- Ben Goessling, ESPN Staff Writer
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Among the more important -- and yet possibly more overlooked -- factors contributing to the success of Norv Turner's downfield passing game is its ability to open up space for receivers after the catch. Turner's attack relies on spacing much in the manner that a basketball team does, opening up room horizontally by spreading the field vertically. That creates opportunities for receivers on underneath routes, and it also allows those receivers to gain big chunks of yardage by catching the ball in space and getting past a defender or two.
While Turner was the San Diego Chargers' coach from 2007-12, his teams gained 10,848 yards after the catch. The Chargers' average of 5.44 yards after the catch was the third-best in the league during that time, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Running backs like LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles drove that part of the Chargers' offense, of course, and the Vikings want to use Adrian Peterson and rookie running back Jerick McKinnon for a similar purpose. If it works, it'll restore an element of the Vikings' passing attack that went missing when Percy Harvin departed for Seattle.
No receiver averaged more yards after the catch than Harvin did during his time in Minnesota. The receiver gained 6.59 yards after the catch from 2009-12, turning bubble screens into game-breaking plays and adding a dangerous element to a Vikings passing game that got rather conservative after Brett Favre retired. Without Harvin last year, the Vikings finished 25th in the league in yards after the catch with a 4.88-yard average, according to ESPN Stats and Information. With Harvin on the roster, the Vikings were 12th in the NFL from 2009-12.
We'll get into this more during a deeper look at him next week, but one player who could boost the Vikings' after-the-catch production is receiver Greg Jennings. He averaged 5.42 yards per catch from 2006-12 with the Green Bay Packers, better than all but three receivers in the league -- Harvin, Miles Austin and Wes Welker -- during that time. That total dropped to 5.01 last year, as Christian Ponder especially struggled to get Jennings the ball in places where he could put his exceptional quickness to work, but Turner's offense could help rejuvenate Jennings' game.
Wherever they can get it, the Vikings will likely be looking for receivers to produce after the catch this season. Turner's best offenses have had them, and between Peterson, McKinnon, Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson, there'll be plenty of candidates to do it in 2014.