Let's start with the facts. Last year we witnessed four of the top six passing-yardage seasons in the NFL's 92-year history. Brees (5,476) and Tom Brady (5,235) shattered Marino's 26-year-old record of 5,084. Matthew Stafford (5,038) and Eli Manning (4,933) were within a combined 197 yards of the mark.
Matthews is right about 5,000 being the new 4,000. In 2005—eons ago, it now seems—two men threw for more than 4,000 yards. Last year three quarterbacks surpassed 5,000.
The genie's out of the bottle, and no defensive coordinator is going to be able to put it back. Here's why, as I see it:
The rise of the no-huddle. When defenses started shifting in the mid-1990s toward the tricky zone blitz, with pressure coming from any direction on any given play, offensive minds went to the laboratory. They figured that the no-huddle, if used quickly to maximize snaps, would prevent opponents from substituting and would make defensive signal-callers default to vanilla schemes. There just wouldn't be enough time to figure out and execute the optimal matchup.
The Packers run the no-huddle better than any other team. In 2011, they used it on 27% of their offensive plays. Coach Mike McCarthy loves the progress that his young skill players made in the scheme last year and he appears ready to ramp it up in '12, as evidenced in Green Bay's second preseason game, against Cleveland, when McCarthy had his first unit in no-huddle on every snap of the three series it played.
And it's catching on. In the Bills' first preseason tune-up, against the Redskins, they went no-huddle and didn't run the ball for the entire first quarter.
Will there ever be a defensive antidote to the no-huddle? Perhaps. But there's just too much risk in 12-men-on-the-field penalties to imagine what that answer would be right now.
Tight ends are getting out of control. Here New England is leading the way. In 2011, tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski played more than 1,000 snaps apiece in the same season, an astonishing statistic in any era. Hernandez is all over the map—note his 21 snaps at running back in a playoff win over Denver—making him a matchup nightmare.
For proof of the impact, just watch the trickle-down effect. Eight years ago Scott Pioli, then Bill Belichick's personnel man and draft maven, would never have used a first-round pick on a safety; it wasn't a priority position like cornerback, pass rusher and quarterback. But in 2010, as Chiefs G.M., Pioli drafted safety Eric Berry with the fifth overall pick, and he says now that he would have had a tough choice to make this year had Alabama safety Mark Barron been available when Kansas City picked at No. 11. (Barron went seventh; Pioli settled for Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe.)
That's how big a danger marauding tight ends have become: Pioli would have considered spending a high pick on a safety for the second time in three years. "Tight ends have become matchup problems, and you need physical hitters who can cover," explains Pioli.