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Thursday, September 9, 2010
Air and Space: Passing against pressure

By Kevin Seifert

With the New Orleans Saints-Minnesota Vikings matchup just a few hours away, now is the perfect time to pick up our weekly Air and Space analysis. (The timing is fortuitous, too, considering our plan once again is to post this staple every Thursday afternoon.)

The twist for this season: We'll do our best to incorporate the NFC North's collective response to our precedent-setting shift toward the passing game. We obviously don't have any numbers to use for that angle yet. But considering the Saints' tendency toward pressure defense, I thought it would be interesting to re-enforce how each of our starting quarterbacks performed against the blitz last season and compare it to the 2009 blitz frequency of their Week 1 opponents.

(Remember, we define the blitz as five or more pass rushers.)

The first chart shows how three of the quarterbacks actually threw better against the blitz than they did against standard rushers schemes. Only Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre had a lower passer rating against the blitz, and even then it was 96.2.

The second chart lists our Week 1 opponents and how frequently they blitzed in 2009. Tendencies can change over an offseason, but it's worth noting that none of those four teams have changed schemes and only one -- the Chicago Bears -- have a new coordinator. The upshot is that NFC North teams are scheduled to play three of 2009's top six blitzing teams in Week 1.

I'll be especially interested to see how the Philadelphia Eagles approach the Green Bay Packers, who were somewhat of a paradox last season after giving up 50 sacks while also boasting the NFL's top passer against the blitz. Aaron Rodgers completed 68.2 percent of his passes and produced an amazing 9.2 yards per attempt in those situations.

The Eagles defense is coordinated by Sean McDermott -- who runs most of the pressure-heavy schemes of his predecessor, the late Jim Johnson. But in Week 1, any scheme surprise is possible. Hold tight.