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How Has The NFL Changed Since Pete Carroll's Last Rodeo?

A couple of weeks ago, some VMAC reporters were asking Pete Carroll about how the NFL has changed in terms of the growth of the passing game since his time in New England.

Pete last coached in New England in 1999, sandwiched in between the reigns of Parcells and Belichick. I would be lying to you if I didn't wonder sometimes if Pete's unique philosophies will work in the modern NFL. I think they can, but still, my curiosity had me doing a little 1999 research a few weeks ago. Here are my findings.

What was the NFL like in 1999?

There were only 31 teams back then, there was no Houston Texans. The NFL averaged 61.1 snaps per game. 27 runs and 34 passes per game on average. The NFL ran about 44.7% of the time and passed 55.3% of the time.

Teams scored, on average, 20.81 points per game. They rushed for an average of 3.9 yards per carry (they average 4.2 in 2011). When it came to throwing the ball, the league wide average passer rating was 77.1 with a median of 76.6. Quarterbacks completed 57.1% of their passes and the league-wide yards per attempt was 6.28.

There was one QB with a passer rating above 100 for the year, an undrafted guy in St. Louis who used to bag groceries. He had a rating of 106.6.

Fast forward to the quarter pole in 2011.

After four 2011 games, some things in the NFL remain the same, but some key things have changed. Scoring is up to 22.78 points per game. Now, maybe this slows down as the season progresses and the weather turns. In fact- perhaps all these passing stats may deflate into November and December. I still think its worth pointing out.

Snaps per game have not changed since 1999. In 2010 it was 61 snaps per game. Through 4 weeks in 2011 - 61.3 snaps per game.

We are passing more now - 35.2 pass attempts per game and 26.1 runs per game. The run percentage is 42.6% and pass percentage is 57.4%. But, put another way, teams are averaging just one more pass and one less run per game than in 1999. Not as much as I had thought.

So what has changed?

Passing has become more efficient.

The average passer rating through 2011 Week 4 is up to 86.4 (from 77.1) and the median passer rating up to 82.7 (from 76.6). Not only is the average quarterback throwing more effectively, the best ones are throwing even better than Kurt Warner circa 1999.

Through 4 weeks there were seven quarterbacks with ratings over 100. Aaron Rodgers at 120.8. A guy who wears UGZ at 111.3. Peyton's younger brother at 105.6. Tim Hasselbeck's older brother at 104. Drew Brees, Matt Schaub and Matthew Stafford all had QB ratings over 100.

(After 6 weeks the median passer rating is around 84, but there are only 3 QBs over 100. Aaron Rodgers' QB rating is now over 122.)

In 2011 quarterbacks are completing 60.9% of their passes (up from 57.1% in 1999) and yards per attempt is up to 6.98 (from 6.28). Those are big leaps in my opinion.

This leap is reflected in the average passing yards per game today- 246. Back in 1999 the average passing yards per game was 212.

Pete Adjusting to the 2011 NFL and the Seahawks.

The NFL is only throwing one more time per game on average than in 1999. What is different is that quarterbacks are completing more passes while increasing the amount of yards per attempt and yards per game. The passing game has become more efficient since 1999 and that is something that Pete Carroll is adjusting to in this appearance. He has to face better quarterbacks, score more points and enhance his quarterback's production on a higher level than in 1999.

Pete will probably have to have his quarterback drop back more than he would prefer. In the Giants game the offense used the pass to set up the run and it worked. He is also going to give up more yards on defense than he is used to.

I think we are watching Pete adjust; throwing more, allowing the no huddle on offense because he knows he needs to put up 24 points to win. 20 points may not cut it like it may have in 1999.

On defense I think Pete is conceding passing yards... for now. He knows quarterbacks are even better today and he knows he still needs more talent and depth on his defense. By stopping the run he is trying to dictate the terms and conditions of when you can pass. He is trying to put the opponent in a known passing situation (2nd and 3rd and long) where he can throw every trick in the book at the offense (blitzes, bandit, nickel, dime, press coverage, zone, etc...)

It is imperfect. Good quarterbacks can still complete a decent percentage on 3rd down (see Big Ben and Matt Ryan). Probably the best way to attack the current Seahawks defense is to pass on 1st down. The problem for many teams is that many coaches prefer a balanced offense, have a strong run philosophy and do not possess an all-world quarterback. These coaches won't change their offensive identity just to play the Seahawks, and that is why the defense can be effective.

In the next few years I do expect to see more talent added to the quarterback position of course, as well as more skilled game changers on the defensive side of the ball that can disrupt an opponent's modern passing attack.