The Lofton Files: Race to the future… and the line of scrimmage

09/11/2013

The Lofton FilesDoes it occur to you that we are being overrun by numbers in sports? Sure, there are some numbers that are more important than others. In the NFL, there is a bottom line after Week 1: half of the 32 teams are 1-0 and the other half are 0-1. Simple as that.

Fantasy football, however, has led us to believe that numbers are the most important element of pro football. Stuff like total offense, rushing or passing numbers for a team or individuals.

Now, teams love to look at their core group numbers: third-down efficiency and red zone numbers, to name two. Yards-per-touchdown is another great stat that looks at not only your offense, but where your defense gives you the ball back. Plays-per-touchdown: do you chip away or are you a big-strike team?

But hands down, the craziest numbers are just the sheer volume of plays being run in today’s NFL.

Take the New England Patriots. Jumping into the way back machine, we find a 1973 team with Jim Plunkett at the helm. That season, the Pats ran off 834 plays and finished with a record of 5-9. Yes, 40 years is a long time. That was back in the old days when you actually used a pay phone and needed some coins. You used the U.S. Mail to send out player contracts. You also only played 14 games and I think Wheaties and Cheerios were the only cereals you could buy. Okay, maybe Captain Crunch too, but you get my point: life was simple.

Jump 10 years to Matt Cavanaugh and the 8-8 Pats. Calling cards had come along, and special delivery for your packages too. Those 1983 Patriots ran 412 passes and 538 runs. Now, if you’re doing the math, that is 59.5 plays per game in 1973 and 59.4 plays per game in 1983. As is sometimes the case, technology doesn’t always take a leap forward.

Hop back in your DeLorean and jump to the early ‘90s. Drew Bledsoe’s in the driver’s seat using your car phone. Bledsoe’s 5-11 Patriots ran 566 passes and 502 running plays for an average of 67 plays a game. Think the leap from James T. Kirk to Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Now journey with me once more to 2003. The phone has detached from your car (hint: you need to flip it open to use it!), FedEx can get a package there before 8am the next day and you don’t need it because you can just email any document you want. That year, a young and single Tom Brady chucks 537 and the team runs 473 times. That was balance and a Super Bowl Championship – and only 63 plays per game. A step back, but history stops for no man. Not even Bill Belichick.

So in those famous words from Star Trek let’s “boldly go where no hoodie has gone before.” After all, I am pretty sure that’s where we get all our technology ideas from – the smart phone, those tablets and this Christmas, a smart phone with a phaser! Last year, an all-grown-up Brady tossed 641 passes and handed it off 523 times. The Pats went 12-4. So with 1,164 plays for the season, that’s 72.75 plays per game.

That’s not Pac-12 football, it’s today’s NFL. Four years ago, there were 387 different types of breakfast cereal (I looked it up). That’s way up from the three I remember as kid. How fast can the game go? In the opening week, Joe Flacco threw it 62 times, Peyton Manning put it in the end zone seven times and Tom Brady shuffled off to Buffalo and took 89 snaps.

In short, hang on to your hat. 2013 is going to be quite the ride – lucky we have DVRs!

– James Lofton

James Lofton is the analyst for WestwoodOne’s coverage of Sunday Night Football. This week James will be hurrying up to the Pacific Northwest as the Seattle Seahawks host the San Francisco 49ers in an NFC West showdown. Kevin Kugler, James and sideline reporter Scott Kaplan will have all the action beginning Sunday night at 7:30 PM Eastern.

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