Rich Hribar

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Drives and Scoring Notebook

Thursday, June 29, 2017

After running through play splits and changes that teams made in-season last year that could spill into 2017, we’re continuing onward with a look at offensive efficiency per possession through the lens of what opportunities may impact the upcoming season. Though we will touch on some individual players here, the theme of this post will largely be team related and we will touch on many of the individual components of each offense that may be affected through the red zone and positional notebooks that are going to follow.


Atlanta Rising Up in 2016

When looking at 2016 scoring performance, you must start with what the Atlanta Falcons were able to accomplish. They were a model of efficiency that has been matched by only a team or two since the turn of this century. Atlanta scored 30 or more points in 11 games, most in the league and tied for fifth most ever in a season. They scored 40 or more points in five of those games, tied for the second most in an NFL season. Prior to 2016, the Falcons had scored 40 points in five games over the previous five seasons and had more than two 40-plus-point games in a season just once in franchise history, doing it four times back in 1973. On a per drive basis, just look at how their 2016 season compared to the per-possession output they’ve accomplished over Matt Ryan’s career. 


2016 10.3 40.4 2.90 92 55.8% 58 35.2%
2015 10.3 35.5 1.84 60 36.4% 35 21.2%
2014 10.8 33.6 2.08 68 39.3% 39 22.5%
2013 10.9 32.4 1.85 61 35.1% 37 21.3%
2012 10.8 34.2 2.33 77 44.8% 44 25.6%
2011 11.1 33.6 2.04 70 39.5% 43 24.3%
2010 10.6 33.2 2.14 71 41.8% 43 25.3%
2009 10.3 32.6 2.04 60 36.4% 41 24.8%
2008 10.3 34.8 2.12 69 42.1% 40 24.4%


After averaging 35.8 offensive touchdowns per season during Ryan’s career prior to 2016, last year's Falcons led the league with 58 touchdowns. The Falcons scored on 32 more possessions than they did in 2015 on the exact number of possessions. Their 92 scoring drives on offense were the second most behind the 2013 Broncos (97) since 2000, and they scored on a staggering 55.8 percent of their offensive possessions, the second highest rate behind the undefeated 2007 Patriots (57 percent) over that same timespan. They were the sixth team since 2000 to score on half of their possessions, joining this group of rarified efficiency. 


TeamYearDrive/GPts/DriveN+ Pt/DrScore%N+ Score%TDN+ TD
NE 2007 9.9 3.20 2.31 57.0% 47.9% 69 43
NE 2010 9.8 2.76 2.68 51.0% 49.4% 58 57
NO 2011 10.7 2.96 2.24 52.6% 39.7% 62 53
GB 2011 10.6 2.85 2.18 51.8% 39.3% 64 49
DEN 2013 11.9 2.83 2.31 51.1% 42.9% 72 55
ATL 2016 10.3 2.90 TBD 55.8% TBD 58 TBD


The other five teams lost an average of 13.6 touchdowns the following season with three of the five losing 15 or more trips to the paint. If you want to take a grain of salt for New England losing Tom Brady in Week 1 of 2008, that’s more than fine, but only the 2011 Patriots could stave off major regression in terms of scoring prowess.


Since that bucket of efficiency is so tight, I wanted to open the field a bit and get more teams on the dance floor. Dropping the 2016 Atlanta scoring output by 10 percent to teams that scored on 45 percent of their drives gives us a 26-team sample of peak scoring efficiency up until the start of last season. 10 of those seasons belong to just two franchises and they happen to be the only two franchises that have managed to have consecutive seasons scoring on 45 percent of their possessions. The Colts from 2003-2007 and the Patriots twice from 2010-2012 and from 2014-2016. That’s it. No Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers teams were even able to string back to back years of such lofty scoring efficiency. Like what we discussed a year ago about Carolina being able to match their insane output coming into 2016, for Atlanta to do so, they’d be joining the company of the pantheon of elite offenses, and that’s before any dissection of what the transition of Kyle Shanahan to Steve Sarkisian could mean.


The previous offenses outside of those Indianapolis and New England teams to hit that 45 percent rate had the average loss of scoring a touchdown on 10.1 percent of their drives the following season with an average loss of 11 offensive touchdowns. In 2015, there were four teams that managed to score on the arbitrary rate of 45 percent of their drives. We know the Patriots maintained their elite output, but the other teams (Arizona, Carolina, Seattle) lost a combined 31 offensive touchdowns in 2016. The other teams that joined Atlanta and New England in this regard last season were Green Bay, Dallas, New Orleans and Washington, who all face similar potential to lose touchdown production and efficiency.


Billing Buffalo for Rushing Touchdown Decline

The Bills have led the NFL in rushing production in each of the past two seasons. If they are still going to do one thing well this season, it will be running the football. Buffalo added a fullback in Patrick DiMarco as well as Mike Tolbert, while it’s questionable to suggest their passing game has been upgraded from a personnel standpoint outside of having a maybe-healthy Sammy Watkins. Oh, and they still have a quarterback with 1,148 rushing yards over the past two years. By all accounts, the Bills may be a bottom of league team, but they still have one true strength.


While Buffalo may still indeed run the ball well in 2017, they do stand to see a reduction in scoring production from the ground. The Bills had 29 rushing TD in 2016, which not only led the NFL, but was the most in Buffalo’s franchise history and tied for the eighth most ever in a season. 39 teams have rushed for 25 scores in an NFL season since the 1970 merger prior to Buffalo reaching the total last year, with 36 of those teams scoring fewer times on the ground the following season. Those teams lost an average of 9.2 rushing touchdowns per season and the last time a team had as many rushing touchdowns as the Bills did last year was the 2008 Panthers, who scored 30 times on the ground, then came back to score 18 rushing touchdowns the following season.


Loosening our grip, 144 teams have rushed for at least 20 scores in an NFL season over the same timeframe. 124 of those teams scored fewer touchdowns the following season. The last time a team rushed for 20-plus touchdowns in back to back years occurred in 2009. Those teams that lost scoring production on the ground lost an average of 8.2 rushing touchdowns in the following season. Joining the Bills in this bucket from the 2016 season are Arizona, Dallas and Atlanta, with this being the second time that both Dallas and Atlanta have been mentioned through two data points.


A Giant Collapse

The Giants won double digit games in 2016 for the first time since 2008, but they did on the strength of their defense, allowing their fewest amount of points since the 2002 season. The offensive side of the ball not only took a step back in the first season with Ben McAdoo as head coach, but completely fell over backwards compared to the first two seasons he was with the team as the play caller.



2016 28.2 26 1.49 28 29.0% 28 17.5% 25 50.8% 30
2015 33.3 8 2.03 8 39.1% 9 22.8% 11 41.3% 16
2014 30.7 16 1.93 13 35.1% 16 22.5% 13 41.9% 18


After back to back seasons in which they were an average to above average offense, the Giants dropped into a territory where they kept the lowly company of teams like the Jets, Bears and 49ers in terms of offensive output per possession. Only the 49ers and Rams punted on a higher rate of drives than the Giants. After scoring 43 and 42 offensive touchdowns in 2014 and 2015, the Giants managed just 32 touchdowns a year ago, which ranked 24th in the league. Of course, that drop in offensive efficiency can be traced back to the efficiency output from Eli Manning.


2016 63.0% 37.6 23.6 251.7 6.7 6.4 4.3% 0.390
2015 62.6% 38.6 24.2 277.3 7.2 7.3 5.7% 0.468
2014 63.1% 37.6 23.7 275.6 7.3 7.3 5.0% 0.447


Manning’s completion rate and volume remained intact from the previous two seasons, but his yardage and other rate stats flatlined. It’s possible that the 36-year old Manning is on his way to being washed out, but given the weapons the Giants had on offense a year ago compared to the additions they’ve made this offseason -- replacing Victor Cruz with Brandon Marshall, drafting Evan Engram as a middle of the field mismatch, and getting Shane Vereen back as specialized option out of the backfield -- Manning should be due for some recoil towards his production that he had in his first two years in this offense.


Motor-less City

No team took their foot off the gas on offense quite like Detroit did last season. Detroit averaged 9.4 possessions per game, the fewest in the league. Their 152 total possessions were 23 fewer than they had in 2015 and the fourth fewest drives in a season from the 542 seasons played by teams since 2000. Of the three teams with fewer possessions in a year, all were the Colts from 2005, 2006 and 2008 -- Peyton Manning-led teams with immense efficiency that limited possessions. The 2016 Lions averaged 3:10 of clock per drive, the longest in the league and third highest amount of time over the same span. Detroit ranked 29th in plays per game (61.3) after averaging 64.9 per game after Jim Bob Cooter took over in 2015.


Matthew Stafford had single-digit possessions in seven different games in 2016, tied with Alex Smith for the most in the league and had a season-high of just 11 possessions in a single game. Despite that dip in pace and possessions, Stafford still managed to maintain the same volume that he had in 2015, attempting 594 passes last year after 592 in 2015, and throwing for 65 more yards. That’s because per drive, Stafford attempted the most passes per possession (3.9) and threw for the fourth-most yards per drive (28.7) for all quarterbacks that played double digit games.  There’s some reasons to tread lightly with Stafford in redraft that I’ll touch on down the line, but a bounce back to the days where he routinely threw well over 600 times should return in 2017 if Detroit takes a step back in the win department.


2016 NFL Drive Output

Rich Hribar is a husband, father, sports meteorologist and a slave to statistics. A lifelong sports fan and fantasy gamer. You can find him on Twitter @LordReebs.
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