The scene has repeated itself this season: an NFL primetime game looms, perhaps the one that was circled a few months ago as the top faceoff of high-octane offenses.
Then there are the 2022 NFL reality hits, lonely end zones and solid scoreboards.
And, alas, the crowd is being treated to the Indianapolis Colts’ 12-9 overtime victory over the Denver Broncos, the Dallas Cowboys’ Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 19-3 thrashing on Sunday night, the dismantling of the Sun Francisco 49ers with a score of 24:9. the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams and the Washington Commanders’ 12–7 run away from the Chicago Bears.
“I think there’s a lot of bad football that I watch,” Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady bluntly said on October 6. — I watch a lot of bad football. Low quality football. That’s what I see.”
The number of points in the 2022 season is reduced. And in seven weeks of play, the average of 43.4 points per game is the lowest the NFL has seen since 2010. But why?
“We’ve looked at it differently,” NFL competition committee chairman Rich McKay, who is also president and CEO of the Atlanta Falcons, said at the league’s fall caucus this month. “Every statistical analysis we’ve done, I’m not sure we’ve found a good answer.”
Sportzshala Sports sought to identify many factors contributing to this. In conversations with NFL head coaches, players, and team decision makers, a number of theories have emerged. Additional data from the league’s analytics department helped sort out the issues. We asked: Are 2022 NFL crimes worse? Is the defense better this year? And how does this relate to player skill, managerial influence and/or expected trends in the league?
Here’s what we found.
The teams are in the “discovery phase”
First, let’s compare those 43.4 average points scored in 108 NFL games in 2022. This figure is the combined result of the two opponents in the competition, and according to the study, it is 3.8 points lower than last year’s mark of 47.2 in seven weeks of play. for Sportzshala Sports, NFL Senior Director of Football and Analytics Mike Lopez. Not once since the league lockout in 2011 has the performance dropped lower. Lopez found that only once since 2011 have games had fewer touchdown averages than this year’s 4.79 in seven weeks.
Initially, several coaches, players and team research staff attributed the deficit to roster growth problems. The decline in participation in the preseason affected the attacking rhythm. Offensive linemen, in particular, needed more time to settle in. Add to that a series of high-profile offseason reshuffles — the Seattle Seahawks traded quarterback Russell Wilson to the Broncos, the Green Bay Packers traded receiver Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders, and the Baltimore Ravens traded receiver Marquis Hollywood Brown in the Arizona Cardinals, to name but a few, and some teams just needed to be on the same page, depending on the mood. Injuries only exacerbated the turmoil.
“It just seems like there’s a lot of people in transition on their team,” Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley said. “That’s why I’m talking about the ‘opening’ phase. I’m not using it as a coaching phrase to make you feel better, I think it’s a description of what’s really going on.
“Once these groups come together and get their quote without the quotes ‘personality’, then you’ll see it.”
But the number of points scored is not just lower compared to season totals over the past decade. A new floor has been set this year from the seven-week intervals since 2010, suggesting more than just early growth problems. Defensive tendencies, to the disappointment of passing attacks, seem to be taken into account.
Good luck on the run as the defense goes deeper
While the rushing attacks have largely stopped, the effectiveness of the pass has dropped. Lopez broke down net points by added play type, finding that in week 7 last season, passing games were worth about plus 325 net points. By comparison, they’ve hit about minus 50 this year. A swing of 375 divided by 108 games represents a loss of 3.47 points per game (close to an overall drop of 3.8 points in performance). Pass completion percentage in the league is at its lowest level in five years (62.6%), as is passing deep (25+ yards) for just a 27.7% success rate.
There was an increase in zone coverage and the use of deep security.
“We’re seeing a lot more fraud on just the first and second down from defense than you saw 10 years ago, maybe 6 or 7 years ago,” said Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy, who spent 2000-2005 as coordinator. offense and has since been the head coach of the NFL every year except 2019. “You always talk about situational football, but I think the first and second attempts are more aggressively sketchy in defense across the league. I think that’s definitely something that’s part of it.”
Compared to 2018, in defense teams use Coverage 2 (two deep safes) up 2.9%; Coverage 4 zones (two deep safes plus two deep corner safes, also known as “quarters”) 3.3% more; as well as Coverage 6 (half of the Cover 2 field, the other half of the quarter) 3.7% more. Succeeding on the bottom of the field in a more crowded and cloudier field is no easy task, and while the use of safety isn’t the only factor, it does indicate that “defense across the league is leaning towards schemes and personnel that can disrupt games.” said one of the team members. in data and decision making said Sportzshala Sports on condition of anonymity. Defenders become more versatile, and defensive structures clutter the box less, preparing to repel passing attacks.
Defensive players and coordinators who have stayed where they are when their offensive counterparts have moved across the league gain an advantage.
“We know where we are going. We’re on our way,” said Derwin James of Chargers security at Sportzshala Sports. “Attacking is about more time and rhythm. [so] they’re still figuring out what they want to do.”
Staff members from three different teams also told Sportzshala Sports that they believe defensive coaches are catching up with offensive innovation promoted by coaches such as the Rams’ Sean McVeigh and the 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan. One staff member pointed specifically to the decline in what they considered “creative” games, counting 71 decent cuts in three weeks last season, compared to 45 this year.
“Recently, the feed has shrunk a lot because the league is so homogeneous that you don’t see many new ideas anymore,” the person said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The Philadelphia special, the wildcat, the jet sweep, the return boots, the return screen, the return double pass have all been done so often that the defense now knows how to play against it.
“It’s a copycat league where all the videos are easily accessible and endlessly filtered by all these data companies. Where will new concepts come from?
Why the NFL still thinks it’s interesting
If this all sounds like football is getting less spectacular, as Brady claimed, league and team staff have the answers, too. First, they emphasize the league’s historical parity.
Even after Week 7 hits, the average of 9.33 points this season is the lowest the league has seen in data compiled since 1983. The teams won by an average of 12.11 points last season. So while your team may not score that much, the game often comes down to the last minutes. Because team records are also uncommonly combined, a higher percentage of games on a given Sunday schedule can affect the results of an entire season.
Then there are defensive moves that limit points, like the fast-paced chase by Cowboys linebacker Mick Parsons that caused the Detroit Lions to stop at the goal line last Sunday. What seemed like an inevitable touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter instead resulted in a last-period tie and a 14-point loss for Detroit.
“Amen,” Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said of the loss. “But usually the best teams on both sides of the ball really do come out on top in the next half. [of the year].
“Ebb and Flow of the Season”.
While many established defensive coordinators benefit from new offensive coordinators turned head coaches, there are pockets of creativity fueling the unexpected early success of some teams. League raters are impressed with how offensive coordinator Mike Kafka revitalized the New York Giants offense by amplifying tight schemes to disguise the use of running back Saquon Barkley in a way that also liberates quarterback Daniel Jones. Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen unlocked the game for quarterback Jalen Hurts by fitting seasoned players into a variety of roles. The Minnesota Vikings, Miami Dolphins, and even the Atlanta Falcons have made the most of the talent at their disposal in moments that impress rivals.
Apart from them? The League will be keeping a close eye on the next source of offensive development that can offset the 2022 defensive advantage.
“That’s what’s so interesting about this game that every week involves a new approach where you’re trying to make sure you’re putting your guys in the right places,” McVeigh said. “Then you can arrange the game in such a way that you end up winning.”
Follow Jori Epstein of Sportzshala Sports on Twitter. @JoriEpstein