One of the things we track here at Pro Football Focus is where passes find receivers; the air yards of throws. Thanks to that, we are able to take a look at how successful passers are when they are targeting specific areas of the field, and one of our newer Signature Stats focuses on exactly one of those areas: Deep Passing.
You can draw some sketchy conclusions using conventional stats like yards per attempt, plays over 20 yards, and others, but none of those are able to filter out the short passes that go for big gains after the catch. This one does.
In our deep passing Signature Stat, we look only at passes that travel 20+ yards in the air before meeting their intended target.
So what do we find? The first thing of note is that a rookie, Cam Newton, leads the league by some distance in terms of the number of attempts over 20 yards. Many rookies shy away from the big play, preferring to play the high percentage game underneath and intermediate. Not Newton. Cam has thrown 43 passes this year already for 20+ yards and completed 18 of them for a pretty impressive 623 yards. That’s over seven times per game Newton is going deep. Only 13 other passers in the league have attempted even half as many and only Eli Manning (38) is within a dozen of Newton’s league-leading mark.
At the other end of the scale, Kevin Kolb has attempted just 11 deep passes on the season and completed only five of them. Those are not the figures you would hope to see as a Cardinals fan, given that Kolb was supposed to be the tonic that would fix their floundering passing attack. Kolb is also at the bottom in terms of the percentage of attempts, with just 6.4% of his drop-backs resulting in deep shots. Newton 18.8% nearly tops the league in this regard too, currently sitting second only to Manning’s 19.4%. That is a pretty remarkable figure when you think about it – just under one in every five drop-backs Manning takes results in a pass traveling 20+ yards down field. That’s some serious aggression and has resulted in a league-leading six touchdowns coming from those long balls.
Two other passers have matched those six touchdowns, despite far fewer attempts. One is Aaron Rodgers, who seems to possess the quarterbacking version of the Midas Touch at the moment, and the other is Matthew Stafford, no doubt aided by some serious assistance from Megatron down the field.
Perhaps unsurprisingly the player with the highest number of interceptions on his deep attempts is none other than Rex Grossman. Grossman leads Kyle Orton (also benched) and Kevin Kolb by a single pick, which will be yet another ominous figure for Cardinals fans on two counts. Firstly, Kolb is the only one of those three not to have yet lost his job, and secondly, Kolb has racked up those deep ball interceptions despite attempting fewer than any other quarterback.
But what about the interesting part of the study – accuracy?
Filtering out quarterbacks with fewer than 10 attempts leaves us with a nice round figure of 32 passers. Those 32 span a variance of 40% in their accuracy. Matt Ryan is at the foot of the table, completing just four of his 25 attempts over 20 yards. He hasn’t thrown a touchdown and has been picked off once. He has also had one pass dropped on him. At the opposite end, the lead in deep pass accuracy is shared by a pair of quarterbacks, both from the NFC East. Tony Romo and Michael Vick have both completed 60% of their deep shots. Romo has thrown three touchdowns on his 12 completions, but he has also been picked off twice. Vick has thrown a touchdown and a pick on his 12 completions, but has also had three passes dropped … all from DeSean Jackson, proving yet again why he is one of the most frustrating talents in the league.
Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers rather predictably are not far off the lead, both completing 50%+ of their deep attempts, each with just a single interception and five or more touchdowns.
There are a couple of interesting names at the wrong end of the statistics. Ryan Fitzpatrick continues to be an intriguing story for the Bills, but he has completed just four of the 17 deep shots he has attempted this season and has gone deep on just 8.4% of his drop-backs. Ben Roethligberger is also at the tail end of the league, despite having arguably the league’s best deep threat in Mike Wallace to throw to. Big Ben has completed eight deep passes, but missed on another 18 with just one of those being a drop. His three touchdowns are nearly matched by a pair of picks and you really expect better for a player of his ability and arm.
Deep Passing as of Week 6
|7t||Alex D. Smith||SF||12||6||0||170||2||1||7.6||50.0|
We’ll continue to keep the signature stats churning throughout the season and look forward to checking out the trends as and when they change.