With the NFL season back in full force, teams are scoring at a rapid rate. While offense as a whole has been cranked up in recent years, teams are scoring more points per game this year, in particular.
While many are chopping this up to the lack of preseason, Henry Bushnell of Yahoo! Sports has another theory about the increased scores. To him, it’s not the players, coaches, or league’s fault. It’s all on the referees.
Scoring is up this year for most NFL teams
Even the most casual NFL fan likely noticed the increased scoring output by most teams in the NFL. For the first time in its history, the NFL has teams averaging more than 50 combined points per game. Of course, with everything around sports being so strange, many want to point to that as the reason why the scoring is up.
FiveThirtyEight ran the analytics on the first few weeks of the season and found that the pace is up, teams are passing earlier, and are more likely to make the big play than playing it safe throughout the year.
Some teams, like the Cowboys, have gone for the big play nearly 100-percent of the time, while the Packers employ a balanced offense that allows them to swing for the fences more than any other team,
Whatever the reason behind this, however, it is working. The Green Bay Packers came into the season as one of the most well-polished offenses there is.
Furthermore, before Dak Prescott’s gruesome injury on October 11, the Cowboys were having similar success while pushing the boundaries of their offense. Sports are fluid and change with the times, but this year’s leap in scoring is unprecedented in the league.
Lots of fingers can be pointed in a variety of different places. However, Bushnell believes that the biggest culprit isn’t actually playing or coaching. He thinks that the referees are making the most significant difference.
Are the referees calling this?
By blaming the referees for the increased scoring output, Bushnell doesn’t necessarily say they are doing a poor job. In recent seasons, fans have accused the NFL of getting too trigger happy when it comes to officiating.
With flags being thrown left and right, it was hard for teams to clear the hurdles of so much stoppage to keep up an attack like teams are doing this year.
However, at the start of 2020, there have been five fewer flags per game over the first four weeks. With less holding calls and overall penalties, teams are comfortable taking a few more chances. Former VP of officiating Dean Blandino spoke to Bushnell about its effect, including a way that it could sour on the field.
“We are really changing the game,” Blandino told Yahoo!. “And it feels like we’re changing it almost on the fly. And that’s what you worry about.”
Blandino went on to say that that this could be a double-edged sword, however.
“One of the concerns is, when you’re not calling holding, now [coaches] are gonna coach it,” Blandino told Yahoo!
“And now [players] are going to take advantage of that. Which I know teams are doing. They talk about it… when they’re in the offensive line room. Because if [refs] are not gonna call it, then let’s push the envelope and see how far we can go with it.”
Whatever the case may be, teams are scoring at a record pace, and if the early weeks are any indication, there are no signs of it slowing down any time soon.
Running up the score
From the 77-point combined outburst by the Packers and the Vikings in Week 1 to the 87-point outburst between the Browns and Cowboys, everyone has a theory of why the scoring is the way it is.
Whether this is a good sign that the officials are allowing them to play or an indication that teams are getting too comfortable, it’s likely to continue for the rest of the year.
Whatever the case may be, fans of offense have nothing to complain about heading into the heart of the 2020 season. Now, they have to wait and see how sustainable it can be not only through this year but for many years to come, as well.