An NFL Offensive Explosion That Is Misleading

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An NFL Offensive Explosion That Is Misleading
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This article is more about number bemusement than anything else. The 2011 NFL season, to date at least, has been accentuated by offense. More specifically, the forward pass. The numbers certain quarterbacks have been putting up are staggering and resemble the Tet Offensive in the way defenses are being held at awe.

Last year, the San Diego Chargers led the NFL in total offense, with 395.6 yards per game. This year, eight teams are bettering that average. Last year, the worst total defense averaged 390.8 yards per game. This year, seven teams are doing worse.

Of course, this offensive really could take on Tet Offensive characteristics if the defenses as a whole are able to successfully rebound from being repeatedly smashed head-first into the ground. The major narrative coming out of the lockout was whether or not offenses would have enough time to "gel," and the defenses were not seen as big of a concern, as defense are generally not as complex strategically as offense.

Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers' sudden demigod, was the poster boy for this sense of "Oh my god! He's gonna die!" hysteria. Newton is on pace to throw for 5,152 yards and 22 touchdowns (which seems oddly low, a stat we'll get to in a bit). Those 5,152 yards would be on pace to break the NFL record of 5,084, if , you know, three other quarterbacks weren't on pace to do even better.

Tom Brady's 5,997 yard projection is the forefront of this yardage rebellion, with Drew Brees (5,661) and Aaron Rodgers (5,507) in the rear view. Last year, Philip Rivers led the NFL with 4,710 yards. Six quarterbacks this season are on pace to throw more. Last year, Tom Brady led the league in touchdown passes with 36. In 2011, four quarterbacks are supposed to best that number, with Rodgers and Brady supposedly having 45.

The proportions, however, seem off. A quarterback on pace for 5,152 yards should seemingly have more than 22 touchdowns. More drastic, Phil Rivers is on pace for 4,915 yards but only 19 touchdowns. Quarterbacks who accumulate that many yards should really be scoring at a higher rate.

Even a guy like Brady, who may end up with almost 6,000 yards, isn't even on pace for 50 touchdowns. "Isn't even" seems like an odd phrase when describing a quarterback who will likely end up with 40-plus touchdowns, but those proportions are off. The year Brady threw for 50 touchdowns, he had 4,806 yards. Numbers may not lie, but these are confusing me.

Teams are averaging only .2 points more per game than they were last year, a number that seems especially odd since the "Year of Quarterback" seems to actually be living up to its hype. If quarterbacks are the ones accumulating these massive amount of yards and points, the running backs must be the ones slacking, right?

Problem is, even running backs are scoring at a higher rate, as six running backs (including Cam Newton) are on pace to eclipse 16 rushing touchdowns, the number that led the league last year by three touchdowns.

The answer may lie in the red-zone scoring average, as the median for this season is two percent worse than last season's. But even that doesn't seem like enough to account for yard/touchdown increase despite the total number of points not really increasing. The bottom feeders of the NFL defensive squad, the Kansas City Chiefs, let up 30.0 points per game, but even that isn't too horrific.

OK, it is, but it doesn't do enough to really account for the yardage/scoring increase, especially when teams like the Ravens and Redskins are almost in single digits in defensive scoring average.

So where are we at in terms of offense in the 2011 NFL? It is confusing the hell out of me. After crunching these numbers for what seemed like days (in reality, 30 minutes), I was determined to try and christen this season as an offensive resurgence. Which, for certain players, it is. But for the league as a whole, it really isn't. Teams score just as much as they used to, only now they are allowing more yards. Which doesn't really make a whole lot of sense, at least to me.

Sam Bradford, widely considered to be the worst full-time quarterback this season according to the ESPN QBR, is on pace for 2,717 yards this season. That isn't too appalling, but he is only on pace for 10 passing touchdowns, which also doesn't make sense.

If you have any ideas for why the numbers are so damned off, please let me know. The quarterbacks have to be throwing at higher rates due to the constant fear opposing players have that they will be penalized to the fullest extent if they touch them. That may help, but then why are NFL teams scoring at basically the same rates? Only the yardage average has dramatically increased, and the yard/point relationship should really be proportional. It’s not.

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