High-Octane Passing Rules NFL

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The old offensive mindset, coined by former Indiana University football coach Woody Hayes more than 40 years ago, hangs in Ravens Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron's head.

"There are three things that happen when you pass, and two of them are bad," Hayes said, referring to a completed pass, incomplete pass and interception.

Well, don't count Cameron as one of Hayes' believers. And if you want more evidence that high-octane passing attacks are taking over the NFL, take a look at the last two teams standing this season – the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints.

"That's long gone," Cameron said of Hayes' statement. "You really have to develop your ability to throw the ball to be good at a really high level. If you can't throw it, you're not going to go very far."

It's not at all surprising to Cameron that in a season dominated by signal-callers, arguably the NFL's top two quarterbacks – Peyton Manning and Drew Brees – will square off in this year's Super Bowl.

Indianapolis and New Orleans ranked second and fourth, respectively, in average passing yards per game this season. The Colts had the second-most passing attempts in the league while New Orleans came in at No. 15. The Seahawks led the NFL.

Meanwhile, the Ravens had the eighth-fewest attempts in the league and ranked 18th in passing yards per game.

At the same time, Cameron isn't worried that Baltimore's aerial offense doesn't exactly match up with the Colts' or Saints' just yet.

"One thing we want to be known for on offense is execution, not how much we throw it or how much we run it," Cameron said. "You have to execute whatever is called, a run or a pass. There's not an X amount of passes or runs that makes you successful."

This year was one of the most pass-happy in NFL history. Teams combined to throw for the most yards in league history and logged the third-most attempts, second only to 2002 and 2007. A record 10 different quarterbacks topped 4,000 passing yards. By comparison, in 2005 only two quarterbacks accomplished that feat.

Cameron said part of the reason for elevated passing statistics is that quarterbacks and their targets have drastically improved. Wide receivers are taller and faster and running backs are increasingly effective in the passing game, Cameron pointed out.

Another reason is changes to the NFL rules. In recent years, referees have been instructed to be more vigilant in flagging defenders for making contact with receivers past five yards.

"You're almost crazy if you don't throw the ball more because if you don't get a completion you'll get a pass interference or holding," Cameron said. "If you got a guy who can throw it, put guys out there that can catch it. I think that's the quickest way to move the ball up and down the field."

There's evidence that this year's most successful teams were more pass-oriented than run-driven. Eight of the 12 playoff teams were in the top half of the league when it came to pass attempts. Of the 12 teams that made the playoffs, eight had quarterbacks that were named to this year's Pro Bowl.

Conversely, just two playoff teams were in the top half of the league in rushing attempts over the regular season (Ravens and Colts). And only two teams (Ravens and Vikings) had a running back reach the Pro Bowl.

In recent years, having a satisfactory rushing game isn't even a prerequisite to make the Super Bowl. For the second straight season, the team that finished dead last in the NFL in average rushing yards per game will play for the Lombardi Trophy.

This season the Colts rushed for a paltry 80.9 yards per game, falling eight yards behind the AFC's No. 2 seed, the San Diego Chargers. Last year, the Cardinals rode Kurt Warner's arm while their rushing attack netted just 73.6 yards per game over the regular season.

The Ravens, meanwhile, have succeeded with a more balanced offensive attack and stifling defense. And while Cameron is a strong believer in developing a strong passing game, he isn't about to take his foot off the Ravens' rushing pedal either.

"We have to continue to grow [in the passing game], but we have some of the best runners in the league," Cameron said. "We're still going to run the football because we have good running backs. We like to be able to run it and throw it."

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