After taking a look at scoring and touchdown rates per drive and how they have trended leaguewide, the carryover for correlation into the following season and an eye on the 2020 season, we are going to do the same for the rates of which type of offensive touchdowns NFL offenses score.
League Offensive Touchdown Splits Over the Past 10 Years
Since the majority of NFL rushing touchdowns are determined by how close to the goal line an offense can get paired with overall play calling splits, offensive touchdowns have always skewed towards the pass over the run in modern football. Over the past decade, 65% of offensive touchdowns scored have come through the air. We also have very tight margins for variance on that number, too. The 2019 season did have the second-highest rate of rushing scores over the past decade, but outside of the 2015 season, the league is hovering right around that 65/35 baseline in terms of touchdown splits.
As usual, we want to explore just how sticky these stats carry over year-to-year on a team level. The answer here is not much at all. Both the rate of passing and rushing touchdowns carry an R-squared correlation of just .0442 for those rates the following season.
Despite throwing the year-over-year team carryover out of the window, we can still take away some broad strokes in relation to outperforming and underperforming the league rate. Over the previous 10 seasons, 75.9% of teams that were above the league average in passing touchdown reliance had a decrease in passing touchdown share the following season, with an average dip of -10%. 56.5% of those teams threw fewer overall passing touchdowns the next season, with 3.5 fewer passing touchdowns. Among all of those teams that were above the league rate in touchdown reliance through the air, 65.3% scored more rushing touchdown the following season with the average increase of 4.9 rushing scores for those teams.
On the other side of the coin, 72.7% of the teams below the league average in passing touchdown reliance over the past 10 years had an increase in that rate the following season with an average spike of 12.9% per team. 58% of those teams threw more overall touchdown passes the following season with an average increase of 8.2 passing scores among those teams. Inversely, 62.7% of those teams had a decrease in overall team rushing touchdowns the following season, with an average loss of 5.9 rushing scores among those teams.
2019 Team Offensive Touchdown Splits
No team relied on the pass more to reach the end zone in 2019 than the Jaguars. On a team level, their three total rushing scores were the fewest rushing touchdowns in a season for a team since 2005. Jacksonville had a 24-to-3 passing to rushing touchdown rate (88.9%), the second-highest split over the past decade behind the 2017 Seahawks (89.5%). That Seattle team went from four touchdowns on the ground up to 15 the following season.
Lowering the arbitrary split down to teams who scored 80% of their touchdowns through the air over the past decade, we have a 29-team sample prior to last year (the 2019 Lions are also here). Of those 29 teams, 24 of them scored more rushing touchdowns with an average increase of 5.8 rushing touchdowns the following season.
Lowering that mark to teams who scored 75% of their touchdowns through the air bumps us up to a 66-team sample (which also applies to the Jets and Saints from a year ago). 60 of those 66 teams had a decrease in passing touchdown rate the following season while 54 of those teams had more rushing touchdowns the following season.
This is part of what played into Alvin Kamara’s scoring regression from a year ago. As a team, 75% of the New Orleans offensive touchdowns came via passing (fourth) as Drew Brees posted a career-high 7.1% touchdown rate. In Kamara’s first two seasons, the Saints were second (50%) and fourth (53.5%) in rushing touchdown rate. Kamara out-carried Latavius Murray 7-to-3 inside of the 5-yard line a year ago, but the team had just 13 total rushing attempts from that area of the field last year as opposed to 33 and 20 over Kamara’s first two seasons in the league.
Other strong bets to increase their rushing touchdown totals from a year ago outside of those teams already mentioned are the Falcons, Giants, Steelers, and Bears.
This is the second post in as many days where the Jets stood out. While we liked them as a team to objectively score with more efficiency per drive this upcoming season, they also show up as a team to have more rushing scores. Struggling to reach the end zone on the ground has been a common thread for Adam Gase-led offenses.
Rushing Touchdown Rate for Adam Gase Teams
Gase’s teams have been 21st or lower in rushing touchdown rate in six of his seven seasons as a head coach or coordinator while they have ranked last or second to last in overall rushing touchdowns in each of the past three seasons after being above league average over the first four seasons in that area. His teams have just run ultra-cold in getting the ball into the money zone for rushing scores.
Last season, the Jets ran just 17 plays total inside of the 5-yard line (31st) while the 2018 Dolphins ran just seven such plays (32nd) and the 2017 Dolphins just 17 (30th). You are not going to rush for many touchdowns if you cannot knock on the door of the goal line and that has been the main problem for these teams recently.
Of course, it also highlights that these teams have not been particularly good, as well, which is still a question mark for the 2020 Jets. But if they can sustain drives more effectively as we highlighted in yesterday’s post, that is their avenue to generating more plays in that rushing scoring zone for offenses.
On the other side of things, just one team (Carolina) had over half of their offensive touchdowns come on the ground. When I wrote a similar post a year ago, the two teams from 2018 in that bucket were the Ravens and Bills. I absolutely never foresaw Lamar Jackson throwing 36 passing touchdowns a year ago, but because the team and Jackson were objectively good bets to have an increase in that area, that went into projections for him and moved him up my draft board. The same went for Josh Allen, who still only threw 20 touchdown passes, but his touchdown rate of just 3.1% as a rookie spiked up to 4.3% in his second season.
This is a natural path for Christian McCaffrey to come down from the 15 rushing touchdowns he had a season ago. Of the 28 teams to score at least half or more of their offensive touchdowns on the ground over the previous 10 seasons, all 28 had a decrease in rushing touchdown rate with an average loss of 17.8%. 21 of those teams had fewer rushing touchdowns overall, with an average loss of 8.1 rushing scores per each of those teams.
Now, McCaffrey can shed some rushing scores and still be more than a stellar fantasy option, but what we can do is price in Carolina having a spike in passing touchdown rate with more overall scores through the air. 24 of those 28 teams threw more passing touchdowns the following season with an average spike of 8.6 passing scores. There is some ambiguity in the Carolina passing game behind McCaffrey and D.J. Moore, but this a path for Moore to find the end zone more and Teddy Bridgewater, Curtis Samuel, Robby Anderson, or Ian Thomas to outkick their draft costs.
Expanding out our range to teams that scored 40% or more of their offense touchdowns on the ground, and as a byproduct were below 60% through the air, we get a 93-team sample over the past decade. 80.6% of those teams had their passing touchdown rates increase the following season while 63.6% of those teams threw more overall touchdowns the following season and 64.5% rushed for fewer touchdowns.
Some teams that stand out near the bottom, just ahead of where the Panthers were a year ago, are the Rams, Cardinals, and 49ers who had below 55% of their team touchdowns come through the air, while the Colts, Vikings, Titans, Packers, Broncos, Browns, and Patriots were all below that 60% threshold. That does not mean we are solely factoring this into a reason to draft or avoid a player form these specific teams, but these are elements that can help us create more accurate projections from a team level instead of solely working through player efficiency.
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