RodgersWatch: Hitting downfield passes

I've noted on a couple of occasions the uniquely efficient season that Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has produced. Through 13 weeks, Rodgers ranks first in the NFL with an average of 9.4 yards per attempt and second in completion percentage at 69.6.

Traditionally, it's difficult to pair strong performances in both categories. Shorter passes typically lead to high completion percentage, while longer passes boost the average yards per attempt but are generally completed at lower rates.

With three games remaining in the regular season, it's worth noting that Rodgers is not only throwing downfield with high frequency, but he is also completing those difficult passes at a higher rate, by a long shot, than any other NFL quarterback. (Pun intended.)

Rodgers has thrown 43 passes this season that have traveled 21 or more yards in the air, tied for the ninth-highest total in the league. As the chart shows, he has completed 62.8 percent of them, substantially better than Tony Romo, Drew Brees and Andy Dalton. Rodgers' completion percentage on those deep throws is better than the rate on all throws for all but six other NFL quarterbacks.

Accuracy and arm strength are important factors in such success, but we shouldn't overlook the value of team awareness and chemistry, either. Consider the 37-yard touchdown he threw to receiver Jordy Nelson last Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.

As Rodgers related Tuesday on his ESPN 540 radio show, Packers coach Mike McCarthy alerted him via his headset microphone that the Raiders were trying to swap personnel. Rodgers got his teammates to the line of scrimmage without really calling a play. His general plan was to snap the ball before the departing players got off the field to incur a penalty, and then take a "free" shot downfield.

(Guard T.J. Lang, in fact, told ESPN.com columnist Ashley Fox that he didn't know Rodgers planned to throw.)

Said Rodgers: "… [W]e just ran up real quick and snapped it and Jordy realized what we were doing -- that they had too many guys on the field. And in that situation you just want to give them an opportunity to make a play on the ball. So I gave it a lot of air, the wind was fighting it a little bit, but Jordy made a great reaction to the ball for a touchdown."

You don't outperform the league to such a degree based on just one factor. Players often credit their teammates and coaches for individual success as a matter of respect, but in this case, it is totally warranted. Rodgers has played the biggest role in the Packers fielding the NFL's best downfield passing offense, but it wouldn't be this good without this supporting cast.