San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers drops back to pass during the first quarter of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday, Oct. 31, 2011, in Kansas City, Mo. / Ed Zurga/AP
Since 2008, quarterbacks who have had the most regular-season games (minimum 20 pass attempts) in which they’ve averaged 10 or more yards per attempt.
No. Player Team
11 Philip Rivers Chargers
10 Aaron Rodgers Packers
8 Drew Brees Saints
7 Tom Brady Patriots
7 Ben Roethlisberger Steelers
7 Tony Romo Cowboys
Note: Numbers obtained by querying the database at Pro-Football-Reference.com
Philip Rivers’ run at the top is all but over, and the player most likely to take his place will share the field with him Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium.
In recent years, no one has been better at wringing yards out of pass attempts than San Diego’s Pro Bowl quarterback. But Aaron Rodgers, the Packers’ field general, has been on a tear that’s moved him out front in terms of yards earned per throw.
Passing efficiency can be measured in a number of ways. Completion percentage and passer rating are two of the more common methods used.
But let’s not overlook average yards per attempt. It was used by the NFL to rank passers during the 1950s, and it remains one of four categories that factor into compiling passer ratings today.
Rivers has led the league in average gain per pass attempt in each of the last three seasons. He is one of just five players in history to have done so three or more years consecutively.
The eight-year veteran averaged better than 8 yards a throw during that time. He’s still at that level this season (8.05 yards per attempt), but not by much.
Rodgers is operating on a higher plane. After leading the NFC in average gain per attempt in 2010 (8.26), the league’s leading passer is flirting with a number not attained in more than a half century.
In completing 171 of 239 passes for 2,372 yards, Rodgers is generating 9.92 yards per pass. If he does nothing but maintain that number, it will go down as the best since Tommy O’Connell of the Browns set the NFL record (11.17) in 1957 on a mere 110 attempts.
Averaging 10 yards a throw is not an every-Sunday occurrence. A query of the database at Pro-Football-Reference.com reveals the best at doing so since 2008 are Rivers with 11 regular-season games at that lofty level (minimum 20 attempts) and Rodgers with 10.
Rivers hasn’t had a 10 this year. Rodgers has had five.
Rodgers has reached that number in each of his last four outings. According to the same query, he’s the only player since 1960 who can boast a regular-season streak of that length.
And what a run. Against Denver, Rodgers’ 38 passes led to 408 yards (10.74 yards per attempt). He was similarly efficient in Atlanta (39-396; 10.15), against the Rams (28-310; 10.90) and in Minnesota (30-335; 11.17).
Had he not had an “off day” in Chicago (38-297; 7.82) the streak would stand at six games. In dueling Cam Newton of the Panthers a week before the Bears, Rodgers produced his first 10 of the season (30-308; 10.27).
Rivers’ best effort this season (31-307; 9.90) came in a 26-16 win over the Dolphins. The 10-point margin of victory is the largest for the Chargers in 2011.
Winning usually follows a player who hits or exceeds 10 yards per attempt. Rodgers is 9-1 the 10 times he’s done it and Rivers is 9-2.
Two factors have contributed to Rivers’ and Rodgers’ impressive numbers: long completions and high rates of completion.
Since 2008, Rodgers has connected on a league-leading 51 passes of 40 or more yards. Rivers is third (tied with Donovan McNabb) with 42 throws.
As for completion percentage, Rodgers (65.55) and Rivers (65.36) annually rank among the best. This season, Rodgers’ 71.55 completion percentage leads the NFL.
When going deep, Rodgers favorite target has been Greg Jennings. The two have hooked up 23 times for gains of 40 or more yards since 2008.
Rivers has turned most often to Vincent Jackson. The duo has collaborated on 13 such passes over the same time frame.
Sunday’s game will be the first meeting between Rivers and Rodgers. Even if cool and rainy conditions prevail as forecast, don’t be surprised to see one — or possibly both — of these quarterbacks average somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 yards a throw.
» The five games this season in which Aaron Rodgers has averaged at least 10 yards a pass ties the team record set by Lynn Dickey in 1983. Dickey was the last Packer to lead the NFL in average per gain doing so that year with a mark of 9.21.
» Rodgers tied for the NFL lead in passes of 40 or more yards in 2008 (16) and 2009 (17). This year he’s again tied for the top spot (8), this time sharing that honor with Detroit’s Matthew Stafford.
Regular-season series: Overall: Green Bay leads 8-1.
At Qualcomm Stadium: Packers lead 5-0.
Starting quarterbacks: Packers: Aaron Rodgers (34-20 overall; 0-0 vs. San Diego).
Chargers: Philip Rivers (59-28 overall; 0-1 vs. Green Bay).
Once a Charger, now a Packer: There are no former Chargers on the Packers’ roster.
Once a Packer, now a Charger: Linebacker Na’il Diggs (2000-05) is a former Packer.
— Eric Goska is a Press-Gazette correspondent, a Packers historian and the author of “Green Bay Packers: A Measure of Greatness,” a statistical history of the Packers. Email him at email@example.com.