NFL Quick Count: Big-Play Passers

Who are the league's big-play passers? Why is this weekend's matchup pivotal and ironic for the Patriots? Colts RB Joseph Addai, Chiefs QB Matt Cassel, the Seahawks rushing attack, NFL team rushing tendencies and more in Ed Thompson's NFL Quick Count.

Big-Play passers:  Many NFL fans would be quick to pick New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees as the passer with the most completions for 25-plus yards this year. But many of them would be surprised to learn that the New York Giants' Eli Manning is tied with Brees at 36. Rounding out the top five are the Packers' Aaron Rodgers (31), the Cowboys' Tony Romo (30) and the Colts' Peyton Manning (29). Meanwhile, the Ravens' Joe Flacco (18) and the Broncos' Kyle Orton (19) have the lowest number of big-play passes out of the quarterbacks who have started 13 games this season.

Pivotal and ironic: On the surface, this weekend's matchup between the New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills looks like a potential snoozer. But it's a pivotal game for New England. A win by the Patriots and a loss by the Bengals at San Diego would likely elevate New England to the frontrunner position for the No. 3 seed in the AFC because both clubs would have an identical overall record and conference record, so you'd have to drop all the way down to the strength of victory tie-breaker to differentiate between the two clubs. Heading into this weekend, the Patriots hold a huge 61-point edge over Cincinnati in victory margin, largely due to their 59-0 dubbing of the Titans earlier this year. So how's this for ironic? If the Patriots dislodge the Bengals from the No. 3 spot, head coach Bill Belichick's decision to keep playing his starters during lopsided games could suddenly look smart instead of mean-spirited. On the flip side, if the Patriots lose and the Dolphins defeat the Titans, Miami would be the new leader in the AFC East race--regardless of whether the Jets win or lose--and the Patriots would drop into a wild card spot with two games remaining. In a two-way tie between the Dolphins and the Patriots, Miami would have the edge due to a better division record. In a three-way tie that includes the Jets, Miami has the edge due to a 3-1 record against the other two teams.

Joseph Addai has caught a career-best 48 passes this season.
Larry French/Getty Images

He's back:  I've watched Indianapolis Colts running back Joseph Addai as the season has progressed, and he's looking like more like the runner who exceeded the 1,000-yard threshold during his rookie season than the 12-game starter who posted a mere 544 yards last year. And that's great news for the Colts as they look ahead to the playoffs. While Addai isn't averaging 4.8 yards per carry like he did back in 2006, he's running with more decisiveness, hitting holes quickly and breaking tackles to tack on a few extra yards after contact. And he's already caught a career-best 48 passes this season with three games remaining on the schedule. In 2008, the former first-round pick was stutter-stepping in the backfield and waiting too long to commit to a running lane. Without a doubt, the Colts sent a subtle message to Addai when they used their first-round pick on running back Donald Brown--and Addai's responding well to the challenge.

Rushing tendencies: If you break down the direction of rushing plays into three zones--to the left of the left guard, to the right of the right guard and to the middle that spans the space in between--it's interesting to note which teams favor those areas of the field the most with their rushing play selection. The Ravens (153), Browns (146), Vikings (145), Redskins (136) and Patriots (135) are the top five teams that prefer the left side to the other two zones. The clubs that opt for the right side most often are the Jets (219), Bengals (185), Saints (169), Steelers (168) and the Giants (164). So who likes to run it up the gut more often instead of taking it outside of the guards? Without a doubt it's the Jacksonville Jaguars with 230 runs--63.7 percent of their rushing attempts. The Dolphins (172), Chargers (164), Panthers (158) and the 49ers (149) also heavily favor the middle of their offensive line.

Player spotlight: Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel has completed just 53.9 percent of his throws during his first season in Kansas City, a significant drop-off since last year when he completed 63.4 percent for New England. But how much of that is Cassel's fault versus the receivers he's working with this year? Well, Chiefs receivers have dropped 9.2 percent of his throws--a 4.2 percent increase over what Cassel experienced while throwing to the Patriots receivers. But he's obviously had his problems getting his timing down with his new targets in Kansas City as well. So far this season, 17.8 percent of his passes have been poor throws that were off-target--an increase of 4.8 percent over last year. His numbers in other key areas that contribute to incompletions--passes knocked away by a defender (10.1 percent), batted down at the line (3.5 percent) and intentional grounding (3.7 percent)--are all within 0.3 percent of his 2008 totals. 

I was right...and wrong: Earlier this year, I predicted big problems for the Seattle Seahawks rushing attack. "Seattle hasn't put forth a convincing argument that they have a solid situation at running back with former-Cowboy Julius Jones backed up by T.J. Duckett," I wrote in my 7 Points column back in May, roughly two weeks following the NFL Draft. And guess what? The Seahawks are currently ranked 28th in the league in rushing with three games left in their season. Duckett was cut at the end of August, and Jones' 3.6-yards-per-carry mark will tie his worst season if he doesn't step it up during the final three contests. He's scored just two rushing touchdowns and is averaging a mere 45 rushing yards per game. But while I was right about the Seahawks' running game, I may have missed the mark in suggesting that the Seahawks bolster their attack with the addition of veteran free agent Edgerrin James--who averaged just 2.7 yards per carry on 46 attempts over a seven-game span after eventually being signed by Seattle. James obviously never got in sync with the Seattle offense, but we won't ever know if he could have achieved better results if he had been signed back in May rather than thrown into the mix in late August.

Hold it right there: Eight clubs are averaging at least one offensive holding penalty per game. The Cardinals and the Steelers lead the league with 19 calls followed by the Bengals (16), Packers (15), Cowboys and Saints (14 each), and the Chiefs (13). At the other end of the spectrum are the Eagles, Dolphins and Browns with just five each while the Chargers have drawn a league-low four flags for that infraction.

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A member of the Pro Football Writers of America, Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the network and at

Statistics referenced in this article are provided by STATS, LLC. Copyright 2009 by STATS, LLC. Any use or distribution of such Licensed Materials without the express written consent of STATS is strictly prohibited.

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