SI Vault
Peter King
December 23, 1991
Coming of Age
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December 23, 1991

The Nfl

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In 1983, Chiefs quarterback Bill Kenney set a team record by passing for 4,348 yards during the season, Seahawk quarterback Dave Krieg threw for a team-record 418 yards in a game, Charger quarterback Dan Fouts was piloting the Air Coryell offense, and Bronco quarterback John Elway's career was just getting started. What a difference eight years makes.

Long the NFL's most wide-open division, the AFC West now hugs the ground on offense. Why? First, Marty Schottenheimer of the Chiefs, Art Shell of the Raiders and Dan Henning of the Chargers—all of whom were hired in 1989—are run-oriented coaches. Second, the AFC West no longer is stocked with top quality passers. Last weekend, the starters were Elway (and he has a sore shoulder), John Friesz of San Diego, Mark Vlasic of K.C., Jay Schroeder of L.A. and Kelly Stouffer of Seattle.

Moreover, the Chargers have gone from a mobile offensive line that averaged 271 pounds in 1983 to a plowhorse front averaging 297, and San Diego is mashing teams with huge backs Marion Butts (248 pounds) and Rod Bernstine (238). "This division's getting the same philosophy as the NFC East," says Chiefs president Carl Peterson. "Last year I specifically drafted [linebacker] Percy Snow to deal with San Diego's running game."

The Chiefs offense boasts 260-pound Christian Okoye and 242-pound Barry Word, the Raiders are breaking in 255-pound Nick Bell, and the Seahawks' 231-pound John L. Williams has been a solid performer for six years. Seattle has even used 295-pound tackle Ronnie Lee as a short-yardage blocking back.

"We played some of those teams this year—the Chiefs, the Chargers, the Raiders—and you had to soak your body for a week after those games," says Falcon cornerback Tim McKyer.

Suggestions from Upstairs

Here are four significant on-field adjustments that commissioner Paul Tagliabue would like to see addressed by the NFL's competition committee in the off-season:

Cut the 45 seconds between plays to 40. According to statistics compiled by the league through the first 15 weeks of this season, an average of 14.35 seconds remained on the 45-second clock when the center bent over the ball and 9.42 seconds were left when he snapped it. "But some teams are milking the clock like a stall in college basketball within the confines of the 45-second clock," says Tagliabue.

Limit situation substitutions. The commissioner thinks unlimited substitution favors the defense and takes up time that teams could be using to run plays.

Kick off from the 30-yard line, instead of the 35. "The kickers are too damn good," says Tagliabue. Twenty-one percent of this season's kickoffs have been touch-backs, an alltime high. Tagliabue wants to see more kicks returned. "Great," says Chiefs kicker Nick Lowery. "What's next? Kicking from the 25?"

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