Wednesday, October 9, 2013

NFL Passing and Rushing Yards per Game per Season (1932-2013)

The chart below presents a telling image of how offense has changed in the NFL since the early 1930s (data from It shows the average passing and running yards per game per team per season from 1932 to 2013 (as of week 5). What began as a running league, was eclipsed by passing in the early 1940s and then became run-dominant again for a period in the mid-1950's. From the late 1950s until the early 1970's the average NFL team passed for around 50 more yards than it ran for per game. For a period of about four seasons in the mid-1970s the NFL maintained a balance between passing and running.

Since the late-1970s passing looks like a historical Chipotle-stock ticker and rushing looks like the target resting heart rate for a healthy 70 year old. This divergence (likely) largely reflect rule changes that the NFL has made over the last 20 years that limit defensive backs' ability to make contact with receivers and that protect receivers and quarterbacks from injurious hits (which, in turn, provides offensive players with less of a disincentive--i.e., injury--to attempt riskier plays). Considering the ratings that high passing offenses generate, and the fact that ground-and-pound running offenses tend to result in more head injuries for offensive and defensive players, which the NFL is now aiming to avoid at all costs, the difference between rushing and passing will likely only continue to grow.

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