Football expert Lindsey Prather discusses how last season’s new rules instigated a record-breaking offensive show in professional football.
The 2018 NFL season was one for the record books; there was a resurgence of mind-numbingly potent offenses and notable breakout performances, such as MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs. Unfortunately, despite all of the fanfare and excitement, the Patriots won the Super Bowl just like they have six times in the past 18 seasons.
It was yet another affirmation of a dynasty that has continuously put up results in a league that has been relatively successful at producing some semblance of parity. Nonetheless, the overall development of various young talents throughout the season sparked a little hope.
A combination of factors have led to a complete revamping of teams around the league, something that could realistically threaten dynasties. It became obvious this season that the NFL’s coaching philosophy is shifting, and when combined with new rules and a surge of young talent, many large-scale changes dominated the headlines surrounding the league. All of this points to a potential passing-of-the-baton, in one way or another.
Offenses in the NFL broke a number of records this season. These were enabled by a number of elements; however, the first and most obvious explanation for this incredible spike in production is the combination of rule tweaks and points of emphasis placed by the NFL in 2018. The new Helmet Rule is an example of this. Although it technically applies to everyone on the field, it most strongly benefits pass catchers and runners, who are now protected from hits defenders initiate with the helmet.
Additionally, the Catch Rule was also reworked; players no longer have to control the ball through contact with the ground, and slight movement of it throughout the process of a catch is no longer automatically deemed a loss of control. Another example is the change regarding illegal contact, a rule that was most obviously seen in the multiple controversial “roughing the passer” penalties that derailed defenses and puzzled fans.
Notably, all of these changes favor offense, despite their intended purpose to simply improve the safety of the game. Quarterbacks can now stay in the pocket more confidently than ever, knowing they’re allowed more protection from hits by a defender. Receivers can bobble a catch with little concern, while enjoying protection from helmet hits from incoming defenders. With these circumstances considered, it’s unsurprising that there has been a historic rate of penalty-induced first downs in 2018.
These rule changes are just some of a large combination of factors that have dramatically increased passing yards and overall offensive production. NFL quarterbacks, and the philosophies on how to use them, are getting better. Offensive minds such as Sean McVay have tested the ability of traditional defenses to keep up, and teams like the Kansas City Chiefs have proven that a potent offense can mask the shortcomings of a mediocre defense in most settings.
This season, the NFL’s quarterback situation seems to have transformed from a major weakness across the league to a great strength. Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck are two big names that returned from injury, to varying degrees of success. However, most notably, the QBs of the last three draft classes have begun to create a showing all their own. Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott, Patrick Mahomes, Mitch Trubisky, Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield were able to create a new brand of hype this season, differing from the old names that are still flaunted at the position.
This is aside from the QB free-agent market that ran wild this season, placing Kirk Cousins and Case Keenum on teams in need. Although there are varying degrees of skill, talent and name recognition, most teams at least have some semblance of potential at that spot — something that became apparent this season. In conjunction with this, the systems surrounding young quarterbacks have been transformed to more closely resemble systems utilized in college schemes.
The integration of college concepts into the NFL this season has directly benefited teams that have implemented them. Passers are more efficient as coaches move personnel — tight ends, wide receivers and running backs — into space to utilize the field and force defenses to be faster and stronger to stop them. These tactics have required defenses to completely reevaluate their strategies as offensive coordinators design their game plans entirely around confusing coverage.
Nonetheless, as proven by the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, a machine-like offense can be disrupted with a little creativity. By flipping the script to confuse McVay, the Patriots managed to confuse a team that relied on tricky play design to score. Although fantastic coaches will continue to thwart predictions, I am cautiously optimistic that the playoff picture next year could include some teams that haven’t sniffed a wildcard spot in years.
A main storyline from this season illustrates that it’s merely a matter of time before youth overtakes tradition through the dominance of new coaching minds and younger players.