Change or die. That's the pressure on every system, every organization, every culture over time. That's certainly true in the NFL where teams must adapt to new schemes, new methods, new levels of athletic ability. Even if a team has a longtime coach or front office in place, as trends ebb and flow in today's NFL, so must their approach. And in this new "spacing league," it's vital for teams to adjust.
Spacing league? That's the term Mike Smith uses to describe the NFL at this stage, and it's an accurate assessment. In NFL history, quarterbacks have thrown for 4,000 yards or more a total of 84 times. Ten of those came last season. That's 12% of the sum total of decades of passing stats coming in just one season. If you slide the measure back two seasons to 2007, the number jumps to 23. In other words, the NFL has quickly become a passing -- or spacing -- league.
What does this mean? This means that even if a team doesn't hit their target in the end zone, it's common to at least move the chains several times. Defenses, then, must adjust to an offenses ability to move the ball seemingly at will at moments. Teams are going to get their yards, so it's a matter of stopping them in time before they score. This makes all the difference for the types of players you have to draft.
Think of the AFC West. The Raiders, as bumbling as their personnel moves are, go for speed each and every year. The Chargers have perhaps the NFL's greatest passing attack. Denver's abandoned the mammoth running game of year's past for more of Head Coach Josh McDaniels' offensive prowess. Simply put: the AFC West is a strong example of the overall movement in the NFL. The Chiefs, therefore, must approach this off-season with this in mind.
More analysis after the jump:"I think [the league] has becoming a spacing game for sure," says Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith. "You're not seeing a whole lot of two back running sets. There's more single back sets. It is a quarterback's league. I think you saw more 300 yard passing games as well, but of course that makes sense with the number of 4,000 yard passers. I've always said you have to be able to run the ball and even though the Indianapolis Colts played in the Super Bowl and were number 32 in the league in rushing, I don't know if that's an anomaly, but if you look through the playoffs, you'll find they ran the ball very effectively."
"I really believe that at the core of it, you still have to able to run the football and stop the run," he continues. "But I do know this: the formations and what offensive coordinators are doing is they are making it very difficult, because you have to defend the entire 53-and-a-third yards when they put their formations together."
When it comes to approaching the draft differently, Smith notes that the spacing league affects everything. "I really think it affects the way you put your football team together. When you're talking about a spacing offense, you've got to be able to have guys that will match up. When people are putting three receivers and they have a running back that 'run routes just like a receiver,' you have four receivers and you have to be able to match up."
One of the changes could possibly be the switch to more linebacker/safety types. "I think the sub-linebacker position is something that's evolving and will continue to evolve. Where you normally have had linebacker types playing that, I think you'll see more safeties and bigger corners play on those downs. I think you'll see much more six and even seven defensive back defensive schemes to match up with the skill players and the level of skill that the offenses are able to put on the field.'
You see this with Taylor Mays this year. He's getting hit hard this off-season by critics of his play at the straight safety position, but perhaps his all-out style, tackling ability and strong build is exactly what's needed in the NFL of tomorrow. Think of Carolina LB Thomas Davis and you begin to get an idea.
Another difference is stamina. If defenses can expect to stay on the field for longer periods at a time, the Chiefs need to make sure they either have plenty of depth -- which is hardly the case on a young, rebuilding team like KC -- or else the players that are on the field need to have the wind to keep up sideline to sideline. Linebackers must pursue and not need a breather. Defensive linemen must use their burst again and again. And even if a guy provides a great pass rush, it might not be worth taking him if he can't stay on the field to stop the run as well. The Chiefs have precious few picks to add players and to get a guy who can only play one or two downs with an early pick just doesn't make sense.
The NFL is, indeed, a spacing league. More and more quarterbacks will get their yards, but that doesn't mean they have to score. But what it does mean is that defenses need to be able to play at a high level for multiple downs at a time.