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Teams with Disproportionate Scoring and Yardage Rankings
What to Make of the 2005 Buffalo Bills & 2005 St. Louis Rams

On occasion, there have been some NFL teams that have posted high point totals without having great yardage totals on offense. There have also been several teams that posted high yardage totals but their associated scoring totals were nowhere near as high-and those teams are covered here as well (further down).

For this study, a qualifying team had to be in the 16-game era (post-1978), ranked in the Top 10 in points scored AND had a ranking at least 10 spots LOWER in total offensive yardage. There have been 24 teams that met the criteria including the 2004 Bills--who ranked 7th in scoring but only 24th in total yardage. And the same holds true in reverse-there have been 23 teams that ranked in the Top 10 in yardage but ranked 10 or more spots worse in terms of their total points scored ranking. The 2004 Rams ranked 19th in total scoring but 6th in total yards.

Top 10 Scoring Teams

Before we get started, let me review a problem that I had with the data set of Top 10 Scoring teams. With only 24 teams to work with, the sample size is small (but not microscopic). However, one team in particular was so uncharacteristic that including it skews the results. That team was the 1983 Miami Dolphins. Miami added Dan Marino in 1984 (Year X + 1) and produced one of the finest offensive seasons ever. I will list the numbers including and ignoring that Dolphins' team to better indicate what the other teams did. (For the record, Miami improved from 5,385 yards to 7,064 yards, 389 points to 513 points scored, and 44 offensive TD to 67 offensive TD from 1983 to 1984.)

Counting Miami
Year X
Year X+1
% Change
Points Scored Ranking
6.7
12
n/a
Yardage Ranking
20.2
16.2
n/a
Avg Offensive Points
342.2
321.6
-6
Avg Defensive Points
35.6
28.7
-20
Avg Total Points
377.8
350.3
-7
Avg Offensive TDs
38.1
36.3
-4
Avg Yardage
5153
5382
4
Avg Rushing Yards
1969
1904
-3
Avg Passing Yards
3182
3532
11
Points Allowed Ranking
11.4
8.5
n/a
Bottom 10 Defenses
3
1
n/a
Top 10 Defenses
12
15
n/a
Avg Points Allowed
303
301
n/a
Not Counting Miami
Year X
Year X+1
% Change
Points Scored Ranking
7.0
12.5
n/a
Yardage Ranking
21.2
16.9
n/a
Avg Offensive Points
341.2
314.3
-8
Avg Defensive Points
36.0
28.5
-21
Avg Total Points
377.2
342.6
-9
Avg Offensive TDs
37.9
34.9
-8
Avg Yardage
5143
5306
2
Avg Rushing Yards
1961
1903
-3
Avg Passing Yards
3179
3458
9
Points Allowed Ranking
10.5
8.5
n/a
Bottom 10 Defenses
3
1
n/a
Top 10 Defenses
11
14
n/a
Avg Points Allowed
305
301
n/a

What to make of this? The majority of these teams also had strong defenses-12 ranked in the Top 10 in fewest points allowed in Year X. I would surmise that many produced a lot of turnovers and offered the offense excellent field position, thus leading to more scoring opportunities and more points. The Bills last year ranked 8th in points allowed and if history holds true, they should do as well or better this upcoming season.

Teams in this data set were generally decent teams-their average scoring margin in Year X was +74 points. However, in Year X + 1 that advantage took a bit of a hit, as scoring differential fell to +49 points.

The defenses of these teams actually IMPROVED in Year X + 1, improving their collective 8.5 average ranking in points allowed. Even with fewer points allowed, the majority of teams failed to score as much or as often. Comparing offensive points scored only, the average decline was 27 points and 3 TD. On average, the teams compiled more yardage (163 yards more ignoring Miami and 229 including Miami).

However, looking at just the average of the teams does not present the full picture. While 13 teams went up and 10 teams went down slightly in yardage, 7 of those 10 teams went up a decent amount in yardage (500+ yards) and 2 went up significantly (1,000+ yards). Even with more total yards, most teams still struggled to score more points than in Year X.

Category
# of Teams
More Offensive Points
9
Fewer Offensive Points
14
Up 50 Points
3
Up 100 Points
1
Down 50 Points
11
Down 100 Points
1
Yardage Up
13
Yardage Down
10
Yardage Up 500
7
Yardage Up 1000
2
Yardage Down 500
1
Yardage Down 1000
0
Passing Yardage Up
18
Passing Yardage Down
5
Rushing Yardage Up
9
Rushing Yardage Down
14

Overall, team rushing yardage went down but team passing went up about 10%. This could indicate that Willis McGahee might not be as productive this year and J.P. Losman, Lee Evans, and Eric Moulds could actually do BETTER than projected. Of course, nothing is for certain, but that pattern would follow the historical trend.

Top 10 Yardage Teams

Now let's look at the other data set-where teams ranked in the Top 10 in total offensive yardage but ranked at least 10 spots lower in terms of scoring. Basically, teams that marched up and down the field but didn't put up a lot of points.

Last year, the Rams met these criteria. Strangely, St. Louis qualified in this category in 2002 as well, ranking 23rd in points scored but 9th in total yardage last year. The 2003 Rams rebounded nicely, improving to 3rd in points scored and 7th in total yardage. However, that performance partially goes against the grain in terms of what other teams have realized over the years.

The average team did score more points, but those teams typically saw a reduction in their offensive yardage. Scoring went up 5% in Year X + 1 but yardage traditionally dipped in both passing and rushing by 6-7%. I could not uncover enough data to come to any conclusions with regard to turnovers, but I suspect that teams in Year X + 1 turned the ball over less frequently, thus allowing them to score more times in the red zone (again, that's more supposition than hard evidence).

Category
Year X
Year X+1
% Change
Points Scored Ranking
19.5
15.0
n/a
Yardage Ranking
6.3
13.6
n/a
Avg Offensive Points
294.2
308.2
5
Avg Defensive Points
16.2
20.3
25
Avg Total Points
310.4
328.5
6
Avg Offensive TDs
33.2
34.8
5
Avg Yardage
5887
5517
-6
Avg Rushing Yards
1951
1838
-6
Avg Passing Yards
3935
3649
-7
Points Allowed Ranking
19.1
16.9
n/a
Bottom 10 Defenses
13
8
n/a
Top 10 Defenses
5
6
n/a
Avg Points Allowed
358
345
n/a

While the other data set was notable for the collective strength of team defenses, this group can be benchmarked as being comprised of mostly subpar defenses. (The 2004 Rams ranked 25th in points allowed.) Overall, the teams in this grouping were generally not all that great, as they gave up many more points than they scored.

Teams that met this part of the study mostly did better scoring wise on both sides of the ball, allowing 13 fewer points in Year X + 1. Coupled with an 18 improvement on offense, teams on average realized a 31-point increase in scoring margin (from -64 to -37 points).

Category
# of Teams
More Offensive Points
14
Fewer Offensive Points
8
Up 50 Points
7
Up 100 Points
5
Down 50 Points
4
Down 100 Points
1
Yardage Up
5
Yardage Down
17
Yardage Up 500
2
Yardage Up 1000
0
Yardage Down 500
8
Yardage Down 1000
6
Passing Yardage Up
11
Passing Yardage Down
11
Rushing Yardage Up
4
Rushing Yardage Down
18

As the above table indicates, most teams scored more but had lower yardage totals. Many teams took a significant hit on their total yardage, with a good portion of teams suffering the most in terms of passing yardage.

Given that the Rams had 4,615 passing yards, it's easy to see that they could see a slight drop off if their defense improved some and they ran the ball more. So don't be alarmed should Marc Bulger throw for fewer yards this year. And if history repeats itself, St. Louis will score more points but have fewer passing yards and fewer rushing yards.

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