The 2011 season will go down as the Year of the Passing Game, as records were shattered like Bourbon Street revelers after a Saints Super Bowl victory. We highlight 41 eye-popping passing numbers from the season below.
The numbers were so gaudy that they were unthinkable just a decade ago, let alone in the dark ages of NFL offense, back in the era of the Steel Curtain and the Doomsday Defense.
To understand how dramatically the game has changed in recent decades, you must take a step back to the 1970s, a decade in which defenses utterly dominated the NFL. The Cold, Hard Football Facts call it the
The average team scored just 17.2 points per game in 1977. Tampa Bay's offense, in its second year as an expansion team, totaled just 103 points in the 14-game season -- about 10 quarters of work in the Superdome for the 2011 Saints. Tampa's average of 7.4 PPG is a post-war record for futility and may never be seriously challenged again, though the Rams made an ignoble effort in 2011 (12.1 PPG).
Atlanta's defense surrendered just 129 points in 1977, a post-war record of 9.2 PPG. The average score of a Falcons game that season was a 13-9. Somewhere Bronko Nagurski beamed with pride.
The carnage of the 1977 season made it evident to the pigskin powers-that-be that something had to be done before NFL offenses, and TV ratings, died on the vine. The NFL instituted sweeping changes before the 1978 season to open up the passing game and launch what we refer to as the
It didn't take long for teams and quarterbacks to adapt. By the mid-1980s, Bill Walsh and Joe Montana were winning championships with the coldly efficient passing attack now known as the West Coast offense. It took the aggressive, high-risk downfield attack that had long defined the NFL passing game and replaced it with a low-risk, highly efficient ball-control passing attack that's universally utilized in the NFL today.
Dan Marino, meanwhile, was the passing pioneer who showed us what the future of pro football might look like statistically in the wake of the NFL's rule changes. His performance in 1984 (5,084 passing yards, 48 TDs) was nothing less than Ruthian in its scope, making every passing season before it pale in comparison.
Fans and NFL overlords loved what they saw. The league has continued to handcuff defenses while making it easier than ever to pass the football. As a result, the Live Ball Era was never livelier than it was in the 2011 season.
Perhaps what we have today, though, is too much of a good thing. If anything, NFL teams are too efficient passing the football. The rate of interceptions is extraordinarily low, defensive scores and short fields are harder to come by, and scoring in today's game still does not match that in the peak scoring seasons of the 1940s, '50s and '60s. Teams pass more often and better than ever -- but they don't score more often and better than ever.
Just something to think about as you digest 41 Cold, Hard Football Facts from 2011, the Year of the Passing Game.