How often do good NFL offenses score?

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Not nearly as often as you think...

Were you underwhelmed by the Eagles’ offensive performance against the Saints? Readers here might not have been, but my guess is a lot of fans were. This was one of the best offenses all season yet it scored just 3 TDs on 11 drives (and a FG). You can probably guess where I’m going now:

Context.

What does a good offensive performance really look like? Let’s look at a few stats to find out. In the process, I think we’ll find a better perspective with which to judge all teams offensively.

How many points per drive should a good offense average? Take a guess. If an offense scores a TD every drive, it’ll average 6-7 points per, depending on the conversation choices.

How about 2.98? Does that sound reasonable? Barely less than a FG. Or 1 TD every 2.3 drives. Clearly, that’s a pretty good offensive performance. However, broken down like this, it’s hardly spectacular. Of course, as you probably suspect by now, that was Denver’s average points per drive this season; Denver also scored more points this year than any team in NFL history. (FootballOutsiders.com)

The MEDIAN this year was 1.91 points per drive. That’s 1 touchdown every 3.66 drives (with no FGs). Or, that’s 2 FGs ever 3.14 drives. Imagine starting a game and having your first 3 drives go thusly: Punt, FG, FG. Are you satisfied? Probably not. However, that’s 2 points per drive, which would place 12th overall this year.

Punt, FG, FG…repeat. Congratulations, you’re a top 12 scoring offense.

The moral of the story is, offenses don’t score nearly as often as many people think they do. It’s frustrating to watch a series of punts, and we inevitably start questioning the play-calling in such situations. However, it’s a lot harder to score than people think.

The Eagles averaged 2.18 points per drive this season, good for 8th highest in the league.

Against New Orleans (the 10th ranked defense by DVOA), the Eagles scored 24 points on 11 drives. That’s 2.18 points per drive…. In other words, the Eagles offense, on a scoring per drive basis, performed EXACTLY as expected. In fact, it performed better than expected when you account for the strength of schedule difference between the regular season and the playoffs.

Meanwhile, New Orleans averaged 2.4 points per drive this season, 3rd best in the league. Against the Eagles, the Saints also had 11 real drives (excluding kneels). They scored 26 points. That’s 2.36 points per drive, ALSO roughly in line with their season average. Given the low ranking of the Eagles defense, it’s also reasonable to say the Saints should have been expected to score MORE. That’s not really the point of this post, but I found it interesting nonetheless.

Forget about this "per drive" crap, what about TDs?

Good question. How many TDs do you think the average team scores each game?

The Denver Broncos scored 4.4 offensive TDs per game this year (teamrankings.com). Of course, that was the best offensive performance ever (a huge outlier). In fact, that measure was roughly 40% better than the second place team…..the Eagles with 3.2 per game.

The MEDIAN team this year scored just 2.4 touchdowns per game.

The average # of offensive drives this year was 186. That’s 11.62 drives per game. If we use the median value of 2.4 TDs per game (to keep Denver from skewing), that means, roughly speaking, the average offense this year scored a TD on 20.6% of it’s drives.

1 touchdown every FIVE drives. That’s average.

Like I said…perspective….context. Even the best offense ever, Denver this year, scored TDs on just over 1/3 of its drives.

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