Tag Archives: Super Bowl

Is the NFL throwing the ball more, but getting less out of it?

The answer is yes. The NFL passing game now dominates offensive strategy, but the excitement has gone out of the game as the short pass, or as we used to derisively call it back in the seventies, the dump pass, has taken over the game.

A dump pass is a short throw designed for an easy completion and guaranteed to pick up no more than 5 or 6 yards. In the seventies, the recipient was a running back coming out of the backfield. Today, it’s the slot receiver.

It’s a high percentage throw that’s about an exciting as a fullback diving up the middle of the line and it has supplanted much of the running game in the NFL. It’s also taken away a lot of the excitement from the game. No one throws the long bomb anymore. No one takes a chance unless it’s a Hail Mary at the end of a game.

Bart Starr was famous for throwing the bomb on third and one and faking the defense out of its shoes. Though the 1960s Packers threw the ball less than anyone in the NFL, when they did put it up, they got big numbers.

The result of today’s ultra-conservative passing game has resulted in incredibly high completion percentages, ridiculously low interception rates and made the game, all too often, a yawn. Here’s  a chart that demonstrates the decline of the downfield passing game using the number that tells it all, yards per completion. We begin in 1946, the decade the passing game began to emerge in professional football. The number cited is the yards per completion by the top, qualifying quarterback in the NFL every ten years through 2016.

Year       Yards Per Completion
1946       16.6
1956       17.4
1966       15.8 NFL
1966       17.5 AFL
1976       15.1
1986       14.9
1996       13.3
2006       14.7
2016       13.3

And here’s the entire league average for those same years.

Year       Yards Per Completion
1946       15.0
1956       12.8
1966       11.9 NFL
1966       13.5 AFL
1976       11.1
1986       11.5
1996       10.8
2006       10.7
2016       10.7

The decline of .8 yards per completion from 1986 to the present day may not seem like much, but it points out a steady decline that began in the Dead Ball Era of the seventies. Hiding within that current number is the fact that far fewer throws are being made downfield while the safety valve throw to a running back, another name for the dump pass, has also all but disappeared from the NFL. Consider this, in the seventies, quarterbacks on bad teams relied on the dump pass due to the bump and run defense which basically allowed defensive backs to mug wide receivers and racked up miserable numbers in the process, bringing the overall league average down.

On the other hand, teams with receivers able to get open deep like Cliff Branch in Oakland or Isaac Curtis in Cincinnati, gave those teams a more wide open attack which put them head and shoulders above the rest of the NFL. So that 11.1 average from 1976 consists of an inordinate number of 5 and 6 yard throws to running backs balanced by deep throw to wide receivers.

Today’s NFL has virtually eliminated the traditional dump pass, replacing it with 7 and 8 yards crossing patterns to wide receivers, but eschews the deep throw, meaning that today’s average is composed of fewer bombs. It would take a PHD with a Supercomputer to sort it out, but it goes something like this:

1976
Throws to RB average 7 yards
Throws Downfield average 15 yards
League average 11 yards

2016
Throws to Slot WR average 9 yards
Throws Downfield average 13 yards
League average 11 yards

Downfield throws average in the seventies were likely the result of 20 plus yard bombs combined with 10 yard possession catches while in 2016, completions downfield are much rarer and the average is the result of a higher percentage of intermediate throws.

I know, it’s a bit of tortured logic which I can’t back up and I doubt anyone can refute either, but it’s how I remember the game and tapes of contests from the seventies backup what I’m saying.

Examples of the long ball throwers

Joe Namath of the New York Jets had 2,816 yards on 162 completions for a 17.4 average in 1972 including a record setting 496 yards on only 15 completions with 6 touchdowns in a  44-34 shootout against Johnny Unitas in game two of that season. If you exclude the last two, miserable, years of Namath’s career, over his first 11 seasons he averaged an astonishing 15.1 yards a completion picking up 25,967 yards. Namath paid for this with one of the highest interception percentages and a completion average of barely 50%, though neither were terribly bad numbers in the AFL-NFL of the era. Namath took the Jets to the playoffs twice during those years and won Super Bowl III.

Bart Starr’s prime years from 1959 to 67 under Vince Lombardi saw him average 14.2 yards a completion with 20,099 yards while winning 5 NFL Championships. But while Namath was a true gunslinger and interception prone, Starr was also accurate, completing a league high 57.9% of his passes during those same years with the lowest interception rate of quarterbacks with comparable numbers.

By comparison, Tom Brady has averaged 11.7 yards a completion during his career in New England while winning 5 championships and has topped 13 yards a completion only once, in 2011 with 13.1. Drew Brees has averaged 11 yards a completion during his long career, with his best season 12.4 yards.

When you take away the chance of an interception by playing it ultra-safe, some of the adventure goes out of the game. The more high percentage throws you make, the less exciting the passing game becomes.

The NFL in the seventies could be a stifling bore with the dominance of defenses and the running game, but when they did put the ball up, it could be a blast as it was in the 1968 AFL Championship Game between the Jets and Raiders or when Roger Staubach bombed the Vikings in the first round of the 1975 playoffs. In the end, it’s just an observation and nostalgia, but it’s worth remembering.

Buy Stanton Greene’s Book Lombardi’s Men on Amazon Kindle and Paperback

Five Time NFL Champions

Congrats to Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots on winning their fifth Super Bowl win. But amid all the hoopla, there’s one thing missing; an acknowledgement of the men who came before them. While Brady and Belichick have surpassed Terry Bradshaw, Chuck Noll and Joe Montana’s four Super Bowl wins, they have in fact, only equaled Bart Starr and Vince Lombardi’s accomplishment of winning five NFL Championships. To hear all the media blabber, you’d think the NFL didn’t exist before Super Bowl I in 1967 and that is sad.

And it’s not just the NFL, it’s the sports media in general. Whenever Sports Illustrated runs a piece about the history of the game, it usually cuts off its research at the 1970 merger of the NFL and AFL. I think it’s pure laziness. In a story about the winningest Quarterback-Coach combinations they ran a couple years ago, their 1970 beginning date conveniently cut out Vince Lombardi-Bart Starr and Hank Stram-Len Dawson who would have both been in the top ten even after half a century.

So while I give a tip of the hat to Brady and Belichick, it would be nice if someone in the media made even a small allusion to the fact that what they have done, has already been done fifty years ago in a little town in Wisconsin called Green Bay.

Read Lombardi’s Men on Amazon Kindle, the true story of every member of the 1960s Green Bay Packers

Lombardi’s Men – The Green Bay Packers 1959 to 1967 Kindle eBook Trailer

Lombardi’s Men – A Biography Of Every Green Bay Packer From 1959 To 1967 & Their Lives After Football. The Ultimate Packer Book. Buy it on Amazon Kindle.

The 14 Men Who Wore Five Championship Rings In Green Bay

We don’t write about football very much on this blog, but once in a while I notice a subject that’s overlooked elsewhere and decide to fill it in. It began when I read this excellent, but sad article about Vince Lombardi’s 60s Packers and their declining health. Afterward, I wondered how many of these men played on all 5 NFL Championship teams between 1961 and 1967 and couldn’t find the answer anywhere, so I did some research on my own and came up with this. 14 players not including coaches, who are slightly harder to track down, though we can obviously include Head Coach Vince Lombardi and Defensive Coordinator Phil Bengtson. In this era of free agency, that a core of 14 ballplayers stayed together for 7 seasons and won 5 Championships including the first two Super Bowls is a real nostalgia kick.

Bart Starr Quarterback
Elijah Pitts Running Back
Boyd Dowler Wide Receiver
Max McGee Wide Receiver
Fuzzy Thurston Left Guard
Bob Skoronski Left Tackle
Jerry Kramer Right Guard
Forrest Gregg Right Tackle

Willie Davis Left Defensive End
Ron Kostelnik Left Defensive Tackle
Henry Jordan Right Defensive Tackle
Ray Nitschke Middle Linebacker
Herb Adderley Left Cornerback
Willie Wood Right Safety

And let’s not forget Running Backs Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung  who played on the first four championship teams in Green Bay.  Marv Fleming Tight End played on 3 Championship teams in Green Bay and 2 more in Miami in 1972 and 1973.
Herb Adderley earned a 6th with the Dallas Cowboys in 1971.
Thanks to ProFootballReference.com for their invaluable resource and research.

Packers

1966 Green Bay Packers  Team Photo