By In Football

High-Flying Football

So, apparently Sunday was the highest scoring day in NFL history. There were 763 points scored in 14 games, an average of 27 points per team. This was DESPITE the New York Giants, who could not have scored a point against Seattle if the field had been the length of a typical dining room table and they had six months.

So, let’s see here. There were 87 touchdowns scored — not far off the record-setting 90 touchdowns scored one week earlier. Yeah, the record was set ONE WEEK AGO. This is insane scoring. If you are curious, there were 54 touchdown passes, 25 rushing touchdowns, five interceptions returned for a touchdown, two rumbles (fumbles returned for touchdowns) and one punt return for a touchdowns.

There were also 49 field goals made — seven of them 50 yards or longer.

Pure insanity.

A few of the highlights:

— In the Patriots-Dolphins game, Tom Brady threw a touchdown pass to give New England the lead with 4:14 left (too much time), Ryan Tannehill threw a touchdown pass to give Miami the lead with 1:21 left (too much time), and Brady threw an interception in the end zone as time expired.

— In the Bears-Vikings game, Nick Foles threw for 428 yards and three touchdowns and Matt Cassel threw for 382 yards and two touchdowns … these being two quarterbacks who when the season began shared one basic trait: Almost everybody believed they were not good enough to start in the NFL.

— In the Chiefs-Raiders game, Jamaal Charles became the first player ever to have four receiving touchdowns and one rushing touchdown in the game game.

— In the Falcons-Hogs game, Washington’s Kirk Cousins — in the second start of his career — threw for 381 yards and three touchdowns and lost the game because they tried for two at the end and failed.

— In the Titans-Cardinals game, Ryan Fitzpatrick — the 31-year-old Harvard quarterback on his fourth team — threw for 402 yards and four touchdowns.

You could argue that defense in the NFL — at least East of Seattle — is dead.

There are probably numerous reasons for all the crazy scoring — randomness perhaps being as sound a reason as any — but the question I find fascinating is this one: Are teams adjusting and playing a little bit differently in this new “safer” NFL? Is there a real shift happening in pro football?

There was a moment in the game yesterday, I forget which game, where a receiver caught a short pass over the middle for something like seven or eight yards and fell to the ground. The announcer (I think it was Phil Simms, but it might have been Dan Fouts) said something like: “Those are the new rules. If not for those new rules, that receiver would have been blasted into next week.” More I think of it, the more I think it was Simms in the Giants-Seahawks game.

That seemed to me a striking statement, probably because it was so patently true. The defender DID back off a little bit on the play. Not a lot. But he didn’t come flying in with his helmet like a madman. And I started to watch the game a little bit differently after that. Is this happening throughout the NFL without us really noticing? Are defenders backing off just a little bit? Are they — because of penalties or coaching or some small shift in the zeitgeist — using their helmets less, not flying into the tackles with quite as much force, not crunching each other at quite the same level of brutality?

Maybe. It’s hard to tell such things, of course. There are still plenty of vicious hits and nasty injuries. It’s not like the NFL has become two-hand touch. But, as I watched, I kind of thought: You know, the game might be evolving a little bit before our eyes. And because of that, maybe receivers can be a little bit more bold catching the ball over the middle. Maybe running backs can run with a little bit more freedom when trying to pick up a couple of extra yards. Maybe quarterbacks can throw with a little bit more confidence with the thought that they are not setting up a teammate to be broken in two by some flying safety.

Maybe this has something to do with the absurdly high scores we’ve seen the last two weeks — all year, really.

Whether or not this is actually happening, I do wonder if this is how the game evolves over the next few years. As we learn more and more about concussions and the dangers and the lifelong health ramifications for players, there seems no doubt that there will be continuing efforts to make the game safer while not making the game less exciting. There will still be rule changes. There will still be continuing efforts soften the brutality of the game.

The ironic thing is that, at least at first, these efforts might make the game MORE exciting by sparking offense. That might be what we’re seeing now.

But over time, that should even out. Defenses will catch up. Maybe officials will be a little bit less whistle-happy on pass interference — that would be nice. Maybe officials will start really putting a clamp on the pick plays that offenses run so freely now. Maybe teams will create defensive strategies that rely less on intimidation and more on strategic ingenuity.

In the meantime, the scoring is going crazy. Except against Seattle. That Pete Carroll knows something.

26 Responses to High-Flying Football

  1. G says:

    Coming from a Rugby Union background,
    i cannot understand why no-handed ‘tackles’ are allowed,
    just throwing yourself at someone is skill-less.

    (We can discuss helmets next).

    • Nick says:

      I don’t agree at all that there’s no skill in tackling that way. They’re running really fast, and if you don’t do something, they’ll blow by you.

  2. Jim Haas says:

    And in the Vikes – Eagles game, the Minnesota running back who scored three touchdowns had had exactly three previous rushes in his NFL career.

  3. Chris Bentson says:

    I agree that there aren’t many defenses “West of Seattle”…..but that’s pretty much just open ocean, right?

  4. John Nacca says:

    If you think players are letting up a bit on their hits, you should try talking to Bengals punter Kevin Huber…oh wait, you won’t be able to since he has a fractured jaw courtesy of Steeler special teamer Terence Garvin.

  5. Scott says:

    Defense West of Seattle is dead, presumably because it can’t swim…

  6. Joe, I’m betting you mean no defense East of Seattle. West of us is lots and lots of water.

    • Josh L says:

      He just meant really really really really really far west of Seattle.

    • bpop says:

      In fact, Candlestick is about three minutes of longitude west of CenturyLink Field 🙂

      No defense south of Seattle would be most accurate.

    • Eddie says:

      It’s illegal to play defense, if you can’t see that your the problem, you voted for Obama and you don’t understand that the Second Amenment is placed directly after the First Akendment for a reason.

  7. Well, if we use Seattle as an example, I think if the NFL wants more defense it just needs to fill a league-wide adderall prescription.

  8. Jacob says:

    You says Bears – Vikings game… I think you mean Eagles – Vikings.

  9. Tom says:

    There was a similar – if not the same – announcing sentiment expressed in the Patriots-Dolphins game as Patriots safety Steve Gregory did not lead with his head against a Dolphins receiver who caught the ball.

    Also, Bill Barnwell from Grantland and FootballOutsiders have at least implied that part of the scoring increase is due to increased passing plays which generate more yards than rushing plays. The argument can be made that passing plays are even more effective than before due to rules changes but the fact of the matter is they have been more effective on a per play basis for some time and teams are throwing more and rushing less.

    • Mike says:

      Yes, you are right. Though I don’t think he meant to imply that Gregory would have otherwise led with the head; he just would have lit up a “defenseless receiver” and instead he shied off and took an angle at the receiver to help bring him down.

      And for me, it did not ruin the game-watching experience one bit.

  10. Dan says:

    I think it was the Dolphins-Patriots game.
    Short pass to Hartline. -Nantz/Simms had the duties.

  11. Donald A. Coffin says:

    For me, Denver (11-3 record) is the paradigmatic team of the NFL this year–535 points scored (38+ per game) and 375 points allowed (almost 27 per game–Denver has allowed more points than Houston)…

    • Donald A. Coffin says:

      Oops…Denver has allowed 3 points less than Houston, 372 to 375, which doesn’t make much difference to the rest of my comment…it’s still 38+ scored and almost 27 allowed).

  12. I listen to John Madden on KCBS weekdays (and on the internet) and as the HOF coach and holder of more Emmys than anybody else frequently says, players aren’t being taught how to tackle the right way any more. Too much emphasis on turnovers (which also leads to more scoring when the field isn’t shortened by the punt), too much emphasis on the blowup hit. But now that the blowup hit is anathema, too many defensive players don’t have fundamentally sound tackling skills to fall back on. It will improve, and frankly I think we are due for a scaling back in the violence and injuries of the NFL.

  13. Dan says:

    You can’t hit high on a receiver but punters are fair game!

    If you watched Bengals vs Steelers you would know what I am writing about. And about that hit, the Steelers player hit the Bengals punter under the chin with the crown of his helmet. Not only was their no penalty but the announcer Collingsworth explains that it was legal. Are you kidding me? Well lets see some safeties light up receivers with blows to their chins!

    The NFL policing is bordering on insanity.

  14. Chris says:

    Defensive backs aren’t allowed to play anymore. I can’t imagine why someone would even want to play defensive back anymore. Every play on the ball is met by everyone looking around, waiting for a flag. Almost every borderline call goes the offense’s way. Think about how huge a penalty pass interference is. Cleveland had a ticky-tack pass interference call go against them in the end zone a week ago, and New England gets to set up shop at the 1 as a result. Why not just give them the TD instead and save us all the effort.

    I haven’t done any research, but I bet the two penalties that get called more today than they were 20-30 years ago are roughing the passer and defensive pass interference, and these two penalties come with enormous consequences. It’s a spot-foul for PI and 15 yards for roughing the passer. Throw on 15 yards for hitting a defenseless receiver, an automatic first down for illegal contact, and it’s very, very hard to play defense anymore. The result of this, as Joe’s post is all about, is that you have to play less aggressively in order to be legal, and when you mix it all together…yeah there’s going to be a lot of scoring. Oh, did I also mention that any hit on a QB near the sideline results in a 15 yard penalty, which any savvy QB can take advantage of by simply walking a tighrope and gaining extra yardage, knowing he can’t be hit legally near the sideline.

    Only a stupid team like Minnesota would build their team around a running back anymore. Everything is geared toward the passing game, and all of the advantages are on offense. Pass interference, roughing the passer, hitting a defenseless receiver, hitting a player who has one toe out of bounds, being able to run pick plays freely…you’d be stupid not to take advantage of this. It’s really no coincidence that Minnesota scored 48 points without their top two RBs yesterday. They put in a professional QB, quit trying to gain 3 yards and a cloud of dust, and rolled the Eagles.

  15. The biggest impact of the concussion mentality is on youth sports. Many parents now discourage their kids from playing football. This will have an impact in a few years when many more athletic kids are playing other sports. When you think about it, it’s almost irresponsible parenting to encourage your kid to play a sport with such a high injury rate, especially with the risk of brain and spinal cord injuries.

  16. KHAZAD says:

    The league has, throughout my lifetime, made rule changes to increase offense, but the last half dozen years have been a little ridiculous. As a guy who loves good defense, it is becoming difficult to watch. Roger Goodell is ruining the game.

  17. Brent says:

    The good news with that is that we will probably win the World Cup in the next 20 years because of the impact you are describing

  18. I wonder if we’ll see an increase in leg injuries among WRs, TEs and to a lesser extent RBs, due to defensive backs aiming for the lower body so as to avoid helmet-to-helmet type hits. The Gronkowski injury strikes me as an example of this–it was an ugly play, but given the new rules, what else was the defender supposed to do?

    Relatedly, what type of injury would the league prefer to be more prevalent–ACL tears or concussions?

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