When it comes to downfield passing, we’re seeing two extremes in the NFC South so far this season.
I don’t know if I’m more shocked the Panthers are doing so much of it or that the Falcons and Buccaneers are doing so little. The Saints are kind of in the middle, so we’ll come back to them at the end.
But let’s start with the Panthers. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Carolina rookie Cam Newton has attempted and completed more throws of 21 yards or more than any quarterback in the league.
The Panthers have let Newton air it out 16 times and he’s completed 10 of those passes. Only three other quarterbacks have even attempted double-digit passes of that length.
On passes of 21 yards or more, Newton has two touchdowns and two interceptions for 370 yards. His Total QBR is a perfect 100.0 and his NFL passer rating in those situations is 106.3.
Now, let’s go to the flip side.
The Falcons talked a lot in the offseason about how they wanted to throw downfield more. I don’t think they were lying. I just don’t think the opportunities have been there yet. So far, Matt Ryan has attempted only four passes of 21 yards or more. He’s completed none of them.
It’s similar for Tampa Bay. Josh Freeman has attempted only five such passes and completed just one. I know the Bucs are still trying to sort out their young wide receivers. But Freeman has one of the league’s strongest arms and it only makes sense to have him take more shots down the field.
The Saints are kind of an exception in the downfield passing game. They haven’t done it a lot, but they’ve had success when using it. Drew Brees has attempted six passes of 21 yards or more. He’s completed four of them for 164 yards, which ranks No. 6 in the league. Two of those completions have gone for touchdowns.