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News » LEGWOLD: Quarterbacks more on target

LEGWOLD: Quarterbacks more on target

LEGWOLD: Quarterbacks more on target
Somewhere, as the calendar pages flipped and the years went by, things changed.

That getting a Football from Point A to Point B, from quarterback to receiver, just became a different deal. Not some 50-50 kind of proposition, or even 60-40.

No, quarterbacks around the league have completed 61.4 percent of their passes overall through Week 11 this season. That would be a record.

Yawn. Since quarterbacks tied a league record in 2000 at 58.19 percent, a record has been set five times since with, if form holds over the final six weeks of the season, the sixth time to soon follow.

In fact, before the '08 season even opened, of the top 10 seasons in terms of overall completion percentage, eight of them have come in the previous eight years.

"Throwing the ball has evolved, just gotten a lot better," Broncos wide receiver Brandon Stokley said. "You look at the way high schools are using receivers, colleges, it's not a surprise. Guys are running better routes, spending time in the offseason, all the practices you have then can only help. I think people are just better at everything, passing-wise."

Said Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler: "If I was at 58 (percent), or something like that, I'd be disappointed. I've got to be over 60, maybe like 65. If you're at 65, 70 percent, you're doing your job now. That's just how it is. Especially as many times as you're throwing the ball - you've got to make every one count."

Johnny Unitas was the league's MVP in both 1964 and 1967. In '64, he completed 51.8 percent of his passes with 19 touchdowns and six interceptions and he was sacked a bone-rattling 37 times for the 12-2 Colts. In '67, he completed 58.5 percent of his passes with 20 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in Baltimore's 11-1-2 finish.

In 12 years as a starter, the late Hall of Famer, who is considered by many to be the best quarterback the game has ever seen, never finished a season better than 58.5 percent.

In 17 years as a starter, Dan Marino topped 60 percent in completions in just five years, with his best - 64.2 percent - coming in his second year in the league.

In 16 years as the Broncos starter, John Elway topped 60 percent passing in just three of his seasons.

This year, on a list that includes many players who will never be in conversations that include the Hall of Fame or Unitas, Elway or Marino, there are 19 starting quarterbacks completing better than 60 percent of their passes, with the league leader - Arizona's Kurt Warner - at 70.9 percent.

What happened?

"Well, the rules are going in the direction of the offense," said Broncos coach Mike Shanahan. "To help scoring, you can only bump the receivers in the 5-yard area. It wasn't like that in years past. And I think, with the passage of time, people know what they're doing a little more in the passing game.

"Quarterbacks, coaches, people working on the game - and look at the technology we have. We have digital video. You can look at what everybody's doing. You can study everybody and do it quickly. You can go right to a team's empty set, hit a button, get any play, any player you want."

And offseasons, in decades gone by, often consisted of two days of minicamps. Now, quarterbacks and receivers are running routes throughout the offseason, in passing camps and minicamps.

There is also the idea of possession offenses that now feature shorter pass routes instead of running the ball, a fundamental pillar in the many versions of the West Coast offense.

"Everybody's throwing the ball more, and absolutely people are better at it," Cutler said. "There are some shorter routes, basically a long handoff. But Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, some of those guys have raised the bar as a quarterback. If you can't keep yourself at 60 percent or better, you're probably not going to make it now as a quarterback."

There is also the matter of zone defenses, built on the premise that catches can be made, but defenders run to the ball and tackle to keep the gains to a minimum after the catch.

Defensive coordinators, struggling to overcome receivers who seem to get bigger year after year with cornerbacks who seem to stay roughly the same size, are less inclined to match up in man-to-man coverage because their defenders have to take their hands off the receiver after five yards.

So they play zone, let the defenders face the ball more and try to keep everything in front of them.

"The pressure's on you as a quarterback now to get the ball in the right places," Cutler said. "You're not going to see a lot of Cover 1 - the single safety deep - because you're going to be one-on-one on the outside in that as a defense, and the way the rules are now, as good as receivers are now, as good as quarterbacks are now, you're going to lose that battle, eight, nine times out of 10 if you're a defense.

"So they zone it up and make the quarterback think, make him make the right decision. And guys, having worked all offseason on their decisions, are making a lot of them right."



* Eagles (5-4-1) at Ravens (6-4) 11 a.m. Sunday

The Ravens haven't allowed a running back to top 100 rushing yards in 29 games, and that total figures to go to 30 because there are few more pass-heavy teams in the league than the Eagles. They are tossing the ball on 60.6 percent of their plays this season. Eagles kicker David Akers needs seven points to reach 1,000 for his career.

* Dolphins (6-4) at Patriots (6-4) 11 a.m. Sunday

For all his success in New England, coach Bill Belichick is only 10-9 against the Dolphins in his career, a total that includes the 38-13 Dolphins win in September in a game in which Miami unveiled its "Wildcat" formation. Patriots running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, an undrafted rookie, has four rushing touchdowns in his past five games.

* Jets (7-3) at Titans (10-0) 11 a.m. Sunday

The game features the top two rushers in the AFC in the Jets' Thomas Jones (854 yards) and Titans rookie Chris Johnson (787 yards). Jones has had nine touchdowns in the past six games. Jets quarterback Brett Favre will face a Titans defense tied (with Baltimore) for the AFC lead with 15 interceptions.

* Giants (9-1) at Cardinals (7-3) 2:15 p.m. Sunday

Cardinals running back Edgerrin James might play for a first-place team, but he still has asked to be released. He has had three carries for 5 yards the past two games. The Giants, with the league's No. 4 offense and No. 2 defense, are the most balanced outfit in the league. The Giants have scored at least 29 points six times and surrendered 14 points or fewer six times.


8 rushing touchdowns for Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner in five home games this season.


Broken record

Quarterbacks leaguewide are on record pace in completion per- centage - 61.4 entering Week 12. Eight of the top 10 seasons all time have come since the start of the 2000 season.

Year Pct.

2007 61.16

2006 59.77

2004 59.75

2002 59.65

2005 59.46

2001 58.97

2003 58.78

1995 58.19

2000 58.19

1994 58.04

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: November 21, 2008

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Ray Lewis Name: Ray Lewis
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Experience: 13 years
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