On the Numbers: The 1,000-yard RB shortage and Newton’s unique year
Welcome to Week 17 of “On the Numbers,” a weekly column that mines for statistical oddities and numerical fun facts from around the NFL.
On a week that saw Jimmy Garoppolo (remember him?) finally throw his first pass of the season, Kellen Moore lead the NFL in passing yards and Peyton Manning finally get passed for the league lead in interceptions this season, there was plenty to track.
On the Numbers MVP
Much like Antonio Brown, it felt like I could write about Newton every week. Although I learned a valuable lesson this season that internet commenters don’t always like when you chronicle the accomplishments of a player whose team lost that day. So Newton, whose team went 15–1, was a welcome subject and takes home the OTN MVP.
His Week 17 performance in a 38–10 win over Tampa Bay was a fitting end to the regular season. Newton was 21 of 26 for 293 yards and no interceptions, and he ran in two more scores.
Many people already shared the stat Sunday that by finishing the season with 35 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns, he became the first player to hit those marks. Nobody before him ever even had as many as 22 and 10 in a season.
Many others also shared that he tied Steve Young’s record of 31 games with at least one passing touchdown and rushing touchdown. Young did it in 15 years, and Newton did it five—meaning he might double that total in just a few years, and it’s an accomplishment which might as well be named after him.
Newton now has 43 career rushing touchdowns, tied with Young for the most by a QB.
But comparing quarterbacks to running backs can be a fun exercise (like the time I wrote about Tom Brady tying Bo Jackson in career rushing touchdowns). So here he is with just some of the players he passed on the all-time rushing touchdown list this season:
Newton now has two seasons with 10-plus touchdowns, which matches Jerome Bettis, Tony Dorsett and O.J. Simpson. They’re all running backs. And in the Hall of Fame.
He has three seasons with 8-plus touchdowns, which matches some of those guys above, plus Terrell Davis, Chris Johnson, Thurman Thomas and Herschel Walker. Newton has more seasons with eight or more rushing touchdowns than Larry Csonka, Matt Forte, Steven Jackson or LeSean McCoy.
And keep in mind he’s fifth all-time in touchdown passes (117) and passing yards (18,263) through a player’s first five seasons. The only names above Newton on either of those lists are Peyton Manning, Dan Marino, Matt Ryan, Drew Bledsoe and Andy Dalton, none of whom are the dual-threat weapon he is.
This was Cam Newton’s season. Whether this ultimately turns out to be the career year of a great player or the beginning of a Hall of Fame prime, Newton is the clear-cut winner of the regular season On the Numbers MVP.
The Chiefs capped off their season with yet another win, their 10th in a row. Kansas City is barreling into the playoffs like Andy Reid bursting through Kool Aid Man’s wall.
According to data available through Pro Football Reference’s streak finder, they’re the 10th team since 1970 to finish the regular season on a 10-game winning streak. Here’s how the previous nine fared in the playoffs:
|Dolphins||1972||14||14–0||W Super Bowl|
|Raiders||1976||10||13–1||W Super Bowl|
|Oilers||1993||11||12–4||L Divisional Round|
|Patriots||2003||12||14–2||W Super Bowl|
|Steelers||2004||14||15–1||L AFC title game|
|Chargers||2006||10||14–2||L Divisional round|
|Patriots||2007||16||16–0||L Super Bowl|
|Chargers||2009||11||13–3||L Divisional Round|
|Broncos||2012||11||13–3||L Divisional Round|
As you might suspect, the playoffs have become more of a crapshoot since the field expanded to its current size in 1990. People often debate the value of momentum, but even a 10-game winning streak doesn’t guarantee a trip past the divisional round.
The Chiefs have the worst record on this board, thanks to their 1–5 start, and they have to start on the road as a wild card. But recovering from where they were at 1–5 to charge into the playoffs at 11–5 makes it a successful season. And joining a list with some of these truly great and memorable teams—even the ones that couldn’t finish the job off with a Super Bowl—is quite an accomplishment.
Keep it 1,000
Is the 1,000-yard rusher becoming an endangered species? It may be an anomaly this year, but only seven players ran for 1,000 yards: Adrian Peterson, Doug Martin, Todd Gurley, Darren McFadden, Chris Ivory, Latavius Murray and Devonta Freeman.
Peterson’s 1,485 yards was the lowest total for a rushing champion since LaDainian Tomlinson’s 1,474 in 2007. And Gurley’s 1,106 was good for a surprising third in the league.
On the other hand, 26 players topped 1,000 receiving yards this year. It’s no surprise passing now rules the league, but that mark ties an all-time record for most 1,000-yard receivers across the league in one year, previously set in 1999.
The seven rushers over 1,000 marks the fewest in the NFL since 1991. Here’s a graph with 1,000-yard rushers and receivers since 1990.
A few disclaimers: First, obviously the total number of 1,000 rushers isn’t the only (or even best) way to measure overall output. It’s also a relatively small sample size, prone to fluctuation. And even though 1,000 looks like a nice, round number, it’s still just as arbitrary as any other cutoff point.
But I still think it’s an interesting graph, and it will be interesting to see if the precipitous drop-off of 1,000-yard runners over the last few years continues as a trend, and if the number of 1,000-yard receivers will keep rising.
Peter King pointed out late Sunday night that fewer running backs cracked the 290-carry mark this season.
Was this a fluke year? It certainly could have been. Some guys who were obvious candidates to surpass 1,000 yards suffered major injuries (Jamaal Charles, Marshawn Lynch, Arian Foster and Le’Veon Bell to name a few).
But at the same time, we have no idea if these guys were more likely to get hurt because they already had years being the type of workhorse backs you’d expect to crack 1,000 yards.
Either way, the league saw fewer 1,000-yard rushers because Peterson was the only player to average more than 20 carries per game. Most teams didn’t have a true workhorse back—whether because they couldn’t withstand that beating, or because teams don’t want them to.
Fun Final Scores
Something weird is happening between the Bills and Jets. Rex Ryan’s Bills took down his old team 22–17 in a game that was win-and-in for a Jets wild-card berth. I’m not the first to point out that the Bills swept the season series with the Jets by identical scores of 22–17.
But it goes much deeper than that.
As you may have guessed, 22–17 is not a score you see every week.
In fact, according to Pro Football Reference’s box score index, the score has only popped up as a final score 18 times since pro football began being played and tracked. That means we’ve seen 22–17 as often as we’ve seen 14–12, 15–10, 33–7 and even 13–13.
But of those 18 games, we see not only both Bills-Jets games this year, but also a Bills win over the Jets in 2004 and a Jets win over the Bills in 1994. So four of the 18 are from one pair of opponents. It’s practically a tradition at this point.
Great Moments in Vegas
Week 17 can be tough to handicap. Sometimes the toughest part is identifying which teams with nothing to play for but pride will show up and which ones will pack it in and go home for the season early.
The Bengals closed at -10 against the Ravens at the Westgate Las Vegas Super Book. Cincinnati seemed to have the motivation mismatch, as they had ground to gain in the AFC playoff picture, and the Ravens looked like they might have summoned all their remaining strength in their Week 16 upset of the Steelers.
The Ravens hung tough early, taking a 6–0 lead with less than five minutes to go in the first half, but Cincinnati eventually surged in front. The Bengals pushed the lead to 24–9 on a Mike Nugent field goal with 4:06 remaining, but the Ravens cut it to 24–16, putting themselves in good position to cover, and then even got the ball back with a 41 seconds left and a chance to tie the game or maybe win outright in overtime.
The Bengals needed a defensive stop to end the game and put pressure on the Broncos later in the day. Covering the spread was surely the last thing on their minds. But then Ryan Mallett was intercepted by Rey Maualuga at the Baltimore 29.
Go down! The game is over if you go down! But what’s more fun than watching a guy who doesn’t normally carry the ball run when he isn’t supposed to? Maualuga’s eyes must have gotten wide for the end zone as he tried to run back the pick-six, and then even lateraled to Chris Lewis-Harris.
Finally Lewis-Harris went down to the ground, clinching a Bengals victory and a Ravens cover, but not without some drama.