Have rule changes created the most ridiculous passing season in NFL history? Jobu weighs in…
On Sunday, as I was innocently watching some football action, when it occurred to me that 2011 has been an incredible year for quarterbacks in the NFL. QBs threw for more yards this season than I ever remember seeing, and we almost had three guys break Dan Marino’s nearly thirty year old record of 5,084 passing yards. In this post we’ll examine the best of this whacky season and how the new rules adopted by the NFL over the last few years may or may not have caused this rise.
What Rules Am I Talking About?
Let me first start out by right away saying that I’m perfectly ok with creating rules to help protect NFL quarterbacks. The quarterback has an evergreen target on his back. There is no play where someone isn’t trying to get to him, even on hand-offs. I think the league should be doing everything it can to keep everyone safe, especially one of the “defenseless” positions like quarterback. Let’s be honest, the quarterback positions isn’t exactly a “tough guy” position. Sure there are some tough QBs in the league who will put the shoulder down to get that extra yard (Michael Vick, Tim Tebow), but mostly they’re just pretty boys who can throw the ball far. They aren’t even allowed to get hit in practice, and you want them to get hit during the game? It’s madness.
That being said, let’s get to some of these “coddling” rules that the poor defense-men now have to abide by:
Rule 1: No defensive player may run into a passer of a legal forward pass after the ball has left his hand (15 yards).
Rule 2: No defensive player who has an unrestricted path to the quarterback may hit him flagrantly in the area of the knee(s) or below when approaching in any direction.
Rule 3: Officials are to blow the play dead as soon as the quarterback is clearly in the grasp and control of any tackler, and his safety is in jeopardy.
So the rules are… You can’t hit QBs late (always a rule), you can’t target their knees (this became a rule because Tom Brady tore his ACL and MCL on opening day in 2008 and the NFL lost money), and the QB is sacked as soon as the defenseman has a good grab on him (Good thing this wasn’t a rule in 2007… Eli!). Do these rules, along with the one where you can’t hit the QB in the head, seem unreasonable? You can’t kill a defenseless guy is basically the moral of the story. That’s not so absurd now, is it? The only QB protection rule I disagree with is the Tuck Rule, which is another rule the league set up because of something Tom Brady did (It’s good to be the king). Do I really think these rules created the incredible surplus of QB action this season? It could be. If defenses are more reluctant to go all out to eat the QB for dinner, then he might get an extra split-second or two to get passes off, which is all a really good QB needs anyway. However, exciting QB play makes for exciting NFL games, so I don’t really give a crap. Eventually, defenses will adjust, and things will probably mellow out, but boy was it fun in 2011.
Why am I Calling This the Year of the QB?
To put it simply, QB stats this year were off the chain and out of control. Drew Brees (pictured at the top of this post) broke the NFL passing yards record by 392 yards. And no, this isn’t a situation where the old record was set back in the day when teams only played a fourteen game schedule. He legitimately broke the record by almost 400 yards. If that weren’t crazy enough, he wasn’t the only one to break the record! King Brady also beat the old record (5,084 yards, Dan Marino ’84) by 151 yards. Two guys broke a record that has stood for almost thirty years. But that’s not all! Matthew Stafford, who is the same age Marino was when he set the record back in 1984 (23), threw for 5,038 yards, missing the record by less than 50 yards himself (Stafford threw for 520 yards in week 17 to get himself over the 5,000 mark). Eli Manning even got into the mix! Eli just barely missed 5,000 yards himself, falling just short in the Giants week 17 elimination of the Dallas Cowboys (sorry, had to mention it!) and ending up with 4,933 yards. Even rookies got into the mix. Cam Newton of the Panthers (this past season’s #1 overall pick) set nineteen NFL and team rookie records, including most passing yards with 4,032 for the year. This was good enough to beat Peyton Manning’s record of 3739 in 1998 (god he’s old). Newton only threw for 21 TDs, but he didn’t exactly have a top notch receiving corps over in Carolina. He did make up for that a bit by rushing for an NFL QB record 16 TDs (only LeSean McCoy even ran for more as a RB), though. Running, however is not what this post is about.
In all, three guys topped the 5,000 yard mark, a feat that had only been accomplished by two guys in the history of the league. Brees became the only man to ever top the mark twice (he famously missed Marino’s record in 2008 when he put up 5,069 yards). In fact, four of the top six passing performances of all time happened in 2011(1. Brees, 2. Brady, 4. Stafford, 6. Manning) and ten players in total topped the 4,000 yard mark.
How about all those TDs too? Brees led the league with 46 TD passes, just eclipsing Aaron Rodgers at 45 (in 15 games), Stafford with 41 and Brady with 39. While no one broke any TD pass records, Aaron Rodgers could have conceivably reached Tom Brady’s 2007 record of 50 if he hadn’t rested the last game. We all saw his backup, Matt Flynn, throw for 480 yards and 6 TDs against the lions. With those numbers, Rodgers would have also broken Marino’s old record for yards, as he would have finished with 5,123 yards and a new record of 51 TDs (fun to think about, no?).
When you compare these numbers to QB statistics over the last ten years, you can really see what kind of craziness went on in 2011. In 2002, Tom Brady led the league with 28 TDs and only four quarterbacks passed for over 3,000 yards or more. In 2003, only two guys managed to get to 4,000 yards and Brett Favre led the league with 32 passing TDs. In 2004, Peyton Manning went crazy and threw 49 TDs, but still only five guys surpassed 4,000 yards. Numbers dipped again in 2005, as only two guys managed to get over the 4K hump. 2006 and 2007 showed steady improvement, as five and seven quarterbacks topped 4,000 yards (2007 was Brady’s 50 TD year), and 2008 kept pace with six, including Brees, who passed for over 5,000, as we said before. 2009 was the only year that comes close to matching what happened in 2011. Ten guys surpassed the 4,000 yard mark, although no one (not even the great Drew Brees himself) got to 5,000, so that’s where the comparison falls just short. 2010 showed a notable dip, as only five guys were able to do it. Other than 2009, and maybe 2007 can really be compared to 2011, and neither of those years featured one 5,000 yard passer, let alone three. So is it the rule changes? Or is it just that we’re playing in an era where there is a surplus of excellent quarterbacks?
As I look at the list of the ten guys who threw for 4,000 yards this year, are there truly any real surprises other than rookie Cam Newton (just because he’s a rookie, we all knew he had the arm). Brees is automatic for almost 5,000 yards every season nowadays. While 5,000 is rare, Brady is one of the best gunslingers in the league and hasn’t had less than 3,900 yards (dismissing his injury season) since 2006. Eli is another guy who has been above 4,000 yards the last few seasons (5K is a bit of a stretch though). Aaron Rodgers is no surprise either, and neither is Phillip Rivers (Rodgers has done it three out of four years, Rivers four in a row). Matt Ryan had never done it before, but he was drafted because the Falcons wanted an elite quarterback, and the same thing can be said about the Lions with Matt Stafford. Again, I’m not shocked at those two because they also have great weapons to throw to. The only other guys I wouldn’t pick to surpass the mark are Romo and Roethlisberger, but that’s because their teams tend to run more than they pass. Romo, however has accomplished the feat three times in his career, and Roethlisberger is no stranger to the mark either, having reached it a couple of times himself now.
Whatever the reason for all this passing may be, whether it be lower quality running backs, too many elite quarterbacks, bigger wide receivers or some favorable rules in the book, 2011 was awesome to watch. I said this earlier, but football really is a lot more fun to watch when it’s being played through the air and not with the ground and pound style of the early days. I for one support whatever is making it easier for quarterbacks to rack up the numbers, and I hope things stay this way for a long time. I mean… Eli Manning threw for almost 5,000 yards! He has a higher single-season high than Peyton! It’s bonkers, and I love it.
Your Top Ten Signal Callers By Yards:
Drew Brees, Saints: 468/657 (71.2%), 5,476 yards, 46 TDs, 110.6 QBR
Tom Brady, Patriots: 401/611 (65.6%), 5,235 yards, 39 TDs, 105.6 QBR
Matthew Stafford, Lions: 421/663 (63.5%), 5,038 yards, 41 TDs, 97.2 QBR
Eli Manning, Giants: 359/589 (61.0%), 4,933 yards, 29 TDs, 92.9 QBR
Aaron Rodgers, Packers: 343/502 (68.3%), 4,643 yards, 45 TDs, 122.5 QBR
Phillip Rivers, Chargers: 366/582 (62.9%), 4,624 yards, 27 TDs, 88.7 QBR
Tony Romo, Cowboys: 346/522 (66.3%), 4,184 yards, 31 TDs, 102.5 QBR
Matt Ryan, Falcons: 347/566 (61.3%), 4,177 yards, 29 TDs, 92.2 QBR
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers: 324/513 (63.2), 4,077 yards, 21 TDs, 90.1 QBR
Cam Newton, Panthers: 310/517 (60.0%), 4,052 yards, 21 TDs, 84.5 QBR
Brees image courtesy of: AP Photo/Bill Feig
Stafford image courtesy of G.S. Smith/Detroit Lions
Manning image courtesy of: http://herald247.com/
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