3 Reasons NFL Passing Records Are Being Broken at a Record Pace

Tyson Langland@TysonNFLNFC West Lead WriterJuly 13, 2012

3 Reasons NFL Passing Records Are Being Broken at a Record Pace

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    In the last decade, we have seen some of the greatest quarterbacks to play the game step foot on an NFL field. Are today's quarterbacks better than the quarterbacks of yesteryear, or are they simply aided by underlying circumstances?

    People have began to question whether or not the offensive passing craze in the NFL has gotten out of control or if it's just a fad. Some think that the defense will catch up in due time, but others think the passing craze is here to stay.

    By solely looking at the trends of the game, there is no doubt an unusual number of records that have been broken in just the last five years. Rookie passing records along with non-rookie records are falling faster than ever imagined. It wouldn't surprise me to see a few of Cam Newton's rookie records broken by both Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.

    There are many circumstances when it comes to quarterback play, so I wanted to really hone in on the three biggest reasons why passing records are being broken so quickly. These things all reflect the play of the NFL and will continue to be trends in the future when more records are broken.

1. The Spread Offense

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    Recently, I wrote an article that touched on the principles of the spread offense and why it's becoming the norm in the NFL. More now than ever, teams are using three- and four-receiver sets as their primary offense. Just look at the New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions; all three teams thrive out of three-wide sets.

    The shift to more spread offenses puts added pressure on quarterbacks and offensive linemen. Quarterbacks are being asked to throw the ball more and make even more decisions than they already do.

    Not to mention, some spread offenses call for the quarterback to call the play at the line of scrimmage. Peyton Manning and a few others have proved to excel when being put in that situation.

    However, the spread does do an exceptional job at masking deficiencies. Take the 2011 Detroit Lions as an example. They finished second to last in rushing attempts with 356 and No. 1 in pass attempts with 666.

    Why were the Lions so pass-heavy? Being a pass-first team was their only option considering they lost their two top running backs early in the season due to injury.

    They used certain variations of the spread to utilize the short passing game to mimic a successful rushing attack. Some teams do not place emphasis on an effective running game anymore, as they feel like it can be overcome with enough talent at wide receiver.

    The spread offense will continue to be one of the biggest reasons behind passing records being shattered. Passing trends around the league are only going up with an emphasis on rushing going down.

2. Rookie Quarterbacks Are More NFL-Ready

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    It seemed as if it was just a short time ago when rookie quarterbacks were still being groomed and mentored as potential successors to a veteran quarterback on the roster. From what I can remember, the last quarterback to be successfully groomed in waiting was Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers was groomed for three years before becoming the full-time starter in 2008.

    Why has this trend fallen to the wayside? Teams usually don't have the time with the NFL being such a win-now league, but mainly top college prospects are proving that they are NFL-ready a lot sooner.

    Most teams are realistic in knowing there will be growing pains in the first year, but if they can just get over the growing pains, the rest will hopefully work itself out.

    In the last few years, we've seen all kinds of rookie passing records fall. First in 2010, Sam Bradford set the rookie record for the most pass attempts, most consecutive passes thrown without an interception and most completions. Then in 2011, we saw Cam Newton break 10 rookie records and 12 NFL records.

    For a complete list of all the records broken, click here

    One thing that helps in aiding these rookie quarterbacks is the college systems they come out of. More colleges are now running pro-style offenses, which often translate into similar verbiage.

    Also, the spread concepts in the NFL were being used in college football beforehand, so it's no surprise that guys who make the leap are finding more success than ever right away.

    Rookie pass records will continue to fall as players and systems evolve; it's an ever-changing sport that always seems to surprise us when we least expect it.

3. Defenses Are Handicapped

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    Every year it seems as if some new rule is introduced to help out the offense or the quarterback in some way, shape or form. Player safety is what the league calls for, but what it fails to realize is that all the new rules being enforced are causing players to be less aggressive, leaving them to alter their game.

    I feel like all of us want players to be as safe as possible, but when it starts to make the game less instinctive, the process needs to be re-evaluated. 

    With all the new safety concerns and rules being assessed to help ensure fair play, defenses are hurting as a result. My biggest problem with penalties today is the way defensive backs aren't allowed to get away with anything, yet wide receivers can continually push off and put their hands all over a defensive back.

    The numbers prove that defensive pass interference is steadily being flagged more and more every year. In 2008 there was a pass interference call once on every 105 throws a quarterback made, and in 2011 a quarterback got a pass interference call once every 80 throws.

    You may now be wondering, how does this affect passing records?

    Passing records can only be broken when opportunities are given. Defensive penalties help sustain drives, and they give quarterbacks new life.

    With a second chance at a drive, a quarterback may be able to get one more long completion that puts him over 5,000 yards passing for the season, or he may get three more downs in attempt to break the record for most touchdown passes in a season. 

    One just hopes the penalty inflation brings itself back down. No one wants penalties playing pivotal roles in records being broken.

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