Even to the common fan, it seems clear that NFL offenses are increasingly relying on the pass to rack up yards and points. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees set one record or another each year — or even each week. What’s more, recent rule changes1 have resulted in a greater emphasis on calling defensive illegal contact and holding, two penalties that affect defensive backs’2 ability to cover pass plays.
With all of this in mind, we wanted to know: Have teams actually been passing more? If so, how might this affect passing statistics like average pass attempts per game, average passing yards per game, and average interceptions per game?
More Passing Attempts? More Yards?
More Passing Attempts = More Interceptions?
For years, the number of pass attempts per interception remained relatively stable; In the 1970’s, teams averaged about 19 passes per interception. In the 2000’s that number jumped to 32 passes per interception. Strikingly, in the past four seasons, teams are averaging about 35 passes per interception — the highest ever. In other words, teams are throwing more passes between interceptions than ever before.
Where’d All the Picks Go?
Decreasing yards per pass attempt. Over the past 10 full seasons (2004-2013), the average yards per pass attempt dropped to 11.55 from 11.64 during the previous decade (1994-2003). This decrease is not huge, but it does highlight a downward trend seen in the two decades prior, 1984-1993 (12.43 YPC) and 1974-1983 (12.63 YPC).
Increasing completion percentage. As one might suspect, as yards per attempt have fallen, teams’ completion percentage has improved. Shorter passes are often easier to catch than long throws. More short passes should lead to more completed passes and fewer interceptions.
The Take-Home Message
3 Excluding the 1982 strike-shortened season↩