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More passing by offenses leading to more injuries to QBs

Quarterbacks seem to be suffering injuries on a regular basis. No matter how many rules the league puts in place to protect QBs, guys still take a beating. We've seen that play out already this season with Ben Roethlisberger (foot), Michael Vick (concussion, hand), Tony Romo (ribs) and Chad Henne (shoulder), to name a few.

To me, injuries are part of the game, at any position. Before the NFL writes more rules that water down the game in order to protect the $100 million investments, maybe it should look at other reasons quarterbacks are always looking for a flag to protect them from the pass rush.

Amazingly, 13 teams went into Week 4 with only two quarterbacks on the active roster -- Arizona, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Green Bay, Jacksonville, Miami, New Orleans, N.Y. Giants, Oakland, San Diego, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Washington. I've heard all the logic about how little the third QB plays, and that the roster spot is needed for a special teams player, but I thought the reason teams went to seven active offensive linemen instead of the traditional eight was to get an additional special teams player on the field. There was a time when teams used that third QB spot to develop a player, but now, with quarterback injuries climbing ever higher, they are quickly becoming a necessity rather than a luxury.

Here's why: The passing game is accelerating at a rate that will simply put the quarterback at risk more often. More pass attempts mean more exposure to an opposing pass rush, which increases the risk of injury for a quarterback. Pretty simple logic. But here are some numbers that bear that out.

I took a look at passing numbers every 10 years dating back to 1971 to measure the growth in that aspect of the game (see box, right).

As you can see, there was a substantial jump from 1971 to 1981 and it leveled off at the turn of the century. But it's on the move again, which is a big reason quarterbacks are going down.

Now, take a look at the next table (see box, right). This zeroes in on the 25th passer in the league by attempts over the same period of time. This shows that it's not just the Tom Brady's of the world who are passing way more. It's going on throughout the league.

For quarterbacks at the top and bottom of these lists, the growth rate is virtually the same with passers attempting about 16 more passes per game since 1971 as compared to today. Over a 16-game season, that means an extra 250 passes per season. It's no wonder quarterbacks are taking such a beating.

I recently discussed this issue with Hall of Fame QB Dan Marino. He believes there has to be more balance in today's offenses, especially with the way defenses are attacking the passing game with a multitude of blitz packages and pressures. As great as Marino was, he averaged 38.5 pass plays per season for his whole career. If he were playing this season, that would put him 17th in the league in pass plays attempted, just ahead of Tarvaris Jackson. Joe Montana was a great quarterback and he averaged 34.7 pass plays per start for his career. That would place him 23rd in 2011, just ahead of Andy Dalton.

The rule will always be: The more you throw, the more you will be hit. Sam Bradford is going to be a very good player for a long time if he can stay upright, but he has been sacked 12 times and hit 20 more in the past two games. Chicago, which has had the same issues as St. Louis, finally wised up in Week 4 and balanced up its offense. The result was 205 rushing yards for Matt Forte and only one sack and three hits on Jay Cutler in the Bears' win over the Panthers.

One really smart former NFL coach recently said, "The passing game is very addictive and it is a bit out of control right now." I have to agree, particularly if teams want to keep their starting QB on the field for 16 games. In the first four weeks, we saw close to 300 sacks, and we are on pace for more than 1,200 this season, which would be about an 8.5 percent increase from 1991.

Instead of looking to the rules committee for answers, the league should be turning to their offensive coordinators.

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