The spectacular, thrill-a-second quarterback play in last weekend’s NFL divisional games is the result of a revolution that began decades ago with coaches like Don Coryell and Bill Walsh and now reaches down into high schools.
Quarterbacks at all levels are completing a higher percentage of passes, throwing more touchdown passes, and shredding defenses more than ever before.
In the NFL, rule changes to promote scoring and protect quarterbacks account, in part, for the amazing proficiency of young QBs like Pat Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Joe Burrow, and veterans like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.
But today’s quarterbacks are also better athletes than the QBs of previous generations and capable of delivering the ball into a small window from outside of the pocket. In addition, they’re more adept at recognizing defensive schemes and utilizing the options available to them in massive playbooks.
In my time in the NFL, completing 60% of your passes was the gold standard. Today, the best QBs hover around 70% — or higher.
As a high school quarterback, I had three basic passing plays. In the offense I run at Bakersfield Christian High School, we have 70 to 80 plays. High school quarterbacks now are adjusting pass-blocking protections and calling audibles based on what they see across the line of scrimmage.
They can do all these things because they’ve had private QB coaches who played football at a high level and because, just like in every sport, each generation is better than the one before. And, when they move on to college, the acceleration of their skills and knowledge continues.
It’s like what Boomer Esiason, who was the NFL’s MVP in 1988 and played 14 seasons, said on his radio show this week to Burrow: “I didn’t know what you know when I left the NFL.”
How Walsh and Manning Changed the Game
If you go back to the Terry Bradshaw era, the quarterbacks mostly called their own plays. Then Walsh arrived on the scene for the 49ers and scripted the offense. That remained the norm until Payton Manning blazed a new path by calling his own plays after seeing the defense set up. Manning would use cadence, dummy calls, and play action to move defenders, and the Hall of Fame results speak for themselves.
This is how Tom Brady operates, too. He scans the defense, weighs his options, and decides on the play. Brady’s brilliance is that he understands how to exploit whatever the defense throws at him.
The other modern QB style is what Kansas City coach Andy Reid does with Mahomes. The Chiefs disguise their intentions with smoke and mirrors before the snap and then Mahomes just rips through his progressions and connects with an open receiver.
After the Chiefs won the coin toss to begin overtime against Buffalo last Sunday, did anyone think the Bills could possibly stop the Chiefs? Especially after Mahomes had marched the Chiefs 44 yards in 13 seconds for the tying field goal.
QBs have evolved to the point the NFL might have to bend the rules back to give defenses a fighting chance at success.
49ers (12-7) at Rams (14-5) — My heart is telling me the 49ers will prevail, but my brain keeps reminding me the Rams hold a huge edge in the passing game with Mathew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, and Odell Beckham Jr.
That outcome will hinge on whether the physical 49ers can impose their will on the Rams the same way they did on the Packers. The rub is, SoFi Stadium will be 70 degrees — not below freezing and snowing as it was in Green Bay.
Beginning with their Week 10 dismantling of the Rams in San Francisco, the 49ers have won 9 of their last 11 games — including a come-from-behind OT clipping of LA they needed to make the playoffs. However, the Rams are equally hot, with seven wins in their last eight games.
Can the 49ers — playing in their 17th NFC title game in the Super Bowl Era — beat the Rams three times in a season? For 49ers fans, there would be no sweeter way to return to the Super Bowl.
Bengals (12-7) at Chiefs (14-5) — Just four weeks ago, at Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati rallied from a 14-point deficit to edge Kansas City, 34-31, and clinch the AFC North.
However, I see two big areas of concern for Cincinnati.
Though Burrow was sacked nine times in the Bengals’ win over Tennessee, only twice did a defender beat his man to get to the quarterback. In the other cases, Burrow held onto the ball too long or there were missed communications in the offensive line. These mistakes speak to the Bengals’ inexperience, including that of coach Zac Taylor.
My other concern is, the Bengals used a unique defensive scheme in their win over KC, in which they forced Mahomes to throw toward the sidelines. You might be able to trick the Chiefs once, but not twice. Burrow will make his throws and Ja’Marr Chase will get his touches, but Kansas City is headed to the Super Bowl.
About the Author
David Carr is a former Fresno State quarterback, NFL No. 1 overall draft pick, and Super Bowl champion. Now he’s an analyst for the NFL Network and writing a weekly column in collaboration with GV Wire’s Bill McEwen. The column is sponsored by Valley Children’s Healthcare.