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Some Clarification is in Order: Offensive Trends Review

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DENVER - SEPTEMBER 26:  Manning and Tebow, two opposites in terms of quarterback play, which side does the NFL seem to be trending? Also, I though Tebow was big, but Manning still towers over him. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
DENVER - SEPTEMBER 26: Manning and Tebow, two opposites in terms of quarterback play, which side does the NFL seem to be trending? Also, I though Tebow was big, but Manning still towers over him. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Happy Independence Day to Americans, and a happy regular 4th of July to everyone else!

So with the two parts of the offense covered, passing and rushing, which covered a lot of topics. This third and final part covering  the offense will review what the past two articles have discussed, ranging from the changes in yards per attempt from quarterbacks to the increase in 1,000 yard rushers to the increased efficiency of both quarterbacks and running backs. We will also be talking about and covering some odds and ends topics that I didn't get the chance to talk about before, . 

After covering the offense in these past three articles, we will be covering the defense next time and the special teams unit. So with the future parts laid out, lets get to this last part reviewing the offense trends in the NFL.

Passing Summery:

  • We saw a trend in the passing game to become more accurate while changing from deep passes to shorter passes.
  • With these shorter passes, offensive coordinators are targeting larger receivers, or those who can move quick, creating separation across the middle. Yards after the catch are becoming increasingly important.
  • While there was a trending up of yards per season since the rule changes began in 1978, the average yards per season for a team has leveled out in the past two decades, with only a slight increase in recent years. Attempts follow a similar trend, but have risen at a slightly more rapid rate, but from a percentage view point, the passing game remains at the same level in relation to the overall offense.
  • With this leveling out of average yards per season for a team, quarterbacks and offensive coordinators seem to be focusing on tightening up the game plans. Quarterbacks are more efficient, completing more passes on short routes, making fewer mistakes, causing fewer turnovers, succeeding on 3rd downs more, and scoring more points.

Rushing Summery:

  • Like the passing game, the running game has become more efficient, increasing yards per rush, and lower fumbles. This change in the rushing game comes from a few different factors.
  • The first is that running backs are being used in tandem more now than any other time. There have been more tandem backs reaching 800, 900 and 1,000 yards each with each passing season. Coaches want to keep their premier backs healthy. Jamaal Charles (Thomas Jones), Adrian Peterson (Toby Gerhart), DeAngelo Williams (Jonathan Stewart and Mike Goodson), LeGarrett Blunt (Cadillac Williams), Michael Turner (Jason Snelling), Marshawn Lynch (Justin Forsett), Ryan Mathews (Mike Tolbert), Darren McFadden (Michael Bush), Ray Rice (Willis McGahee), Ronnie Brown (Ricky Williams), LT (Shonne Greene), Ahmad Bradshaw (Brandon Jacobs), Felix Jones (Marion Barber and Tashard Choice), Joseph Addai (Donald Brown), Pierre Thomas (Reggie Bush, Chris Ivory, Julius Jones). This level of tandem backs is not seen at any point in NFL and it isn't a fluke, it has been going up for a decade, and that makes it a trend.
  • Now that's not to say the level of talent is going down. There are still top tier backs, look at Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson, these guys are unbelievable backs, their coaches just want them to have long careers, so they bring in other backs of talent to compliment the backs they have.
  • Overall the running game isn't weakening, while it is much weaker than it was in the 1970's and 1980's it has balanced out, and rather than continuing to weakening, it is evolving into it's current role, taking advantage of a stronger passing game, thus strengthening the running game. 
  • The Running backs draft strength is weakening, and while 1st and 2nd round running backs are still the safest picks, talent can be found more and more often in mid rounds.

Odds and Ends:

  • One key thing to note, and that will be discussed in the defensive trends piece, is that the number of offensive plays is going down. Now this is very interesting to take notice of because if you look above, you see the offense is being more successful, more passing yards, stable rushing yards, more yards overall, more points per game, and yet they are doing it with fewer plays. This is something to keep in mind for the next article, the offense is succeeding more with less plays, and defenses seem to be struggling league wide.
  • The biggest one I wanted look at was something that had been discussed with a few other people, was looking at if mobile QB's have become more prevalent in the NFL. Now this was a tricky thing to research, and there is no easy or perfect way to study it, but I think I found a decent way to look at this. Now I won't be looking so much at the individual number of mobile QB's, rather I will be looking at the success rate of mobile QB's. If more mobile QB's perferate the NFL, they will succeed more and more often, if there is no trend towards mobile QB's, there won't be very much success. So lets take a closer look at this below:

Types of Quarterbacks:

Now it is important to note that it is difficult to define the word "mobile." I did a post some time ago looking at the term, here is the link. Based on my research, I set the parameters of my search to include all quarterbacks from 1978 to 2010 that threw for over 2,500 yards as well as rushed for 250 yards. This would eliminate quarterbacks who weren't starting quarterbacks but ran purely as option quarterbacks, these were popular in the 1990's, and would also include quarterbacks that ran often enough to be fleet of foot, but didn't exclude larger, mobile quarterbacks.

It is important this isn't the most accurate way to judge a quarterback to see if he is mobile, but it is the only logistical way to do it. For informational purposes, the best way to judge a quarterback is too look at his pass to run attempts ratio, but there is no feasible way to do that for an extended period of time. So if there are questions you have about a specific quarterback, please let me know, I will look it up and hopefully be able to answer your question.

So with those parameters in mind, I looked at quarterbacks that were broken into three categories, less than eight pass attempts per run, these are the really mobile quarterbacks, 8 to 13 pass attempts to runs, balanced quarterbacks who can run or throw, and 14+ pass attempts to run, pocket passers. Now the categories I will be judging these players in will be Pro Bowls and which quarterback wins the Super Bowl that year. By looking at these two categories, we can see if more mobile quarterbacks are leading successful teams as well as see if more are seeing personal success. Now I know it's not perfect, and it is important to remember that quarterbacks can move up and down categories each year, so one year they may be in the 8-13 section but the next they may be 14+. Also, I was going to include All-Pro into this list, but only three non-14+ quarterbacks made All Pro's, Steve Young, Daunte Culpepper and Randall Cunningham.

With that in mind, here is the table:

Year ≤ 7 Pro Bowls ≤ 7 Super Bowls 8-13 Pro Bowls 8-13 Super Bowls 14+ Pro Bowls 14+ Super Bowls
1978 0 0 3 1 1 0
1979 0 0 2 0 2 1
1980 0 0 0 1 4 0
1981 0 0 1 0 3 1
1982 0 0 2 1 2 0
1983 0 0 3 0 2 1
1984 0 0 2 0 2 1
1985 1 1 2 0 3 0
1986 0 0 2 1 3 0
1987 1 0 1 1 4 0
1988 1 0 4 1 1 0
1989 4 0 4 1 0 0
1990 1 0 2 0 2 1
1991 0 0 3 0 5 1
1992 1 0 4 0 2 1
1993 0 0 6 1 2 0
1994 1 1 3 0 3 0
1995 1 0 2 0 5 1
1996 2 0 4 1 3 0
1997 0 0 6 1 2 0
1998 2 0 3 1 1 0
1999 0 0 2 0 4 1
2000 4 0 2 1 3 0
2001 3 0 3 1 1 0
2002 3 0 1 0 4 1
2003 2 0 2 1 4 0
2004 3 0 2 1 1 0
2005 1 0 2 1 6 0
2006 1 0 3 0 3 1
2007 0 0 2 0 6 1
2008 0 0 1 1 6 0
2009 2 0 4 0 4 1
2010 2 1 2 0 2 0
Total: 36 3 85 17 96 13
Average: 1.1 0.09 2.6 0.52 2.9 0.39


This is where it gets a bit trickier to track because the charts don't come out so pretty for the visual learners in the group, but I got it worked out. I will make a few key points that need to be understood before we look at these charts. The first is that the number of Pro Bowl players has increased rapidly in the last 15 years, especially in the past two, with Super Bowl players not participating in the Pro Bowl, allowing others to get the chance. Because of this, there is a sort of inflation when it comes to Pro Bowls, so keep that in mind, I will discuss it more after the charts. 

The second point, that I won't show with charts, is about Super Bowls. Now it doesn't look pretty in chart form, so I will just discuss it. Aaron Rodgers was the 3rd quarterback with less than eight passes to one run to win a Super Bowl, the other two being Steve Young and Jim McMahon. There is almost no growth in that area. Interestingly, the 8-13 section is ahead of  14+, but they both has sustainable levels of success, no change, they are almost even. In the past ten years, < 8 has won 1, 8-13 has won 5 and 14+ has won 4. So in terms of Super Bowl quarterbacks, there is no trend towards overly mobile quarterbacks, while balanced and pocket passers remain the main quarterbacks of the Super Bowl.

So lets get to the Pro Bowl review:

Less Than Eight Group


Eight to Thirteen Group


Fourteen Plus Group


All Groups


The two parallel lines are the < 8 and 14+ groups, while the slightly more level line is the 8-13 group, I'm sorry that's not more clear, I couldn't get them to color them.

So here is where it gets tricky because it looks like all three options are trending upward, but with that inflation we were talking about, you'll see a bit different story. With inflation added, the 8-13 group, the one that is solid in Super Bowl representation is trending downward in Pro Bowls while both the < 8 and 14+ groups are climbing up at the same rate. So the trend here is that while there has been growth in mobile quarterbacks rising in success, there is no trending away from pocket passers, actually it seems the opposite, both are rising in success.

Overall, there is a trend of more mobile quarterbacks in the league, while they have yet to have some success, they are on the rise. But  with that in mind, there is also a rise in pocket passers as well. So even with the increase in mobile quarterbacks, the style of play isn't likely to sweep the league anytime soon.

Next time on Some Clarification is in Order: The Defense and NFL Trends