Medieval Football: Modern NFL Passes By AFC North
By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts Ivanhoe of Analysis (@footballfacts)
There’s a gorgeous old Flemish city called Bruges that’s fairly famous because it’s a nearly perfectly preserved example of medieval architecture and urban design.
It was a major commercial hub of the Middle Ages, a center of textiles manufacturing and, more importantly for our audience, the brewing industry. For a brief period, Bruges ruled the European world!
Then the Zwin River dried up and became impassable. The city was shut off from the North Sea and the lack of modern transportation killed the town. Bruges was abandoned. The industrial revolution came along, advancing mankind with it, but simply passed by the old city of Bruges.
All that was left behind of this once mighty commercial center was a hollow shell that offered a glimpse into the way things used to be in urban Europe of old.
That more or less describes the state of the AFC North, at least after two weeks of the 2013 season. The AFC North is stuck playing medieval football, offering a glimpse into the way things used to be in pro football of old, as was apparent in two intra-division games this week:
- The Baltimore Ravens lamely outslugged the hopeless Cleveland Browns, 14-6, on Sunday
- The Cincinnati Bengals outlasted the apparently hapless Pittsburgh Steelers, 20-10, on Monday Night Football
Eleven NFL teams have already scored 50+ points in two games this year, including all four teams in the NFC North. The AFC North combined for 50 points this weekend in two games among four teams.
That's 12.5 PPG, for those of you keeping score at home. And that's not good.
The Denver Broncos scored 49 points in their Week 1 win over the AFC North Ravens. Four AFC North teams scored 50 points in all of Week 2.
The division can’t score and so far is a collective 2-6 – with both wins coming within the division this weekend. The AFC North is 0-4 right now against outside competition. It was the only division to go O-fer in Week 1.
For the sake of comparison, the lightly regarded AFC East is 6-2 overall and 4-0 outside the division.
This once mighty commercial center of a division ruled the world just last year, as Joe Flacco’s modern aerial assault carried the Baltimore Ravens to a high-flying Super Bowl victory.
In the few short games since then, the river of success has dried up, shutting off the AFC North from the rest of the modern football world.
Reigning Super Bowl MVP Flacco has averaged just 6.0 YPA with a 78.1 passer rating and 72.6 Real Quarterback Rating through two games.
Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers won Super Bowls in 2005 and 2008 behind great defense and historic (but under-appreciated) down field production out of the young quarterback. Remember, Roethlisberger entered the 2013 season in the top 10 in NFL history in both career passer rating (92.5) and career average per pass attempt (7.9).
Big Ben suddenly can’t play the position. His 74.8 passer rating puts Pittsburgh at No. 25 league wide.
And those are the elite quarterbacks in the division.
Andy Dalton has shown some promise. But the reality is that statistically he’s been no better than an average quarterback in his young career: No. 13 in Offensive Passer Rating last year, and just No. 17 in passer rating this year.
And he’s the top-rated passer in the division right now.
Then there's poor old Brandon Weeden and the Cleveland Browns, the team that's been searching for a quarterback since Otto Graham retired way back in 1955, about the time Bruges was still a major commerical center.
Weeden has produced a dismal 62.5 passer rating, while the team's rating (brought down further by back-up Jason Campbell) is 60.5, 31st in the NFL.
NFL teams combined to produce a record 63 touchdown passes in Week 1 – 53 of those by Peyton Manning against the AFC North’s Ravens (OK, only seven, but still tying an all-time record).
Those 63 TD passes are an average of nearly two touchdowns per game or eight per division. The AFC North, in the most prolific passing TD week in NFL history, combined for just five.
The AFC North had only four more TD passes in Week 2. The division collectively has thrown nine TD passes in eight games. Denver’s Peyton Manning alone has thrown nine TD passes in two games.
The AFC North has averaged 2.2 TD passes this season. The rest of the NFL has produced 3.6 TD passes through two games. Here's a look at the AFC North's collective passing performance compared with the rest of the league.
- AFC North: 58.8%, 5.8 YPA, 2.7% TDs, 2.7% INTs, 1-to-1 TD-INTs, 72.95 passer rating
- Rest of NFL: 62.7%, 7.0 YPA, 4.9% TDs, 2.5% INTs, 2-to-1 TD-INTs, 89.6 passer rating
The AFC North is only slightly above the league average in INT rate. But it trails the rest of the NFL dramatically in every measure of passing performance. The medieval passing game has led to medieval scores:
- The average AFC North team has scored 14.6 PPG through Week 2
- The rest of the NFL has averaged scored 23.4 PPG through Week 2
The AFC North's 14.6 PPG is about the average scored by NFL teams back in the late 1930s. The rest of the league's average of 23.4 PPG puts the NFL on pace to break the all-time scoring average record (23.2 PPG set in 1948).
The AFC North has boasted a rep for tough, hard-nosed, defensive-minded football since its creation in 2002. But that’s not the case here in 2013.
It's not particularly tough or hard nosed right now. It's just bad football, especially by contemporary standards.
The old Flemish city of Bruges has at least maintained its antiquated charm. The AFC North is simply offering the ugly, brutish side of the old medieval game, oblivious to the fact that the modern world is quite literally passing it by or, worse, unable to do anything about it.