Sometimes a passer reads blitz when it doesn't really exist. There are still only four people rushing, they're just different people. Smaller, quicker people. Decision time is cut down. Younger quarterbacks, less skilled than the Marinos and Elways who entered the league in the 1980s, get rattled. The older ones are, well, old, and their lack of mobility hurts them. And then you have 330-pound offensive linemen struggling to block on the move, to cut off all those arrows whizzing at their quarterback. "You have the worst athletes on the field trying to block the best," Patriots coach Bill Parcells says.
"Television analysts glorify those overweight linemen with the big guts, the pants that are too tight," Walsh says, "but teams are winning despite them, not because of them. By the fourth quarter they're gasping, they're struggling. They can't keep up. They'd be much more efficient if they were 30 pounds lighter."
There's still another theory to consider about the downswing in passing—that officials just aren't calling the game the way they used to. The cheap interference call downfield is harder to come by this year. You know the drill: Third-and-long, the quarterback heaves up a desperation pass, there's marginal contact, the offense gets the call, and the drive stays alive. This year the officials are letting more stuff go and, say many offensive coaches, they're failing to enforce the five-yard bump rule on defensive backs.
"They're not allowed to hit the receiver beyond five yards," says San Diego offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen, "but they're grabbing them 15, 20 yards downfield. In camp we bring officials in to explain things and I say, 'That's illegal, right?' They say, 'Well, it depends how much he grabbed him.'
"I tell them, 'Jeez, I hope St. Peter's that way, because if he grades on the degree I've sinned, I might have a chance at heaven after all.' "