January 20, 2014

The Flynn Effect of NFL Passing

Over the years, NFL football teams have gotten visibly better at passing the ball. This graph shows NFL passing stats from 1950 to 2013. For example, the percentage of forward passes completed (red line) has improved from under 50% in the early 1950s to a record-tying 61.3% in 2013.

Or compare touchdown passes to interceptions. The average number of touchdown passes per team per game (green line) hadn't changed all that much, until shooting up the last few years, tying the record of 1.6 in 2013. Most notably, the number of intercepts surrendered per team per game (purple line) has dropped from over 2 to about 1 in recent years. 

There are many reasons for this, such as changes in rules to preserve receivers and quarterbacks and improvements in game conditions (such as domed stadiums and better turf). It would appear, however, that NFL teams are just better at passing the ball than they used to be. Although defenses are evolving too, offenses make fewer unforced errors than they used to. Thus the big improvement in the touchdowns to interceptions ratio from the Broadway Joe Namath days when advanced offensive strategic thinking called for the QB to heave it deep and see what happens.

The legendary season Namath led the upstart New York Jets to the AFL's first Super Bowl win in January 1969, the future Hall of Famer averaged 16.8 yards per pass completion, compared to Peyton Manning's mere 12.2 yards per completion this season. But Namath only threw 15 touchdown passes compared to 17 interceptions (in 14 games) compared to Manning's 55 touchdowns to 10 interceptions (in 16 games) in 2013.

When you see "Flynn Effects" like that, it's interesting to try to determine whether the improvements come more from change in personnel or from change in how they perform. 

For example, Bill Simmons notes in his big book of basketball a 1950s NBA center, a white guy listed at 6'8" whose name slips my mind (Neil Johnston?). He was a major scorer using a side arm hook shot. Then Bill Russell, a black guy listed at 6'11" arrived in the league and tried really hard on defense. (The NBA has always had a professional wrestling side to it, so trying hard to win on defense was a novelty in the pro game.) Russell blocked so many of his sidearm shots that he was soon out of the league. 

In general, though, it's not that easy to find all that many clear examples in sports history of players' careers being shortened by the overall quality of competition in the league going up. One inflection point might be when Maury Wills stole 104 bases for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1962: that is said to have had a big impact on the careers of catchers in the National League: the good hit / no throw ones were gone pretty fast.

But you also get a lot of examples of star players who just keep racking up bigger numbers as the game evolves. Manning, for instance, is 37 and can't throw the ball very hard anymore. He has to throw many of his passes at an arc, which ought to give the defense more time to break them up. Since entering the NFL in the last century, he has heard quite a few other quarterbacks proclaimed The Future of Football.

But this season Manning set records for most yards passing and most touchdowns in one season, and threw for 400 yards on Sunday to go to the Super Bowl. 

It's curious.


Anonymous said...

Constant new improvements in modern biochemistry, duh.

Orthodox said...

Has the height of WR gone up? I seem to remember the late 90s or early 2000s as a time when a couple of teams with tall WR were scoring more passing TDs. It seems like that is the only WR that is picked early in the draft now, guys that could play PF in college, but not the NBA.

Beth said...

Peyton is a function of preparation, accuracy and experience so far overcoming physical decline. He also has a fantastic offensive group around.

He just knows better than anyone other than Tom Brady what a defense is trying to do and where he should go with the ball in response. He doesn't have great arm strength but has has great accuracy and timing and his height gives him a great view of the field and his release point is high so hard to knock down his passes. A little QB named Joe took accuracy, timing, great receivers and some good athleticism to a few Super Bowls and the HoF.

Peter the Shark said...

it's not that easy to find all that many clear examples in sports history of players' careers being shortened by the overall quality of competition in the league going up

Maybe Drew Bledsoe? The guy was great as an immobile pocket passer with a good deep ball, but defensive schemes became more complex in the late 90s - early 00s, and the short passing game took off, Drew seemed lost. Great QBs now are very mobile - like Kaepernick, Rogers or Wilson - or very good at reading defenses like Brady and Manning. Bledsoe was fine in the 1995 NFL game but obsolete by 2002.

Beliavsky said...

How can you infer that QB's have gotten better from improved stats, when an alternative explanation is that defense has gotten worse?

Anonymous said...

I'll go out on a limb and say that most of what you are tracking is simply the hyper-specialization which has come with unlimited substitutions and platooning.

Get rid of the substitutions, and go back to Chuck-Bednarik-style players, who are logging 55+ minutes per game, on both sides of the ball, and the game will slow way, way, way back down.

The 360lb linemen will suddenly weigh only about 220lbs.

The 150lb skills position players will suddenly weigh about 190lbs.

The number of passes will plummet if for no other reason than that the quarterback will be so exhausted from playing defense that he just won't have the strength & stamina to throw the ball 40+ times per game.

And the average IQs of the players will soar, because the coaches won't be able to send in the plays, and the players will have to talk amongst themselves in order to formulate an ad hoc plan of attack on the fly.

But if the modern era teaches us anything, it's that hyperspecializationalists, working within the confines of the kinds of situations which shelter and protect them, will simply destroy the generalists.

PS: Whaddup wit all da helmet-slapping these days?

Like three or four or five different helmet slaps on each play?!?

When I was a kid, a helmet slap was an AUTOMATIC 15-yard unsportsmanlike.

I guess now that The Frankfurt School controls the NFL [and the NBA and MLB], it's kinda like the Courts and the Obama Administration and the IRS and the Fed and every other institution which they control, where they enforce the rules that they want to enforce, and ignore the rules that they want to ignore?

MKP said...

"such as changes in rules to preserve receivers and quarterbacks and improvements."

Short shrift given to the main reason (or set of reasons): 3 separate sets of major rule changes that have made it easy for mediocre QBs to look pretty good, and for really good QBs to look astounding:

(1) New rules that prohibit defensive backs from hitting WRs high while the receiver is turned back towards the ball (the "defenseless receiver rule"). You can see the safeties shy away now, or try to do a little shove-tackle rather than really smear the guy and knock the ball loose.
Driven, in part, by the nasty face-smashing hit absorbed by Anquan Boldin a few years ago.

(2) New rules preventing rushing defenders from hitting the QB low, even when it's NOT technically a "late hit." Makes it much easier for the QB to stand in the pocket and deliver a clean, strong throw - look at some footage of Elway some time, he was always wheeling to the side or throwing off his back foot. I imagine it was even harder in Namath's day.
Driven, in part, by the season-ended knee injury absorbed by Tom Brady a couple years ago.

(3) Not actually new rules, but a new "rule-emphasis" on defensive backs grabbing and arm-barring WRs as they run their routes - not while the ball is in the air, but when the WR is still trying to get open. It used to be, the corners and safeties would always be chopping and bumping you as you ran down the field. Now, if they so much as touch you (after 5 yards), they get flagged.
Driven, in part, by the Patriots vs. Colts AFC Championship game a decade ago, when the Patriots pretty much decided they were going to hold and bump on every play, and see if the referees would really have the balls to throw a flag on every single play.

sunbeam said...

The rules are so different now than for most of the league's history that the part that affects the passing game might as well be a different game.

The offensive line can't outright hold, but they can use their hands in way that would have been called holding in the 60's and 70's.

You wouldn't see as many older qb's if defenses could unload on them like they could in the past.

Then too, it would be interesting indeed to see what Mel Blount and Willie Brown could do with modern receivers using the ruleset they played with. Remember they could hammer the wide receivers at the line, and play bump and run the whole way. I'd really like to see some of these new guys covered by Mel Blount.

And there were all sort of special names for crucifying receivers who dared to go over the middle, as Stingley showed. Read Jack Tatum's "They Call Me the Assassin," think that is the title anyway.

peterike said...

Another interesting inflection point was in baseball when after the 1968 season they lowered the mound due to all the dominant pitching performances that year.

Anonymous said...

Constant new improvements in modern biochemistry, duh.

Yes, it could just be better strength and conditioning. The greater strength of modern players definitely stands out when you look at older players.

Anonymous said...

As a big fan of football I have witnessed three different factors that have helped to make the passing game so much more potent. The NFL knows that a high scoring game will increase fan base and revenue. So all kinds of rule adjustments have been made to aid the passing game. Secondly their has been a number of improvements made to offensive passing schemes so that more receivers are running more difficult to defend routes. Third the quarterbacks coming out of college are just getting better and better, same thing with the receivers. It wasn't long ago that most teams had a lousy quarterback but times are changing as the college game is producing more and more quality quarterbacks. It is sad that the game is so dangerous and the playing time for these athletes is so short. But it is a beautiful game, I liken it to demolition chess. I'm rather surprised it hasn't caught on in the rest of the sports crazy world solely as a spectator better than it has. Wonderful game to watch, highly destructive game to play though. I played it for six years and my 60 year old aching bones remind me daily that I did.

Anonymous said...

Altitude could be assisting Peyton, too. Notice how many of Brady's (still hard) long throws went over the heads of his receivers yesterday?

Icepick said...

Some friends and I noted last year that we usually see at least one spectacular catch in every NFL game we watch, and frequently do in big time college games. (And sometimes in not so big time games!)

We decided that a big part of it is the newer generation of tackified gloves the receivers wear these days - better than stickum!

But later in the NFL season I was watching some show on the NFL network (yeah, I'm a little bit of a football nerd) and saw some training footage of someone. I don't remember who it was, but I believe he was a defensive end. But he was doing weight training exercises training one and two fingers at a time to improve his grip strength. If receivers are doing that too, it would increase their abilities to hold on to the ball.

Now combine those (the newer gloves (how many receivers play without gloves anymore?) and the particular training on grip strength) with receivers generally getting bigger over time (so larger hands), the effects of chemical enhancements, improvement in coaching over time* (both at the position level and the coordinator level), and changes in the rules that favor offenses, and that adds up to receivers getting more opportunities, AND holding on to more of the balls that get into or near their hands.

It would be a job for a true nerd with backing of some service or news agency to watch old films and determine how many times players dropped balls that got to them in "the old days" versus now.

One small contrary note about this. When I was younger, back in the 1980s, we would often here announcers say that if a player could get his hands on a ball, he should catch the ball, regardless of all other circumstances. We don't here that any more.

* Yes, I assume coaching is a skill and that as such it GENERALLY improves over time.

Icepick said...

One more thing about rule changes. With safeties no longer being allowed to target receivers over the middle, I would expect completion percentages to go up even more in the next few years. I've seen many guys get flagged (especially in college) for big hits that three years ago would have gotten a "GREAT PLAY!" from the broadcasters, the fans and the coaches.

Anonymous said...

Namath was before the Cincinnati Bengals & Bill Walsh offensive revolution that became better known as the West Coast Offense. Think mid-seventies Ken Anderson era Bengals. The Bengals lost golden boy Greg Cook to a truly tragic injury and were forced to replace him with BYU grad Virgil Carter who had a notoriously weak arm. That launched the evolution of the short distance high percentage passing game.

Purpleslog said...

I read something about guys in the 60's who would have been basketball forwards in college were becoming football wide receivers in college instead.

REF: "Take Your Eye Off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look"

Glossy said...

"I'm rather surprised it hasn't caught on in the rest of the sports crazy world..."

I can't think of any instances where one sport replaced another at the top of a country's preferences. There's tremendous inertia in this. Whatever sport ends up capturing China, for example, will remain China's most popular sport for the foreseeable future.

Glossy said...

OK, I sent off that comment and then I remembered: football replaced baseball as America's number one sport a few decades ago. Can't think of any other examples though.

Anonymous said...

Ok, Steve. If this were baseball, you'd say something along the lines of "38 yrs old? Playing like he's 27? TEST HIM for steroids. TEST HIM."

Who's gonna volunteer to test him?

Or....is the NFL a completely steroids free sports league?

Anonymous said...

The evolution of football has paved the way for sports' greatest anti-hero to succeed: Johnny Football. The current emphases on short timing passes and quarterback safety mask his biggest weaknesses--arm strength and durability. And his strengths were shown to be valuable yesterday by Manning and Kaepernick: timing passing and scrambling, respectively.

So why is he such a great anti-hero? His villainous side is like that of a Hollywood caricature. He's an oil-rich, cocky, hard-partying, rule-bending, Mercedes driving, trash-talking, white Texan. But he also is like an underdog in that he's a relatively short and skinny white guy who somehow finds a way to dominate a big, black man's game.

So, like Simmons, I'm excited to see just what Johnny Football can do in the NFL, because he could become the most entertaining football player in ages.


pat said...

I am Rip van Winkle.

I was a football fanatic is the days of Joe Montana and Ken Stabler but I haven't watched a pro football game on TV in ten years - until yesterday. So I emerged from my virtual time machine with fresh eyes to see this Brave New World of football.

What I noticed immediately was, not the quarterbacks, but the kickers. Every kickoff flew to the back of the end zone. Every punt spiraled down deep in enemy territory. When I had last watched football Ray Guy could do that but now everyone can.

The field goal kicking was severely anti-climatic. Every kick split the uprights no matter what the distance.

I commented while consuming vast quantities of beer and pizza that someone must have invented a way to inject steroids into the kicker's legs.

Field goal kicking now seems like a three inch putt - a gimme. I suggest a rule change because the field goals and points after just slow up the game. You should automatically get seven points for crossing the goal line and three points for getting to the opponents thirty.

Football no longer requires feet.


Anonymous said...

Life is an IQ test even for NYC Cops.

Look for disparate impact lawsuits from NYC Cops soon.

Look for the NYT to insist that certain people of color need to learn English if they want to live in the Shining City on the Hill.

Anonymous said...

In terms of base stealing, I wonder James and the other sabermeterics people had an impact. Basically, they proved Base Stealing wasn't worth much, since an out was worth so much more than stealing 2nd Base.

The other factor, is that baseball, compared to the 60s, is more high scoring, and base stealing is more valuable in a low scoring league.

Anonymous said...

No doubt taking whatever it was hank aaron juiced with when he started going gangbusters in his high 30s (which had nothing to do with new stadium since his numbers improved even years after switching teams)

Anonymous said...

Greg Cook. The greatest what if in NFL history. I had never heard of him until 3 years ago.

Year round passing academies probably help too.

Peyton is something else. Can't see Seattle being able to score with Denver. They were lucky to beat SF. The running into instead of roughing punter penalty changed course of game. Refs completely blew it.

Dan in DC

Anonymous said...

I agree that rule changes have probably had the biggest impact, but maybe I'm waxing nostalgic in thinking that defensive backfield coverage doesn't seem to be as good as it once was.

That too could be due to rule changes but it seems that quarterbacks like Brady and Manning always have field days with these guys and they call a lot of their owns plays at the line.

Athletically, today's backs are as good, if not better, than those of the past. Is it a cognitive issue, perhaps?

Preston said...

How much of QBing is mental vs. physical? There's a lot of guys with good arms, but few who can make good, quick decisions under enormous pressure. The mental side of one's game could easily continue to improve through or past the age of 40, as learning never stops. My guess is that Peyton's mental judgment has improved more than his physical abilities have deteriorated so far.

Which reminds me of a subject that seems iSteve-worthy: I've always been interested in at what age different professions tend to peak . For instance, we all know that mathematicians and physicists used to peak before they were 25, but due to the increased amount of knowledge they now need, the age seems to have risen in recent years. Musicians seem to peak around the age of 30. The most interesting one to me is poets vs. novelists. Great poets can be very young, e.g., Rimbaud. But few novelists write their great work before the age of 30, probably because a novelist needs wisdom and experience, whereas a poet merely needs to be good with words. Maybe QB's are becoming more like novelists.

mike said...

You have to control for coaching attitudes. Until Al Davis/Sid Gilman came along, a lot of coaches felt that passing wasn't really football. When I used to watch John Brodie, I got the impression he could complete a pass any time he wanted to, but the coaches of that era really liked the idea of three handoffs to the fullback. By the way, can you give me some examples of the "good-hit-no-throw" catcher pre-Wills? Maybe Smokey Burgess?

Steve Sailer said...


Sure, but ...

When Barry Bonds at a similar advanced age broke the homer record, he didn't do it only hitting fly balls just over the fence, but by crushing balls to new lengths. Manning isn't suddenly throwing laser beams. He appears physically weaker than in the past, especially before his four neck surgeries two years ago.

Perhaps the newer thing that is going on is using biochemistry to recover from major surgery faster. Bill Simmons has been keeping track of how fast NFL players are now coming back compared to how fast much more drug-tested Olympic athletes are coming back from similar tears -- skier Lindsey Vonn, for example, can pay for the best, but gets drugtested much more than an NFL player. Simmons thinks it's not coincidental that her attempt at a quick comeback from major surgery has failed and she's out of the Olympics.

Steve Sailer said...

Smokey Burgess?

Maybe, I can't remember names. Burgess could really hit, and his caught stealing percentages weren't terrible, but he was getting old so in 1964 he moved to the American League, which stole fewer bases, for the last few years of his career.

The offensive importance of base-stealing was overrated at the time Wills won the 1962 MVP award, but it was important in the pitchers era of the mid-1960s, especially in cavernous Dodger Stadium. Wills' 1965 performance of something like 93 stolen bases with only 13 caught stealing was particularly valuable on a Dodger team with one of the great starting pitching staffs ever (Koufax, Drysdale, Osteen, Podres) but little offense.

Anonymous said...

Don't kid yourself there is a video online of Manziel hammering a pass into a 60 gallon trashcan on the 30 yards line from the top of the end zone section of Kyle field, a monster tall stadium. Plenty of power and accuracy

Anonymous said...

In tennis Lleyton Hewitt is an example of someone who became number 1 and won a few grand slams at an early age, but was simply surpassed by better competition.

Icepick said...

One more thing: The football itself has changed over time, and the balls currently in use are much more passing game friendly than balls from earlier eras. The NFL Network did a "Life in Football" show about the forward pass that tracked the changes in the ball over time. There was a bit with Boomer Essiason tossing around balls from different eras. Good stuff for football geeks and nerds. The current football has been in use since 1970, IIRC.

Icepick said...

Here's a "behind the scenes" bit from the NFL Network documentary I mentioned showing Boomer throwing various balls. This isn't the segment I described, but it does show some of the footage and you can get a definite idea of how different footballs changed the way the game was played. That doesn't change anything from 1970 to now, of course, but it does show an additional pitfall in looking at passing stats across eras.


Icepick said...

And I really think the gloves must make a difference. It seems like everyone who catches a ball wears them now. But Dwight Clark wasn't wearing them in his era, to cite one example. (You can see Clark's hands are clearly gloveless during "The Catch".)

Anonymous said...

One season that will always stick out in the annals of pro football is Dan Marino's 1984 season. While his 5000-yard, 48 touchdown pass performance may seem like a typical season for a Manning or a Brady these days, back then it must have seemed superhuman, especially coming as it did in his second season as a pro.. I think Marino gets short shrift when it comes to who gets mention among the all time greats. Imagine what he could have done in the NFL's more passing-friendly environment these days.

One thing I always remember impressing me about Marino was his uncanny quick release - so quick that you could hardly see his arm extend all the way back in his throwing motion. The only other QB I've ever seen come close to matching it is Michael Vick (I.e, the "Vick Flick"), but he never had Marino's accuracy.

Anonymous said...

Completely agree about Marino. His 1984 season was probably better than Manning's 2013 (Manning's TD total has a slightly better z-score than Marino's but I'd guess Marino's yardage had a better z-score than Manning's) and the most statistically impressive at least since Unitas. If Manning (stats) vs Brady (wins) interests you, how about Marino (stats) vs Montana (wins) vs Elway (talent?)


Anonymous said...

It's almost all about the rules. Wes Welker and Danny Amendola couldn't have played in the NFL 20 years ago. Jack Tatum and Mel Blount couldn't play now.

The other fairly recent development is the emergence of the tight end as a real weapon in the passing game without sacrificing the blocking ability, or as Dan Jenkins calls them, elephants on roller skates. Manning leaned quite a bit on Dallas Clark during his salad days in Indy, and the tight end has always been a big part of Belichick's offensive plan. The loss of Hernandez and Gronkowski is most of the reason why the Patriots won't be advancing to the Super Bowl.

Steve Sailer said...

It's probably facile to correlate Marino's mediocre Wonderlic score with his failure to evolve past his spectacular early successes, but it is tempting.

He remained an excellent quarterback for a long time, but he was unbelievable at the beginning of his career, flicking rockets with no wind up.

Anonymous said...

There is the low Wonderlic to consider, but I suspect that Marino also suffered from a penchant for having a good time. There were in fact rumors of drug use in college, which caused his draft value to drop. In fact, there were five QBs drafted ahead of Marino. Everyone had Elway as the top prospect regardless, and Jim Kelly was excusable in hindsight. But the other three were Todd Blackledge, Ken O'Brien, and Tony Eason - head-scratchers all of them. Particularly Blackledge, who was the 2nd QB picked after Elway and was a bench-warmer for almost all of his short career. His draft stock was undoubtedly inflated by his team - Penn State - winning the national championship his senior year.

Nonetheless, Marino still might have gone to more than one Super Bowl had the Dolphins bothered to provide him a defense and running game.

ben tillman said...

And I really think the gloves must make a difference. It seems like everyone who catches a ball wears them now. But Dwight Clark wasn't wearing them in his era, to cite one example. (You can see Clark's hands are clearly gloveless during "The Catch".)

He didn't wear gloves, but he did sell them. I remember one day he showed up at my front door selling fluorescent orange gloves for the Block C Club. We bought three pair.

jody said...

"In general, though, it's not that easy to find all that many clear examples in sports history of players' careers being shortened by the overall quality of competition in the league going up."

depends on the sport. the higher the participation rate, the less likely this is to happen. the lower the participation rate, the more likely this is to happen. if the participation rate increases significantly in say a 10 year period, which is well within the range of a player's career at the highest level, a few players can find themselves surpassed. it's not clear how much of an increase would be necessary, perhaps at 10% you'd start to see this effect and certainly at 20%, which would be a huge increase for the major sports.

one thing you'll notice is that there used to be enforcer players in the NBA even all the way into the early 90s. but now these guys are gone. no team can afford to have even 1 player who can't play at least some, and come off the bench for 10 minutes a game when the team is suffering a stretch of injuries.

the enforcer players have also declined in the NHL, this happened within a few years of the soviet union dissolving and the league filling up with european players. a huge talent rush which forced out the majority of the goon type players along with all the other minor talents. there's still a few goon players around but a lot less than before. a lot less. there's less every year, as NHL teams move to the same place where NBA teams are, needing to have pretty much every player able to play at least some. NHL teams are bigger, so you can still afford to have 1 or 2 goon players.

NFL kickers who can't kick field goals all that good: those guys are gone and it happened between 1990 and 2000. 10 years, which is within the time frame of a career. we went from gary anderson being the best guy ever in the 1980s, to gary anderson being about the number 40 guy ever. in the 80s and 90s, his accuracy of 80% was the standard. in 2013 he'd be below average. i believe the average accuracy is now 81 or 82 percent with the best guys hitting 90%.

there was also a period where a few NFL teams used 2 kickers. one for kickoffs and one for field goals. the kickoff guys just had a huge leg and could kick deep, but with less accuracy. those guys are all gone. now all the kickers can kick deep as well as kick field goals with high accuracy. the NFL is even considering eliminating the extra point, now that the kickers are over 99% accuracy there. i think there were about 1200 extra points kicked in 2013 and only 4 missed.

jody said...

if MLB got rid of designated hitter, some of those guys would disappear from MLB and end up in AAA. that's not going to happen of course, but many DH players can only hit, and are not useful fielders at the MLB level.

UFC made few rule changes between 1993 and 1997, the only important one being the elimination of headbutts, which made it harder for wrestlers to win. weight classes were introduced, which increased participation, so that's not relevant here.

in 2000 UFC made the most rule changes ever, in order to get sanctioned in most states. the 2 worst rules were eliminating hits to the back of the head and eliminating using your leg to attack the head of somebody who is on the ground. both of which, again, made it harder for wrestlers to win.

wrestlers still have every belt at 265, 205, and 185, though.

in K1 kickboxing they continuously changed the rules specifically to make it harder for semmy schilt to win. he still won the K1 tournament 4 times, which is the record. the rules changes against him were similar to the rules changes instituted in the NBA to disadvantage george mikan.

jody said...

"It's curious."

nah. NFL executives made a concious decision about 10 years ago to turn the league into a passing league. passing sells. it's what the casual fan wants. NFL executives want to grow, and they already have the number 1 spectator sport in the US. so how do you continue to grow when you are already number 1 and have reached near saturation levels? their solution: make the league all about the quarterback and throwing. change the rules so it's easier to throw. change the rules so the quarterback is more protected. if star quarterbacks go down, ratings go down, revenues go down, interest goes down. there's no dispute about that. so for the people who run the show, the decision was easy to make.

fantasy football was a stroke of luck. NFL people didn't do anything to start that. the internet, and laptop computers, are what made that possible and exposed it to a broader audience. but NFL executives saw an opportunity and certainly took it. instead of getting a running back, now you get a quarterback and receivers and tight ends. more fantasy football action in a passing league.

they're NEVER going back to a running game NFL. a defense NFL. that's the NFL i grew up with. crushing, cloying, suffocating defenses that were allowed to hit anybody full speed and which turned most games into a 17-14 battle for single hard fought yards. a good game from a great quarterback was 250 yards and 2 touchdowns. there might only be a couple 300 yard games PER YEAR.

"How can you infer that QB's have gotten better from improved stats, when an alternative explanation is that defense has gotten worse?"

i think this is an effect, particularly at cornerback, which operates under a specific rule allowing people of only one group to be considered for the job. 64 out of 64 starters, year after year after year. no competition allowed, even for backups. scrub level players required to be inserted into the game by week 8 or 10 when injuries start piling up, all of whom MUST also come from the same restricted talent pool. what you're talking by season's end is going 130, 140 places deep into the talent pool, but always restricting it to just one group under the NFL's ironclad chromatic cornerback rule. no other sport in the world, indeed, no other job in the world, which is said to be 'competitive', operates under similar statistical patterns.

jody said...

tangent - this set of rules changes is what allows more african players to play quarterback at an ok level in NFL play. i definitely do not think this is why the rules were changed. despite many things in society being changed specifically to help africans, this wasn't. as stated above, the rules were changed to increase the appeal of the league. but this IS a side effect. it allows guys who would be under 100 yard passers per game and gets them up over 100 yards, sometimes up to 200 yards in a few games, which was a decent game from a good quarterback under the old rules.

note the explosion in passer rating under the new rules. i think there's been a 10 point increase on average under the new rules, with a bigger increase at the high end. the best throwers picked up probably 15 passer rating points under the new rules. in the 90s, the highest passer rating for the year was like 92, 95. now it's over 110. nick foles performance this year was mind boggling. too bad he's the wrong color or you would have heard about it every day for months.

second tangent - air mcnair, mcnabb, culpepper before his injury, were all better than this current wave of players. they put up better numbers under harder rules. mcnair was the MVP one year even. mcnabb's superbowl year i'd say he put in about the number 4 or number 5 performance in the league at his position. andy reid forced him to throw almost every play that year. vick was a better runner than any of these new guys, which is not germane to the topic but i'd thought i'd point that out as well. the idea that kaepernick or wilson are 'great' is really stretching it. more like average players on great teams. wilson is the definition of a game manager.

seattle seahawks superbowl teams:
Matt Hasselbeck under harder 2005 passing rules
65% 3455 yards 24 touchdowns 9 interceptions
Russell Wilson under easier 2013 passing rules
63% 3357 yards 26 touchdowns 9 interceptions

wow. who knew matt hasselbeck was a 'great' quarterback? actually pretty much all you'll ever hear is that he's bald and that he sucks. the differences in the way the players are treated by the sports media couldn't be more glaring to those who are aware of it. does ESPN even make fun of anthony bennett, clearly on his way to being BY FAR the worst number 1 pick in the NBA ever?

jody said...

"Perhaps the newer thing that is going on is using biochemistry to recover from major surgery faster."

this is what caused tyson gay to get popped. i suspect he was clean before the injuries started to stack up, then got on steroids in order to recover as fast as possible from the surgeries. using steroids to recover from injury is not new however.

the significant improvement in sports medicine is a mostly unexplored topic from a charles murray, human accomplishment type perspective. injuries that were career ending in 1993 are now 9 month recoveries 20 years later. i've talked about microfracture surgery before, but there are so many procedures to examine. the stem cell procedure peyton manning had is not legal in the US. you have to wonder how much it could change things if it were.

as is the trend, all the surgeons, and all the surgical procedures saving these athletes careers after horrendous injuries, and getting them back on the field in record time, are as usual coming from just one group. the hated, reviled group.

"One season that will always stick out in the annals of pro football is Dan Marino's 1984 season."

it's an awesome season, perhaps still the all time best, but with the qualification it was done in a warm weather city with 8 home games in some of the best conditions possible in october, november, december. it's no coincidence that drew brees eclipsed the mark while playing in a dome. conditions are a factor. it's harder to do this stuff when your team plays in a cold weather outdoor stadium. and i don't think marino gets any short schrift when talking about the all time greats. he's always mentioned.

Sideways said...

Stop being a moron, Jody. Hasslebeck was the starting all-pro QB in 2005. He was widely recognized as a top 5 qb in the league in the middle of the decade.

Bill said...

Thus the big improvement in the touchdowns to interceptions ratio from the Broadway Joe Namath days when advanced offensive strategic thinking called for the QB to heave it deep and see what happens.

The causation could easily go the other way, though. An interception on a 40 yard fly looks a lot like a punt. An interception on a 7 yard out looks a lot like a TD for the other team.

If you are going to throw short, it is critical not to throw interceptions.

Sean said...

Grad student uses physics to analyze basketball
Brian Skinner’s use of Nash equilibrium has intrigued the basketball community
. He implies that the game is played differently since he pointed some things out.

ben tillman said...

The causation could easily go the other way, though. An interception on a 40 yard fly looks a lot like a punt. An interception on a 7 yard out looks a lot like a TD for the other team.

Good point. Sometimes an interception is as good as an incompletion. In fact, it can be better.

Steve Spurrier's Duke Blue Devils won the ACC in 1989 by throwing long interceptions. After the DB caught the ball, the receivers then stripped it from their hands and recovered the fumble. Happened twice in the Clemson game for two of Duke's three scores.