Is It Really the Year of the Quarterback?

First of all, let's clear something up: from getting girls to appearing on magazine covers to winning MVP trophies to getting girls to scoring enormous (if puffed up by self-interested agents and should-know-better reporters) megabucks contracts to getting girls to scoring omnipresent televised endorsements to landing high-profile post-football gigs (even if you were a decidedly average professional player) to reigning supreme o'er high school social pecking orders all across this fair land—also, did I mention getting girls? —it's always the Year of the Quarterback in the United States of Football-Lovin' America.

So yeah, maybe the additional QB branding and hoopla strikes me as mildly redundant. Like a new supermarket magazine devoted solely to the Kardashians.

That said, I don't think the early uptick in NFL passing numbers is all that surprising. It's part of a long-term trend, a trickle-up tactic from high school and (especially) college football. Twenty years ago, people snickered when the Detroit Lions ran a four-wideout, pass-happy, "run-and-shoot" offense, an attack borrowed from campus ball—possibly because the Lions had All-World halfback Barry Sanders on their roster; probably because guys like Andre Ware and Erik Kramer were playing quarterback for Detroit. The Houston Oilers ran a much better version of the same system behind Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon; the team's playoff failures, including an epic 41-38 come-from-behind loss at Buffalo, were seen as proof that a throw-first, throw-often, unmanly-man style could never control the clock and maintain a lead when it mattered most.

Of course, that was then.

Building on offensive concepts first introduced in 1920s Texas high school football—there is absolutely nothing new under the pigskin sun, except bigger, faster players and better, more undetectable performance-enhancing drugs—college teams over the last decade have largely shifted to spread formations and pass-heavy playbooks. The pros—like the almost-perfect, nearly-unstoppable 2007 New England Patriots—have followed suit. The actual flavors that fans see on the field are varied—the Pistol is not exactly the same as the Shotgun Spread—but the basic animating principle is the same: contrary to the old Woody Hayes saw that only three things can happen when you pass, and two of them are bad, it's actually easier to complete a five-yard pass than a five-yard run, because as Bill Walsh preached, offensive players always have the advantage of knowing where they're going when the ball is snapped, particularly in an era where rules changes allow once-chucked pass-catchers to run unmolested through secondaries.

Here's the thing: I'm actually surprised the QB-centered pro passing explosion hasn't happened sooner. Maybe that speaks to the inherent conservativeness of pro football coaching, the pressing desire to first and foremost do nothing that would stand out as abnormal and get yourself fired (or worse, ridiculed by people like me, people who can hardly tell a curl route from a drag). After all, there's one football arena where pass-happy attacks have been commonplace from the beginning, where play-callers only want to win and don't care about it looks.

I'm speaking, of course, about Madden NFL—where it's also always the Year of the Quarterback, no matter who appears on the game's cover.

Hampton, are you happy with the NFL's new aerial world order? Or does the disappointed heart of a football traditionalist beat slowly and sadly below your hipster headwear?

–Patrick

Presented by

Sports Roundtable

Patrick Hruby, Jake Simpson, and Hampton Stevens 

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