The evident truth is that the most brilliant runner canít replace a middling passer.
A runner is looking for contact. A receiver is looking for space. Done right, passing will always yield a higher average return on investment.
Letís take the example par excellence, the New England Patriots. They have the third-best passing game in the NFL, and the eighth-best running attack.
The Patriots throw the ball about 55 per cent of the time, about the league average.
Tom Brady may be the best short passer in football history. A key part of his greatness is his ability to limit his ambition and trust his receivers to make up ground after the catch. Seventy per cent of Bradyís attempts this year have been within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.
But Brady still makes an average return of 7.6 yards per passing attempt, including incompletions. How does he do that? His completion percentage dips as he gets a little more daring, and then spikes when he gets very ambitious. Brady completes nearly half his throws of more than 30 yards.
Clearly, opposing defences must think short (running) and mid-range (passing) when facing the Patriots, And then every once in a while, Brady torches them long.
Thatís where 7.6 yards per comes from.
By contrast, the Patriotsí running game averages 4.2 yards per attempt.
Put this in Vegas terms ó given those payoffs, who bets such low odds?
The Vikings do.
Their quarterback, Christian Ponder, has an almost identical completion percentage to Bradyís ó 63.1 vs. 63.4. But his rate of return is far smaller. He averages only 5.9 yards per passing attempt.
Unlike Brady, he cannot connect on a long pass. Heís attempted only 30 passes of more than 20 yards this year, and completed only five.
Some of this is down to Ponder, some of it to his receivers. But one strongly suspects that most of it is down to a choice by opposing defences. History has proven that if you give Minnesota the short returns of running the ball, they will forgo the real payoff of passing.
Thatís why the Vikings have passed for the fewest yards in the NFL this year (and itís not even close).
Petersonís rate of return is 6.3 yards per attempt. Itís a variety of foolís gold, but he keeps getting the ball. Only Houstonís Arian Foster has more attempts. The result is a fantastically anemic offence. The Vikings rank 24th in yards per game.
If Ponder was Tony Romo or Cam Newton ó both slightly above-average NFL quarterbacks ó Minnesota would be different in two important ways.
Peterson wouldnít be anywhere near a rushing record, and his team would win more games.