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There's A Feeling I Get When I Look To The West

A team can't live by short passes alone, you say? Alex Smith disagrees.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
A team can't live by short passes alone, you say? Alex Smith disagrees. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
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And it's the feeling that. . .well, I've seen something like this before.

I didn't think I'd spark quite so much debate when I pointed out the proficiency of Christian Ponder in the early portion of this NFL season. But, as of now, we're at 577 comments, and we've even gotten a couple of interesting FanPosts out of it. (Yes, I will put the counter-point to the original FanPost on the front page tomorrow. . .I think both sides of the debate need to be heard.) However, after reading a piece from Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus that found its way to 1500 ESPN earlier today, I can't help but think that maybe the Vikings have a pretty sound offensive philosophy thus far.

Our opponents this weekend, the San Francisco 49ers, have a maligned. . .or, more accurately, formerly maligned. . .quarterback of their own in Alex Smith. Smith was taken #1 overall in the 2005 NFL Draft, and had a rough first few years in San Francisco when the Niners were changing offensive coordinators or coaches or something nearly every season. But now, in his seventh NFL season, he appears to have really turned the corner.

Here's a comparison between Smith and Ponder through the first two weeks of this season.

Attempts Completions Comp. Pct. Yards Yards/Att Touchdowns Interceptions Rating
Alex Smith 57 40 70.2 437 7.7 4 0 115.9
Christian Ponder 62 47 75.8 515 8.3 2 0 110.6

But the one thing from Monson's article that I found sort of amazing is this. . .of Smith's 57 pass attempts, guess how many of them traveled 20 yards in the air or more?

The answer is. . .two. (With one completion.)

Now, both Smith and Ponder have athletically gifted tight ends to take advantage of in Vernon Davis (who scares the heck out of me more than any other 49er this week) and Kyle Rudolph. And yes, Ponder does have Percy Harvin to get the ball to. But look at the rest of the wide receiver corps for both of these teams.

The 49ers have Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham, and Randy Moss (among others). You would think that they would have many more opportunities to get the ball down the field than the Minnesota Vikings have through the first two games. (Incidentally, I'm not the only one noticing that Minnesota's vertical passing game isn't there because nobody is getting open.)

Yet they haven't. . .San Francisco's longest pass play of the season thus far covered 29 yards, just like Minnesota's longest pass play of the season.

I understand that the Niners' defense is light years better than Minnesota's at pretty much every position. . .really, it isn't even close. But as far as an offensive philosophy is concerned, there's something to be said for taking what the defense gives you. Smith hasn't thrown an interception since Week 12 of last season, including the playoffs, and the Niners as a whole had a ridiculous +28 takeaway/giveaway ratio in 2011. You don't get that with your quarterback taking ridiculous chances and forcing passes that simply aren't there.

Chucking it deep simply for the sake of chucking it deep isn't the answer for the Minnesota offense. Ponder, like Smith, is being told to take what the opposing defense is giving him, and he's doing just that. The only thing that's going to aid the Vikings' deep passing game at this point is a personnel upgrade. The team will get Jerome Simpson back after this weekend, but this is probably going to be a long-term, ongoing project for the Vikings' roster rather than something that can be patched up with scotch tape and chicken wire.