The NFL has truly become a passing league. Through the first three weeks of the 2011 season, all 32 NFL teams have recorded more combined points, passing yards and passing touchdowns than any other season in league history. The Dallas Cowboys are no different; Tony Romo and Jon Kitna have thrown for a combined 1,003 yards through three games. The numbers this season are sickening to defensive junkies like me.
Through three weeks of play, NFL teams have compiled 2,157 points, 23,560 passing yards and 153 passing touchdowns. That’s roughly 245 passing yards per game per staring NFL quarterback. I guess all this talk of 300-yard passing games becoming less important is relevant.
Fortunately, the Cowboys returned to the running game during Monday night’s 18-16 victory over the Washington Redskins. However, it’s clear the staple of Dallas’s offense is the pass.
So far in 2011, all 32 NFL teams have averaged 34 passing attempts per game. That’s up three per game from a decade ago. Well that’s not a huge increase. So why all the extra passing yards these days? The average yards gained per pass.
Ten years ago, the average yardage gained per pass was a little over six. Today, it’s a solid 7.5. The Cowboys embody all the previously mentioned numbers. Romo and company have thrown 38.3 passes per contest this season and averaged 8.9 yards per pass, second only to the New England Patriots. That means teams are throwing the ball downfield more often than they did in past years. Also keep in mind these numbers don’t include Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. He’s enough to boost the averages up a noticeable amount by his self.
Another reason for these numbers is big-play receivers like the Cowboys’ Miles Austin. Time and again, Romo throws the ball to Austin at least 15 yards past the line of scrimmage. Not only that, but Austin usually breaks a tackle or two and gains major yardage. That definitely boosts that yards per pass average.
Austin isn’t the only one; the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Wallace, Philadelphia Eagles’ DeSean Jackson and the Carolina Panthers’ Steve Smith are all more likely to catch a bomb for a huge play than a 5-yard hitch. What do all four of these players have in common? Speed.
Players are bigger, faster and stronger than those of past years. In the early 1990s, 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash was considered lightning fast. Now you’re just average if you can’t run that fast.
Another reason for all the aerial attacks is the decline of the featured running back. Only five teams in the NFL have a running back who averages at least 20 carries per game. There were twice as many at the turn of the century.
Supposedly, as long as teams like the Patriots and Cowboys win more than they lose, all is well. The era of teams with a good running back and stifling defense dominating the NFL is apparently over.
Mamas, don’t let your kids grow up to be Cowboys. Dallas and the entire NFL have apparently forgotten the foundation upon which this great league was founded.