the league average for third-down conversion hovers between 39 and 41 percent. Through one week, it's at 41 percent. The Vikings are near the bottom of the league on offense, converting just two of 10 third-down chances (20 percent). Defensively, the Vikings allowed Detroit to convert 38.5 percent of its third-down chances (5 of 13).

  • Christian Ponder's passer rating of 63.1 is 30th in the league – ahead of just Cleveland's Brandon Weeden and Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert. Ouch!

  • Jay Cutler is the 19th-ranked passer with a rating of 93.2.

  • Not to pound Ponder too deep into the ground, but he is 31st in fourth-quarter passer rating (31.6) and 26th in third-down passer rating (65.2).

  • Adrian Peterson is fourth in the league in rushing, behind LeSean McCoy, quarterback Terrelle Pryor and injured Patriots RB Shane Vereen. McCoy is the only serious challenger.

  • Brandon Marshall is tied for ninth in receptions with eight. Jerome Simpson leads the Vikings with seven, which ties him for 16th place.

  • Simpson is seventh in the league with 140 receiving yards. Marshall is tied for 15th with 101 receiving yards.

  • Peterson is tied for the scoring lead, a title typically held by kickers, with 18 points. He's tied with Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz, who also scored three touchdowns. No kicker had more than 13 points in Week 1.

  • Walsh and Gould are tied for fifth with five touchbacks. Why? Because four other kickers had more attempts. Walsh and Gould have had no returns on all 10 of their kickoffs.

  • Simpson is 10th in the NFL in total yards from scrimmage. The top 10 includes six wide receivers, three running backs and one tight end.

  • Vikings punter Jeff Locke is 25th in punting average (42.2 yards) and 30th in net punting average (34.8 yards).


    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.
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