Is 2011 the Year of the Quarterback as ESPN is touting on its website? To put it simply, no.
The year got started in a flurry with Tom Brady topping 500 yards and rookie Cam Newton topping 400 yards, but things have leveled off.
Overall, passing yards per game played in the NFL are up slightly from 2010. In the 256 games played in 2010 there was an average of 443.1 yards passing. In the 147 games played in 2011 that average is up to 462.5. The difference is relatively small. Certainly not enough to declare this year some kind of historic passing season.
Yards are everything, however. Touchdowns and interceptions are likely more important and they do nothing to make the argument that 2011 is the Year of the QB. Interceptions are up slightly per game this season from 1.99 in 2010 to 2.02 in 2011. Furthermore, touchdowns are down, going from 2.93 last season to 2.83 this season. The difference of 0.10 may seem small but over the course of the season it will represent 25.6 less touchdown passes collectively.
How could the league start off so hot in the passing game and yet fall back to normal? Defenses adjusted. It's that simple. Defenses have adjusted and offenses can't re-adjust. The passing game is all about timing. That timing is mostly developed during the offseason with all the workouts teams do. Offenses don't have that kind of timing this season.
In early games, defenses weren't up to speed yet. Think about it like you would a playground football game. Passing rules and people get burned deep because the defense isn't really organized.
After a few weeks the defenses got up to speed and got organized. Without all the complicated timing routes, offenses aren't equipped to dominate in the passing game. The playground style doesn't work anymore.
Why does this matter? In the grand scheme of things it doesn't, but to San Francisco 49ers fans it signifies that this isn't some kind of all encompassing passing year where teams can pass at will. The 49ers should be fine how they are. Run heavy but pass enough to keep the opposing defense balanced.
Quarterback Alex Smith won't be passing for 4,000 yards like almost all other quarterbacks on top teams will, and that is just fine.