There has been plenty of angst over the first two weeks of the state of the NFL. Bill Barnwell wrote a piece how the quality of play isn’t worse which included reference to something I wrote last year looking back through newspaper archives to find all bellyaching about NFL quality (scientific term).
In fact, I would go so far as to say that as humans, we have short memory spans and often fall into the same patterns. Instead of complaining about the weather, in this case, it’s complaining about the NFL as we watch in the moment. Usually, nothing changes. There are bad plays and bad quarterbacks and bad offenses every year.
Quality of play is something that’s very difficult to quantify. When a team fails to score, is it bad offense or good defense? What we can do is make objective statements. And one we can make right now is that offense is down in the NFL.
But that depends on the vantage point. Relative to 2011-2016, the post-lockout years, it is down. Relative to most of the rest of the last 25 years, it looks like a normal offensive season.
Here is a chart showing the scoring, passing and rushing numbers through two weeks (and the end-of-year numbers).
Yards per carry, for example, are at 3.9, which seems low. That would be the lowest average since 1999. However, rushing yards per carry tends to rise after the first few weeks–almost half of the seasons on this list had a league-wide yards per carry at 3.9 or lower after two weeks.
My guess as to why this is would be injuries on defense, primarily. Defenses are a chain and as parts of it get broken and replacement players are forced into action, there will be more big runs.
The bigger drop has been in passing numbers. Last year, teams were averaging almost 259 passing yards per game at this point, and 6.7 net yards per attempt. This year, it’s at 221 and 6.1.
But, if you look at that chart, you’ll see that it’s 2011 to 2016 that has been the outlier. The numbers from this year are virtually identical to the six-year period before the lockout after two weeks.