It has been said that most passing records have been set in losing efforts. For the most part, statistics back it up.
Quarterbacks being forced to throw when their teams are attempting to come from behind, and opponents teasing with prevent defenses, is not exactly a new phenomenon. What is new is that teams are now continuing to throw while ahead.
Passers accumulating 300-plus passing yards in defeat were, and still are, commonplace. But the pendulum on that trend is gaining momentum on the backswing. Today it appears that a 300-yard passing day is a better indicator of a winning team than a losing one.
As recently as 2005 there were 64 300-plus passing days in the regular season and only 31, or 48 percent, resulted in a win. The year before was worse; just 36 of the 81 300-yard passing days, or 44 percent, culminated in a victory. Go back to 1997 and just 20 of the 46 300-yard efforts (43 percent) in that season put a "W" on the board.
Things are changing in the passing game, and after a good discussion on the subject with former Steelers coach Bill Cowher, I decided to look into it a bit deeper.
A little background is necessary. From 1996-2007, NFL quarterbacks averaged 68 300-yard passing games a season, or in roughly 13 percent of the games. Only 52 percent of those performances resulted in a victory for the team with the 300-yard passer. But things started changing dramatically in 2008. Last year saw a 10-percent jump from the previously mentioned 12-year average in success rate to 62 percent (47 of 76 games with a 300-yard passer resulted in a victory, with one tie).
In 2009, that percentage has grown even higher. There have already been 21 games this season with a quarterback surpassing 300 yards. Fifteen of those have resulted in wins for the 300-yard passer's team, or 71 percent. Last week eight quarterbacks crossed the 300-yard mark and their teams went 5-3. I'm not sure the success rate will stay that high all season, but the first three weeks tell us there is a significant increase in the desire to throw the ball, even when a team has the lead.
Take Kevin Kolb of the Eagles, for example. He made his starting debut two weeks ago with the Eagles and got a second start on Sunday. Philadelphia didn't exactly hold him back. On Sunday, he became the first quarterback to throw for more than 300 yards in back-to-back games in his first two starts. We all know Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Kurt Warner and Tom Brady are going after wins by passing the majority of the game, but what about a quarterback like Joe Flacco, who is lighting it up in only his second season, on a historically defensive-minded team, no less?
Of the 96 starts made by quarterbacks this season, 21, as mentioned above, have resulted in 300-yard efforts, a pace that would see 112 300-yard games at season's end -- a whopping 31 more than any year since 1997, or almost double the 12-year average. That is more than possible. In fact, it looks probable when you consider there are already 22 quarterbacks averaging 30-plus pass attempts a game. The top eight quarterbacks in passing yards are averaging 294.6 yards per game and their teams have a combined record of 16-8.
Cowher said he thought the game was changing and teams might have to rethink the passing game. If they don't soon, we could see the first year that 70 percent of the 300-yard passing games will result in a win.