2010: plenty o' passing, but where are the points?

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 02, 2011



(Pictured: Chicago Cardinals Hall of Famer Charlie Trippi, the top offensive weapon on the highest-scoring team in 1948, the highest-scoring season in NFL history.)
 
The 2010 season enters the history books as one of the most prolific scoring seasons in NFL history, narrowly edging out 1964 for the No. 8 spot.
 
The season that ended Sunday also produced more points on a per-game basis than any season since 1965.
 
We reported on the top scoring seasons in NFL history, in an instant ColdHardFootballFacts.com classic, before the start of the season. Of course, we were unaware at the time that 2010 would go down as one of the best ever. But it turns out that the NFL is in the middle of a little scoring boomlet: the 2008 season is No. 10 on the all-time list. So that's two of the 10 highest scoring seasons in history in the past three years.
 
Planet Pigskin has a scoring fever!
 
But what's most shocking -- and this was the gist of our preseason piece -- is that scoring is still falls short of the mark set in the the glory days of NFL offense, which began soon after World War II.
 
Yes, nobody but loyal ColdHardFootballFacts.com readers (Hi Cousin Cooter!) know that the NFL's offensive glory days came not during the high-tech era of Montana & Marino or Brady & Manning, but during the era of leather helmets in pro football's postwar revolution.
 
Interestingly, teams ran the ball much more often back then. And teams these days pass more often and more effectively than ever before. But those gaudy passing numbers of today have not produced more points.
 
It's quite shocking, frankly, to see 1948 as the most prolific scoring season in NFL history, and to see three seasons from the late 1940s among the top 12, along with several others from the early 1950s.
 
Top Scoring Seasons in NFL History (PPG, both teams)
 

Year

PPG

1 1948 46.48
2 1965 46.12
3 1950 45.88
4 1958 45.18
5 1949 44.98
6 1962 44.62
7 1952 44.56
8 2010 44.074
9 1964 44.071
10 2008 44.06
11 1963 43.96
12 1947 43.90
 
There are two different ways to look at this phenomenon:
 
ONE - Balanced offenses score more points, so teams scored more points when they ran more often. We do know that many teams simply pass the ball too much these days, and that this problem often has a negative impact on the ability to score points. The Colts provided evidence of that phenomenon this year. They led the NFL with 679 passing attempts and they scored a lot of points (435 points).
 
But they struggled badly when they relied too much on the passing game, as we reported a couple of times during their mid-season 0-3 slump. They ran the ball more often (as we advised), they got out of the slump and won their final four games thanks to a more balanced attack.
 
The Patriots, meanwhile, led the NFL in scoring this year (518 points) and they did it with a fairly balanced offense: 507 pass attempts and 454 rush attempts. Nineteen teams passed the ball more often, including a whole bunch of scoring lightweights (Buffalo, Miami, St. Louis, Arizona, Washington).
 
TWO - Conversely, let us throw out a theory, kind of related to our theory as to why AFL teams often scored more points than their NFL counterparts despite a much uglier brand of football: offenses these days are TOO efficient.
 
Hear us out: The rate of interceptions is way, way down in recent years, as ball-control-type passing attacks first perfected by the Bill Walsh-Joe Montana 49ers are utilized by most every team. The Patriots might have perfected this strategy in 2010, as Tom Brady threw an incredible 36 TDs with just 4 INT (an incredible 9 to 1 TD-INT ratio, easily the best ever). But a whole bunch of quarterbacks posted incredible TD-INT ratios this year.
 
It obviously helps offenses to limit mistakes.
 
But it does something else, too: it limits defensive scores and those short fields that make it easier for offenses to put points on the board. In 1948, for example, the league-wide interception rate was a whopping 7.4 percent. The league-wide interception rate in 2010 was just 3 percent.
 
In other words, teams had a lot more opportunities to score cheap points in 1948 than they did in 2010. The Patriots were the only team in 2010, among 32, to top 30.0 PPG here in 2010.
 
But back in 1948, three clubs in a 10-team league topped 30.0 PPG. Trippi's Cardinals scored 32.9 PPG, which would have been a 526-point season in a 16-game campaign.
 
It's just a theory right now, one we'll investigate further. But it's a theory that makes sense, and goes a long way toward explaining why today's gaudy passing numbers have not produced the gaudy scoring totals of yesteryear.
 
Contemporary offenses are too efficient ... so there aren't as many cheap points being handed out in the modern game like there was back in the leather-helmet days and up through the high-risk passing wars of the 1960s.

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