We began the 2009 season with high hopes and healthy curiosity. How different would the NFC North look following the influx of three dynamic quarterbacks into this division, one that already included Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers? When it was all said and done, would we still see Black and Blue in the mirror?
The final numbers are in and the mandate is clear. We might be tough and gnarly, but we’re a passing division. (Hence, “Air and Space.”) The return of Brett Favre, along with the arrival of Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford, made a game-changing impact.
You can see the bottom line in the charts below. Our collective pass yardage jumped 15 percent from last year, moving us from No. 7 among divisions to No. 3. Our 107 touchdown passes ranked No. 1.
We can attribute the increase in productivity to a pair of factors: Better quarterbacks and an intentional shift in play calling.
All four NFC North teams threw more passes this season than they did in 2008, ranging from a 20 percent increase by Minnesota to a three percent elevation in Green Bay. When you look at a list of NFL teams ranked by pass attempts, you’ll see all four of our teams ranked in the top 10.
You’ve got that right. Nobody throws the ball around like the NFC North. Below is an illustration of how our pass-run ratio changed this season.
What does this mean for the future? We can feel reasonably confident that Detroit, Chicago and Green Bay will continue following this year’s trend. Rodgers has become an elite quarterback in his second year as a starter. The combination of Stafford and receiver Calvin Johnson is the best thing the Lions have going, and the names circulating to replace Chicago offensive coordinator Ron Turner -- Jeremy Bates and Mike Martz among them -- guarantee the Bears will continue to build their offense around Cutler.
Minnesota’s direction is less certain. As we discussed earlier this week, Favre effected a ground-breaking change in Brad Childress’ offense. Without Favre next season, it’s reasonable to expect the Vikings to rely more on their power running game.
Let’s just say we still have some air and space between us and that decision, however.