One of the most exciting plays in football is the deep pass. In order for it to succeed it needs the offensive line to block a little longer than they usually do, a great pass by the quarterback, a great catch by the receiver, and something to go wrong with the defense.
Here I’ll put together a dream team if I wanted to throw a deep pass on every play, as well as the best defense to defend that kind of offense. It will be completely be based off 2013 play, so if an offense didn’t pass much, then chances are their players won’t make this list. If I truly wanted the best team I could, it would look more like our 2013 All-Pro team, but this is simply based on their subsection of plays in 2013.
Typically we set the bar for deep passes at 20 yards in the air, but for this I wanted to look at even deeper passes, so the threshold was 30 yards in the air or more. As per typical Team of the Week fashion, you’ll see the PFF overall grade on just this subset of over 1000+ plays during the season, as well as some honorable mentions.
Typically in the Team of the Week will have one halfback, one fullback, two wide receivers and one tight end. Since this is for throwing deep, this week we’ll have four wide receivers and one tight end.
Quarterback: Jay Cutler, CHI (+9.0)
While others had more yards and more touchdowns on very deep passes, Cutler makes the list for his efficiency on them. He completed 48% of his deep passes which was tied for the best with at least 20 attempts, and his only interception came in a late game Hail Mary situation. He did this despite being under pressure one third of the time.
Honorable Mention: Andrew Luck (IND)
Tight End: Vernon Davis, SF (+4.0)
There were only two tight ends with three or more catches where the ball was in the air for 30+ yards, and they were Davis and Jimmy Graham. Davis makes the team for catching five such passes with three going for touchdowns, and an average of 45 yards per catch in these situations.
Honorable Mention: Jimmy Graham (NO)
Outside Wide Receivers: DeSean Jackson, PHI (+8.7) and Alshon Jeffery, CHI (+7.9)
DeSean Jackson led the league in touchdowns on these kinds of deep passes with six. Alshon Jeffery had eight deep catches, with five coming from 40+ yards in the air, and three ending up in spectacular touchdowns.
Honorable Mention: A.J. Green (CIN) and Antonio Brown (PIT)
Slot Wide Receivers: T.Y. Hilton, IND (+9.4) and Vincent Jackson, TB (+6.3)
Even though both Hilton and Jackson made more deep plays coming from the outside than inside, both made enough coming from the slot to put them in that position for this team. Hilton led the league in receiving yards from these deep passes at exactly 500. He was helped a lot by three of his deep catches coming in the playoffs. Vincent Jackson was one of seven players with six or more deep catches, and the only other one who frequently plays in the slot.
Honorable Mention: Jordy Nelson (GB) and Calvin Johnson (DET)
Tackles: Eugene Monroe, JAX/BLT (+2.6) and Marcus Gilbert, PIT (+2.9)
Picking the offensive linemen for this team basically consists of looking at which offensive linemen didn’t allow a single hit or hurry when the quarterback attempted a deep pass. In this case Gilbert was successful in not allowing a pressure 39 times while Monroe was successful 35 times. There very well could have been times where the quarterback wanted to throw the ball that deep but couldn’t due to the offensive line, but we will never know.
Honorable Mention: Nate Solder (NE) and Zach Strief (NO)
Guards: Ramon Foster, PIT (+1.7) and Kraig Urbik, BUF (+1.7)
Going by a similar process with the offensive tackles, both Foster and Urbik were successful all 38 times they were pass blocking and their quarterbacks ended up throwing the ball 30+ yards down field.
Honorable Mention: Matt Slauson (CHI) and Louis Vasquez (DEN)
Center: Roberto Garza, CHI (+1.0)
Again by a similar process, Garza was successful all 34 times blocking for Jay Cutler or Josh McCown.
Honorable Mention: Lyle Sendlein (ARZ)
Typically in the Team of the Week we make a hybrid 4-3/3-4 defense. For this team we’ll have a dime defense with three pass rushers, two linebackers in coverage, and six defensive backs.
Defensive Interior: Marcell Dareus, BUF (+4.1)
For this defensive a player could have only gotten a hit or hurry, as a sack would have prevented a throw all together. On the 31 times a quarterback threw deep against the Bills and Dareus was on the field, he was successful in getting a hit three times and a hurry six times. No other defensive/nose tackle had more than four pressures in these situations.
Honorable Mention: Kawann Short (CAR)
Edge Rushers: Derrick Morgan, TEN (+3.1) and J.J. Watt, HST (+2.9)
Derrick Morgan makes this team by being very successful on a low sample size. He had two hits and two hurries on just 11 pass rushes giving him a Pass Rushing Productivity of 27.3 in these situations. Others had more pressure than Watt’s five, but his average time to pressure of 2.3 in these situations was hard to ignore.
Honorable Mention: Calais Campbell (ARZ) and Connor Barwin (PHI)
Linebackers: Nick Roach, OAK (+1.7) and K.J. Wright, SEA (+0.9)
It’s not very often that a linebacker has much effect on these kinds of plays, but every so often they do make a small impact. Both of these players were noted for having some close coverage on tight ends in these situations to prevent catches.
Honorable Mention: Perry Riley (WAS) and Justin Durant (DET)
Outside Cornerbacks: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, DEN (+5.6) and Keenan Lewis, NO (+5.7)
The stat lines for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Keenan Lewis look very similar to one another. They both have been in coverage on 20+ plays, and have been the main man in coverage on 10 plays. They each have allowed just one catch while also having two interceptions.
Honorable Mention: Desmond Trufant (ATL) and Cortez Allen (PIT)
Slot Cornerback: Corey Graham, BLT (+3.9)
At the slot corner spot is Corey Graham who joins Rodgers-Cromartie and Lewis in the two interceptions to one catch allowed club. His is a little less impressive because that one catch was for a touchdown, and he was only targeted seven times on these passes.
Honorable Mention: Eric Wright (SF)
Safeties: Nate Allen, PHI (+3.2), Devin McCourty, NE (+3.2) and Tashaun Gipson, CLV (+2.2)
Surprisingly these are the three most targeted safeties when it comes to these very deep passes, but they are also the three most successful at preventing big plays. They have a combined 30 targeted passes against them. They have a combined seven passes defended to show for it while quarterbacks just have three completions against them.
Honorable Mention: Darrell Stuckey (SD), Glover Quin (DET) and Usama Young (OAK)
Follow Nathan on Twitter: @PFF_NateJahnke