|Which QB does best job spreading ball around in passing game?||02.18.14 at 6:00 am ET|
Piggybacking on a column we did last year about Tom Brady‘s ability to work in new receivers and spread the ball around — and with another full season in the books — we figured we should take another look at some of the league wide numbers when it comes to ball distribution in the passing game.
Using the 250-catch barometer as the mark for involvement, three over-30 veterans continue to set the standard when it comes to getting everyone involved in the passing game, as Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees have managed to make stars out a variety of pass catchers on the way to record-setting seasons.
Using numbers culled from Pro Football Reference — which utilizes stats dating back to 1999 — the three are head and shoulders above the rest of the quarterbacking field when it comes to finding equilibrium in the passing game:
- Since 2001, Brady has completed at least 250 passes in the regular season to four different pass catchers over the course of his 13-year career as a starter: Wes Welker (563), Deion Branch (328), Troy Brown (323) and Kevin Faulk (310). Providing they stay healthy — and, in the case of Julian Edelman, return for 2013 — two more receivers could be added to the mix: Rob Gronkowski had 39 catches in an injury-shortened 2013 season, bringing his total of receptions via Brady to 223. And his 105 catches in 2013 boosted Edelman to 166 career receptions from Brady.
For those of you asking about guys who just missed out on the 250-catch mark with Brady, two jump off the page: one, Randy Moss caught 192 passes from Brady while the two were together in New England, including 98 catches in 2007 and 83 in 2009. And two, Aaron Hernandez finished with 166.
- In that same span, Manning has completed at least 250 passes to three different receivers: Reggie Wayne (779), Marvin Harrison (677) and Dallas Clark (387). Depending on how long he plays, Denver’s Demaryius Thomas could also be part of that group as well — he has 185 catches from Manning over the last two seasons, and could reach 250 in 2014 if he and the quarterback can both stay healthy.
To be fair to Manning, that time frame of 2001-2013 does cut off the first three seasons — from 1998 through 2000 — of his career. As a result, some of his early numbers aren’t included, particularly the formative years with Harrison, who had 276 regular-season catches with the Colts in that span. Our cutoff also means the work of an excellent pass-catching back like Edgerrin James goes unrewarded. He caught 230 passes from Manning from 2001-2005 before he departed Indy for the Cardinals. In all, James ended up catching a total of 355 passes from Manning while the two were together from 1999-2005.
- While Brady and Manning have impressive totals, when it comes to finding a variety of targets, they’re nowhere near Brees. When you combine his work in San Diego and New Orleans, the 35-year-old has complied at least 250 passes to six different receivers: Marques Colston (605), Lance Moore (346), Jimmy Graham (298 over the last four seasons), Reggie Bush (294), Pierre Thomas (284) and LaDainian Tomlinson (254). And a seventh — Darren Sproles — can hit 250 receptions from Brees in 2014. He’s already at 235 catches and counting.
When it comes to the next generation, it appears unlikely that anyone will be able to connect with six different pass catchers for at least 250 receptions. Among the quarterbacks who have been in the league for 7-10 seasons, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers has Greg Jennings (324) and Jordy Nelson (252), but just missed out when Donald Driver (241) called it a career. However, his two wild cards are free agents James Jones (216) and Jermichael Finley (214) — if they both return and are healthy, Rodgers is seemingly a lock to get four pass-catchers to 250-plus receptions.
Ben Roethlisberger also has a good chance of getting to four — he’s completed at least 250 passes to three different receivers: Hines Ward (513), Heath Miller (420) and Antonio Brown (250), and could make it four if free agent Emmanuel Sanders (146) ends up sticking around Pittsburgh. Meanwhile Atlanta’s Matt Ryan has three, having connected for 250-plus with Roddy White (520), Tony Gonzalez (383) and Harry Douglas (205). And New York‘s Eli Manning has Hakeem Nicks (306) and Victor Cruz (241) — he appears to have just missed with Plaxico Burress (244) and Steve Smith (213).
As for the quarterbacks who have between two and five full years in the league, Detroit’s Matthew Stafford has found tremendous success with Calvin Johnson (353 catches from Stafford), but Brandon Pettigrew (215) and Nate Burleson (154) are also within hailing distance of the 250-catch mark, providing Burleson somehow makes it back to Detroit. In addition, Indy’s Andrew Luck has Wayne (145), T.Y. Hilton (133) and Coby Fleener (78), while Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton has benefitted from working with AJ Green (256), Jermaine Gresham (165) and Andrew Hawkins (85).
|Fantasy Football: Week 15 starts, sits||12.13.13 at 10:35 am ET|
Welcome to the Week 15 starts and sits! If you are reading this, then congratulations are probably in order. It’s semifinal week in most leagues, so you are one win away from a bowl appearance and a shot at glory. Hopefully these recommendations will help you maximize your lineup, but if you need more, then head over to Rotobahn and check out our full lineup rankings. Additionally, you can attend our weekly Sunday chat right here at WEEI. You’ll find a link to the chat Sunday on the home page under “This Just In.” I hope to see you all there.
Matt Stafford, Lions vs. Ravens
Stafford had a rough Week 14 due to the weather, but if you survived the storm, you should stick with him. He’ll be much better at home, even in a tough matchup. The Lions probably will lose, but Stafford will get his stats.
Andrew Luck, Colts vs. Texans
He’ll be solid this week at home vs. a pretty good defense. Luck now has enough weapons to get the job done. Da’Rick Rogers is a big upgrade over Darrius Heyward-Bey. Luck may not give you a big number, but he’ll produce like a top-10 quarterback.
Tom Brady, Patriots at Dolphins
Brady owners must feel cursed at this point. The rug got pulled out from under them this past Sunday when Rob Gronkowski was lost again, with perhaps his worst injury so far, and that is saying something. Giving up on Brady is a logical move, but I think even with significant missing parts, the Patriots offense as a unit is clicking now. Brady should be good for a few scores and 250-plus yards.
Jay Cutler, Bears at Browns
He should be the starter, but just to be clear, this recommendation goes for whomever starts for the Bears this week. If Cutler has another setback, go ahead and start Josh McCown, who has been astoundingly good this year in Marc Trestman’s offense.
Matt Ryan, Falcons vs. Redskins
Yes, the Falcons already are toast, but they have most of their offense back on the field and probably will cut through the Washington defense like a hot knife through butter. Ryan is a viable option this week in any format.
Jason Campbell, Browns vs. Bears
The one thing to keep on top of here is the weather. There is some snow in the forecast, and if it gets really ugly, you’ll want to have a backup plan. Still, Campbell can help you if you are in a jam. The Bears have few answers for what the Browns will be throwing at them, namely Josh Gordon. The second-year receiver has been a one-man wrecking crew lately.
|Are the Patriots ready to handle the noise and heat in the Georgia Dome?||09.29.13 at 11:29 am ET|
In his 39 years in the NFL, Bill Belichick has learned how disrupting domes can be.
He remembers the Monday night in 2009 when the Patriots were overwhelmed by Drew Brees and the Saints. The Saints got their offense going that night in New Orleans and the boisterous fans in the Superdome followed, as the Patriots were blown out, 38-17.
It was that night, as the crowd was going nuts, Belichick made his famous “I just can’t get them to play the way we need to” observation to Tom Brady on the sideline late in the fourth quarter.
Sunday night in Atlanta has the potential of the same sort of nightmare if the Patriots aren’t careful and don’t get to quarterback Matt Ryan.
Of course, the Patriots have gone into domes before and have been successful. They beat St. Louis in 2004. They won Super Bowl XXXVI in the Superdome.
When did all of the crowd noise start to really impact the opposing offense?
“I’d say it’s really a shotgun formation,” Belichick said. “I think you could operate with the quarterback under center. It’s loud, but you can still do it. As the stadiums have gotten bigger, we’ve gotten away from the baseball stadiums where there might be 70 or 80,000 people but in a lot of those stadiums, the fans at midfield were 40 yards from the sideline because they were pushed so far back and the majority of the people were in the end zone so a lot of times it just got loud in the end zone.
“I think there are a lot of circumstances. You have a lot of artificial crowd noise that there are different regulations on and so forth. Over the years, that’s changed. Some of that was pumped in, now there’s different rules on that. There are a lot of different forces at work here. Certainly being in the shotgun, not under center, pistol, gun, whatever you want to call it, the crowd noise situation, the stadium configuration, all that, I think, all played into it.”
|Peter King on M&M: Falcons’ Matt Ryan still needs to prove himself in postseason||09.27.13 at 11:56 am ET|
Sports Illustrated’s Peter King made his weekly appearance on Mut & Merloni on Friday to discuss the Patriots and NFL news.
The Patriots are preparing for a Sunday night showdown with the Falcons, who are led by Matt Ryan. King said the former Boston College star needs to prove himself in the playoffs before he’s considered among the elite.
“I really like him,” King said. “I like him a lot. I think he’s on his way to being a long-term premier quarterback in the NFL. But I think we all know that if a guy doesn’t play great in the postseason, he’ll never be considered one of the all-time greats. And Matt Ryan hasn’t played great in the postseason.
“He did have a good postseason last year, obviously. He played well against the Seahawks, outdueling Russell Wilson — even though you could argue that Russell Wilson played a better game that day. And he played OK against the 49ers — and probably would like to have a couple of decisions on the last drive back. Because if he made a couple of decisions differently, they’d have been playing in the Super Bowl. … I think he’s a top-10 quarterback. Let’s see how he does in the playoffs the next three or four years.”
Broncos linebacker Von Miller was banned six games to start this season. According to multiple reports, four of the games were for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy and two were for conspiring with a sample collector to cheat his test. King said the NFL kept the second part of the punishment relatively light because “this was going to be a long, hard fight with the union.”
“I know the NFL has heard rumors that other players have attempted to do the same thing, perhaps in Miami, perhaps in other places,” King said. “It will be interesting to see what if anything the investigation that the NFL — I’m not saying it’s a formal investigation, but the NFL is looking into the specimen-collecting process right now. But just know that the NFLPA is very much going to fight for Von Miller and probably would have stretched this out for a long time — the hearing for a long time, as long as they could. And who knows when Von Miller ultimately would have been suspended.”
|Vince Wilfork: ‘We’re going to have to play an ‘A-plus’ game’ to win||09.26.13 at 4:06 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Vince Wilfork doesn’t need to be reminded of the challenge that lies ahead for him and the Patriots defense this Sunday night in Atlanta.
Wilfork is always respectful when mentioning the opponent but on Thursday he sounded like the president of the booster club for Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the Atlanta Falcons.
“Right now, it’s a challenge for us. We’re going to have to defend everything,” Wilfork said. “It’s like four or five or six of them. It’s going to be a battle, definitely going to be a battle. We’re up for the challenge. It’s going to be tough to pull out a ‘W’ but it’s been done before but we’re going to have to play an ‘A-plus’ game for it to happen.”
Does Wilfork consider Ryan among the “elite” quarterbacks in the NFL?
“Absolutely, 100 percent yes,” Wilfork said. “He’s smart. He runs that offense to a ‘T’ and any situation you put him in, he can put the team in the right situation so hands down, he’s one of the best.”
“They are one of the best team when it comes to everything they do,” Wilfork said. “There’s a reason these guys win a lot of ball games. They have a quarterback that leading them that’s one of the best. He’s young but he’s one of the best. You can put him up there with the best quarterbacks in the game, just the way he operates that team. We know this is going to be a challenge, Sunday night going down there at their stadium. It’s going to be rocking.
“Receivers, tight ends, running back, offensive line, I mean everywhere you look they have weapons. We know how important it is for us to practice well and prepare and hopefully, we can get it done on Sunday but it’s going to be a big challenge for us.”
Wilfork was reminded that the Falcons are 1-2 while the Patriots are 3-0.
“Trust me, they won’t [play like] 1-2,” he said. “This team is an elite team, that’s their problem but we’re not even looking at the records. We’re looking at what’s on film. They’ve been in some close games and sometimes football comes down to playing 59 minutes of good football and one minute can make a difference in a ball game.”
|Tom Brady is no Matty Ice||at 11:55 am ET|
FOXBORO — It was one of those break-the-ice moments this week at Gillette Stadium. At his weekly press conference, Tom Brady was asked if he had a cool nickname like that of Matt Ryan, the quarterback he’ll be facing this Sunday night in Atlanta.
“I don’t know. I don’t have any nicknames? That should be the thing. That’s a good story for this week too. TB12 is pretty good, I like that,” Brady said.
Brady did not mention another name he’s been frequently called, especially at the beginning of his career when he was ripping off three Super Bowl titles in four seasons – Tom Terrific.
“Not as good as Matty Ice? I know, Matty Ice is pretty sweet,” Brady said.
Brady would gladly defer to the nickname battle if it meant winning the game and improving his offensive efficiency this weekend.
Brady enters the game leading an offense that is currently ranked 17th in the NFL in offense and 22nd in points scored.
“You’re always trying to develop that over the course of the season,” Brady said. “You don’t really have it figured out to start. You just have to work at it and when you get the opportunities you have to take advantage. Look, it’s hard. There are 22 guys, if you’re inside the five, within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage. They’re pretty good at regular defense because typically you have a limited number of calls that you play a lot, you get good at it. It’s tough. There are tight spots, there are tight throws, there are quick decisions. Guys aren’t open for very long down there. You have to make the plays when they’re there, when you have a great opportunity like we had last week, you have to take advantage.”
Obviously, Brady is beating Ryan where it matters most so far through three games. Brady is 3-0 while Ryan, with a 68 percent completion rate and a 100.4 QB rating, is 1-2 with road losses to the Saints and Dolphins.
Still, Brady was asked about his red zone deficiency in the first three weeks and whether the new players might be throwing his timing off a bit.
“I think throwing an interception right to a strong safety last week doesn’t help,” Brady said. “Especially two plays before, I had a wide open guy. I think plays like that are more the problem. I have to a good job finding the open guys, guys that are running free and then hit them. That will help our red zone offense more than anything.
“We’ve been practicing it quite a bit. We’ve definitely left some points on the board, just poor execution. I’ve been one of the main culprits. Hopefully I try to improve that. You have to get down there and score points. Especially when you play good teams, you can’t leave points out there. Like last week, we had a great opportunity for seven points. Not only did we not get seven, we didn’t get any. You have to be able to capitalize on scoring opportunities.”
|Five things you have to know about the Falcons||at 9:00 am ET|
1. Their receivers are some of the best in the league when it comes to yards after the catch.
After three games, the Falcons are one of the best teams in the league when it comes to yards after the catch, tied for second with the Broncos and trail only the Lions (625 to 581). Wide receiver Julio Jones is good at a lot of things: he’s one of the strongest, fastest and most physical receivers in the game. He’s also one of the best in the league when it comes to picking up YAC. Jones has a league-high 208 yards after the catch this season (according to STATS), a significant spike from last year, when he had 69 yards after the catch through 3 weeks last season. Falcons running back Jason Snelling is also very good when it comes after YAC, as 111 of his 116 total receiving yards have come after the catch (good for 20th in the league). How do you stop that? As the Patriots offense has shown over the years, when it comes to piling up YAC, part of the key is having the quarterback put the ball in the right place. Make the quarterback uncomfortable and you can make him deliver a bad ball, which will make things tougher on the pass catcher. Then, on the other end, defensive backs and linebackers need to place a renewed emphasis on tackling. Good closing speed and making sure that the first hit takes them down — or slows them down enough that another tackler can help — will be key.
2. They start fast.
The Falcons and Chiefs are tied for the league lead in point differential in the first quarter — both teams are plus-31. Atlanta loves to get out of the gate quickly and knock a team back on its heels: they took a 10-0 first-quarter lead on the Saints in the opener, a 14-0 first quarter lead on the Rams after one quarter and a 7-0 edge in the Dolphins after one quarter. It’s tough to hang with them right out of the gate, but if you can match them score-for-score in the early going, you have a good chance with them later in the game because….
3. They can’t close.
In both of their losses this year, the Falcons went into the second half with a lead — they were up on the Saints 17-13 midway through the third, and lost that one 23-17. Atlanta also led the Dolphins 20-10 in the third quarter and 23-20 in the fourth quarter before dropping that one. In the NFC title game last year, they were up on the Niners 24-14 in the third and 24-21 in the fourth, and lost that game, 28-24. Three second-half leads, three losses for the Falcons, who have scored just 10 points in the fourth quarter this season. The Patriots haven’t allowed a single point in the fourth quarter this year.
4. Matt Ryan is good at play action.
The Falcons quarterback is blessed with a steady and consistent running attack, and that’s even without Steven Jackson, who was acquired this offseason to help fill out one of the most impressive offensive rosters in the league but isn’t likely to play Sunday night. So part of his success in play action is simply due to the fact that other teams have to respect the Atlanta running game. But even without that, you get the feeling that Ryan could make it work. According to Pro Football Focus, Ryan is the best in the league when it comes to operating out of play-action. This season, he’s 23-for-29 for 272 yards, two touchdowns and two picks when operating out of play action. The completion percentage is best in the league (79 percent), and his completions are second only to Peyton Manning and his yardage is third behind Manning and Russell Wilson. (Of course, the sample size is bigger, but his accuracy slips precipitously when he doesn’t operate out of play action — he goes form 79 percent to 64 percent. Something to watch for Sunday night.
5. They are very good at run defense.
In their three games this season, the Falcons have yet to allow team to break 100 yards on the ground — the closest any team has gotten was coast week when the Dolphins ran for 90 yards. Overall, Atlanta has yielded 237 rushing yards this season, an average of 79 rushing yards a game (both are fifth-best in the league. (For perspective, the Broncos top the NFL with 130 rushing yards allowed, an average of 43.3 rushing yards per game.) Three of the biggest reasons for the success on the ground this year are defensive tackles Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters and Peria Jerry, all of whom have done a good job getting penetration into the backfield, clogging up gaps and allowing Atlanta’s linebackers to close up space before a back can find open space.
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