Passing Game Looking Deeper

If you've wondered whether Aaron Rodgers is throwing the ball deep more often this season, your eyes haven't deceived you. We have the statistics and supporting data for a Packers offense that is mired in a slump heading into Sunday night's game vs. Dallas.

If it seems like Aaron Rodgers has thrown the ball downfield more this season, it's because he has.

After a sensational 2009 season, Rodgers' 2010 has been sliced and diced as both he and the offense as a whole have been off-kilter.

Certainly, the losses of Ryan Grant and Jermichael Finley to season-ending injuries have played big roles in the decreased offensive output. But Rodgers has appeared out of sorts at times, too, for reasons ranging from poor timing with his receivers to the occasional flaw in his mechanics.

One thing, however, stands out: Rodgers has been more aggressive with the ball.

Last year, Rodgers threw the ball 541 times. This year, he's on pace to throw it 538 times. That similarity provides a great baseline to compare seasons.

According to STATS, in 2009, Rodgers threw the ball behind the line of scrimmage 94 times. This year, he's on pace to throw it behind the line 96 times. The numbers are equally similar on "home run" passes thrown a distance of 31 to 40 yards downfield (16 last year, on pace for 16 this year) and 41-plus yards (17 last year, on pace for 14 this year).

It's the intermediate routes where Rodgers has pushed the envelope. On passes thrown between 1 and 10 yards downfield, Rodgers threw 272 passes last year and is on pace for 234 this year. By contrast, Rodgers threw 102 passes from 11 to 20 yards last year. This year, he's on pace to throw that distance 128 times. And on passes from 21 to 30 yards downfield, he's on pace to increase that count from 40 last year to 50 this year.

All told, 67.6 percent of his passes last year were thrown either behind the line of scrimmage or between 1 and 10 yards downfield. This year, that percentage has slipped to 61.3 percent.

That 61.3 percent is less than most quarterbacks in the league.

We looked at the quarterbacks of the top 10 teams in the NFL in terms of points scored per game (see list at end of story). The Patriots lead the league in scoring and Tom Brady leads the league with 77.3 percent of his passes going no further downfield than 10 yards. Of the top 10 teams in scoring, only Tennessee's Vince Young (58.2 percent) and San Diego's Philip Rivers (47.4 percent) throw fewer of those "dink-and-dunk" passes than Rodgers. The others (Peyton Manning, Jason Campbell, Shaun Hill, Eli Manning, Kevin Kolb, Matt Schaub, Matt Ryan — listed in order of points scored per game) throw more than two-thirds of their passes no further than 10 yards down the field.

Peyton Manning put on a short-passing clinic against Houston on Monday night. Hamstrung by a similar rash of injuries that has struck Green Bay's offense, Manning's average pass gained just 6.0 yards. Most teams strive for at least 7.0 per attempt.

Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said those short passes are in the Packers' repertoire, noting the Chicago game and the first half of the Minnesota game. However, sometimes it's not as simple as just throwing the ball short.

"Every week, plans change and points of emphasis change in terms of how you want to attack somebody and what gives you the best opportunity," Philbin told Packer Report on Thursday. "The Jets, in particular, they usually contest. You look at their completion percentage that they had given up before our game (49.4 percent). They're going to contest all of your throws. Some other teams are going to give you those easy three-step drops and try to tackle you and knock the heck out of your receivers and try to knock the ball loose and try to make you go 12 or 14 plays. Every week's a little different."

Quarterbacks coach Tom Clements essentially said the same thing last week. Plus, he added, defenses had two years of film on Rodgers and an offseason to put in a little extra film work on a top NFC contender.

The injuries are also a part of a diminished short passing game. Finley, for all of his big-play production, made a killing on short routes. That's Donald Driver's forte, as well, and he was at less than full strength for the last three games.

However you slice it, Rodgers knows it's not good enough.

"It's below the standards that I've set for myself. Obviously, I think I'm capable of playing better," he said. "I point to my preparation and it's been the same; I prepare hard every week. It's just my performance hasn't been as good as the kind of standard I've set for my 40 games starting. Obviously, I need to play better."


Quarterbacks of top-scoring teams

Quarterback stats are: Completions-Attempts, TDs-INTs, Rating)

New England (29.3 ppg; Tom Brady, 96.6 rating)

Behind Line: 32-42, 1-0, 92.0

1-10 yards: 94-132, 8-0, 109.3

11-20 yards: 16-32, 1-2, 78.3

21-30 yards: 2-6, 0-0, 66.7

31-40 yards: 3-6, 2-0, 135.4

41-plus yards: 0-7, 0-2, 0.0

Percentage of passes 10 yards or less: 77.3

Tennessee (28.0; Vince Young, 103.1 rating)

Behind Line: 15-24, 0-0, 67.9

1-10 yards: 32-47, 3-1, 96.6

11-20 yards: 17-29, 3-1, 118.8

21-30 yards: 5-9, 1-0, 137.5

31-40 yards: 0-5, 0-0, 39.6

41-plus yards: 3-8, 2-0, 125.0

Percentage of passes 10 yards or less: 58.2

Indianapolis (27.6; Peyton Manning, 101.4 rating)

Behind Line: 30-37, 0-0, 90.8

1-10 yards: 120-163, 10-0, 107.5

11-20 yards: 34-63, 1-2, 75.6

21-30 yards: 10-29, 3-0, 115.6

31-40 yards: 3-7, 1-0, 129.5

41-plus: 0-0, 0-0, NA

Percentage of passes 10 yards or less: 66.9

Oakland (26.5; Jason Campbell, 82.5 rating)

Behind Line: 20-31, 1-0, 92.7

1-10 yards: 45-69, 3-2, 86.3

11-20 yards: 8-20, 0-0, 72.3

21-30 yards: 5-11, 2-1, 93.8

31-40 yards: 0-5, 0-1, 0.0

41-plus yards: 0-2, 0-0, 39.6

Percentage of passes 10 yards or less: 72.5

San Diego (26.3; Philip Rivers, 98.9 rating)

Behind Line: 47-65, 0-0, 80.6

1-10 yards: 50-80, 2-2, 87.0

11-20 yards: 54-80, 4-2, 100.8

21-30 yards: 50-69, 5-1, 124.6

31-40 yards: 33-52, 4-1, 102.0

41-plus: 11-28, 0-2, 24.0

Percentage of passes 10 yards or less: 47.4

Detroit (26.1; Shaun Hill, 79.6 rating)

Behind Line: 35-44, 1-0, 100.0

1-10 yards: 74-105, 4-5, 80.6

11-20 yards: 14-40, 2-0, 75.2

21-30 yards: 4-16, 2-1, 65.9

31-40 yards: 0-3, 0-1, 0.0

Percentage of passes 10 yards or less: 71.6

New York Giants (25.0; Eli Manning, 88.3 rating)

Behind Line: 30-37, 1-0, 96.0

1-10 yards: 87-123, 6-7, 77.8

11-20 yards: 28-45, 3-2, 104.6

21-30 yards: 9-22, 1-1, 82.6

31-40 yards: 3-9, 3-0, 121.5

41-plus yards: 0-3, 0-1, 0-0

Percentage of passes 10 yards or less: 66.9

Philadelphia (24.6; Kevin Kolb, 85.3 rating)

Behind Line: 33-44, 0-0, 85.2

1-10 yards: 46-69, 4-1, 93.1

11-20 yards: 1219, 0-0, 98.8

21-30 yards: 2-11, 0-1, 9.7

31-40 yards: 4-9, 2-2, 91.2

41-plus yards: 0-1, 0-0, 39.6

Percentage of passes 10 yards or less: 73.9

Houston (24.3; Matt Schaub, 89.3 rating)

Behind Line: 33-50, 0-0, 76.8

1-10 yards: 82-125, 6-1, 91.3

11-20 yards: 26-45, 2-2, 90.8

21-30 yards: 4-9, 1-1, 86.6

31-40 yards: 4-4, 1-0, 158.3

41-plus yards: 0-2, 0-1, 0-0

Percentage of passes 10 yards or less: 74.5

Atlanta (24.1; Matt Ryan, 89.6 rating)

Behind Line: 23-35, 1-0, 84.1

1-10 yards: 92-134, 5-3, 86.0

11-20 yards: 36-62, 3-1, 103.4

21-30 yards: 3-14, 1-1, 42.0

31-40 yards: 1-3, 1-0, 121.5

41-plus yards: 1-3, 1-0, 121.5

Percentage of passes 10 yards or less: 67.1


Green Bay (22.0; Aaron Rodgers, 85.3 rating)

Behind Line: 38-48, 0-1, 81.3

1-10 yards: 81-117, 5-0, 99.8

11-20 yards: 36-64, 642, 3-4

21-30 yards: 6-25, 2-2, 49.8

31-40 yards: 3-8, 2-0, 125.0

41-plus yards: 1-7, 0-2, 16.1

Percentage of passes 10 yards or less: 61.3


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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