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Teams pass more than they used to

Posted by Doug on January 22, 2007

I was perusing some old playoff box scores this weekend and was struck by a few things. First, check out the 1972 and 1973 Miami Dolphins. They won the Super Bowl both years, winning six playoff games in the process. Here are the Dolphin quarterbacks' stat lines from those six games:


OPP QB(s) CM AT YD TD IN
=============================================
1972 cle Morrall 6 13 88 0 0
pit Griese/Morrall 10 16 121 1 1
was Griese 8 11 88 1 1
1973 cin Griese 11 18 159 2 1
oak Griese 3 6 34 0 1
min Griese 6 7 73 0 0
=============================================
44 71 543 4 4

The Dolphins were extreme, but they weren't alone. Terry Bradshaw had games with 13, 14, and 17 pass attempts. Kenny Stabler was below 20 pass attempts a few times as well.

It's one thing to know, in some vague sense, that teams pass more now than they used to, but I didn't quite realize the magnitude of the difference until I looked at those old box scores. Below you'll find a table showing the average stat lines of winning quarterbacks and losing quarterbacks in postseason games since 1972.


=== Winning QBs === === Losing QBs ====
Year CM AT YD TD IN CM AT YD TD IN
=====+===================+===================+
1972 | 11 20 148 1.3 0.7 | 11 24 125 0.3 2.1 |
1973 | 10 16 135 1.0 0.9 | 13 24 139 0.6 1.7 |
1974 | 11 21 153 1.6 1.0 | 13 28 180 0.9 1.7 |
1975 | 14 23 204 1.7 1.0 | 15 29 189 1.0 2.0 |
1976 | 13 23 182 1.4 0.9 | 16 34 197 1.0 1.9 |
1977 | 12 22 182 1.4 0.7 | 14 30 155 0.7 2.3 |
1978 | 15 27 234 2.1 1.2 | 14 30 167 0.9 2.4 |
1979 | 13 23 193 1.6 1.2 | 16 32 188 0.6 1.6 |
1980 | 15 29 216 1.7 1.3 | 16 35 229 0.9 2.6 |
1981 | 18 28 227 2.0 1.1 | 19 34 254 1.8 2.1 |
1982 | 18 28 237 1.7 1.1 | 18 35 240 1.1 2.3 |
1983 | 16 26 213 1.4 0.6 | 21 38 237 1.3 2.7 |
1984 | 18 29 249 2.0 0.9 | 19 34 215 0.9 1.4 |
1985 | 13 23 164 1.2 0.3 | 17 36 183 0.8 1.7 |
1986 | 17 30 214 1.9 0.7 | 17 33 205 0.9 1.4 |
1987 | 16 29 246 2.2 0.8 | 19 38 241 1.4 2.1 |
1988 | 15 25 213 1.3 1.1 | 19 39 236 0.8 1.9 |
1989 | 20 31 269 2.4 0.4 | 21 40 244 0.9 1.8 |
1990 | 16 26 214 1.7 0.5 | 17 34 217 0.8 1.7 |
1991 | 17 28 228 1.6 1.0 | 21 37 228 0.9 2.6 |
1992 | 18 28 219 2.1 0.5 | 20 37 236 0.8 2.3 |
1993 | 20 30 241 1.8 0.5 | 24 41 271 1.2 1.2 |
1994 | 19 30 241 1.9 0.5 | 25 46 274 1.4 1.5 |
1995 | 18 29 221 1.6 0.7 | 24 46 280 1.6 2.6 |
1996 | 16 26 189 1.1 0.9 | 19 37 192 0.9 2.1 |
1997 | 15 28 184 0.8 0.6 | 20 38 228 0.8 1.2 |
1998 | 18 32 228 1.5 0.8 | 22 40 255 1.0 2.0 |
1999 | 17 30 216 1.7 0.9 | 19 37 216 0.7 1.2 |
2000 | 15 25 196 1.7 0.7 | 20 38 194 0.6 2.0 |
2001 | 20 31 219 1.4 0.5 | 21 35 210 0.8 2.2 |
2002 | 22 35 262 2.1 0.8 | 22 41 254 1.3 1.8 |
2003 | 21 32 262 1.8 0.5 | 20 36 231 0.9 1.7 |
2004 | 19 29 241 2.2 0.4 | 23 37 265 1.4 1.7 |
2005 | 15 25 194 1.6 0.5 | 20 37 234 0.7 1.5 |
2006 | 21 36 234 1.2 1.2 | 18 33 218 1.0 1.0 |

Note that, mostly because of the last two Patriots games, 2006 is an anomaly: (pending the Super Bowl) it's the most passes ever attempted by the winning playoff teams, and it's the first time the winning QBs have attempted more passes on average than the losing QBs. Also, it's the worst touchdown-to-interception rate since at least 1972 for winners and the best for losers.

A strange (almost) ending to a strange year.