Among current QBs, Favre's arm strength is legendary; the Bears' Jay Cutler is the heir. But velocity alone isn't much more than a novelty. A pass thrown hard must also be thrown accurately and at the right time to the right receiver. This is why the big arm is just one piece of the passing jigsaw. Says Bratkowski, "Lots of guys without real strong arms could make every throw. That's the difference between a thrower and a passer."
On the practice field in Houston, Schaub mimics a drop-back and looks off into the distance. For every word spoken, written and broadcast about mechanics and arm strength, the completed pass returns to what Rivers called "a natural feel." Now Schaub is recalling a Week 2 completion to Andre Johnson on the tying drive in what became a 30--27 overtime victory against the Redskins. "So many throws at this level are what you call faith throws," says Schaub. "On that play I'm throwing the ball 18 yards between the numbers and hash marks, and when the ball comes into that window, Andre has just got to be there."
Scouts call passers who get the ball into open spaces before receivers arrive "anticipatory" throwers. That skill is fundamental to accuracy at the highest level. "If you ever watched Dan Marino on end zone tape, he just had amazing anticipation," says Young. "He [wasn't mobile], so the ball had to come out. You could watch the view from behind and you'd think, Where is that going? He was throwing into nothing. Then, boom—a guy arrives.
"Joe [Montana] had that ability," Young continues. "Every football he threw had a message: Go there. There was no just throwing it and wishing it good luck. The really gifted guys send balls to a specific area. And of all the guys playing now, the guy who does that best is Tom Brady. The ball comes off his fingertips with a message. Guys are catching it running, and the whole offense is moving. He makes the most of every throw."
A quarterback or a coach will tell you that the ultimate measure of a pass is not its meaning or its appearance, but simply whether it's completed. And that's fair. But the ultimate measure of the passer is much more elusive.