NFL's arms race proves to be passing trend
Gaudy passing numbers in 2011 seemed to point to a new pass-first era in the NFL, but that pattern has been reversed this year.
Seattle Times NFL reporter
The NFL stood at the brink of a new era.
At least that was the expectation.
Before last season, only two NFL quarterbacks had passed for more than 5,000 yards in a single season. Three different players reached that mark in 2011: New Orleans' Drew Brees, New England's Tom Brady and Detroit's Matthew Stafford.
This season began with the assumption that 5,000 would be the new 4,000, becoming a new benchmark instead of a historical aberration.
Combine that with the fact that Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew and Atlanta's Michael Turner were the only running backs to log 300 carries last season — the fewest in any season since 1993 — and it was enough to make you wonder if the NFL was going to become an arms race almost exclusively.
Not so fast.
One year later, Brees is the only player in the league on pace to pass for 5,000 yards, but his Saints are 2-5. That last fact is important because after last season, some thought the formula for success was changing in the NFL.
Four teams averaged more than 300 yards passing last season: the Saints, Packers, Patriots and Lions. Each team won 10 or more games, and all made the playoffs.
This year, only two are averaging more than 300 yards passing: the Saints and Lions. Each currently holds a losing record, as do the Cowboys, who rank third in the league at 297.3 passing yards per game.
Meanwhile, there are five running backs in the league who've logged 150 or more carries. Only one of them plays for a team that currently has a losing record: Alfred Morris, whose Washington team is 3-5.
"Is the league turning back into a running league?" Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson asked rhetorically. "I hope so."
The Vikings' Adrian Peterson ranks No. 1 in rushing yards, Seattle's Marshawn Lynch is second and their teams will play today in a game featuring two offenses that might not be as outdated and old-fashioned as you think.
Five teams have won more than five games entering this week's schedule, and three rank in the bottom half of the league in passing yards: Houston (18th), San Francisco (28th) and Chicago (30th).
Playing good defense and running the football remains a pretty sound formula for a number of teams, including the 4-4 Seahawks.
Seattle ranks second-to-last in the league in passing yards, and over the past seven weeks the Seahawks have faced five teams whose starting quarterbacks passed for more than 4,000 yards last season.
The Seahawks won four of those games, getting outgunned only once, in last week's loss to Detroit.
Turns out there's still room for a well-grounded approach in the NFL, even after last year's historic passing totals.
Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @dannyoneil