SEATTLE — This is the most decidedly mediocre Super Bowl in at least seven years.
At least it is in terms of passing offense. Neither of this year’s NFL finalists ranked in the top 10 in passing yards during the regular season. It’s the first time that has happened since 2006, and it’s also an affirmation of Seattle’s offensive approach under coach Pete Carroll. Tangible proof that you don’t have to drop back and pass, pass, pass your way to a title in today’s NFL.
Because for all the talk about the NFL being a quarterback-driven league, Baltimore’s Joe Flacco didn’t throw for 4,000 yards this year. Neither did San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick. Not even if you projected his statistics out for a full season.
The fact their teams will play Sunday to determine the league’s champion is something Seattle coach Pete Carroll can point to as evidence his run-oriented approach is not outdated.
Carroll has made no secret of his desire to build his offense off the ground game, an M.O. that stands in stark contrast to the league-wide trend to air it out.
Passing for 4,000 yards in a season is no longer the exceptional accomplishment it once was. Ten quarterbacks surpassed that milestone in 2011, 11 did it this season.
Those statistics raised the possibility that Carroll’s ground-bound emphasis was outdated, and he would have Seattle taking a .22 caliber approach to offense in what had become a .357 Magnum world.
The Seahawks ranked No. 27 in passing yards this season, and while that ranking reflects Seattle’s reluctance to put too much on rookie quarterback Russell Wilson too soon, it’s also rooted in Carroll’s philosophy to have his offense centered on the ground game.
The Seahawks’ passing totals grew over the course of the season, going from an average of 148.5 yards passing during a 2-2 start to 227 yards per game during an undefeated December. That doesn’t mean Seattle was throwing more often, however. Just more effectively. The Seahawks actually averaged fewer pass plays the second half of the season than they did over the first eight games.
All of that is a long way of saying that while Seattle’s offense may increasingly cater to Wilson, don’t expect a wholesale change of philosophy. Seattle is not going to start throwing the ball 35, 40 times a game like some teams.
And that’s what makes this Super Bowl matchup encouraging from Seattle’s perspective. A team can win a championship without throwing caution — not to mention 40-some passes a game — to the wind.
Last weekend’s results in the conference championship games are proof that today’s NFL is about more than just having the most prolific passing game. Atlanta and New England are at the cutting edge of this airborne era, yet neither one managed so much as a single point in the second half last week, losing to the 49ers and Ravens respectively.
Only one team has passed for more yards than the New England Patriots over the previous eight seasons. No team has made the playoffs more often. Yet for all the regular-season success and gaudy passing numbers, this is the eighth consecutive season in which the Patriots will have failed to win the Super Bowl.
This observation is not made to belittle the Patriots or their accomplishments. And it’s not some sort of snide remark about the coincidence that Tom Brady has won championships and he has been married to Giselle Bundchen, but he’s never done both at the same time.
The point is that despite the explosion of passing totals in the regular season — a trend that goes well beyond Brady’s Patriots — the formula for postseason success may not have changed as much as you might think.
That’s not to say the league’s potent passing attacks can’t win a Super Bowl. Indianapolis did it after the 2006 season, the Saints after 2009, followed by the Packers a season later.
But the fact that New England has reached the playoffs in seven of the past eight seasons and reached the Super Bowl twice yet hasn’t won a title in that time speaks to the difficulty of stringing together at least three consecutive postseason victories with a pass-first offense.
That doesn’t mean its any easier to get there with the approach Seattle is taking under Carroll, only that this week’s matchup is proof that it’s possible.