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Early indications are 2011 could rewrite passing record books

We're just starting the 2011 season, but it's quickly shaping up to be a ground-breaking year for the passing game after the records we saw set to open the season.

Passing records set Week 1
» Most quarterbacks with 300-plus yards passing at 14
» Five games with two 300-yard passers
» Touchdowns passes in season-openers with 54
» Combined total passing yards in a game with 906 in the Patriots-Dolphins matchup
» Most 400-yard passers in one week with four (Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Drew Brees and Chad Henne)
» Total passing yards in one week with 7,842 yards

The record books were rewritten in 2010, with new marks for touchdown passes (751) and points (11,283) established. Now, it's a small sample, but we're ahead of both paces at this point. Scoring is up 10.4 points per game from this time last season and the 54 touchdown passes in Week 1 are 15 more than a year ago.

So, what's the difference?

Well, there's a case to be made that game changed forever in 1977. That's when members of the Competition Committee (Tex Schramm, Don Shula, Paul Brown and Bart Starr) decided something had to be done after nine teams scored seven points or fewer to open the season. From that, two important rules were implemented in 1978 that can be traced back to the prolific numbers being posted today.

1. Offensive linemen were allowed to extend their hands and arms when pass blocking.
2. Defenders were only allowed to engage a receiver up to 5 yards.

Those changes began to swing things toward the offense. After there were just five 300-yard passing games in all of 1977, the number jumped to 15 in 1978. Scoring went up 1,409 points in the first season the new rules were in place.

In the 33 years since, several other things have helped the passing game continue to progress: The hash marks being moved in closer to the middle of the field, the introduction of the radio helmet, advancement in tape study to help breakdown an opponent's weaknesses, the increase of the shotgun formation and the use of the slot receivers being among them.

In speaking to six different offensive coordinators, blitzing kept coming up when I asked why these numbers continue to rise. As one coach explained, "We've seen every blitz known to mankind and it's really hard for defensive coordinators to come up with new blitzes we haven't seen."

Along with taking advantage of the imbalance of rules, offenses now have predictability on their side. An offensive coach can come up with a variety of ways to fool a defense in the passing game with personnel and various formations. It's much more difficult to do the same when it comes to running the ball, where it's more about physical battles.

The progression of the passing game has also trickled down to colleges and high schools. In turn, that produces more players ready to make an impact at the NFL level. Last year, four colleges passed the ball more than 600 times, and 13 surpassed the 500 mark. In Texas, the vast majority of high schools now pass more than they run. That would have been reversed 10 years ago.

You're still going to have teams that rely on the power-running game, like the Raiders for example. But when it comes down to it, fans are left oohing and aahing after a 50-yard incompletion while a 20-yard run isn't met with the same enthusiasm.

The 1978 rule changes were put in place to make the game more exciting, and after what we saw in Week 1, mission accomplished.

Week 1 odysseys

» Cam Newton's 422 yards passing were the most ever in an NFL debut. But Matthew Stafford also posted 422 yards passing as a rookie in 2009.

» Tom Brady's 99-yard touchdown pass to Wes Welker tied the record for the longest completion in league history. It has happened 12 times.

» Sebastian Janikowski's 63-yard field goal also tied a record for the longest field goal in NFL history. It's the third time that's happened. It also came in the Raiders' 63rd appearance on Monday night.

» Ted Ginn returned a kick and punt for a touchdown within 39 seconds. That's the fastest that's ever happened.

» There were 47 rookies that started seven or more games by the end of last season. We had 58 rookie starters in Week 1, including kickers, punters and long snappers. That shows more young talent is coming into the league.

» The Cowboys had never lost a game (241-0-1) when they were up 14 points or more in the fourth quarter. That streak came to an end with their loss to the Jets.

» Only two Lions quarterbacks have passed for 300 yards in Week 1, Matthew Stafford and Bobby Lane. Both of them attended Highland Park High School in Texas.

» Six visitors won compared to four teams getting road wins to open 2010.

College player who helped his stock

Houston quarterback Case Keenum helped himself with his performance against the University of North Texas. With 14 scouts on hand to him, Keenum passed for 458 yards and five touchdowns.

Brooks: College stock watch

Each week, draft expert Bucky Brooks shares his notes and observations on how potential prospects fared. Find out who helped their stock. **More ...**

Keenum is a sixth-year player who missed most of 2010 after tearing his ACL. He's not tall (6-foot 5/8 and 209 pounds) but has good accuracy and arm strength. He also showed better mobility than expected coming off the injury and has 4.85-second speed in the 40-yard dash.

Keenum is very smart and has good leadership qualities. He's a similar prospect to Kellen Moore of Boise State. Moore has a much better win-loss record, but Keenum has the stats. If Keenum was 6-3 or 6-4, you would be talking about a top 50 pick in 2012. Understand, he's taller than Michael Vick or Drew Brees. If he continues to play like he has this season, Keenum has a chance to be a top 100 pick.

Top five senior quarterback prospects
1. Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M
2. Kirk Cousins, Michigan State
3. B.J. Coleman, Tennessee Chattanooga
4. Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State
5. Chandler Harnish, Northern Illinois

Top six best defensive coordinators

My list doesn't include guys like Bill Belichick who are also head coaches.

1. Dick LeBeau, Steelers: Runs a 3-4 defense. Pittsburgh gave up 232 in points in 2010.

2. Dom Capers, Packers: Runs a 3-4 and his unit gave up 240 points in 2010. This guy will come up with something new every week.

3. Gregg Williams, Saints: Plays 4-3 with a lot of blitzing. They finished fourth in total defense last season. The unit did drop to 25 takeaways after producing 39 in 2009.

4. Greg Manusky, Chargers Was with San Francisco, but made a smooth transition running the 3-4 in San Diego, holding Minnesota to 28 yards passing in Week 1.

5. Gunther Cunningham, Lions: Coaches a 4-3 and is a high-motor guy. He's been very good for a lot of years. Bill Parcells thinks Cunningham is vastly underrated.

6. Rod Marinelli, Bears: Former head coach who runs a 4-3 and was among those responsible for the Tampa 2 scheme growing. The Bears were 89 points better with him at the helm last season and moved from 17th to ninth overall on defense.

Game to watch: Bears at Saints

This matchup most likely will have an impact on who ends up in the playoffs. New Orleans can't start 0-2 and the Bears need to keep up with Green Bay and Detroit.

It's also an intriguing game because it features two of the best offensive (Sean Payton and Mike Martz) and defensive (Williams and Marinelli) play-callers.

Two matchups could dictate who wins:
DE Julius Peppers vs. OT Jermon Bushrod
RB Matt Forte vs. Jonathan Vilma

The Bears' defense played well against the Falcons. Chicago will have to run the ball on New Orleans to keep Drew Brees and Co. off the field. The Saints should win, but a Bears victory wouldn't be a shocker.

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