NFL scoring dip coincides with Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers coming down to Earth

Dirk Shadd/Tampa Bay Times/TNS

Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers look like shells of themselves, and NFL scoring is down.

This is not a coincidence.

NFL teams achieved a league-record 24.8 points per game average in the 2020 season. Quarterback play was at an all-time high.

Hall of Famers like Brady, Rodgers and Drew Brees were still pumping out points as young stars like Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson and Justin Herbert were emerging or dominating in their own right.

Plus veterans like Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan, Ryan Tannehill, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger were still chucking it around the yard, even as many of them declined.

That season, Rodgers won MVP with the Packers ranked first in scoring (31.8), Brady’s Bucs third (30.8) and Brees’ Saints fifth (30.1).

Unfortunately, the lesson learned so far in 2022 is that nothing lasts forever and these guys are human — even if the seven-time Super Bowl champion Brady, 45, had started convincing NFL fans otherwise.

And now, through seven weeks of the 2022 season, teams are averaging only 21.7 points per game — just the second league-wide dip below 22 points since 2009.

Brady is still among the NFL’s leaders in passing yards. But his divorce from supermodel Gisele Bundchen on Friday confirmed the genesis of what many league sources have been saying since July: that the Buccaneers’ quarterback has seemed distracted and less invested.

In Green Bay, Rodgers is reeling without former No. 1 receiver Davante Adams (Raiders). This week, he publicly called for coach Matt LaFleur to bench teammates.

“I think guys who are making too many mistakes shouldn’t be playing,” Rodgers said on the ‘Pat McAfee Show.’ “Gotta start cutting some reps. And maybe guys who aren’t playing, give them a chance.”

Neither quarterback’s arm is dead. But their teams and offenses are in disarray, averaging an identical 18.3 points per game with a combined 6-9 record.

Granted, some league sources considered the 2020 NFL season an aberration in scoring because offenses didn’t have to deal with road crowds, with Covid-19 emptying the NFL’s stadiums.

Rivers’ and Brees’ retirements, other QBs’ declines, and Watson’s elimination from play due to sexual harassment and assault allegations also changed the landscape.

But teams’ scoring still hovered at 23.0 points per game in 2021, as well, when fans returned. And again, one consistent element was two of the best quarterbacks of all time playing like it, converging with the rise of the game’s brightest young stars.

Brady played at an MVP level last year, and the Bucs scored 30.1 points per game, which ranked second in the NFL. Rodgers won his second straight MVP award scoring 26.5 per game for the Packers.

There are more empirical explanations for scoring going down, obviously, that the NFL is observing and evaluating on a weekly basis, too.

Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, the chairman of the NFL’s competition committee, said on Oct. 18 that “red zone efficiency” is down across the league. Teams are kicking more field goals and scoring fewer touchdowns inside the 15, he said.

Through the season’s first six weeks, teams were scoring TDs on only 56.5% of their red zone trips, the lowest mark since 2017, per CBS Sports.

They also were only scoring points in the red zone — either a TD or field goal — 84.6% of the time, the lowest percentage since 2009 (the 10-year average has been 87%).

NFL executive Troy Vincent said through the season’s first six weeks, there also were fewer offensive snaps happening per game (152) than last season (155). “Plays and passes” typically correlate to scoring, Vincent said.

Pass-to-run radio and yards per play haven’t fluctuated too much in the last three years, however. On average, teams are throwing 34.3 passes per game to 26.4 rushes per game this season, gaining 6.2 yards per pass and 4.5 yards per run in a total of 60.8 offensive plays per game.

They threw 34.4 passes per game compared to 26.6 rushes in 2021, gaining 6.2 yards per pass and 4.3 yards per run on 61 offensive plays a game. That was similar, though not identical, to the 2020 numbers: 35.2 passes to 26.9 runs, with 6.4 yards per pass and 4.4 yards per run, on 62.1 offensive plays in 2020.

McKay said the NFL historically always wanted their average game points total to be at least 40 points, but “as the game modernized and the ball started getting thrown more, the number moved to 45.”

The current average of 43.4 points per game doesn’t worry the league yet. But they are looking at it.

“At 42 something or 43, are we worried about it? I’m not,” McKay said. “But I think if we get to the end of the year and it’s 41, then you do want to go back and say what happened here? How did this number get here? Because we’re always willing to make adjustments. We always want to be in that sweet zone, which for us is kind of 43 to 46 or 47.”

The NFL can make all the rule adjustments they want. But if the league has lost the current versions of Brady’s Buccaneers and Rodgers’ Packers as elite offenses for the foreseeable future, that is two of the best of all time fading out of the picture.

And that will mean fewer points. It certainly has so far.

As the trade deadline nears...

The Giants’ trade of Kadarius Toney sent a positive message to the locker room that did not go unnoticed: Brian Daboll does not care if a player is undrafted or a first-round pick. If a player doesn’t apply himself and buy-in, Daboll will go find someone else who will

The Giants remain open to all options approaching the deadline, but they can’t spend a lot of draft picks or money on a player they’re acquiring. Denver TE Albert Okwuegbunam was mentioned by ESPN as a good possible fit after Daniel Bellinger’s eye injury.

That’s something to watch. Selling strategically for the future continues to make sense, but GM Joe Schoen doesn’t have much to give. Darius Slayton, whom Schoen dangled in the spring and summer, is playing well and is one of the Giants’ only healthy receivers at a position of dire need. So a trade makes less sense now. I still asked Slayton whether he’s wondering about it now. His answer: “Nothing I could do about it then [if it had happened], nothing I can do about it now.”

He was focused on backing up last week’s TD catch in Jacksonville with another good game in Seattle. “It’s been a minute,” Slayton said of his first TD catch since Week 17 of last season. “It was nice being back in the box.” WRs coach Mike Groh said Friday: “Darius has been very dependable in everything we’ve asked him to do.”

Patriots WRs Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne, and Jets WR Denzel Mims, are some less prominent names who could get moved before Tuesday’s deadline to teams looking for smart adds to their skill group. Agholor has Super Bowl pedigree going back to his Eagles days

Denver pass rusher Bradley Chubb and Cleveland back Kareem Hunt are two of the bigger names to keep an eye on. Super Bowl contenders like the Bills, Eagles and Chiefs are teams to watch pursuing pass rush help or skill luxuries. And never count out Rams GM Les Snead

The Indianapolis Colts’ benching of veteran QB Matt Ryan for Sam Ehlinger means just as much for GM Chris Ballard’s and coach Frank Reich’s futures, in my opinion, as it does for the quarterback, depending on how the rest of the season goes

Titans rookie third-round QB Malik Willis is making his first NFL start Sunday against the Texans with starter Ryan Tannehill (illness, ankle) a last-minute scratch.

The said it

“People in this society have a hard time hearing truth sometimes.” — Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, on the blowback to his calling teammates out

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