Since the turn of the decade in 2010, the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions have largely relied on a sole franchise quarterback. For Green Bay, it has been future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgersthat has led the team since Brett Favre’s exodus from Wisconsinin 2008. In Detroit, the Lions were gifted number-one overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, Matthew Stafford. Detroit finished the 2008 campaign with an abominable 0-16 record. The Lions deserved a quasi-savior in Stafford, and individually the 32-year-old has been terrific.
The Vikings and Bears, however, have installed revolving doorsat the quarterback position. Since 2010, Minnesota has trotted 12 different quarterbacks onto the fields to start football games.From the geriatric version of Brett Favre, 21-year-old Teddy Bridgewater, to established veteran Kirk Cousins, the Vikings have tried all shapes and sizes at the signal-caller spot. To their credit, the team has been reasonably successful in doing so amid the last six years.
Chicago, too, has not been able to solve its longstanding quarterback conundrum. The franchise stabilized the position with the addition of Jay Cutler in 2009 — who would start 86 contests for the Bears. More recently, Chicago has turned to Mitchell Trubisky. It has been hit-and-miss with the University of North Carolina alumnus. And, much like the Vikings, the Bears have started 12 quarterbacks in games since 2010.
All told, the NFC North has employed a total of 32 different starting quarterbacks in games since 2010. Together, Minnesota and Chicago account for 75 percent of these men. With that many men at the position, a steady variation of styles has been on display.
Which ones are most apt at throwing the deep-ball? Let’s examine this question with a statistical calculation.
All NFC North quarterbacks that started at least one season (16 games) are adjudicated by completions of 40+ yard completions divided by total pass attempts.
5. Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings (2014-2017)
40+ Yard Completions = 13
Total Pass Attempts = 851
Percentage of Deep Balls to Pass Attempts = 1.53%
Make no mistake — Teddy Bridgewater is not a prolific flinger of deep passes. But he is the fifth-best in this metric. To arbitrarily exclude him would be unjust and silly.
For a spot on this list, the current Carolina Panthers quarterback edged former teammate Sam Bradford (1.51%) and Bears quarterback Josh McCown (1.43%). Neither of those men is known for rocket-launching arms.
As a rookie and second-year player, Bridgewater completed 13 passes of 40 yards or more. He took over the Vikings franchise in Week 3 of the 2014 NFL season and played commendably until his ghastly injury in the late summer of 2016.
In this deep-ball regard, Bridgewater’s two favorite targets were Jarius Wright and Charles Johnson. He also connected one time apiece with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen for gains of 40+ yards.
This September, Bridgewater gets his first legitimate opportunity to be “the guy” for a football franchise — something that eluded him since 2015.
4. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears (2009-2016)
40+ Yard Completions = 46
Total Pass Attempts = 2.716
Percentage of Deep Balls to Pass Attempts = 1.69%
In the Super Bowl era (since 1966), no Chicago Bears quarterback has started more football games than Jay Cutler. In eight seasons, Cutler was at the helm of the offense for 102 games finishing with an even 51-51 win-loss record. Cutler is also the Bears leader in touchdowns passes since 1966 — by a mile. He tossed 154 scores during his stint with Bears dwarfing the second-place finisher, Jim McMahon, who accounted for 67.
During the last decade, Cutler was decent in stretching the field. He completed 46 passes that gained 40 or more yards, and 14 of those resulted in touchdowns (30 percent). From a Bears perspective, current signal-caller Mitchel Trubisky has thrown 16 completions of 40+ yards, three of which were touchdowns. Cutler was far superior to Trubisky in throwing downfield, and that should surprise no one.
Cutler’s favorite targets to take the top off the defense were Alshon Jeffrey (15 catches of 40+ yards), Brandon Marshall (8 catches of 40+ yards), and Johnny Knox (6 catches of 40+ yards).
3. Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings (2018-Present)
40+ Yard Completions = 18
Total Pass Attempts = 1,050
Percentage of Deep Balls to Pass Attempts = 1.71%
Minnesota successfully pursued Kirk Cousins during the free agency period of 2018, and the former Washington signal-caller has stretched the field aptly in his 31 contests with the Vikings.
For Cousins, this deep-ball prowess is merely an extension of his performance in Washington. From 2015 to 2017 as Washington’s starter, Cousins delivered 30 pass completions of 40+ yards, which was notably more than Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Carson Palmer, and Ryan Tannehill during those three years.
With the Vikings, he has chipped in 18 more. Half of his 40+ yard deep tosses have been maximized into touchdowns with Minnesota. Stefon Diggs, now departed to Buffalo, was the recipient of 10 such throws (56 percent). Indubitably, Diggs was Cousins’ premiere deep target last season.
In his absence, Cousins will rely on Adam Thielen and rookie Justin Jefferson to fill the void. If history is any indicator, this task will not be daunting. Cousins distributed 40+ yard long-balls to 15 different pass-catchers as a member of the Washington Football Team.
2. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions (2009-Present)
40+ Yard Completions = 98
Total Pass Attempts = 5,319
Percentage of Deep Balls to Pass Attempts = 1.84%
Outstanding in his own right, Matthew Stafford also had a generational wide receiver to play catch with in Calvin Johnson. Stafford was conjoined with Johnson for six seasons during the decade, and his numbers reaped the benefit.
As a gross total, Stafford heaved 98 passes that gained 40+ yards in the last ten seasons. In terms of a volume stat, this was the sixth-most in the NFL throughout the decade. That equates to about one in every six quarters of football.
Of those 98 deep throws, Calvin Johnson hauled in 27 percent of them. The pass-catchers beneath Johnson in this metric are the more recent players: Golden Tate, Kenny Golladay, and Marvin Jones.
Regrettably for the Lions enterprise, Stafford’s success in passing is awfully bittersweet. Why? In the last ten seasons, the Detroit Lions rank dead last in the NFL in running the football. Since 2010, the team averages 94.6 rushing yards per game. That may not outwardly seem too heinous, but comparatively, it is severely lagging behind the competition. For instance, the team that prospered the most in running the ball during the decade was Seattle. The Seahawks accrued a 131.0 rushing yards per game during the decade — nearly a 36-yard variance to Detroit.
1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers (2005-Present)
40+ Yard Completions = 103
Total Pass Attempts = 4,925
Percentage of Deep Balls to Pass Attempts = 2.10%
One out of fifty times that Aaron Rodgers dropped back to pass amid the last decade, he completed a pass of 40 or more yards. And, the ratio was even higher during the first portion of the decade.
Rodgers kicked off the decade on a raucous note. He and the Packers toppled the Pittsburgh Steelers during an improbable run to Super Bowl XLV as a wildcard team. Unbeknownst to Rodgers, it would be the final time he would visit a Super Bowl to date.
But the aerial bombs have persisted. Rodgers’ favorite target this decade when stretching the field was the now-retired Jordy Nelson. Rodgers found Nelson for 40+ yards on 26 occasions or 25 percent of the time. That does not quite top the Calvin Johnson-Matthew Stafford relationship, but it is close enough to be vehemently applauded.
As of late, Rodgers has involved current wideout Davante Adams when seeking deep yardage. Adams has snagged 15 such completions. Rounding out the top three in this parameter is Greg Jennings with 10 receptions of 40+ yards since 2010.