Friday, September 16, 2011

Reality Is, NFL Becomes Pass-Happy League with Rule Changes


Once upon a time — to be precise — NFL legends, undoubtedly the greatest passers of all time changed the culture of football in the past decades, dating back to the ’70s when players committed to a much different style of play. The portraits alone are sufficient evidence of why football has blossomed into ultimately America’s game.

There was Bart Starr, a real role model for many children and arguably one of the greatest quarterbacks all time ever to walk onto Lambeau Field, who symbolized the Green Bay Packers and embodied a legacy as a big-time performer. As a country man from Alabama who morphed into the most clutch and roughly a phenomenal assassin in the ’60s era, he went down as the most prolific and all-time great ever to quarterback a franchise loaded with attributes.

There was Joe Montana, as good as gold, given the history of the Gold Rush in Northern California, wittily framing the medieval science of modern-age football, harassing defenses with his intellectual psyche and rifled-arm passing that brutalized defenses. He had the charm and mind of a quarterback and won four Super Bowl titles, an unprecedented three Super Bowl MVP awards and mounted as the unequivocal ruler of pro quarterbacks.

It’s befitting to pinpoint the moment he conducted one of the finest drives in NFL history, a heart-stopping 92-yard drive in Super Bowl XXIII and mastered an awe-inspiring 127.8 passer rating in four appearances of the much-publicized American sport. There was Johnny Unitas, one of the greatest passers in his era, and one can argue that he was a stud — especially in his first NFL campaign.

And nothing was more radiant than Unitas stringing together one of the greatest passing seasons in his era. We’ll never forget him as one of the coolest performers, a truly remarkable legend of pro football — a name acknowledged of the glamorous football lore. There was even Roger Staubach of the Dallas Cowboys and Dan Fouts, who each combined for 14 300-yard passing games in one weekend.

There were even Terry Bradshaw and Brett Favre, reaching plateaus and shattering pass records and now lies as a pair of gridiron greats. At last count, Favre holds every single passing category in NFL history, from completions, attempts, yards, touchdowns and even interceptions.

It’s been years now since we’ve witnessed the rebirth of the passing game — and now we’re finally getting a glance at the modern aerial displays by elite quarterbacks to remind us that the pass attack has never receded but disappeared in a generation where franchises executed an efficient rush attack. It almost feels like Otto Graham has returned to the Browns and restored relevance.

It almost feels like a cliché. It almost feels like Sammy Baugh, who was said to be the most accomplished two-way athlete in the game’s history, has returned as the best athlete in the NFL. But even there are proficient quarterbacks these days, which is why the NFL has become noteworthy and publicly has drawn heavy appreciation. And there’s nothing more fascinating about Tom Brady and Cam Newton in this new development in the reemergence of the old times of passing formations rather than running schemes.

Brady is intelligent enough to realize, in the later stages of his accomplished career, that even well-executed passes could have a profound effect largely on the New England Patriots. In contrast, if Cam Newton had not thrown for a bevy of yards to prove NFL worthy in a town that took a gamble and selected him No. 1 overall in the 2011 NFL Draft last April, then he would’ve been getting an earful of criticism.

This was for those who’ve doubted and belittled Newton, stepping onto the NFL turf for officially the first time and playing as if he had years worth experience. Whereas his superlative performance elicited a sense of belief — the moment in his early career as a rookie that Newton has earned respect and secured a good reputation, throwing for a staggering 422 passing yards and two touchdowns.

The population in Carolina is delighted with new coach Ron Rivera, a popular face in the town simply for having faith in his rookie quarterback and letting Newton have an opportunity to dazzle and be a versatile player in franchise history. With his style and throwing motion, he didn’t only set a rookie record for a pro debut, but he uplifted the mood in an atmosphere that trust in Newton after bringing much fire and athleticism to Carolina’s offense.

The perfect debut of his lifetime happened last Sunday, and, hard as it is to believe, he played brilliantly, he played impressively and he silence many of his doubters. At a moment where the NFL would be a league built and orchestrated around the greatest quarterbacks, including a rookie who’ve astounded the populace, Brady and Newton could be the elites in this generation, though it might be too early to tell whether Newton will be the prosperous star at a future time.

The game has evolved so drastically and regularly with the generation of strong-armed quarterbacks. We live in an age of relentless pocket passers. The great ones are successful in today’s game, running spread offenses and tossing quick passes, thrown by accurate quarterbacks all while crafty running games are instituted to psychologically flirt with the mind of confounded defenses.

With the exception of the late Bill Walsh, a legendary coach with the mind of Albert Einstein, the West Coast Offense is a workable scheme that players take pride in and teams employ in their playbooks. We’re long past the ’60s and ’70s era as football generates a much different feel, particularly if the differences in style pertain to quarterbacks. That means so much that quarterbacks are, to some degree, duplicates of the old-timers and maybe it’s the explanation for football rising as the most popular sport in America.

The folks convince themselves that football is more than an annual event but an enjoyable event, a point in time when we disappear from our spouses for hours, glued in front of the television to embrace countless, action-packed hours of football. We love the quarterbacks as well, thank you.

There’s much to love. For one, Newton’s sudden growth and ripple-effect for a revamped franchise. For another, Aaron Rodgers is Lambeau leaping into the stands in his home stadium and has bloomed as a star for the well-respected franchise in Green Bay, which stands as the symbol of football for its glamour and legends.

The reinvention for Drew Brees is nice in the Big Easy, and then the Patriots are led by Brady, who passed for 517 yards and four touchdowns in the season-opener Monday night in a 38-24 rout over Miami. There are plenty to choose from. You be the judge. This is a reminder to all of us, and especially to the rest of the league that the passing game never rested in peace.

The evolution of a pass-happy onslaught has changed the game’s style as record-setting plateaus are higher than usual in points and passing touchdowns. While the numbers continue to elevate gradually, we are witnessing the growth of quarterbacks season after season, year after year and are compelled to devote ample time in being a spectator of the NFL, comfortable sitting in the bars all day Sundays or resting rear-ends on a cozy couch in the living room.

It’s been only a week, and last weekend marked the ninth-highest scoring weekend in NFL history. The postponement of the ugliest lockout in years never doomed offenses, and no teams were rusty in the season-opener. The bottom line is the NFL has become a pass-happy league. It’s a reality. By the way, the NFL knows its fans are seeking for drama and high-scoring contests, and the timing couldn’t be better, now finally removed from the malicious lockout.

Get used to it. The game has new rules and it caters more to the dynamic passing attack, which means we can anticipate passes more frequently. This wasn’t the scenario over the past decade when the NFL had developed into a running game, ruled mightily by skilled running backs. It wasn’t long after that the competition committee established two rule changes with a significant monopoly on the game and it opened opportunities for the passing game.

Defenders weren’t allowed to cover a receiver 5 yards past the line of scrimmage, and secondly offensive lineman were enabled to extend their arms and hands other than just blocking with grasped fists and brawny chests. What it did was protect the quarterback from getting slammed into the turf and even limited costly turnovers as quarterbacks weren’t under a tremendous amount of pressure.

This resulted in NFL teams scoring 21 points higher than the previous season, and teams had 15 300-yard passing games in which the passing game transcended instantly. The rules tend to benefit offenses rather than defenses. With all the rule changes, quarterbacks are awarded plenty of protection and time to be creative and fruitful in the pocket. A greater advantage is having helmet headsets that allows quarterbacks to communicate with coaches in the middle of huddles and plays as a way to adjust on a series of plays.

It turns out the rule changes, rather than the quarterbacks themselves, is the reason for the more masterful passing schemes. The NFL has changed for the better, certainly not the worse.