What You Need to Know:

  • Even with 271 NFL Games, we still had the fewest offensive touchdowns scored in a season since 2017
  • Defenses had five defensive backs on the field for a record 63.3% of snaps last season.
  • The league had its fewest expected points added per dropback in a season since 2017, which matched the lowest mark over the past decade
  • Offenses dropped back to pass on 60.1% of snaps last season, the lowest rate in a season since 2011 (59.9%).

Every offseason I write a series of articles about positional usage and scoring trends.

The goal for these is very simple.

We are looking to keep a finger on the pulse of the landscape of the league currently and if any outliers stand out for us to incorporate into the upcoming season.

Before we can get into each position, it is always good to take a look at the surface area for the league in general.

Every NFL season is unique under normal circumstances.

But the 2020 and 2021 seasons were especially unique given the impact the pandemic had on the league.

The way the pandemic was initially handled in 2020 had a trickle-down impact on what ended up being the highest-scoring season in league history.

I wrote about that in the 2021 Sharp Football Preview. On a recent podcast, both Jason and Travis Kelce shared how drastically different it was playing in that 2020 season.

The scoring did regress in 2021 a bit, but that season was still significantly impacted by COVID. In December alone, there were over 500 players placed into protocols.

Of the bottom-11 teams in game absences due to COVID in 2021, zero made the postseason. Of the top-11 teams with the fewest absences due to COVID, eight ended up in the playoffs.

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NFL Offensive Performance 2022

The great news is COVID had little to no impact on the 2022 season.

With that, we had our first “normal” season since 2019. We knew there was still potential regression for scoring, but the bottom fell out a year ago.

Combined Points/Gm43.846.049.645.646.743.4
Offensive TD123713451403124412861121
Team oTD/Gm2.282.472.742.42.532.21
Rush TD487505532447439380
Pass TD750840871797847741
Yards Gained Per TD149138.9131143.2140.2152.6
Scoring Drive %37.9%39.5%41.7%37.5%37.9%35.2%
TD Drive %21.9%23.9%26.4%22.8%23.4%19.9%
Red Zone Drive %29.9%31.9%32.9%30.0%29.4%26.8%
Red Zone TD %56.1%58.5%62.0%56.1%58.8%52.4%

*All NFL Drives excluding ones that ended in kneel downs

Remember that this was just the second season in which the NFL added a 17th game for every team.

Despite every team having an extra game to work with (except the Bills and Bengals), we still had the fewest offensive touchdowns scored in a season since 2017.

NFL games averaged a combined 43.8 points, the lowest scoring year since 2017. Nearly every offensive category was a low mark over the past five seasons.

There are a few interesting components here to talk about outside of just the league returning to normal following the pandemic’s influence.

The first is that the league is still playing cleaner football than ever. Penalties remain way down.

Combined NFL Penalties and Penalty Yardage Per Game Over the Past 10 Seasons:


*Pro Football Reference

If you are someone who complains about the league’s officiating, this past season had the fewest penalties and yardage per game stemming from fouls over the past decade.

It is a trend that has been tight over the past three seasons.

You can argue that fewer offensive penalties should aid the offense.

There were just 1.76 offensive holding penalties per game last season, the fewest in a season over the past 30 years.

Despite that, the league sack rate (6.41%) was the highest it has been over the past three seasons. Up from 5.98% in 2021 and 5.69% in 2020.

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NFL Defenses Found Answers

While natural regression coming out of the pandemic influenced the scoring depression last season, we also have to credit how the league adapted defensively.

The NFL is cyclical in nature. There is a consistent pendulum of counter-punching between offense and defense. And the league as a whole is constantly copying the current meta.

We started to see a shift in the 2021 season in the way defenses were attempting to handle high-powered offenses such as the Chiefs, Rams, Bills, Bengals, and others, but this past season saw teams turn the dial to the right.

Defensive Personnel and Success Over the Past 10 Years:


*TruMedia – Man% Not Available Before 2020

To slow down offenses, teams have reverted to dedicating more personnel to coverage and playing less aggressively.

Nickel (five defensive backs) has been trending toward the base defense for the NFL for a while, which you can see above. Defenses had five defensive backs on the field for a record 63.3% of snaps last season.

Not only are more defensive backs on the field now, but they are in coverage more when on the field.

Teams have blitzed on roughly one-fourth of snaps the past two seasons, nearly a five percent decrease from where they were at a decade ago.

When teams did blitz last season, quarterbacks posted a 95.6 rating compared to an 86.8 rating when they were not blitzed.

That rating was nearly entirely weighted through touchdown performance. Passers had a 5.9% touchdown rate per attempt against the blitz compared to a 3.6% touchdown rate when not blitzed.

TruMedia only has three years’ worth of stat tracking on man versus zone coverage, but you can also clearly see the shift in reduction of man coverage over that span.

The league has not made just minor steps backward in the rate of man coverage. It is solid jumps down. Teams played man coverage on just 24.4% of snaps last season after a 27.9% rate in 2021 and a 30.8% rate in 2020.

Here is the impact of the shift in defensive approach when looking at the league’s passing performance over that span.

NFL Passing Performance Over the Past 10 Years:

YearDropBack%EPA/DBSuccess%aDOTAt or Behind LOS%Deep%


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The league had its fewest expected points added per dropback in a season since 2017, which matched the lowest mark in that department over the past decade.

With defenses predicated on coverage and preventing big plays, you can see the impact that has had on the average depth of target (aDOT) across the league, which has gone down from the year prior for three consecutive seasons.

Offenses threw the ball at or behind the line of scrimmage at the highest rate last season while simultaneously throwing the ball 20 or more yards downfield at the lowest rate.

There were just 161 touchdown passes on throws of 20 or more yards in the air last season, the fewest over the past 10 years.

The increased coverage paired with the reduction of blitzing had a massive impact on that increased sack rate that we highlighted earlier.

Time to Throw and Time to Sack Over the Past 10 Years:

YearTime to ThrowTime to SackSack%


Quarterbacks held onto the football at the longest rate over the past decade per pass attempt. The 3.54 seconds per sack was the longest since 2013.

Sack avoidance is one of my favorite and undervalued offensive statistics, so this allows me to highlight the importance of avoiding them once again.

Offensive Rates per Drive With and Without a Sack Taken:

Pts Per Drive W/Sack0.970.991.070.921.020.99
% of Score/Drive W/Sack21.8%21.9%23.7%21.8%23.8%22.6%
% of TD/Drive W/Sack8.1%8.3%9.2%6.6%7.8%8.0%
% Punt/Drive W/Sack53.5%51.5%50.4%52.8%54.6%52.6%

The only thing worse on an offensive possession than a turnover is taking a sack.

Regardless of the down in which the sack was taken, the drop-off in offensive performance per drive when a team takes a sack versus when they do not is seismic.

Over the past five years, avoiding a sack nearly doubles your scoring chances on a drive while more than tripling the odds a team will score a touchdown.

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NFL Running Performance 2022

As an initial counter, teams have started to run the football more again.

Offenses dropped back to pass on 60.1% of snaps last season, the lowest rate in a season since 2011 (59.9%).

There is a cause and effect to everything in the league. To defend the pass better, NFL defenses have had to sacrifice numbers in the run game.

Defensive Fronts Over the Past 10 Years:



With so much emphasis placed on defending the pass, defenses played their lowest rate of 4-man fronts by far over the past several seasons.

As a byproduct, 3-man fronts were at a high, which also coincided with the increased rate at which teams could run with a numbers advantage.

NFL Rushing Performance Over the Past 10 Years:

YearRush%Success%EPA/RushLight Box%Heavy Box%YPC


We already mentioned that teams ran the football more last season than any year since 2011.

They also did so running against the highest rate of light boxes and subsequently the lowest rate of stacked boxes over that span.

Against light boxes, offenses averaged 5.5 yards per carry. 19.6% of their carries against light boxes went for 10 or more yards while just 12.9% failed to gain yardage.

Against stacked boxes, they averaged 3.5 yards per carry while just 8.5% of those carries gained 10 or more yards and 26.3% failed to gain yardage.

A high rate of stacked boxed runs is situationally based and inherently comes with low success, but the former numbers against lighter boxes are something noteworthy in the current defensive climate.

Offenses still only used 21 personnel (two running backs and one tight end) on 8.2% of snaps, but that was the first time that the rate of 21 personnel rose from the year prior since 2006. That is definitely not a coincidence.

Pulling this all together, teams not only ran the ball more combined with defensive approaches, allowing offenses to average 4.5 yards per carry, the highest rate in league history.

Looking Ahead to the 2023 NFL Season

The way teams have shifted to slow down offenses has placed a premium on early-down performance in the NFL. You have to win now on early downs and avoid long downs and distances.

While I have no doubt we will continue to see this match play out where the offense has leverage over the defense again, there is an interesting dynamic to all of this if you have been keeping tabs.

Despite the league having the highest success ever running the football per carry and passing per dropback sagging down to their lowest marks of the past decade, throwing the football is still more optimal than running the ball per play from a top-down stance.

The league had their “highest” expected points added per rush over the past decade and they were still negative plays overall.

If defenses were doing the best they have against the pass by sacrificing rushing efficiency, what would stop them from repeating this approach?

If that is the case, do we see rushing performance become undervalued in fantasy?

Gamers are already largely leaving the running back position for dead in early drafts this offseason.

While this was a top-down look at the league and the most recent season through a descriptive lens, we will be exploring how this landscape shift has impacted the fantasy layout of each position and how we can calibrate ourselves as gamers.

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