Earlier this week, Pro Football Focus broke down the projected starting lineups for every team in the NFL, ranking every franchise from 1 to 32 for the upcoming 2019 season. These rankings — published on ESPN+ — will be up for debate, but PFF also discussed each team’s greatest strength, biggest weakness, and X factor for the fall.
For the Green Bay Packers, it should come as no surprise that quarterback Aaron Rodgers remains the name in the “biggest strength” category. But while Rodgers had a less-than-perfect season in 2018, PFF reveals that he did something that has only happened two other times in the history of their charting, which goes back more than a decade.
Rodgers threw no turnover-worthy deep passes all season.
This might not even sound surprising. After all, Rodgers threw just two interceptions all year and he set an NFL record for most consecutive pass attempts without a pick. That streak did come to an end in week four against the Buffalo Bills, and Rodgers did have a dropped INT in week one against the Chicago Bears during the Packers’ comeback.
Still, on the 91 throws that PFF classified as “deep passes,” none were considered to be likely interceptions. Admittedly, Rodgers threw the ball away a lot in 2018 for precisely that reason: to avoid turnovers. He also was uncharacteristically innacurate on deep balls, missing open receivers with overthrows. But at least when he missed, he did not underthrow the football, which is where turnovers likely arise.
Rodgers also has one of the other two seasons where this was the case with a quarterback throwing at least 50 deep balls: in 2015, when the Packers’ deep passing game all but disappeared in light of Jordy Nelson’s injury. But in an odd twist of coincidence, the other player to pull off this feat was Brett Favre, in his excellent 2009 season for the Vikings. Known as a risk-taker for most of his career, Favre shocking led the league with the lowest interception percentage of any qualifying quarterback that year.
Also interesting is that the two picks that Rodgers did throw in 2018 both came on similar passes. Both were intended for Jimmy Graham on shorter routes over the middle, and both bounced off Graham’s hands into a defender’s. The first, against the Bills, was a ball thrown behind Graham, who tipped it and saw it deflect right to safety Jordan Poyer. The second came against the Bears at Soldier Field when Graham dropped a would-be nine-yard touchdown and deflected the ball to safety Eddie Jackson instead.
It’s not that Rodgers refused to take chances deep. Far from it, in fact, as PFF credited him with 91 total deep pass attempts, or 5.7 per game. But he simply was not going to get intercepted when going down the field.