When did Peyton Manning have his highest QB rating ever? Donovan McNabb? Daunte Culpepper? All in 2004. Coincidence? No.
If you can remember the AFC/NFC titles games from the 2003 season, you should recall the extreme bump and run coverage that was used by the Patriots and Panthers. Their CBs didn’t jam receivers. They did everything but tackle them. This didn’t sit well with everyone so the NFL decided to strictly enforce the contact rules in 2004. Suddenly WRs were getting a clean release and that meant that QBs could put up some huge numbers.
Fast forward to 2011. Dan Marino’s record of 5,084 passing yards is broken…by multiple QBs. Rookie Cam Newton throws for 4,000 yards and blows us all away. He was supposed to be a project, but instead ripped apart the league. Rookie Andy Dalton started all year in Cincy and led the Bengals to the playoffs.
QBs weren’t the only guys doing crazy things. Giants WR Victor Cruz had 1,536 yards receiving. Terrell Owens never had 1,500 in a season. WR Laurent Robinson had 4 TD catches in his 4 year career before hauling in 11 in 2011. Calvin Johnson caught 16 TD passes. Rob Gronkowski had 17. Jimmy Graham had an amazing season. Jordy Nelson had 6 career TD grabs heading into the year, but then had 15. Wow.
These are some eye-popping numbers from QBs and TEs/WRs. Anything weird happen last year? Oh yeah…the lockout. Offensive players got together and had loose workouts. Defensive players tried this, but you can’t really do that kind of stuff on defense and expect good results. Eagles coach Andy Reid said last summer that he expected offenses to be ahead of defenses. And boy were they.
The worst 10 defenses in terms of yardage:
GB – DC Dom Capers
NE – HC Bill Belichick
TB – HC Raheem Morris
OAK – n/a
CAR – HC Ron Rivera, DC Sean McDermott
NYG – DC Perry Fewell
BUF – n/a
IND – n/a
NO – DC Gregg Williams
DET – HC Jim Schwartz, DC Gunther Cunningham
7 of those 10 teams have gifted defensive minds as HC, DC, or both. And yet those 7 teams could not stop anyone on a consistent basis.
It is one thing for teams with poor coaches or no talent to struggle, but those teams do have some talent. And they certainly have the kind of veteran leaders who can put together great game plans to cover weak areas. In 2011, that wasn’t enough.
Again, I go back to the lockout. Just how much did that affect those teams? It certainly hurt them. Just how much is open to interpretation.
Wade Phillips took over the Texans defense and got that group to play at a high level all year. It helped that he had a bunch of players all have career years. Give him credit for his coaching, but there was also some “right time, right place” stuff going on there. Plus, there were a lot of pieces already in place. Wade did teach a new scheme, but the continuity in the lineup helped quite a bit.
I bring all of this up because I wonder how 2012 will play out. Rookie QBs are going to be held to the Cam Newton or Andy Dalton standard. I actually wonder if Newton and Dalton may have some unexpected struggles this time around, let alone the rookies.
We can’t say anything definitively because the lockout was so unusual. We haven’t had anything like that in the NFL in a long time. Maybe the offenses of 2011 were great on their own and the lockout had very little effect. I tend to doubt that since so many guys had career years. This wasn’t one or two hot teams. This was veterans and young guys. This was AFC and NFC. This was playoff teams and non-contenders.
I’m really interested to see how 2012 plays out. Will offenses continue to rule the day? Will defenses rebound and the numbers even out a bit more?