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Don't Pass Go: NFL teams passing at an all-time high rate and the Seahawks are taking advantage

In the history of the league, we've never seen this much passing and this much passing yardage. But rather than do what everyone else is doing, that hipster Seattle team is stopping the pass before it was cool.

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There's something happening here.

What it is ain't exactly clear.

There's a Manning with a gun over there.

If it's Peyton you're okay, but if it's Eli stand clear - I think we better stop, readers, what's that sound? Nobody moves the ball on the ground.

And we're back! That was "Stop! Hey, what's on the ground?" by The Kenny Mongerers. You're listening to KSBN, home of easy listening and easier reading. Coming up now we've got an exclusive report on the NFL running game from our own Kenneth Arthur. Man, we have a lot of people named Kenneth or some variation on this station and singing the songs that we play here on KSBN. Anyways I'm your host, Ken, over to you, Kenneth.

They say that the NFL right now is a past sing league, but I don't agree with that. I mean, is anyone in the NFL singing songs about the past? Not that I am aware of. Not since Terry Bradshaw sang Xmas songs for the whole world. (Not just a section of the world, mind you.) So no, it is not a past sing league.

What's that? I misheard you? Oh, you said it's a passing league? Hmmm... interesting theory, tiny mouse*. Where do you get this idea that the league is so hellbent on passing the ball? Statistics?! New York City?!?!

*in this article, the part of the narrator will be played by a tiny mouse named Hemlock.

Prove it, Hemlock!

(In the voice of Hemlock)

You see, the AFL and NFL merged together in the year 1970 forming a "super league of extraordinary football gentile men" (different times, they were) and many consider this to be the "modern era" of American football. It was a time when white fullbacks like Larry Csonka could carry it 200 times and become Hall of Fame players. A time when a team could pass it fewer than 300 times and call it good. A time when a man could walk into a general store, say "Sam*, gimme two pounds of gristle" and not be judged by passers by.

They were good times!

*the part of Sam will of course be portrayed by Alice's boyfriend, Sam the Butcher, from The Brady Gang

("This Hemlock the mouse seems like quite the curmudgeon and possibly antisemitic" I thought to myself in a parenthetical bubble)

The leagues merged in 1970 and for a few years these things held true. Between 1970 and 1977, 27 teams passed it fewer than 300 times. Of course, they were only playing 14 games a year back then. Expanded to 16 games, and the only instance where you'll find that a team passed it fewer than 350 times was the 1990 Los Angeles Raiders. Jay Schroeder passed it 334 times and the Raiders went to the playoffs.

That team had a backfield of Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson.

You will never see that again. You will also never see me walk out of a butcher shop without many glances of judgment upon my gristly fists.

Since the strike season of 1982, only a handful of teams have passed it fewer than 400 times. The most recent example being the 2009 New York Jets. That team, "led" by Mark Sanchez, went 9-7 and made it to the AFC Championship game -- at one point they held a 17-6 lead over the Indianapolis Colts, but eventually Peyton Manning was able to lead the Colts back against the Jets "defense and run" game plan and then possibly killed the modern day running back.

Literally, Peyton Manning is wanted for murder*.

*Mordor. Sorry, I meant to say that Manning is wanted to star in the next J.R.R. Tolkien-based film project. Man, that could have been quite the blunder*.

*Blender. I'm a big fan of the now-defunct music magazine and wanted to throw that in there. for details.

It's fitting that Manning would fit in as the killer of the last team to really run first, second, and third, since he's been mordoring the running game since he entered the league. But it's mostly been the last few years where everything you thought you knew about NFL offenses was about to change.

In a world, where running is the disease that's wiping out humanity and the only antidote rests inside of a tight spiral, the "modern era" of football might not mean anything anymore. Or it does mean something, I mean, but like, you know, totally, it's totally fetch to just, like, pass it more, cha' know, brah?

Between 1980 and 2011, only 18 teams ran it 33 times or fewer in their first two games combined. It only happened once in the eighties: The 1980 Cleveland Browns, sort of still stuck in the seventies to the point where you're likely wrong which era they really came from, (like the hit 1980 song "Another Brick in the Wall" by Pink Floyd, most often thought by Kenneth's to be a seventies hit like "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" by Queen*) ran the ball 33 times for 123 yards in their first two games.

*"Crazy Little Thing" was also 1980?? Oh. My. God. Fran. (In this scenario, Hemlock has put his best friend Fran in danger by thinking that Queen was only popular in the nineteen-seventies.)

The '80 Browns, led by quarterback Brian Sipe and running back Mike Pruitt, both of whom made the Pro Bowl that year, started 0-2 in decisive losses to Houston and New England and abandoned the run. However, they won 11 of their final 14 games and went to the playoffs.

The next instance of a less-than-33-carries start was the 1990 Oilers. They started 0-2, ran it 28 times for 80 yards, were led by Pro Bowl quarterback Warren Moon, and eventually made the playoffs.

Of course, it's the 0-2 start that almost always leads to a team abandoning the run in their first two games, but are teams really running it that much less? Yes, pretty much, stop doubting me you insensitive jerks. You know, that hurt my feelings. A lot.

Since 1980, there have been 23 instances of a team running it 33 times or less in their first two games. Really, since 1990, there have been 22 instances of a team running it 33 times or less in their first two games. The combined record of those 23 teams is 4-42.

It happened six times in the nineties; It would happen and then Jason Priestly would look into the camera and say "It's the nineties."

So, you could see it was rare. It happened less than once per season. When it would happen, Joey Lawrence would look into the camera and say "Woah!" No one told you life was gonna be this way.

*clap* *clap* *clap* *clap*

Between 2000 and 2008, it happened 11 times. So that's 11 times in nine years that a team ran it 33 times or less in the first two games. When you divide and carry the one, you'll see that means it was happening more than once per season. Twice in 2002, three times in 2003, twice in 2006, and twice in 2008, per examplé. The 2002 New York Jets, a team with Curtis Martin, ran it 23 times in their first two games.

Punter Matt Turk had their longest run over the Jets first two games of the year.

In 2012, the Titans ran it 26 times for 58 yards with the legendary-for-good, legendary-for-bad Chris Johnson.

We are now two games into the 2013 season and four teams have run it 33 times or fewer. In the entire history of modern football, the fourth team to do this (run it 33 times or fewer in the first two games) didn't come until 1992. Those four teams, the Falcons, the Steelers, the Browns, and the Giants, are a combined 1-7.

The Washington Redskins, 2012's top rushing attack and third in the league in attempts per game, have carried it 35 times thanks to finding themselves in big holes early in the game. The Redskins inability to play defense, allowing the biggest rushing game this season in Week 1 (LeSean McCoy) and the biggest passing game in a long time (Aaron Rodgers) in Week 2, means that their rushing game is neutralized, despite the fact that they are averaging 5.2 yards per carry.

Compare some 1983 league averages to 2013 league averages:

Year Rush Att YPC Comp Att Y/A Did they like the band Rush?
1983 31.7 4.1 17.8 31.4 7.2 Hell yeah
2013 25.9 3.8 23.3 37.5 7.3 They're pretty good

But it's not just the averages we are concerned about, it's the extremes as well. And guys, this could get really exxxtreme!

So Hemlock, you say "exxxtreme" like it's a big deal. But you're just exxxaggerating, am I Right Said Fred? Do I do my little turn on the catwalk?

(Hemlock then says his trademark catchphrase: "Did somebody say... c-c-c-cat?!?!" And the sad trombone plays.)

The 600-yards-in-first-two-games Club

Since 1960, 98 quarterbacks have thrown for at least 600 yards over the first two games of a season. It happened six times in the sixties and three times in the seventies. So since 1980, 89 players have thrown for at least 600 yards over the first two games of a season. They all get a cool jacket that is way cooler than a Member's Only jacket, you stupid member's only.

It happened 21 times in the eighties.

Already we see a jump from three the previous decade to 21. Perhaps that was the plateau though, ya know, Joe, because it happens just 18 times in the nineties. The league is definitely seriously dating "pass" but it doesn't want to marry him. (The league is a girl, you sexist pig.)

In the aughts, you-you-you oughta know that it happened 22 more times. (The aforementioned Manning does it five times, which actually makes him afivementioned*.)

*Woah, stop reading.

Other names creep into the category of "600-in-first-two" and they aren't all Manning. Names like Kerry Collins, Trent Dilfer, Rich Gannon, Mark Brunell, Vinny Testaverde, Kyle Orton. Throwing for 300 yards in a game, or even an average-and-above-300 yards for two games, does not a great quarterback make. It's more of a testament to not only how much more often teams throw today but to how defenses let up. Not only because they want to, on some level, let you get your stupid 50 yards when the game is over, but because they're forced to.

League rules have mandated that cornerbacks can't be as physical and defensive lineman must be a bit more careful as they approach the quarterback. They can't pounce like lions on gazelle quite as violently, but must coddle them to the ground, nuzzling Eli Manning's nose and saying "sleep little baby, don't you cry. daddy's not gonna hurt you, sweet Eli."

(Okay, okay, there's nothing wrong with protecting players in today's NFL. Geeze. Lay off. New York City?!)

Teams invest $120 million into their quarterbacks and yet Maurice Jones-Drew couldn't get a payday after leading running backs in everything back in 2011. Joe Flacco waits a year until free agency, wins a Super Bowl, and the team knows it can't move on without him. Jay Cutler knew the same deal and will promptly get paid.

Michael Turner, Willis McGahee, and Michael Robinson are all free agents. In the way that Jimmy Clausen is a free agent but actually absolutely nothing like that.

600+ Yards in First Two Games:

Six times in the 60s

Three in the 70s

21 times in the 80s

18 times in the 90s

22 times in the 00s

How many times has a quarterback thrown for at least 600 yards in the first two games of the season in the last four years? More than any other decade ever.

Since 2010, 28 quarterbacks have done it.

Two. Eight. Tweight.

Tweight: New Moon

This season alone, 11 quarterbacks have gone over 600 yards. More quarterbacks have 600+ yards through two games this season than those that had done it in all of the seasons prior to 1981.

In 2011, Tom Brady threw for 940 yards over the first two games of the year. That same year, rookie Cam Newton threw for 854 yards. This season, Eli Manning and Aaron Rodgers are each over 800 yards. Perhaps funnier than the names on the list this year (Michael Vick) are the ones that aren't:

- Carson Palmer is at 575.

- Joe Flacco is at 573.

- Tony Romo is at 561.

- Jay Cutler is at 532.

- Andrew Luck is at 499.

- Tom Brady is at 473.

- Cam Newton at at 354.

The numbers look... minuscule. Really, they do. "Brady has 473 passing yards? Did Giselle remove his arm in addition to the male appendage to which we make jokes about how a beautiful wife can emasculate such a man?"

What's crazier: That Brady is throwing for "only" 236.5 yards per game OR that Brady has thrown for 236.5 yards per game with Julian Edelman and Kenbrell Thompkins? (And one game of Danny Amendola, but whatever, you get the point. Yes. you do. Oh yeah, nice comment, butthead. I see you there, thinking of that comment and shit. You're gonna skip to the comment section right now, aren't you? You don't enjoy life, you don't live in the moment, you're always skipping ahead to the comment section. Sad, man. Sad.)

Would you rather: Have to sing the song "Keep On" by The Brady Bunch family every time you answered the phone OR spend the rest of your life running for city council in Dearborn, Michigan and never win?

Right now, six players have attempted at least 90 passes. Over 30-percent of the 90-attempts-in-first-two-games seasons have happened in the last two years. It's not just a product of "team's are behind, so they're throwing it a lot" its "teams are throwing it more than they ever have by a wide margin."

Even when the Air Coryell or West Coast offenses were installed many years ago, making the "forward pass" the wave of the future, nothing like this has ever been seen before at this high of a rate. Teams are moving the ball quickly and abandoning the run immediately. The New York Giants have seen Eli attempt 91 passes and throw seven interceptions, while they've run the ball 33 times for 73 yards.

This is a team that drafted running back David Wilson in the first round last year.

This reminds me of the time that I bought one of those wind-up magnetic fishing pole games in the grocery store because it seemed fun, but then stopped using it the very next day. (In other words, this reminds me of last Tuesday.)

Eli would be on pace to throw for 6,496 yards if he kept up at this rate. Aaron Rodgers would top 6,500. What you're thinking is "Yeah, but they'll slow down" and what I'm telling you is that "Actually, we don't know that yet." Frankly, we've never seen what we are seeing right now, so we don't know how the next four months will go, let alone the next five years.

What we KNOW we will see in the next five years:

- North West attend kindegarten

- The Breaking Bad spinoff Better Call Saul

- A kiss from a rose on the grave

- Flying cars

- Clying fars

What we know we WON'T see in the next five years:

- A Raiders championship

- A remake of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly with Jack Black playing all three parts

- The band KISS reading the novel Rose Madder while driving Gravedigger

What we DON'T know is whether or not a 6,000-yard passing season is coming but I'd wager that it could be. We didn't have 5,000 yards until Dan Marino in 1984 and then we didn't see it again until 2008 with Drew Brees. Then Brees did it two more times and then Brady and Matthew Stafford also did it. It happened once in like 50 years and then it happened five times in the last five.

And then what are the Seattle Seahawks doing during all of this madness? Trying to keep up with the fast-passed world of the NFL?

Nope. Seattle is 31st in pass attempts, second in rushing attempts, and possibly the best team in the league. Why? Because in the world of the blind, the one-eyed guy is like "damn, not a single one of you is taking care of yourselves, anymore. I'm disgusted by you and I am saddened by this world that no longer pays attention to the visual appeal of being alive. Despite my sight, my shoddy and depth-less sight, I am not happy. For the weight of the world is upon my shoulders and I weep for not just this sightless world, but for myself. This has been a curse and I wish it upon nobody."

Hemlock! That's not how it goes. You knucklehead. :)

Sorry, Kenneth. You know me!

/cue theme music

"It's Hemlock and Kenneth, the team that you couldn't believe exists.

It's Kenneth and Hemlock, one's a mouse and one's amiss.

It's Hemlock and Kenneth, together somehow they make it work.

It's Kenneth and Hemlock, one's so kind and one's a jerk!

Hey now, wait a minute, which am I?! :)

Tune in to find out now!"

(August 31, 2019, Bellingham, Washington. Sergeant Detective Kenneth Arthur and District Attorney Hemlock McGrathurs are discussing whether or not to prosecute a 16-year-old for the murder of an inappropriate adult at his high school. You thought this was a sitcom, but it's actually a police procedural. Who knew!?

That's Kenneth!

Oh, Kenneth.

Aaaaaand... scene!

The Seahawks have scoped the scene (nice transition, Ken) and seen (nice homonym, Ken) that every team is passing it more and more. Whether it was on purpose or whether they were accidentally passive, Seattle developed the best secondary in the NFL. Step one was drafting Earl Thomas, Walter Thurmond and Kam Chancellor in 2010, step two was adding Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner in 2011.

While I personally stayed very focused on what they were doing in other areas, i.e.q.b., it's quite obvious that Pete Carroll was focused on stopping the q.b., o.k.? And so it is that while other teams are passing at the most prolific rate we've ever seen, what they can't do is pass on the Seahawks. And that is a very interesting scenario for Seattle and a big reason why they're 2-0 despite some shaky play on offense.

It's like... in the land where everyone has one eye with perfect sight, the guy that's going around poking people's eye out is king.

It's pretty much the same point that I kept driving home over and over again in my "5 Reasons to a Perfect Seahawks Season" post (which Time magazine called "a series for the People" and that People magazine called "Timeless" and that Reader's Digest called "A real Game Informer") and that point is this:

If Sherman can neutralize your number one receiver, what are you left with?

In Week 1, Steve Smith had six catches for 51 yards and a touchdown. Greg Olsen had five catches for 56 yards (and a few drops, to be fair.)

In Week 2, Anquan Boldin had one catch for seven yards (and that catch "wasn't on me that I recall" said Sherman after the game.) Vernon Davis had three for 20 and left the game with a hamstring injury. What are you left with?

It's not easy to find good receivers in this league but if you're playing the Seahawks defense, you're going to need more than two threats at receiver. And even then it's going to be difficult. You better have: A defense that can stop Seattle and keep the game close, several offensive weapons, a really good running game and offensive line. When the 49ers get Michael Crabtree back, that's what they could be.

The Texans are disappointing on defense so far, but the addition of receiver DeAndre Hopkins could make them be that team that can beat Seattle.

The Broncos could be that team.

But the Bengals lack multiple threats on offense. The Bears lack multiple threats in the receiving game. The Saints lack defense. The Falcons have no running game, but have shown that on a good day they can build a big lead against the Seahawks. Even the Packers, a team that could certainly beat anyone thanks to their three (or possibly four) headed receiving attack, lack a running game and have a suspect defense.

There is a very good reason as to why the Packers and Patriots lost in Seattle last year and it has more to do with how the Seahawks kept those games close for four quarters than it has to do with referees or being mad, bro.

If your only strategy is "We're going to beat you in a shootout," and many teams are using that strategy in the "modern" NFL, then you are going to have a hard time beating Seattle. They don't have any interest in beating you at your own game, they want to use it against you. They drafted running-backs-of-the-future in each of the last two drafts. You zigged, they zagged. You flonkered, they blonkered.

Not many teams went the way of Seattle. The 49ers are similar. The Buccaneers are trying this out with Doug Martin and Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson, but they don't love their coach like we do ours. The Chiefs may be going this way. The Rams and even maybe the Raiders, are going this way.

Lucky for us, the Seahawks just did earlier and so far... better.

For KEN-PR, I'm Hemlock.

Woah, that was a long and I must say strange story for Kenneth and Hemlock, but I sure did learn a lot. Thanks, guys. Let's take you out of the nine o'clock hour with an oldie but a goodie, here's Pass the Footchie by Dudical Youth. We'll see you next time.

Pass the footchie ball left hand side.

Pass the footchie ball left hand side.

Not gonna run.

(Give me targets, make me jump and dance.)

It's a pass, son.

(Give me the rock, gonna jump out my pants.)

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