Since the beginning of the NFL season this past fall, there has been a trend sweeping through the nation. NFL teams are scoring at a greater rate than they have been in previous years. On Nov. 19, a contest between the Los Angeles Rams and the Kansas City Chiefs ended with a final score of 54-51, which marks the first time in NFL history that both teams scored more than 50 points in a single game.
In the second week of the NFL season, all 32 teams collectively scored 1,465 points. In the first two weeks of the 2017 season, teams had only scored 1,249 points, meaning that teams were averaging about 39 points per game. During the beginning of the 2018 season, teams were averaging almost 10 points higher, with most teams scoring about 47 points per game.
This impressive increase in point scoring can be attributed to several factors. This year, a new roughing the passer rule was introduced, amid controversy. This rule prohibits a rushing defender from unnecessarily driving a passer into the ground after the passer has thrown the ball. This rule is designed to help keep players from collapsing onto the quarterbacks, but it has also made it harder for defensive players to take down the quarterback without receiving costly penalties.
A new catch rule has also been introduced. This rule states that the receiver who is going to the ground while making a catch does not have to maintain control of the football while they are on the turf for the catch to be legal. The league has also banned helmet-to-helmet contact and is emphasizing the penalty for illegal contact to protect players.
In 2018, it seems as though the typical NFL mantra that “Defense wins championships” is going by the wayside, as strong offensive units take over the modern game. The development of the quarterback position throughout NFL history, leading to the highest concentration of quality passers in the league at one time, has also played a hand in the scoring efforts.
“By and large, the NFL has really tried to enhance scoring and benefitted the offense,” ESPN NFL analyst Tim Hasselbeck told Real Clear Sports.
A huge factor in changing the NFL landscape in the past couple years has been the prevalence of dependency on quarterbacks. The quarterback position has essentially turned into a field general, commanding the entire offense and, in certain instances, making play calls during the drive.
The most notorious rule change came in 2009, when a rule was clarified to mean that a defender cannot initiate a roll or a lunge and forcibly hit the passer in the knee area or below, even if they are being contacted by another player. This rule came to be known as the “Brady rule,” as it was put in place after New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was knocked out for the entirety of the 2008 season after tearing his ACL on a cheap hit from the Chiefs’ then safety Bernard Pollard.
Overall, new rules are striving to keep a lot of the stress off quarterbacks’ knees, head and neck. By preserving the wellness of these players, they can perform better, and often see an increase in the longevity of their career.
Some of the offensive credit goes to the coaches on the field who are decisively innovative and offense-minded, such as Sean McVay for the Rams, Doug Pederson for the Philadelphia Eagles and Kyle Shanahan for the San Francisco 49ers.
Just 19 games into his tenure as head coach of the Rams, McVay’s team is averaging over 30 points per game, as well as seeing nearly 375 offensive yards each week. McVay has become well known in the league for his offensive creativity and locker room presence.
Although these measures have led to offense-driven contests, NFL games with higher scoring are getting higher ratings. In 2017, the ratings for the NFL during the regular season had dropped 10 percent from the ratings in 2016. This year, 11 weeks into the season, the ratings have climbed by 4 percent.
With a trend of higher scoring in recent history, it remains to be seen if the NFL will adapt again and see if defensive coordinators can create new schemes to stop teams from running up the scoreboard.