Friday, June 29, 2012

2012: Year of the 600-point offense?

The 2011 regular season was dubbed "Year of the Quarterback" by analysts, football writers and experts everywhere.

Finishing the season with three 5,000 yard passers, bringing the all-time total from two (Dan Marino and Drew Brees) to five (Marino, Tom Brady, Matt Stafford and Drew Brees twice), the quarterbacks ruled the National Football League.

Add in the fact that the top two picks of the draft in April were premier college passers, including the "best QB prospect of all-time" (Indy's Andrew Luck) as stated by numerous scouts, and you have a recipe for another record-breaking offensive season.

Two seasons ago we witnessed the New England Patriots' offense top 500 points. Last season the Patriots topped 500 again, but so did the Saints (13-3 record w/ 547 points) and the league-leading Packers (15-1 record w/ 560 points).

No team has ever scored 600 points in a single-season, in fact the 2007 Patriots hold the record with 589. But I'm going out on a limb and making this statement: there will be a team to put up 600 in 16 games this season.
It's a bold statement, I know. But offenses are passing more than ever, and if we can see three 5,000 yard passers in a single-season, who says a team can't put up 600? The emergence of rookies Luck and Robert Griffin III, arguably two of the top quarterback prospects this game has seen, gives us an even better shot at witnessing a stunt such as this.

Luck and RGIII are not a sure-thing of course, despite the statements that say they are. But if they live up to expectations, we could see another incline in passing stats as a whole this season. Defenses are continuing to be a smaller factor, especially after the BountyGate investigations on the Saints' defense this season.

With the opposing defenses under an even larger microscope, I am expecting another offensive production increase.

The NFL is a copycat league, so there is bound to be a couple more two-tight end systems around the league. We all saw what the Pats did with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez as Gronk put up the single most effective tight end season of all-time (90 catchers, 1,327 yards, 17 TDs).

A top five scoring offense came just a couple of points from a Super Bowl championship despite a 31st-ranked defense. Defense wins championships? Yeah, that may be true. But we're quickly making a transition from defensive domination to the idea that a pass-happy offense trumps any defense that lines up in front of you.

In total, teams averaged 229.7 yards through the air per game last season. In 2002, 12 years ago, we saw an average of 212.2 per game. Doesn't appear to be a large difference (17.5 yards), but it really is.
There's damning evidence that shows the offensive takeover throughout the last 10 seasons. In 2011 just five of the top 10 overall ranked defenses were playoff teams. In 2002? Seven. In 1992? Nine. With each passing season, passers appear to dominate just a tad more than the previous season.

The "trench warfare" of the '60s, '70s and '80s appears to be over and the 21st century of the League has been quite a change of pace in terms of offensive production. Apparently now it's possible to achieve greatness without a top rusher, as New England and New York both found themselves in the bottom half of rushing production–New York was actually 32nd in rushing yards.

If Brees is able to sign a new contract by the time July 16 rolls around, then we could see him pass for his third career 5,000 yard season. Hell, even if he doesn't and he's playing this season under his Franchise Tag salary (still a huge sum of money) he still shouldn't have much trouble surpassing 5,000. Brady and Stafford could repeat, and we may even see guys such as NFL Network's No. 1 player Aaron Rodgers, Denver's Peyton Manning and Dallas' Tony Romo come close to the mark.

The only three teams in the top 10 passing offense that failed to make the playoffs were Philadelphia, Dallas and San Diego. All three teams finished at 8-8, just missing the postseason.

San Francisco ranked 29th in passing offense yet came just shy of a Super Bowl appearance. They are the lone exception, however, because of the simple fact that they were a devastating defensive team (2nd in scoring defense) and saw a career-year from quarterback Alex Smith, who was previously dubbed a draft bust.

On offense San Fran turned the ball over the least (10 times, just five INTs), which is a huge factor in an effective offense. So they weren't flashy, but Smith did what he could to lead the Niners to victory with the help from a smash-mouth defense. Expect Smith to throw the ball another 450 times this season, especially given his new targets.

* * * * *

I don't expect Luck and RGIII to step in and be the savior that their respective franchise has been searching for...right away, at least. But wouldn't it be a great story if they each broke Cam Newton's rookie passing record of 4,051 yards. A record he just set this past season.
Moral of the story? A prolific scoring offense is almost a necessity for success in today's game, and it's a fact that we are now seeing more complex offensive systems. Defensive coordinators will need to find a way to effectively slow down the 2-TE system, because whether they like it or not, that sort of thing is totally in right now.

Stopping the run? Who cares. You will need a strong pass-rushing front seven and a shutdown corner in order to get your defense off the field in 2012.

Editor's Note: I do not own any of the above images. No copyright infringement intended

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