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Thursday, June 16, 2011
Philip Rivers or Joe Flacco?

By Bill Williamson
ESPN.com

Despite the fact that he has not won a Super Bowl, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers is generally considered an elite NFL quarterback. Baltimore’s Joe Flacco, however, isn’t. Flacco is widely respected, but he is more known as a gritty game manager.

Rivers
Flacco
In an ESPN.com Insider piece, though, KC Joyner writes that Flacco is in Rivers’ company. Crunching the numbers in the way only he can, Joyner makes the argument that Flacco is in Rivers’ league as a deep passer. Rivers is considered by many NFL observers to have the prettiest deep ball in the league.

Here is some of Joyner’s thinking on the subject: Last year, the San Diego receiving corps suffered through a slew of injuries and suspensions that cost the team the services of starting wideouts Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd and starting tight end Antonio Gates for a total of 22 games.

Those losses meant that Rivers ended up throwing a total of 189 pass attempts to the following receivers: Seyi Ajirotutu, Patrick Crayton, Buster Davis, Randy McMichael, Legedu Naanee and Kelley Washington. Those six players would be lucky to crack the starting lineup of any NFL team, yet Rivers ended up committing 34.9 percent of his targets to them last season.

For most quarterbacks, a situation of this nature would cause a significant drop-off in yards per attempt (YPA) production in the areas of vertical (aerials thrown 11 or more yards downfield) and stretch vertical (20 or more yards) passing, but that didn't happen with Rivers. He ranked fourth in the league in vertical YPA (12.1) and seventh in stretch vertical YPA (14.8).

One of the ways he was able to do this was by getting quality YPA figures from both the big name and non-big name pass-catchers. His 13.0 vertical YPA on passes to Floyd, Gates and Jackson alone would have been good enough to rank second in the league in that category, but his 11.2 YPA on vertical targets to other pass-catchers would have been good enough to rank 13th in that same category.

This shows that Rivers is capable of finding a way to get above-average vertical performance from backups. That ability kept the Chargers' downfield passing offense moving even when injuries and suspensions could have hamstrung it.

Flacco was faced with a somewhat different situation in that his wideouts and tight ends were healthy, but they all had vertical receiving limitations.

Anquan Boldin has a very limited history of being a vertical threat and he was paired up with Derrick Mason and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, a tandem of aging possession receivers.

Flacco was able to do more than just work around these limitations. He actually excelled with this trio, evidenced by 1,472 yards on the 133 vertical targets aimed at these three.

That equates to an 11.1 vertical YPA overall, but what is more impressive is that each of the three ended up posting a double-digit vertical YPA mark (11.3 for Boldin, 11.9 for Houshmandzadeh, 10.4 for Mason). To put that into perspective, consider that only five other teams ended up with three qualifying pass-catchers in double digits in vertical YPA (47 total targets needed to qualify).

Flacco's downfield passing expertise did not stop there. He posted a 12.5 vertical YPA and 15.1 stretches vertical YPA on throws to targets other than the aforementioned three. Both of those figures are more than a yard higher than what the possession trio posted, and they should increase further with a legitimate deep-threat possibility this year in second-round pick Torrey Smith.

My thoughts: It’s difficult to argue with Joyner and his numbers. He’s a mad scientist when it comes to NFL statistics. And I do like Flacco. The guy is a winner. Still, for my money, I’d rather have Rivers on my team. His pure ability, gumption and leadership make him special.

Who would you rather have quarterback your team, Rivers or Flacco? Fill up the comment section below with your thoughts.