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If you can pass you can score, right?

unless you are the Broncos, Chargers, Raiders or Vikings if you can pass you can score

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last eight seasons the Denver Broncos have not been able to score points. As I wrote about last week, they have the worst scoring offense since 2015 inclusive. The Broncos have also not been able to pass very well and have lived near the bottom of the league in terms of passer rating during the past eight seasons. While there are other measures of determining passing effectiveness, passer rating, with all its flaws, is still one of the better known and most widely accepted. This is partly due to it’s transparency. We know how the number is calculated unlike ESPN’s proprietary QBR or SIS proprietary IQR or even PFF’s inscrutable overall player score.

As a team the Broncos have not been higher than 14th in passer rating over the last eight seasons (in 2021). In Peyton Manning’s last good season (2014), the team finished fourth in passer rating. Peyton threw all but 10 of the passes for the Broncos in 2014.

It’s a truism in the NFL, that if you can pass the ball you can score. If you look at the correlation for the entire league over the last eight seasons between passer rating and scoring points, you get a high value - 0.71. Now this may not look like a high value to you, but in the world of sports statistics this is bankable correlation (meaning that you will win money if you bet using this). Remember that correlation values range from 1.0 to -1.0.

When I looked at this on a team by team basis, I was surprised to find three of the four teams in the AFC West DO NOT FOLLOW this trend. Meaning that their ability to pass did not correlate strongly with an ability to score. Of course, I will now give the standard caveat that correlation is not causation.

The lack of strong correlation for four teams in the league could just mean that they got better at one while getting worse in the other or vice versa, but also remember that this analysis was only done for eight seasons. I am sure that were I to do this for every year that passer rating has been in existence, I would probably find that there are no true outliers. However, that is a much larger study since passer rating has been in existence since the 70s.

At times I will use passer rating league rank (where you want a low value) and at other times I will use the actual passer rating value (where you want a high value). Either way the correlation value ends up being the same just with the opposite sign.

The Chargers appear to be on the tail-end of the normal curve, but the Broncos and the Raiders (and the Vikings) all look like really strange/strong outliers. So let’s look at each outlier in depth to see why they don’t follow this trend over the last eight seasons.

We’ll start with the Vikings. The Vikings have been generally in the top third of the league in passer rating over the past eight seasons. Their average PR rank is 13.6 with a high of 4th in 2020 and a low of 20 in 2022. They have been all over the place in scoring - hanging out with the Broncos in the bottom of the league in 2016, 2018 and 2019 and then having three seasons in the top third of the league (2017, 2020 and 2022). If want plot their Scoring rank and the passer rating rank it becomes more apparent as to why they have a negative correlation particularly since their best scoring year (2022) came with their worst PR rating year. (Note that the most recent season is on the left side of the graph NOT the right - some folks detest chronological X-axes that flow left-to-right and if you are one of them, I apologize as I am not.)

I would call this the Kirk Cousins effect. The Vikings starting QB has been Cousins starting in 2015, and while they have had high passer ratings, that has not always translated into high scoring ranks with 2018 and 2019 being prime examples. Those two seasons where the height of the Vikings defense which led them to their deepest recent playoff push (lost in divisional round). I guess that the negative correlation here could be a result of Cousins (and Mike Zimmer) playing for FGs instead of touchdowns, but I really don’t know since I don’t follow the Vikings closely.

The Raider’s case is another interesting one. Take a look at their plot below.

Their doesn’t seem to much connection between their team passer rating and their scoring rank. Similar to the Vikings, the Raiders had the seem QB for all eight seasons, Derek Carr. 2015 was Carr’s second season as their starting QB (and his second in the NFL) and while Carr’s game progressively got better (he finished 3rd in MVP voting in 2016), the Raiders did not translate this into points finishing no higher than 7th in scoring and as low as 31st. Carr reached his ceiling which is essentially an average NFL QB, but that did not translate into points (look at 2019). Carr missed a total of four starts over the course of these eight seasons. As you can see his relative passer rating was getting worse from 2019 to last season while the Raiders made a huge jump in scoring rank in 2021 relative to 2020.

And now we move to the Broncos, where the changes aren’t as big because our QBs and our scoring have both been terrible, but their movements have not synced.

It would appear that the first three seasons are why the Broncos do not fit the general trend with the rest of the NFL. Since 2018 our inability to pass has tracked quite closely with our inability to score.

What has me hopeful for the 2023 season is the correlation that Sean Payton’s Saints had. The Saints correlation value was 0.77 over the last eight seasons which is above the league average. I’ll plot the Saints and the Broncos on the same graph to show how stark the differences were over the last eight seasons. Also remember that Sean Payton was not the head coach in 2022.

The fact that Payton was able to get the Saints to finish fifth in scoring in 2020 with Taysom Hill and the ghost of Drew Brees playing QB is quite amazing. Remember that the Broncos finished 19th in scoring with the ghost of Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler playing QB in 2015.

I would not be surprised to see the Broncos in the top 8 in scoring in 2023. Which could make it one of the biggest jumps in scoring rank year over year ever. One of the biggest ever was the 2005 to 2006 Saints - the year that Sean Payton took over as their head coach.

The 2005 Saints finished 31st in scoring - scoring a measly 235 points. The 2006 Saints finished 5th in scoring with 413 points. That’s 178 more points in 16 regular season or 11.1 points per game more than season before. The 2022 Broncos finished dead last in scoring with 287 points in 17 games or 16.9 ppg. If the 2023 Broncos improve by 11.1 ppg that would get them to 28.0 ppg which would have been 4th in the league in 2022.

After spending the last eight seasons starving for points, a 4th place finish would be a metaphorical banquet for point-starved Bronco Country which hasn’t feasted since 2014 when the team finished 2nd in scoring.


Where do you think the 2023 Broncos will finish in scoring rank after finishing dead last in 2022?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    (15 votes)
  • 15%
    (44 votes)
  • 36%
    (102 votes)
  • 27%
    (77 votes)
  • 13%
    17th or worse
    (38 votes)
276 votes total Vote Now