Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC South [Print without images]

Tuesday, April 12, 2011
More on how the game is changing

By Pat Yasinskas
ESPN.com

In this post Monday, we looked at how the National Football League has been turning more to the passing game the past three years.

We previously talked about how teams are throwing the ball more often, using the shotgun formation more frequently and turning to empty backfields more than ever. But there’s more to be factored in with all that.

The changes are making wide receivers and defensive backs more important, while teams are getting away from two-running back sets.

In 2010, teams used three or more wide receivers on 48.2 percent of offensive snaps, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In 2009, the percentage was 46.1 and it was 45.7 in 2008. The flip side of that is the use of two or more running backs on the field has declined in that same time frame. Last season, teams used two backs on 30.4 percent of plays. In 2009, the figure was 33.8 percent and 34 percent in 2008.

The offensive trends have made the nickel back almost like a starter on defense. In 2010, teams used formations of five or more defensive backs on 48.5 percent of all defensive snaps. In 2009, that figure was 44.9 percent and it was 43.4 in 2008.

Defenses also have tried to adjust by blitzing defensive backs more often. In 2010, defensive backs blitzed on 15.9 percent of all drop backs. That’s up from 13.3 percent in 2009 and 11.5 percent in 2008.