So much for the return of NFL defenses. Just look at the Week 1 scoreboard.
Teams combined to score 791 points, a Week 1 record. Five teams scored at least 40 points, which broke the previous record from 1954. Every team scored at least 10 points. That has not happened in Week 1 (in a team’s first game) since 1967.
But if you were watching the action, particularly the Sunday games, were things really as impressive as these numbers suggest? There were no 400-yard passers. Four surpassed that in Week 1 in 2011. Detroit’s Matthew Stafford was the high man with 355 yards, and no quarterback threw more than three touchdown passes.
Also, the largest deficit any team came back from to win was nine points (Minnesota over Jacksonville). Last season, there were 41 comeback wins from double-digit deficits (2.4 per week).
After digging through the numbers, intuition was right. This Week 1 was not as great offensively as the numbers look. Hidden inside was a lot of good defense — or bad offense and ugly special teams — that fueled the scoring.
Putting the points into proper context
It is no surprise the two highest-scoring Week 1’s have come since 2002, because that is the year the league expanded to 32 teams and the current eight-division arrangement. More teams mean more games, which is great for volume stats. Compare the first week of the 2012 season to the last 10 opening weeks.
Offenses gained 267 more yards last season, but scored 39 fewer points. You can see the total amount of turnovers are about the same as previous years, peaking at 71 in 2005 and a low of 35 in 2008.
The Monday night finale between San Diego and Oakland barely pushed 2012 into the scoring record, and if you managed to stay awake for that game, it was downright ugly. The loss of Oakland’s long-snapper contributed to the record as much as anything. San Diego kicked four field goals in the second half, and they only gained 83 yards combined on those scoring drives.
The 2002 season had 11 more offensive touchdowns, while 2012 had 12 more field goals. There were six interceptions returned for touchdowns this year, compared to only two in 2002. Offenses finished better in 2002, producing a 1.53 ratio (84:55) of touchdowns to field goals, compared to 1.09 (73:67) in 2012.
What made offenses better in 2002 was better, more efficient quarterback play. Here is the passing breakdown for the entire league in each Week 1 since 2002.
While 2012 had the most attempts and completions, it did not have the most yards or touchdowns. The passer rating was 5.7 points higher a year ago, and even two points higher in 2002.
Quarterbacks threw too many picks
There were 35 interceptions thrown by 18 different quarterbacks in Week 1. The rate of interceptions was up nearly a full percentage point from last year’s opening week. That helps out the pick-six numbers, and the overall scoring.
Three of the rookies — Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden — threw at least three interceptions. Tannehill was intercepted on three consecutive drives, leading Houston to 17 points, albeit on only 61 yards of offense.
That was almost to be expected. A bit more unexpectedly were rough performances from the likes of Michael Vick, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Matthew Stafford. Each of those quarterbacks had a pick six on Sunday.
Since 1998, there have only been four times in which six different quarterbacks threw at least three interceptions: 2000 (Week 8), 2009 (Week 7), 2011 (Week 11), and 2012 (Week 1).
You know something is wrong when the New Orleans Saints’ offense is held under 30 points at home, and the Green Bay Packers’ offense fails to score 20 at Lambeau. Do not be fooled by the return touchdown each scored on special teams to make their total more respectable. Both teams struggled.
Cam Newton and Andy Dalton, sophomore quarterbacks expecting a surge this year, both lost as well. Newton threw two interceptions, and Dalton helped Baltimore’s Ed Reed break the NFL record for most interception return yards (1,497) on a pick six.
Even though the replacement referees can be accused of letting go too much contact in the red zone, they reportedly have been calling pass interference in bunches. Week 1 featured 29 pass interference calls, or four more than the combined total of 25 for the Week 1’s in 2010-2011.
It will be interesting to see if the interception trend continues. The high number of young starting quarterbacks was one of the big warning signs for offensive production to fall this season.
Points may have been at an all-time high for Week 1, but it would be incorrect to praise the offenses thus far. They were not nearly as crisp as the likes of 2011, or even their decade-old counterparts from the 2002 season.
Scott Kacsmar (@CaptainComeback) writes for Cold, Hard Football Facts, Bleacher Report, Colts Authority, and contributes data to Pro-Football-Reference.com and NFL Network.
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