December 26, 2011; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) celebrates after breaking Dan Marino

You Heard It Here First - 5000 Is The New 4000

This is You Heard It Here First – where thinking outside the box and predicting the future is a social pastime.

Until 2011, there had only been two 5000 yard passing seasons in NFL history – the record 5084 yards from Dan Marino in 1984 and Drew Brees 5068 yards in 2008. All of a sudden in 2011 we have three quarterbacks break the barrier in a single season with and there was almost a fourth as Eli Manning fell just 67 yards short of the historic mark. Of those, two of them – Brady and Brees – broke the old record from 1984.

Yes, 2011 was a magical year. Could it be a harbinger for things to come? It seems so. It has never been easier for quarterbacks to pass efficiently as the NFL has gradually continued to restrict defenses in the name of fairness and safety resulting in the quarterback having so much freedom that there is now more time than ever before to make decisions.

How much further can it go? Well consider a few of these remarkable stats:

  • The NFL passing record wasn’t the only one broken twice in a season – Rob Gronkowski broke the all-time receiving record for a tight end in a season, as did Jimmy Graham who had only 17 yards less than Gronk. Gronkowski also attained the record for touchdowns in a season by a tight end with 17 – a total bettered only four time previously by a wide receiver.
  • On his way to the yardage record, Drew Brees broke a number of other records including completions, completion percentage, passing yards per game, only player to ever have 250+ yards in every game of a 16 game season – the list goes on.
  • There were two 500 yard games in 2011 – one each for Matthew Stafford and Tom Brady – which is remarkable considering there had only ever been 10 such games in the previous 90 years.
  • Until 2011, there had only ever been five seasons where a quarterback passed for 40 or more touchdowns. Last season, three quarterbacks achieved the mark with Tom Brady getting 39.
  • Charles Woodson, Eric Weddle and Kyle Arrington tied for the league lead in interceptions and set a record in the process – lowest leading total ever with 7.
  • The Green Bay Packers, who went 15-1, set a record for most passing yards conceded in a single season – a record previously held by the 1995 Atlanta Falcons.

The last time we saw a sudden influx of offense like this was a long time ago – you have to go all the way back to the early 80s to see similar leaps. This was in the time just after the first of the changes to negate defense came through in 1978 and what eventually led to Marino’s 1984 record breaking season. However, this increase in offense was only the beginning. Yes, we didn’t instantly see everyone suddenly reach 5000 yards but what we did see was that from that time onward offense numbers started creeping up with the elite numbers jumping forward and staying ahead.

What I would contest is that the new rules surrounding safety are what has driven the latest surge of offense and that you can expect the barrage of passing to continue. Last season we saw ten quarterbacks reach 4000 yards – double the number from 2010 – but by contrast the second time that it had happened in NFL history – although the first was 2009. It used to be that 4000 yards was the realm of the super elite with there being four occasions this century where three or less quarterbacks managed the feat in a season.

So what am I suggesting? With the continued curtailing of defenses, quarterbacks who make quick decisions will be able to amp up production and we will see more and more 5000 yard seasons to the point where by the end of this decade 5000 yards will be the rule for elite quarterbacks, not the exception.

Remember the days when if a quarterback reached 3500 yards he was considered to be a top starter? Last season Josh Freeman managed that – with a 79.6 season passer rating which tied for 25th in the league with Colt McCoy. Safe to say, Freeman is NOT a top starter in this league and there’s a decent chance he loses his job within the next 18 months. If we look at team passing yards – thus taking into account injuries – a total of 18 teams passed the 3500 yard threshold in 2011. If 18 teams can do it, it’s not much of a high standard anymore.

So as the NFL continues to evolve and offense become more and more prosperous, keep an eye on the numbers. When 5000 yards is broken on a regular basis, I won’t be surprised and now neither will you because You Heard It Here First.

Tags: Dan Marino Drew Brees Eli Manning Jimmy Graham Matthew Stafford NFL Nfl Passing Yards Rob Gronkowski Tom Brady You Heard It Here First

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