Pack Hopes to Regain Deep Ball Magic

Stats show long distance connection missing from offense.

One of the reasons Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur wants to run the ball more effectively and more often is to set up the play action pass, and he is hoping it will trigger a rejuvenation of the deep ball. That element of the offense has been on the decline in recent seasons.

The Deep Ball Project is a comprehensive breakdown of each starting quarterback's effectiveness in throwing long. It's been calculated for the last six seasons by brickwallblitz.com. The study focuses on how far the ball is thrown in the air, how tight the window is, the accuracy of the throw, whether the receiver drops the ball, the pressure on the quarterback, the sector of the field, and more. The resulting ratings tell a revealing story about Green Bay's troubles dialing long distance.

Overall, for the 2019 season, Aaron Rodgers was ranked 22nd among starting quarterbacks. That's a drop from 2018 when Rodgers was rated 17th, even then in the bottom half of the league. Keep in mind the following stats represent how far the ball was thrown in the air, not run after catch.

On passes that traveled 21 to 25 yards, Rodgers was 18th. 26 to 30 yards, Rodgers was 20th. 31 to 35 yards Rodgers was 13th. 36 to 40 yards Rodgers was 8th. Over 41 yards he was 13th. But his overall rating suffered because of a low score on accuracy and other factors.

Interestingly, Aaron seemed to have particular trouble throwing the deep ball down the left sideline. On that side of the field he ranked 27th. His highest score came on long balls down the right sideline where he stood 8th. He was 22nd over the middle.

The study shows the Packers executed the deep pass more effectively when the quarterback was under center, as opposed to being in shotgun. Rodgers was 14th in the league under center, but 22nd from the gun. This may also be a reason why LaFleur wants more of a running game influence in the offense, so that Aaron can begin more plays under center, thereby disguising the play action.

Number 12's talent for creatively making plays on the fly shows up in the stats. He actually had a little more success passing deep when under pressure than when standing in a clean pocket. Rodgers was 20th when getting heat, but just 23rd in a clean pocket.

He stood 16th when throwing long to what was defined by the study as an "open window".   In other words, when the receiver was judged to be open.   He was 18th throwing to a "tight window", where the receiver is judged to be well covered.

Not all of the study was bad news.   Despite the mediocre rankings, Rodgers was a much more respectable fifth in the league in total deep ball passing yards.   He was also tied for fifth in long ball touchdowns with 7.   But you would like to see those production figures a bit higher considering Rodgers attempted the second most deep passes in the league, a whopping 80.   Only loose cannon and interception machine Jameis Winston threw deep more often.  (84)

The study does point out at least one mitigating factor.   Aaron Rodger's overall deep ball ranking was dragged down by his performance in the last game of the regular season against Detroit.   The Packers fell behind early and Arod threw deep 14 times, being judged accurate on just 3 of those throws.   Take that game out and, according to the study's author, Rodgers "would have likely finished inside the top 15".   That's encouraging but still a bit disappointing for the guy who, in his prime, was one of the most accurate long ball chuckers in the history of the game.

Certainly, the quarterback isn't the only one accountable.   It's not like he has a roster full of bona fide deep ball threats to throw to.   The only real burner is Marques Valdes Scantling, who did indeed catch a few bombs in the first half of the year.   But MVS is a long strider who tends to take too long getting separation and doesn't always play the ball well in the air.   Davante Adams is all-pro calibre, but more of a possession guy.   No one else really qualifies as a Tyreek Hill type, a stretch the field threat.   Looking to positions other than receiver, maybe Jace Sternberger will turn out to be that kind of weapon down the seam, or perhaps getting Aaron Jones deep out of the backfield.

14 wins last season means the Packers are close.   Rodgers still makes around 5 to 10 phenomenal throws every season.   He's still got it.   Perhaps the missing element to a Super Bowl run is the return of the quick strike. 

 

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Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.

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Comments (36)

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Jonathan Spader's picture

June 28, 2020 at 06:18 pm

Hope to see the Packers balls deep in 2020.

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dobber's picture

June 28, 2020 at 11:02 pm

At this point, I just hope to see the Packers in 2020.

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Coldworld's picture

June 29, 2020 at 08:48 am

Hope springs eternal but springs can dry up :(

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Johnblood27's picture

June 29, 2020 at 09:24 am

just look back over your shoulder...

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stockholder's picture

June 28, 2020 at 08:46 pm

The Long Ball was the problem with Guteys draft. Cobb, Driver, even the greats like Lofton, and Sharpe had that deep speed. Olympic speed! We really needed a serious burner. Stretching the Defense, always is a plus. So why didn't Gutey get one? Battle plans change. The deep threat must be used with any 2 minute drill. Especially if your trailing. I just don't believe Gutey has analyzed this team correctly when it comes to Wrs. If he really wanted mismatches; it starts with speed. Hopefully Gutey corrects this. I can't think of a better position to trade for.

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jannes bjornson's picture

June 28, 2020 at 10:01 pm

Why, because Philly moved on Reagor @ 21. Ruggs went immediately to Gruden with the 12 pick. Jeudy was off the board by 15. Those were the top three. Queens were ahead of the Pack to bag Jefferson from the Diggs trade, then Lynch moved picks to the purple for Aiyuk. That's why. I agree with the concept of a real deep threat WR, but those guys usually don't get past the top ten. They put nickel stock money on MVS to try to put it together for 2-3 catches a game and maybe a deep ball off mis-direction. It is what it is. Chase next year and just as talented people from OK State and Tennessee.

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stockholder's picture

June 28, 2020 at 11:13 pm

I understand where they went. I would have grabbed Watkins. And Thomas for the slot. Won't get chase.

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Stroh's picture

June 29, 2020 at 04:30 pm

Sharpe wasn't considered fast, Cobb slightly above average at best. Driver was an Olympic high jumper, not sprinter. Now Jordy was very fast.

The Packers have only MVS with adequate deep speed unfortunately he had no WR skills other than speed, so he's pretty useless.

When they were on the clock in rd1 & 2, there weren't good options at. WR anyway. Gutey was smart to not use a high pick at WR.

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Bearmeat's picture

June 28, 2020 at 09:26 pm

Do you know why our deep passing game sucked?

I've said this before. Ready? Because no one outside of Davante can get open down the field. SH is right. We need more WR talent.

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Point-Packer's picture

June 28, 2020 at 11:31 pm

And when the manage to get open and the ball is there they air ball it a la MVS.

"they just need to play" - Aaron Nagler

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Bearmeat's picture

June 29, 2020 at 07:11 am

Yep. He was wrong about that. I was skeptical when he said it for sure. Not the first time and won't be the last.

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dobber's picture

June 29, 2020 at 09:28 am

Nagler's Never Right

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

June 29, 2020 at 03:46 am

First, these are rankings. The difference between 22nd and 18th is small. AR may have been ranked 20th under pressure and 23rd from a clean pocket, but do not be misled: looking at the raw numbers, AR was more effective when the pocket was clean (45% accuracy) vs. under pressure (37.5%). Also, only Winston, Rivers, Watson, Wilson and Mahomes had more attempts while under pressure, a list that I find unsurprising.

Second, we can get some idea how much a receiving corps helped their QB or hurt their QB (with caveats).
1. Garopolo - Accuracy 51.85% Completed 62.96%. + 11.11%. Incredible!
2. Flacco: 0%. Accuracy = completion percentage.
3/4: Rudolph and Mahomes -3.3%, so most accurate passes were caught.
5. Brees: -4.00%
6. Kyle Allen: 4.88%
7-9: Minshaw, dalton, Brady - 5.4% to -6%.
10-17: Goff, Stafford (-6.9), Cousins, Winston, Prescott (7.5%), Wilson, tannehill (-8.18%) Carr (-8.82%)
18-21: AR (-10.0%), Fitzpatrick (-10.64%), Brissett (-11.72%), Case (-12.65%).
22-25 J Allen (-14.03%), Jackson (-14.89%), Ryan (-14.89%), Darnold (-15.15%)
26-27: Trubisky (-15.27%), Watson (-15.75),
28-29: Baker Mayfield (-17.1%), Daniel Jones (-18.18%),
30: Carson Wentz (-20.55%)
31: Phillip Rivers (-26.13%).

So it looks like Garopolo got the most help from his receivers by an enormous amount. He is the only QB who had more completions than accurate passes, and by a whopping 11.11%. However, Garapolo only threw 27 deep passes (only Brees, Keenum and Flacco attempted fewer), so the difference was three long completions. OTOH, at almost 52%, Garopolo was 10th in accuracy.

Rivers apparently had a terrible receiving corps, as did Wentz, Jones, Mayfield, Allen, Trubisky, Watson, Darnold, Ryan and Jackson.

16th was -8.11 and 17th was -8.82, so the median was about -8.465%. AR was -10% so definitely hurt by his receiving corps on long passes (particularly since he attempted 80 long passes, second to Winston's 84). Third was Wilson (77) followed by Watson (70). The median was 46.5 long passes attempted. Throws into tight windows has three QBs bunched together: Wilson (53), Winston (52) and AR (51), but the median is a mere 29 (Mahomes and others are at 29). Be my guest if you want to calculate the average percentile difference or the average attempts.

Caveat: I have no way of knowing how accurate this site is with the accurate passes percentage. Some receivers might subtly adjust their speed or the angle of their route to make a pass look more accurate or less accurate than they were. IDK what they do if the WR runs and out and the QB throws a go, or more likely, a corner instead of a post.

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Coldworld's picture

June 29, 2020 at 08:40 am

I find the idea that a MVS can’t get open risible. The problem is getting him and the ball in the same opening.

In general, we need to remember that the whole offense stuttered badly at times. Rodgers was trying to kick start too often, as in the Detroit game. There really was very little diversity in the passing game. Perhaps the move to the approach that Garopolo did so well in will help.

For me the issues at TE combined with the utter lack of slot threat really made it difficult for the offense. Hopefully health, a revised system and more experience will combine to give Rodgers and the receivers better odds. These kinds of stats can sometimes miss the woods for the trees. I think this is mostly an instance of that.

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dobber's picture

June 29, 2020 at 09:33 am

I think you hit on a key point: if you can't threaten an opponent through diversity in talent, you've got to do it by being really good at the things you can do. It never hurts to have both.

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murf7777's picture

June 29, 2020 at 01:08 pm

I agree because there are many ways to win and deep ball passing is just one. I would argue it isn’t the best one.

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dobber's picture

June 30, 2020 at 09:09 am

Very true, but it's hard for an offense to be consistent if it plays a style (and with personnel) that regularly cuts down the size of the field that a defense needs to defend.

I think that ARod's desire to throw outside the numbers and LaF's offense wanting to spread the field laterally is a great start, but if you can't connect often enough on 20+ yard routes, defenses stop respecting them, cover them with a single guy (who can run), and make you move the ball down the field in 3-5 yard increments rather than 15+ yard chunks. If you're really good at getting 5 yards on a regular basis...great! But that style of offense has less room for error.

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Stroh's picture

June 29, 2020 at 04:39 pm

Risible?

It takes more than speed to create separation even on deep balls. The. NFL is littered with WR with legit Olympic speed that couldn't make it in the NFL.

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CoachDino's picture

June 29, 2020 at 07:33 pm

Agreed - Look at MVS - He dropped or even slowed on more than a few long balls. That said AR did seem to overthrow guys more than usual. The deep ball on the right side is often when he scrambles to his right and someone gets behind a DB who ends up peeking after 3-4 seconds.
Speed is nice for many of the reasons stated but some of the best long ball guys were known for going up and getting it. Hence the tall receivers and lack of shorter DBs in the league over the years. EQS and Lazard can both pull in the long ball. The play action pass off the run first scheme is going to help as well.

I'd assume as well that long throws in the air are often the results of being down and needing to score more expeditiously...It;s not something you want to do very often.

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dobber's picture

June 30, 2020 at 09:13 am

ARod made comments in camp last year where--when asked about the difficulty he had connecting with MVS--he said that MVS's speed was something he was having a hard time getting used to. I'd think that calibration would be something he'd figure out quickly enough, which then means--perhaps--that MVS can run but doesn't adjust well to the ball in the air or struggles with his play speed within the needs of the play. It could be that #12 was sheltering MVS a little bit to the media.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

June 29, 2020 at 07:17 pm

I agree that these stats have limited usefulness. However, they do illustrate your point that AR had to kickstart the offense too often. The stat about AR having so many long passes under pressure leads to two possibilities: a poor pass blocking OL or a QB who holds the ball too long. This in turn leads to your point about moving towards the LaFleur offense, something more closely resembling SF, though it provides no evidence that any progress in that direction was made in 2019.

I don't think LaFleur is going to want to reduce the number of long passes in gross or as a percentage. I certainly don't expect to see anything similar to Garopolo's 27 long pass attempts

Other interesting stats is the 4 dropped INTs out of 80 attempts assigned to AR. Also, AR 21 PDs (26.25%). Mahomes had 12.7%; Watson 15.7%; Wilson 11.69%. 25% was not uncommon, with Brees coming in at 32%. In 2017, AR threw 70 passes over 21 yds, no dropped INTs were assigned to him, and just 8 or the 70 (11.4%) were defended passes.

AR: 21-25 yds: 28.75%; 26-30 yds: 21.25%; 31 to 35 yds: 18.75%; 36-40 yds: 5%. 41+ was 28.75%. Throwing 21 passes over 41 yards in the air is a huge number of attempts. The next highest was 13 by Wentz. The median was 6 and the average was 6.78. In 2018, AR threw 10 of his 70 long passes 41+ yards in the air (14.28%). So bombs increased significantly under LaFleur.

In 2017, both AR and Hundley attempted 32 passes 21+ yards in the air. AR was on pace to throw 80 long passes. AR was 3rd in accuracy.

I have no idea where the comment about MVS came from. I never implied anything about MVS or meant for anything to be inferred about MVS.

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PAPackerbacker's picture

June 29, 2020 at 03:21 am

Having a talented backfield to eventually run play action is a great idea if you have receivers that can get open down field for the long ball other than Adams. Somebody in that receiving core has to step up and do exactly that for the Packers to be successful at throwing the long ball. Since the Packers chose not to get a top receiving talent in the draft then some WR on the roster better step up and fill the need or it will be the same old same old.

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nostradanus's picture

June 29, 2020 at 07:46 am

The Rodgers of 2010 no longer exists, time marches on.

This doesn’t mean #12 is not a great QB, but the greats learn to evolve and adapt as skills slowly diminish and the injuries take their toll.

The key here is in order for an aging QB to remain highly effective he must be willing to work in concert with the coach trying to maximize his talents.

Rodgers must accept that these aren’t McCarthy’s Packers. The message was sent loud and clear during the draft when no receiver was taken. No new toys for you Aaron.

The Packers are going to run to set up the pass and not the other way around.

The days of Rodgers running around and trying to create the big play are winding down, but if he plays within MLF scheme he can be elite once again.

The key is in Rodgers head, if he can accept that he will once again be elite. If not Jordan Love waits.

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NickPerry's picture

June 29, 2020 at 07:55 am

IMO this is one of the stats where ESB is going to help the Packers improve on the deep ball. He ran a 4.48 40 at the combine and was actually pretty good catching deep balls at UCLA IIRC.

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Coldworld's picture

June 29, 2020 at 08:46 am

I hope so. He is probably the most general purpose receiver potentially, but I think he helps most not on the perimeter necessarily but in providing a deep option from the center and the ability to move around with Adams.

I also think Funchess will help by providing a credible threat across the middle. Could be a good tandem with ESB. Let’s face it, last year we stunk in that area.

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gkarl's picture

June 29, 2020 at 08:54 am

NP

I hope your right about ESB, I'm excited to get him back for TY.

I just hope we have a QB that can throw it that far. It's a long way from SB to LA. LOL

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Johnblood27's picture

June 29, 2020 at 09:33 am

I guess he only caught passes in road games or maybe at UCLA when ND was at USC? Thats not a short pass either...

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dobber's picture

June 29, 2020 at 02:06 pm

Yeah, he just went REALLY long...

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mnbadger's picture

June 29, 2020 at 09:42 am

AR needs to play like he enjoys the game. In the last few years he looks like he's having teeth pulled.
He can be the most talented qb on nearly every field he steps onto, but he's got to loosen up and enjoy it IMO.
GPG

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ILPackerBacker's picture

June 29, 2020 at 11:47 am

While the ball is in the air....meaning from where Rodgers released it not the LOS.

Looking at the numbers it is pretty obvious that the problem if quick, timing routes. Given slow bad route running WRs I don't know why anyone is surprised by this.

The longer the pass the more Rodgers can adjust to a WR being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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DenePhillips's picture

June 29, 2020 at 02:04 pm

Is everyone going to watch the game's when the kneeling starts? I mean I love my country more and it's what the game did for these players not what they did for game. And, it's about what this country did for us, not what we did for the country. Their are too many worthy causes out there. Let's pretend we are all at the NFL game and each of us standing for the National Anthem and we all get to where a sign around our neck. Let's say I wear We are the World, another wears wounded warriors, another Cancer victims, Diabetes patients, Children Hospital's, Help Veterans PSTD, Firemen are Heroes, Trump 2020, Easter Seal's, Goodwill, Help the Homeless, Help The Depressed, Stop Abortion- Over 70 million killed, Support The Police, Special Olympics Athletes, Praise Jesus- WWJD, We love our doctors and nurses, Support our Military, Must Ministries, World Vision, Remember Alzheimers, etc and many, many more and we all STAND and sing the National Anthem, but then you look across the field and see the players KNEELING for BLM. I'm sorry, but that's just SELFISH!! Now, if they want to wear a sign that says BLM and stand and sing, then fine, but NO SELFISH, HEY WORLD LOOK AT ME, BECAUSE MY CAUSE IS THE MOST IMPORTANT. SORRY, BUT NO!! I'M NOT WATCHING SPORTS!!

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murf7777's picture

June 29, 2020 at 05:12 pm

Please let’s keep this site about the Packers, their players, coaches and strategies which I immensely enjoy reading most days and occasionally sharing my views. There are many sites to share your political and personal views on worldly events.

I feel this is a great site because of the interesting Packer articles, knowledgeable posts and we have very little personal agendas being posted. Thank you.

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Harold Drake's picture

July 01, 2020 at 02:46 am

Your comments are tone deaf as they are inappropriate on a football site. Kneeling is a sign of protest against perceived racism in America as reflected in the brutal murders of blacks by unhinged or racist police. Also, kneeling is a better way of showing outrage or disappointment than breaking windows and burning down stores. The right to dissent is fundamental to the United States and guaranteed in the constitution. I suggest you stop watching FOX TV and Trumpian propaganda in favour of other sources of information which have apparently blinded you to the kind of injustice black people continue to face which is entirely different from that faced by whites and even hispanics. We are all in this together, but we cannot indulge in blind relativization of societal problems to obscure systemic racism in American society.

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PhantomII's picture

June 29, 2020 at 08:13 pm

Deep balls are inherently low percentage shots down the field. If you like 3 and outs just hype this type of throw. Just move the chains and get first downs and doable 10-20 yd completions unless we catch a DB in a double move or something. Maybe in another year Rodgers will have more confidence in these WR's. I have a feeling Sternberger is going to impress. We have a lot of receiving options.
I hope ML designs some good plays for our young guys especially our RB's. I see us cutting at least 2 WR's....just to many on the roster to keep.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

June 30, 2020 at 02:53 am

GB scored 23.5 pts/gm in 2018 and 23.5 pts/gm in 2019. Yes, Gute drafted some rookies to fit LaFleur's vision, so we will see how that works out. Usually, I would not rely on anything dramatic out of rookies, but RBs are often ready to at least contribute right away. TEs not so much, but Deguara is a H-back. I don't know if rookie H-backs ordinarily are able to contribute right away though it would not be unfair to allow Deguara two years. GB is betting that Sternberger is ready to be a #1 TE, and indeed be better than Graham: I like that bet, but I would not call it a sure thing. I agree that Adams/16-game Lazard/Funchess is a better receiving corps than 2019's, and if ESB, MVS, or Begeltron push them, all the better.

Z and P Smith both had career years. Is this the new normal for them? Will having to play with more gap discipline (if asked) hinder them or make them even better? If it hinders the pass rush, will improvement from Gary (et al), King/Jaire plus Savage and Amos (who probably has a lot of upside if Greene can come back) make up for it? The most important defensive players all played a lot of snaps (Z, P Smith, Clark, King, Jaire, Amos) with Greene and Savage missing time, and I don't think Savage played as well after he returned from his injury.

13 wins is a lot of wins, as Marpag demonstrated. But getting to the playoffs and making a stir seems very possible, indeed likely, and that's what's important.

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Rudedawg67's picture

July 01, 2020 at 01:59 pm

You can always state the obvious. It’s hard to beat someone deep when the guy covering you is faster.

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