NFL Shutouts: Why This Season Has Left So Many Teams Feeling Defenseless

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NFL Shutouts: Why This Season Has Left So Many Teams Feeling Defenseless
(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

After Oakland finally showed up last week, the Raiders went Raiders and collapsed against the New York Jets, losing 38-0.

It was so bad that Raiders head coach Tom Cable (finally) benched JaMarcus Russell. It was bad enough that Jets QB Mark Sanchez had time to enjoy a hot dog (allegedly because his stomach was not feeling well).

But for as awful as the Raiders have been this season, it was “only” their first time being shut out in 2009. However, it marked the seventh time this season that an NFL team has been shut out!

Personally, I held that shutouts in professional football rarely happened, if at all. At best maybe there would be one shutout in an NFL season, but perhaps a couple of seasons would pass before another shutout would occur. After all, it would seem that there is a lot of pride among professional players and they would do anything to end the shutout bid.

So, seven shutouts in seven weeks seems like a lot for professionals. Again, you would expect that people getting paid to play a sport would be talented enough to muster at least one touchdown. But these were not really close games.

  • Week One: Seattle 28, St. Louis 0
  • Week Three: New York Giants 24, Tampa Bay 0
  • Week Four: San Francisco 35, St. Louis 0
  • Week Five: Seattle 41, Jacksonville 0
  • Week Six: Green Bay 26, Detroit 0
  • Week Six: New England 59, Tennessee 0
  • Week Seven: New York Jets 38, Oakland 0

I am not sure which is more amazing, the number of early season shutouts or the fact that both of Seattle’s wins were shutouts. All or nothing for the Seahawks, I suppose.

Most teams also failed to just show up at all. In five of the seven shutouts, the offending team managed less than 200 total yards of offense. This includes the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who managed less than 100 yards (86 net yards to be exact) and the Tennessee Titans’ abysmal -7 passing yards.

The two teams that produced the "best" were the St. Louis Rams against Seattle (247 yards) and Oakland (263 yards).

Keep in mind that this does not include the games where a team only scored a field goal and managed a late touchdown to avoid the shutout.

With the explosion of shutouts so early in the season, it seems like there are more shutouts than in previous seasons. Is this year unusual compared to previous seasons? What does the trend look like? Glad you asked:

  • 2009: seven (through 25 October)
  • 2008: six
  • 2007: five
  • 2006: 15
  • 2005: six
  • 2004: four

Certainly 2006 jumps out as an outlier, but with the other four seasons, there is an average of 5.25 shutouts per season. So, the 2009 season is well ahead of the trend. Plus, in those four seasons, the shutouts primarily occurred towards the end of the season—teams “giving up” or resting players (see Tennessee in 2008).

Nevertheless, in general shutouts are more common that one might think. It seems intuitive that a team of professionals should be able to put points on the board. But the trend seems to indicate that shutouts do occur at least occasionally during the course of the NFL season.

To finish the thought before touching on the 2006 season, there is a tendency for the same teams to be shut out. Since 2004, both Oakland and Cleveland have been shut out five times. St. Louis, Miami, and the Jets have been shut out three times.

Of the 43 shutouts since 2004, 26 have involved AFC teams. By division, the AFC East has the most teams shut out (nine), with the NFC West is second with seven. The NFC East has been shut out the least, both times in 2005 (Philadelphia shut out by Seattle and Washington shut out by the Giants).

Now, what of the 2006 season? The 2009 season is ahead of the pace set in 2006 (six through Week Seven in 2006). But the 2006 season began with three shutouts on opening week (Tampa Bay, Green Bay, and Oakland) and a Week Two Monday night shutout of Pittsburgh by Jacksonville (9-0).

Things were quiet in the middle of the 2006 season (one shutout in Week Nine), but then there was an explosion of shutouts between Weeks 11 and 15.

  • Week 11: three shutouts
  • Week 12: two shutouts
  • Week 14: one shutout
  • Week 15: two shutouts

The shutouts in 2006 were spread across the board, with two playoff teams (New England [12-4] and New York Jets [10-6]) and two awful teams (Oakland [2-14] and Cleveland [4-12]) being shut out. In all, 10 different teams were shut out in 2006, with Green Bay, Pittsburgh, and the Jets being shut out twice and the Raiders three times.

In 2009, the shutout trends appears to be among the worst teams in the NFL. The six teams are a combined 6-33 this year and includes the three winless teams (Tennessee, St. Louis, and Tampa Bay). The St. Louis-Tennessee game on Dec. 13 could end up being a 0-0 tie!

So is the rash of shutouts this season unusual? Well, historically it appeared that shutouts could happen to any team. However, this season, it seems that the shutouts are concentrated among some of the worst teams in the NFL. Perhaps it also speaks to the polarization of power in the NFL—a couple of really strong teams and a handful of really awful teams.

Nevertheless, shutouts do seem to occur more often than I initially thought. Excluding the 2006 as an outlier, there are around five per season. And, a quick scan of games dating back to the 1981 season indicates that has been at least two shutouts in any given NFL season. So shutouts are not extremely rare.

Still, given that there are a total of 256 games per year, only five shutouts per season is still a minuscule number (2.05 percent of all games played). But it is a fact that a shutout will occur during the season.

Considering that there appear to be so many bad teams in the NFL this year, and since there tends to be an increase in shutouts towards the end of the season as teams give up (Washington? Kansas City? Cleveland?), we can expect even more shutouts as the season progresses!

This article originally appeared at Uncle Popov's Drunken Sports Rant on Oct. 26, 2009.

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