If the NFL had a calendar similar to the Chinese, 2011 would’ve been the year of the quarterback. Of course, then they’d celebrate new year’s in February as well but that’s besides the point. What is the point is the passing stats for 2011 fantasy football were completely off the charts as the average team passed for 3675 yards for the season, good for almost 230 passing yards per game. To put how majestic that number truly is, let’s put it in historical comparison to 1978 in which the average team passed for 2541 yards and 159 passing yards per game. Why did I choose 1978 as a starting point, you ask? Well, the first reason was I googled ‘NFL historical passing stats’ and found the info I was looking for in an article that used 1978 as it’s starting point, of course. The second reason was 1978 was the start of rule changes that helped the offensive side, especially the passing game. This is the year the NFL implemented the rule where defenders are permitted to make contact with receivers only to a point of five yards beyond the line of scrimmage. It was done to improve the offensive output as 1977 saw a team average of 17.2 points per game. Needless to say, television networks surely felt a staring contest with a lemur was more enjoyable to watch than a defensive battle so the NFL adapted its rules to its market. Flash forward to the beginning of the 2011 season and we saw another rule change implemented whose intentions weren’t necessarily ratings based but more to protect ‘defenseless’ players. The implementation of this new rule – which I will allow you to look up if you want to know the particulars – opened the passing game quite extensively. Receivers no longer feared coming down with a pass as they knew there was a bit of a buffer allowing them to complete the catch without fear of the big hit. Though I can’t find the stats to back it up no matter how hard I search, I’m of the opinion this rule change opened the middle of the field where most receivers feared to cut in previous seasons. PS, a half eaten carne asada burrito goes to the guy/girl who can prove this. I promise to heat it up before I serve it to you.
Of course, this ‘new’ passing trend has been growing since the late 80’s and early 90’s; the last time we saw a team average less than 3200 passing yards in a season came in 1992. Overall, last season broke the previous team average record from 2010 – 3545 per team – by a healthy amount but I do think there’s enough in the works to make 2012 pull back to the norm a bit. First, we need to remember the lockout. Now I know you think that would be a detriment to both sides of the ball so I’m going to ask you to do something simple. Go gather some friends who haven’t played a team sport in a while that requires on field communication and see which side of the ball suffers the most. Do you think it’s the defensive or offensive side? My opinion is it’ll be the defensive side that will struggle more. Mind you, I know and realize this was not 100% the culprit for the 2011 numbers we saw but I do feel it played its part. The offensive player has a plan mapped out and they run that plan. Defenses do have a plan, but it’s also more reactionary by nature.
Now don’t get me wrong, we aren’t going back to the dead-ball era any time soon. However, if we return to numbers more on par with what the last four seasons have been – a league average of 3462 passing yards – I would not be surprised. That doesn’t seem overly dramatic but consider some of the top quarterbacks for this year such as Drew Brees and his record breaking 2011. Do you get 5000 passing yards or 4500? Less yards equals less touchdown opportunities equals less points equals a really strange math equation. Maybe some of the fringe quarterbacks like Ryan Fitzpatrick give you 3200 yards rather than 3800 like he did last year. Then I look at Cam Newton and his start to the 2011 season in which he averaged 346 passing yards per game in his first four games of the year and then averaged 222 the rest of the way; is he he 4000 yard passing quarterback or a 3500 yard passing quarterback? In the end, I do see regression for 2012 but more back to the norm than something to be alarmed with. Consider it just more of an imperative to not be drafting a top end quarterback or at least reduce your expectations if you do.