There is no doubt the 2011-12 NFL season has been very exciting. Several aspects of the game have been changed or altered due to new rules and basic coaching philosophies evolving. The game is still the same, but the culture of the league has made some alterations to the product on the field.
The NFL has definitely become a quarterback-driven league. The quarterback is the most influential player by far and rules have been tailored to keep them from taking punishment. His health status, skill and film preparation are directly linked to the success of the team. Just look at how the Colts have faltered after the loss of Peyton Manning.
The quarterback is your hot commodity and when the hot commodity falls; it trickles throughout the team.
While in years past, the status quo was to develop a running game early to keep defenses honest, now many teams are using the pass to open up the run. The screen pass has become a running play for many franchises. A running back that can catch the ball is highly valued, while in years past the bruising running back would be a focal point.
Look at how players like Darren Sproles, LeSean McCoy, Matt Forte and Ray Rice are utilized.
Offensive schemes are moving more towards spread, no-huddle offenses. Players like Tom Brady have already amassed almost 1,000 passing yards in just two games. At that rate he could possibly throw for a gaudy 6,000 yards by the end of the season. The top five quarterbacks alone have already thrown for an average of almost 800 yards.
These early season stats could be misleading though. Defenses haven’t had a chance to gel as in seasons past, due to the lack of OTAs and mini-camps.
The offensive numbers might slide a bit once defenses start picking up the pace against potent offenses.
If this trend keeps up, many quarterbacks will be breaking records, not just the elite players. This is not an anomaly, but the new trend. Will this have an effect on how records are weighted down the road?
One reason many have given for the rise in total yardage is the new kickoff rule. When there are more touchbacks than returns, the team has to have an 80-yard drive to score a touchdown. That alone will boost the numbers of total yards.
In years past, many teams would have better field position initially so they wouldn't put up such big numbers; the drives were shorter.
While Roger Goodell has been advocating for player safety since he became commissioner, the new offensive philosophies could create even more injuries. For instance, if teams are running a spread offense against the exotic blitzes that are commonplace in the league now, there are less down linemen to protect the quarterback from taking a brutal hit. If the quarterback doesn’t make the correct pre-snap read, he could be in big trouble.
Also, with the players being spread all over the field, there are more opportunities for hard-hitting safeties to put a receiver on IR when he comes over the middle. The zone defenses allow for defensive backs and linebackers to have freedom. In man coverage, receivers are more aware of their opponent's position downfield.
What we have to realize is that the NFL’s popularity is growing at an alarming rate. All sports have to be tweaked to produce a better product on the field for what the fans desire because they are how the business survives. The NFL has created a big buzz by big offense. Players of the modern era have a chance to produce numbers unheard of.
Records will be broken, from offensive numbers to TV ratings, and that is why the NFL’s business model is currently successful in the sports world.