Will the 4,000-Yard Quarterback Kill the NFL Running Game?
Prior to the season, former NFL quarterback Trent Green predicted that 10 quarterbacks would surpass the 4,000-yard passing mark, and his prediction was spot on.* Matt Schaub, Peyton Manning, Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Brett Favre and Eli Manning all topped the mark. Seven out of those 10 quarterbacks were participants in this year's playoffs. To get to 4,000 yards, a team needs a certain amount of quarterback health, and that's handy for a playoff run. Even so, this the largest number of 4,000-plus yard quarterbacks in the history of the NFL.
Peyton Manning has accomplished a 4,000-plus yard season 10 out of the 12 years he has been in the league. Drew Brees has done it every year as a Saint, with a 5,000-plus yard season last year. As Michael David Smith noted in the Wall Street Journal, the winning percentage of 300-plus passers is trending up now that coaches are using the pass to establish big leads and hold them. But as both of Manning and Brees know, having a good defense to complement the passing game makes winning a lot easier.
I'm guessing that the pass heavy trend will continue. Most of the rule changes on defense are focused on helping the passing game such as quarterback and receiver safety rules and rules relating to contact on receivers. The only recent rules that favored defenses was allowing defenders to push receivers out of bounds before they can get both feet in.
Some might say that the explosion of 4,000-plus passers is overdue given the changes that Colts GM Bill Polian lobbied for after the very physical 2003 season playoffs , especially the Patriots-Colts playoff matchup. In his work on the competition committee, he lobbied for tighter enforcement of defensive holding and pass interference calls.
The running game isn't dead yet. Out of the top ten rushing teams, five made the playoffs with two of those also having 4,000-plus passers (Saints, Cowboys). The old school 2009 Jets were a throwback with their league leading defense and rushing game, but as the 2009 Titans learned, it is very difficult from year to year to maintain a top defense. Football Outsiders' data suggests that from year to year, defensive performance is less predictable than offensive performance.
*Please note, there was a bit of a discussion in the comments of my previous post about 4000 yard quarterbacks on who would fare better this year--Kyle Orton or Jay Cutler. The winner? Kyle Orton. It will be interesting to see how both do with an offseason with their teams..