It was just over 12 months ago that the 2011 season was anointed “the Year of the Quarterback”. Think about it. Tim Tebow was the center of conversation. The Broncos ran the read option (wasn’t that a college offense?), and Tebow made enough plays late in games to help drive Denver to the playoffs. Then in the AFC Wild Card game, he threw for over 300 yards on just 10 completions, including the improbable 80 yard touchdown in overtime to beat the Steelers. Tebow was suddenly the poster child for all those outliers who believed: 46% completion percentage be damned, it was possible to play NFL QB unconventionally. Then there was Cam Newton. Newton had the most prolific season by a rookie quarterback in NFL history, becoming the first to throw for more than 4,000 yards. In addition he ran for over 700 yards, and scored 14 rushing touchdowns, another NFL record for a quarterback. Newton’s statistical profile was remarkable; perhaps more compelling was the manner in which he did it. In some ways similar to Tebow (both ran the read option) and in others different (he was a far better passer), he was bending, if not breaking, the rules of accepted quarterback play. Newton was shattering long-held beliefs of how the position had to be played successfully in the NFL. In short, in the eyes of many, he was revolutionizing the quarterback position. The overriding point was this: After the 2011 season, we heard much dialogue about the quarterback position being transformed. It may seem a little preposterous now, but that was the talk only one short year ago. The established and time-honored way of playing quarterback consistently and effectively in the NFL was changing. It was a new day, a new way, and new eyes to see the dawn, as Crosby, Stills and Nash sang in their classic song, “Carry On”. Of course, this kind of talk was nothing more than frivolous white noise. Let’s step back a minute and provide some needed context. The evolution of the NFL game has been evident for some time. Pro football today is defined by the emphasis on throwing the football. In addition to the significant increases league-wide in passing attempts and yardage totals, many other more tactical factors reflect this reality: multiple receiver packages, athletic and versatile tight ends, spread formations (including empty sets with no backs) with wide receivers of differing skill sets, shifts and motions designed to dictate favorable matchups, play calling weighted heavily to pass. Offensively, the NFL is about explosive plays, and the percentages strongly indicate you have a better chance to gain 20-plus yards passing the ball as opposed to running it. Sid Gillman, the recognized father of the modern day passing game, always used to bemoan all the effort spent coaching the running game. He would say, “We’re spending all that time to try to gain three yards”. Defenses have responded accordingly.
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Cosell’s Take: You say you want a revolution? (Shutdown Corner)