Last year, I created a metric for measuring offensive efficiency called Adjusted Points Per Drive (AdjPPD). Today I’ll be updating the numbers for 2016. If you aren’t familiar with AdjPPD, I strongly encourage you to read the full explanation here.
When measured on a per-drive basis, 2016 was the highest scoring season in the last twenty years, and probably in the history of the NFL (drive stats only go back to 1997, so we can’t be absolutely certain). After adjusting for field position, the average drive in 2016 yielded 2.08 points, one of only three seasons to crack the two points per drive barrier (2015 and 2014 were the others).
Despite the record breaking efficiency, total scoring remained steady at 22.8 PPG, matching 2015 and down from the modern era record of 23.4 PPG registered in 2013. This is partly a result of non-offensive touchdowns falling through the floor in 2016, but the biggest factor was the significant decrease in total drives. The average offense in 2016 had 176.8 drive opportunities, which is the second lowest on record behind only 2008 (176.2). With completion percentage and defensive penalties being at an all-time high, and turnovers at an all-time low, offenses were able to sustain long drives more often than ever before. During the score-happy 2013 season, offenses averaged 185.9 drives, which represents almost a full extra game’s worth of chances to put points on the board.
For anyone who followed the 2016 season closely, it comes as no surprise that the Atlanta Falcons were in a league of their own when it comes to scoring efficiency. The Falcons actually cracked the three points per drive threshold, but severe era adjustment drags their AdjPPD down to a great but not historically great 2.60.
The Saints wasted another terrific showing from their offense, somehow managing a 7-9 record with the second most efficient scoring offense in football. Somebody find Drew Brees a defense before it’s too late.
At the bottom, we find a familiar team lulling their fans to sleep, this time in a new city. The L.A. Rams fielded the league’s worst offense by a country mile, sinking even farther below their last place effort in 2015. The Giants and Texans somehow both made the playoffs despite owning the #29 and #30 offenses, respectively. This particularly shameful for the G-Men, as expectations were high heading into Ben McAdoo’s second season at the helm. Eli Manning’s 26 TD passes look nice, but New York registered a league low six rushing TD’s, and this meager production came despite a well above average 184 drives.
By mid-season, Derek Carr was being touted as one of the MVP front runners for allegedly elevating the Oakland offense to greatness. I hate to break it to Raider Nation, but this team did not have a great offense in 2016. In fact, they didn’t even have a good offense. Oakland’s seventh place rank in points scored is quite deceptive for two reasons. First, the Raiders offense benefited from 189 drives, tied for third most in the league. Second, the average Raiders drive started at the 31.4 yard line, the most favorable field position in the NFL. After mitigating these two major advantages, Oakland drops all the way to #15 in AdjPPD. That is the definition of mediocre.
At the opposite end of the spectrum we find the Detroit Lions. Despite a middling total scoring output, the Lions vault up to #9 in AdjPPD. Detroit’s average drive started at the 25.2 yard line, third worst in the league. More importantly, the Lions had only 152 drives, by far the fewest in the league and among the fewest of all-time. This handicap was largely a product of a terrible defense that couldn’t get off the field and rarely forced turnovers, so the offense spent much of their time on the sidelines.
The stark contrast between Oakland and Detroit illustrates the importance of drive based statistics. By total offensive points, the Raiders outscored the Lions 410-322. However, once we convert the data into Adjusted Points, DET outpaces OAK 357-319. That represents a massive swing of 126 points, and completely flips the narrative surrounding these two clubs. Derek Carr’s MVP case shrivels up and dies under the harsh light of the truth.
In our next article, we will look at 2016 in the context of historical Adjusted Points Per Drive. How do the Falcons stack up among the best offenses of the past twenty years? Check back in soon to find out!
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