The Kansas City Chiefs have scored 40 or more points in five of their fourteen games this season. Surprisingly, they lost two of them. Along with the Los Angeles Rams, the Chiefs set an NFL record when they scored 51 points but lost to the Rams which scored 54. It was the first time that both teams in a single NFL game scored over 50 points each. NFL offenses are on fire this season. Scoring is up and offenses are churning up yards by the hundreds. What brought about such a change?

Embrace the Spread
The spread offense has taken over the college game, but pro coaches have been hesitant. Not anymore. Teams are implementing more spread concepts even the ‘RPO’ or run-pass option that is highly prevalent at the college level. Teams are using more three-receiver formations which help to spread out defenses. It also allows quarterbacks the ability to throw more quick passes. Quarterbacks are spending just 2.22 seconds in the pocket this season. When they leave the pocket, they are following a rehearsed concept – the scramble drill – that allows them to complete more passes (52.6) even when plays break down. 

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NFL teams are using a three-receiver set on 57 percent of all plays. That is up from roughly 50 percent over the last few years. Teams are also averaging 6.02 yards per play, the first time the number has ever exceeded six yards. What three-receiver sets do is give defenses more to think about…especially on first down.

Throw on First Down
First down is normally considered a running down. The problem though is that defenses line up with a single-high safety which allows them to get eight defenders near the line of scrimmage. As a result, offenses are spreading defenses out and throwing on first down. NFL teams are averaging 5.8 yards per play on first down. They are also averaging the same on second down.

Third down is considered a passing down and defenses know this. Defenses sack quarterbacks on 10.7 percent of third-down pass plays. That is the highest sack percentage on any down. It is much easier for an offense to throw the football at a defense prepared for a run than one that is prepared for a pass.

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Rules Changes
The NFL gets it. Fans love offense. They love seeing their favorite players score touchdowns. In 1978, the league introduced its first rule to help offenses – the illegal contact rule. Defenders could no longer make contact with a receiver after he was five yards past the line of scrimmage. The league also allowed offensive linemen to extend the arms helping with pass protection.

Passing yards increased immediately in 1978 going up 12 percent. In 2017 when scoring took a dive compared to the previous season, the league figured out the problem – the illegal contact rule wasn’t being called enough. During the first five weeks of this season, officials called 31 illegal contact penalties. That was the number for the entire 2017 season. As a result, the passing game has opened up in 2018.

The New RB
Running backs will break all sorts of NFL records this year including receptions and touchdowns. Running backs have been targeted this season at a rate of 77.5 percent, 12 points higher than receivers and tight ends. The NFL’s new running back is more of a hybrid runner and receiver. Christian McCaffrey and the Giants’ Saquon Barkley have 80 and 74 catches, respectively. Both are solid runners but don’t have to come off the field in a passing situation. Some of the increase in running back receptions is due to defenses. If receivers are covered or if a defense blitzes, it is easier for a quarterback to throw a short pass to a running back.

The spike in offense in the NFL can be attributed to each of these elements. One thing that is certain is that the NFL will want to continue these trends to ensure the league’s long-term success.

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