This week's statistical potpourri features several quarterback numbers that put one man above the rest when it comes to pure efficiency — Aaron Rodgers. The numbers below are reflected in traditional quarterback rating for the most part (that will change as the season progresses), and all stats come from STATS, Inc. or Football Outsiders unless indicated otherwise.
Leaders in traditional passer rating through four weeks in a few different sets (we're not using Football Outsiders' DVOA for these just yet, because the opponent adjustments just start to kick in this early in the season): On two-WR sets, Aaron Rodgers has a perfect passer rating of 158.3. This could be explained a few different ways — with just two receivers, there's more of a chance that the uncoverable Jermichael Finley would be on the field, Rodgers might be prone to dump off to his backs if he doesn't see anything upfield, and … oh, the last one — Aaron Rodgers is just REALLY REALLY GOOD. Behind A-Rodge in two-WR passer rating is Ben Roethlisberger (138.2), Ryan Fitzpatrick (137.1), Matt Hasselbeck (131.3) and Matt Cassel (130.7).
The leader among quarterbacks in three-WR sets is Drew Brees, which makes sense — if Sean Payton has three receivers to play with, he's going to turn things into a formational nightmare for the opposing defense. Brees and his 132.4 rating is followed by Eli Manning (124.1), Aaron Rodgers (111.0), Cam Newton (107.4) and Matthew Stafford (104.9).
How about the increasingly popular four-WR sets? Your leader at the quarter-turn in passer rating for sets of four or more receivers would be … oh, what a surprise! Mr. Rodgers again, with a 121.1 rating. Behind Rodgers are Tom Brady (116.1), Philip Rivers (105.4), Josh Freeman (105.2) and Mark Sanchez (100.1). Considering the fact that Sanchez's passer rating is 75.9 overall, maybe the Jets should run a few more multi-receiver sets against the Patriots this Sunday.
And yes, you read that right — Aaron Rodgers is the only quarterback in the NFL to be in the top five in passer rating no matter the number of receivers. Another reason he's the best quarterback in the NFL right now.
Rodgers also has the league's best passer rating in shotgun sets at 119.5 (go figure). More and more, this is an important consideration. 2011 is the first season in which the NFL is running more than 40 percent shotgun overall, and the Packers are running shotgun 51.9 percent of the time this season — that's sixth-most in the league, per Football Outsiders. Behind Rodgers in the Pantheon of shotgun quarterbacks is Eli Manning (108.7, 39.0 percent shotgun), Tom Brady (107.5, 47.8 percent shotgun), Drew Brees (106.3, 40.4 percent shotgun) and Matt Hasselbeck (106.1, 35.2 percent shotgun).
The Lions lead the league in shotgun percentage just as they did in 2010 — this season, they're in the gun 67 percent of the time, and in 2010, they did so 64.5 percent of the time. The Bears have the fewest shotgun snaps (15.2 percent), just as they did in 2010 (10.4 percent). Given Jay Cutler's protection issues, that doesn't make a lot of sense, but this is Mike Martz we're talking about here…
Think the New England Patriots have the NFL's worst pass defense? Well, they are allowing a league-worst 1,475 passing yards and 70 first downs (they also have the NFL's worst sack percentage per pass attempt at 3.4 percent), but it could be even worse. The Pats are one of two teams — the Tennessee Titans being the other — who have benefitted from 10 opponent dropped passes. So, yeah, New Englanders … it could indeed be even worse. New England and Tennessee have the best dropped pass differential at +7; the Browns have dropped 14 passes through four weeks, and their opponents have only botched four, and that gives them the worst differential.
As we detailed earlier this week, Aaron Rodgers is on an early pace to break Drew Brees' single-season completion mark of 70.6 percent, and he's doing it without dinking and dunking. Rodgers has completed 73 percent of his passes through four games, and his 9.4 yards per attempt figure is almost a yard per attempt higher than Brees' 8.5 in 2009. However, when it comes to third-down passing in 2011, Brees still sets the tone. He's completing 78.8 percent of his passes (26 of 33) for 394 yards and six touchdowns. Rodgers is "only" completing 73.6 percent of his third-down passes (22 of 30) for 254 yards and three scores. Brees also has the most pass attempts (19) and the most first-down conversions (19) on third-and-8 or longer
Brees' numbers are reflected in part on the amazing value of running back Darren Sproles, who has basically become what everyone hoped Reggie Bush would someday be. No player has more third-down catches than Sproles' nine, and the dynamic back is averaging an amazing 8.9 yards per rushing attempt on 15 carries. (Side note: Check out Chris Brown's outstanding piece on how Sproles is affecting and improving New Orleans' schematic versatility).
Sproles is also fifth among NFL running backs in yards after catch with 219. Wes Welker leads the league with 306, and then it's a parade of backs: Matt Forte with 292, Jahvid Best with 268, Ryan Mathews with 263, Ray Rice with 225, and then Sproles.
Mathews is a name to watch this season — after a disappointing 2010 rookie campaign, he's helping the Chargers in a number of different ways. Right now, he ranks seventh in the league in combined rushing and receiving yards from scrimmage with 393. He's got a nice balance between his 45 carries for 207 yards, and 14 catches for 186 yards.