|Dan Marino didn't play in an era with stats 'artificially enhanced by rules changes.' (US Presswire)|
Let's travel back in time for a moment. The year is 1984 and some are calling Dan Marino the best quarterback of all time.
That season, Marino put on a passing display that many said then would never be duplicated. He threw for an NFL record 5,084 yards, a mark that stands to this day, nearly three decades later. What's important to remember most about what Marino did was how Marino did it.
His throws were unbelievably accurate and he did this during a ferocious era of NFL defense. The 1980s were one of the more violent in football when athleticism on the defensive side of the ball, in many ways, was better than the offense. Players like Lawrence Taylor, Reggie White and Ronnie Lott, among many others -- head hunters and rib breakers -- were allowed great latitude to do massive damage to wide receivers and quarterbacks. Receivers weren't protected and quarterbacks were brutalized. Though Marino's quick release helped to protect him from many major hits (though far from all of them) his receivers were hammered.
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Fast forward to now, and New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees who is only 305 yards away from breaking Marino's mark. Not only will be break it, Brees is likely to shatter it, and like Marino before him, what's most important to remember about what Brees is doing is how he's doing it.
Like Marino, Brees is using pinpoint accuracy to shred defenses. Unlike Marino, Brees is doing it with liberal rules that leave defenses playing with one hand tied behind their back.
In effect, Brees' record will be severely watered down. So much so, that it almost deserves an asterisk.
It's not only Brees. Many of the incredible numbers put up by quarterbacks today are artificially enhanced by rules changes -- particularly changes made in the past several years as the football culture has shifted from an extremely violent one to a just a violent one.
Defensive holding is commonplace now and pass interference calls are astronomically high. It's incredible to watch. It seems as often as not, a long pass downfield ends up in a penalty on the defensive player. This alters how a defender plays a wide receiver. Inevitably, fearing a penalty, a larger cushion is given.
Roughing the passer, blows to the head and the increasing calls for hits on defenseless receivers has given quarterbacks like Brees wide open passing lanes and wide-open receivers. For Marino, it was the Pleistocene age. For Brees, it's the ease of an iPad.
Most important, the new emphasis on player safety has helped eliminate big hits in the center of the field. Players like Lott and Andre Waters intimidated wide receivers who ran across the middle with jaw-cracking hits. Those hits would get a player suspended today. In Marino's day, they were commonplace.
Receivers now go across the middle knowing chances of getting cracked in the head are slim. You see these offenses. Receivers run untouched and wide open. The deep middle is where a defense is most vulnerable and, like any great player, Brees has taken full advantage. The rules have removed lions from the wild allowing the antelope population to prosper.
There's a reason that among the top 10 highest-rated passers of all time only two (Steve Young tied at second) and Joe Montana (tied for ninth) didn't play in the 2000s. It gets more stunning when extrapolated even further. Matt Schaub, Chad Pennington, Daunte Culpepper, Matt Ryan, Jeff Garcia (all played a majority of their career in the 2000s) have better career quarterback ratings than Marino.
Who had the more impressive passing season?
Drew Brees in 2011
Dan Marino in 1984
Total Votes: 37,959
Trent Green, Joe Flacco, David Garrard, Donovan McNabb, Rich Gannon, Shaun Hill, Jay Cutler and Marc Bulger (again all played bulk of career in 2000s) have better ratings than Warren Moon, Dan Fouts and John Elway who played the bulk or a significant portion of their careers in the 1980s.
When the head hunters and big hitters are severely restricted from patrolling the middle, the offense naturally explodes.
Marino's mark came during an era when he had to throw through much tighter windows with wide receivers getting decapitated.
This is not to say that Brees isn't a brilliant talent on his way to the Hall of Fame. He is. Brees. Carpet. Red. Roll it out. It's just that his record is a shell of Marino's.
And yes, it deserves an asterisk.
2. This will sound insane but I think this is Bill Belichick's best coaching job ever. Better than the Super Bowl years. Better than when Tom Brady was lost for the season and the Patriots still won 11 games. Best he's ever done.
This might also be Brady's best season. His accuracy has turned players like Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez -- players with great athletic ability and size -- from good players into spectacular ones. He's got the Patriots on the verge of the top seed in the AFC with virtually no running game and no defense.
3. League execs say it's common knowledge that the job Bill Cowher is hoping to get is the Giants. If the Giants fail to make the playoffs with another late season swoon, Cowher could get his wish.
4. I'm told by a several league sources that Kansas City interim coach Romeo Crennel is almost a lock to get the job full-time. One source said it's 80 to 90 percent certain and what Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli could do is bring in a hot offensive coordinator to go with Crennel.
Meanwhile, in Miami, interim coach Todd Bowles doesn't have a chance in hell at keeping that position. Which is a shame.
5a. Champ of the week: Tim Tebow. I still don't think he can play quarterback. His style of play isn't sustainable, but against New England I watched him take some hellacious shots. Not one or two but many. The Patriots were absolutely teeing off and he didn't back down. Watching Tebow was almost ... inspirational.
5b. Chump of the week: Santonio Holmes. Got a celebration penalty while the Jets were getting blown apart by the Eagles. He's a team captain. No, seriously, he is.
5c. Tweet of the week: This week, Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker joined Twitter. One of his first tweets: "Don't tell Bill I'm on here! Thanks! Hahaha!" Too late, dude.
6. Raheem Morris is facing the classic problem of a losing coach. I'm told players are having doubts he can save the season and those doubts have duck-walked into every corner of that locker room. This is when a coach is truly tested. I fear, however, for Morris it is too late to salvage his situation.
7. Best cameo appearance of NFL players in a movie since Necessary Roughness?
8. I think DeMaurice Smith has enough votes on the executive committee to get his $1 million bonus. But the fact anyone was ever opposed to paying it remains mystifying. I mean, absolutely dumbfounding.
9. Former Colts coach Tony Dungy could have any NFL head coach opening he wants. Any he wants and any in college. Every team with an opening has contacted him. College teams have contacted him as well. He talked about NFL teams contacting him while a guest on the Pardon the Interruption show but he was being slightly coy (or more likely with Dungy, humble). After checking with several general managers about Dungy saying he's been approached by several teams, I was told he was near or at the top of almost every list.
Dungy's response to these teams? Thanks but no thanks. I don't think Dungy will ever get into coaching again.
But I do think he'd become a general manager.
10. San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh says Alex Smith is his long-term quarterback. Big. Mistake.