Over the last decade, NFL football has slowly evolved into a pass-happy, high-powered offense driven league as the people in charge continue to buy into the philosophy that high scoring games put fans in the seats. With all the rule changes over recent years, and making some fouls more of a point of emphasis, like defensive holding and illegal contact, we’ll take a look at the recent trends and what they mean for the future of the league.
We’ve entered not only the era of the prolific offense, but also that of the quarterback. Johnny Unitas’ record of 47 consecutive games with a touchdown pass was viewed as one of the untouchable records in the NFL. That was until 2012, when Drew Brees surpassed that mark by throwing a touchdown in 54 consecutive games. The following year Tom Brady came up just short of the new record by throwing a touchdown in 52 straight games, while Peyton Manning’s chance at the record fell short this past season when his streak ended at 51 games.
Touchdown passes are at a level never seen before in the league. In the 2014 regular season, a record 9 quarterbacks threw for at least 30 touchdowns. Which almost doubled the previous record of 5 quarterbacks with at least 30 touchdowns.
Before the 2014 NFL season saw a very slight decrease in terms of points scored and passing yards throughout the league, offenses had been pushing the barriers in virtually every statistical category year to year. Since the 2005 season, points scored increased every following season except for only two years (2009, 2014). Also, in 2001 teams averaged just 20.2 points, while that number peaked in the 2013 season as teams 23.4 points. They also saw an even more impressive increase in terms of yardage every year from 2005-2013, before rounding off during the 2014 season with a very slight decrease. In 2005 teams averaged 315.9 yards per game, which climaxed in the 2013 season with 348.5 yards.
It’s more than just an isolated trend as the same holds true for other offensive categories like pass attempts, completions, and passing yards over recent years. In addition to team stats, quarterback efficiency still continues to improve, in 2003 the league-wide passer rating was just 76.6 with 3.3% interception rate compared to last year’s (2014) 87.1 rating, the highest in NFL history, with only 2.5% interception rate.
What is the cause for these drastic trends over recent years which have slowly caused the game to change right before our eyes? Many would argue it’s just a sign of the times and the new faster-paced game with more dynamic offensive playmakers. Others would point to the rule changes over recent years to stack the odds against defenses and limiting what cornerbacks can do to receivers.
Wide receivers are gradually becoming as protected as quarterbacks, as defensive holding has become a point of emphasis for league officials. Illegal contact saw a significant increase from an average of only 1.19 in 2013 to 3.28 during the 2014 NFL season, according to NFLPenalties.com. While it drew the ire of many fans, the NFL likely views the increase in offensive production as a sign of success as a result of the new rules and handicappers are finding value in wagering on the overs now.
The NFL Competition Committee is sure to review the recent trends and make a decision if the new points of emphasis for officials are best for the game. With the NFL growing at a speedy pace each year in popularity, many fans would say if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. The NFL will continue to conduct itself in the manner that got it to this point, and that likely means continuing the trends that have lead to higher scoring contests, and in their opinion, more entertaining games.