FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The folks at the NFL are gloating. It’s hard to blame them.
What they apparently want, judging by the continual emphasis on making things easier for offenses, is points. And more points.
Big plays, especially in the passing game. They’ll take lengthy runs, too.
Oh yeah, and more points.
Through four weeks of the schedule, the 3,030 points scored were the most in NFL history, easily surpassing the 2,986 in 2012. There were 62 more in the Thursday night game to begin Week 5.
The 344 touchdowns are the most through Week 4, a dozen ahead of the 332 in 2015. There were eight TDs in New England’s 38-24 victory over Indianapolis on Thursday.
Six touchdown passes came in that game, three by Tom Brady and three by Andrew Luck. Add those to the 228 through a quarter of the season (minus Carolina and Washington, which have played three games each) that were 23 more than the 2013 record.
“I think it’s always tough to say what the reason is for the increased production,” says Rams coach Sean McVay, whose team is a major reason for the rise in scoring. Los Angeles (4-0) has scored 140 points — 35 a game — and isn’t even lighting up the scoreboard the most. Kansas City, also 4-0, is with 145.
“I do think some of the rules, in terms of trying to protect the players that are built towards safety and things like that, do often times favor the offense, especially in some of those passing situations. Really, each week you kind of look, it’s kind of an up-and-down thing. I think when you really look at it over four weeks, that’s a small sample size so it always tough to say.”
McVay is on the right path. Protectiveness for quarterbacks has been carried to such a level that even seemingly textbook hits — yep, yours that drew flags, Clay Matthews — are penalized. Receivers already have a huge advantage because of rules that practically allow them to run free beyond 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. The revised catch rule, which was desperately needed, bolsters the offense, too.
Defenders are, well, always on the defense, most notably when they are asked to such things that challenge physics as not to land too hard on a quarterback.
“I think it’s something that we need to get to, but as we’re in transition we’ve gone too far,” Pro Football Hall of Famer Joe Greene told SiriusXM Satellite Radio. “And I think that all the better heads in football will get together and pull back on this. Because there is no way we’re going to be able to defy gravity. If a greater force is hitting a lesser force, there’s a good chance the greater force is going to go on top of it and fall on it. And you can’t stop it unless you do some kind of gymnastic trick and flip your body over and you become the guy that’s underneath, or on the side. And that’s just something that’s not going to happen.”
There are other key factors that don’t have much to do with rules, yet so overwhelmingly favor the offense.
With the advent of spread offenses in college, receivers are getting an almost immeasurable increase in action. The days of running the ball 70-75 percent of the time in college are long gone, replaced in some conferences by passing numbers in that vicinity. While the routes those young receivers are taught are limited compared to the pros, they still provide a stronger foundation for them as they reach the NFL.
Quarterbacks, of course, benefit from all of that. They might not be well-versed in reading complex defensive schemes, but they are well-rehearsed in putting the ball in the air.
Compare that to the days of 3 yards and a cloud of dust attacks.
The huge uptick in offense even has some roots in high school. Gil Brandt, who helped build the Dallas Cowboys into a powerhouse and consults with the NFL in running the draft, cites all of the 7-on-7 drills and camps those teenagers attend.
“The passing game comes natural to them now,” says Brandt, a 2019 Pro Football Hall of Fame nominee. “They’re throwing year round.”
Even when things get sloppy, the scoreboards still get filled. That’s how Brady saw things in the victory over Indy in which New England made several mistakes on offense.
“It’s really not about those things to me,” the five-time Super Bowl champ said. “It’s about points. And the turnovers, those keep you from scoring points. If they’re gonna guard deep, you’ve gotta throw it where they’re not. So ultimately we gotta score more points. … We scored 38 which is great. But we have more in us.”
Same thing, it seems, for just about every team.
AP freelancer Bob Schron contributed.
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