“It’s a totally different game today than it was even five years ago,” said former Notre Dame and Oakland Raiders great Tim Brown, when I asked about the seismic shift currently occurring within the NFL.
The league is more obsessed with the forward pass than ever before. And since the major pass-first teams are consistently winning, this trend will only increase in the years ahead.
I caught up to Brown in South Bend for the 2010 College Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Weekend. Brown himself had an interesting conversation on the topic with a fellow member of his enshrinement class; one with the same last name.
“(Former New England Patriots WR) Troy Brown and I were talking about this. How are they going to judge receivers? If they are having a hard time judging me and Cris Carter, how are they going to judge these guys who are in a 100 catch offense, and average 9 yards a catch?” Brown told me.
By Paul M. Banks
It’s an evolving standard for sure. Brown had a very lengthy NFL career, 1988-2004, every year but his final season with the Raiders. His highest season catch total was 104 (1994), tied for 32nd highest overall. However, Brown has one record all to himself- the only player to haul in 75+ passes, ten years in a row.
Instead of the singular, exceedingly eye-catching numerical seasons, he was more a model of consistency and durability. Brown explained the key to his longevity thusly:
“I took care of myself, on and off the football field, I wasn’t a drinker and partyer and all that kind of stuff, and I had no excuses when I went onto the field. And I think that boded well for me because my body was able to perform, and I tried to do that as best I could.”
Brown is the perfect study for determining the new benchmarks of receiving greatness. Especially because his career spanned the 1990s and first half of the 2000s. Brown is a member of the league’s 1990s all-decade team, and nine time Pro-Bowler. And only two of the top 15 highest single season reception performances occurred before he started his storied NFL career.
Interesting he brought up the century mark- a number once considered extremely elite, and barely often reachable. All time there have been 66 100-catch seasons, and only two happened prior to Brown’s rookie season.
“I still love it, love watching it, and that’s the way the game has evolved. That’s the way it goes,” Brown said.
The four teams that received first-round byes in the NFL playoffs last January (New Orleans, Minnesota, Indianapolis, San Diego) were all dominant pass-first offenses. Of the eight division winners, only the Cincinnati Bengals did not rank in the league’s top 10 for passing offense. Even the traditionally run-first Pittsburgh Steelers saw their QB throw for a franchise-record in passing yards last year.
Here are some interesting stats, as well as a telling quote from Scott Brown’s Pittsburgh Tribune-Review story (“Reliance on the pass not just a trend in the NFL,” January 10th 2010) on the same topic.
“The odds are further stacked against defensive backs because of rules that are geared toward more scoring and higher TV ratings…Defensive players are not allowed to initiate contact with a receiver beyond 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. A pass interference penalty, meanwhile, is a spot foul; in college it is a 15-yard infraction.”
Combined record of top 10 passing teams: 113-47
Combined record of top 10 running teams: 87-73
Playoff teams among top 10 passing teams: 8
Playoff teams among the top 10 running teams: 5
Teams with a winning record among top 10 passing teams: 10
Teams with a winning record among top 10 running teams: 5
So it appears the quasi-sexist slogan “chicks dig the long ball” may actually mean have a lot more meaning in football than is does in baseball.
Paul M. Banks is President and CEO of The Sports Bank.net , a Midwest focused webzine. He is also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, the Chicago Tribune’s blog network, Walter Football.com, the Washington Times Communities, Yardbarker Network, and Fox Sports.com
You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank and @bigtenguru