Completion percentage records are falling around the NFL

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Forty-eight hours ago, no quarterback in NFL history had ever finished a game with more than 20 passes and a completion percentage higher than 95 percent. Then it happened on Sunday. And then it happened again on Monday night.

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers shattered the single-game completion percentage record on Sunday, completing 28 of 29 passes, and then Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota nearly broke that record on Monday, completing 22 of 23 passes after a late incompletion broke up a perfect game.

The all-time record book for highest completion percentage in a game now looks like this:
96.6% Philip Rivers, November 25, 2018
95.7%, Marcus Mariota, November 26, 2018
92.3%, Kurt Warner, September 20, 2009

But it’s not just the single-game records that are falling. Completion percentages are up around the NFL. Saints quarterback Drew Brees owns the record for the highest completion percentage in a season, a record he set last year when he completed 72.0 percent of his passes. This year Brees is likely to shatter his own record: Brees has completed 76.4 percent of his passes this year.

Passing offenses are playing so much better this year than they ever have before that it’s hard to make comparisons to past years. The league average completion rate this year is 65.3 percent, a number that would have led the league in 1999, when MVP Kurt Warner was the league leader with a 65.1 percent completion rate. These are not your father’s NFL passing offenses.

47 responses to “Completion percentage records are falling around the NFL

  1. More like this isn’t my own passing defenses. When you take the rules out, or add them in, to favor the offenses, we suddenly have GOAT discussions. Not in my house.

  2. Rivers was sacked 4 times
    Mariota was sacked 6 times

    Both of them would have helped their teams more by throwing the ball away (taking an incompletion) rather than taking a sack, on multiple occasions

    So, yes, they would have been BETTER, not worse, at quarterbacking if they had thrown additional incomplete passes.

    Somebody like Brady will throw it away to avoid a sack, and that is the right thing to do, record or no record.

  3. Cue the old timers: “That’s only because the NFL doesn’t play defense any more! Back in my day, blah, blah, blah”.

    Btw…I’m a 53 year old timer.

  4. Can’t touch the QB.
    Can’t touch the WR.
    No fear of running over the middle.
    Everyone on offense can be “defenseless” at anytime.

    Makes total sense that records will fall.

  5. Yet another indication of how the rules changes (which began in earnest in 1978) have artificially inflated NFL QB and receiver stats. The cost of course is that defenses have effectively been decapitated and the running game is now an afterthought. All in the name of increasing ratings with the idea that games would somehow be “more exciting” with rules skewed towards passing offenses.

    Personally, I’ve found it repugnant because if I wanted artificially inflated stats & scores then I could always find that easily by watching the NBA or college basketball. Maybe I’m getting old, but I actually enjoyed watching games with scores like 17-14 where great defenses and the running game were major factors. And I don’t buy for a second the notion that QBs like Montana, Favre, P. Manning, Brady were “better” than greats like Graham, Unitas, Staubach because of stat-padding owing solely to the rules changes. Same thing for receivers.

  6. Except when Brady took the all-time career passing yards record during his last game there was no stoppage, no fanfare, no game-ball, no attention from the super salty NFL nor the salty media. Contrast that to when Brees (and Manning before him) merely took the reg-season mark, and the endless attention and chatter about them (or possibly now Rodgers) being Goats.

  7. There is no great mystery here. The rules of the game have been altered to heavily favor the Offense. QB’s are able to stand in the pocket longer and with greater confidence that they won’t be hit. Because of that comfort, they’re able to deliver a better pass.

    Defenders won’t hit receivers hard out of fear of drawing a flag. WR’s are willing to stick their neck out more often and make a tough catch because they’re comfortable knowing they won’t be getting lit up by a safety.

  8. Not allowed to touch the QB. Not allowed to touch WR’s. O-Lineman are allowed to hold. I’m surprised more records aren’t falling. I love it! More scoring! Great for Fantasy Football. Great for the TV audience. Great for revenue. That’s it, revenue!

  9. While it is fun to watch some gunslinging and big plays, I do hope the NFL can balance the rules a bit for defenses. Mainly, don’t make defensive holding an automatic first down. PI is a fifteen yard penalty, not a spot foul. Just some things like that. I’m fine with rules that help improve player safety as there’s no room for unnecessary danger in the NFL (since it’s already got plenty of necessary danger). But I think they’ve tilted a tad too much in favor of offenses. It’s not as interesting to watch a game where the only thing that matters is who gets the ball last.

  10. A lot of it comes down to the pro offense rule changes. Guys are throwing the ball a lot more because chances are the zebras throw a flag, so oftentimes they gamble and it’s incomplete.

  11. NFL ruined the sport with all the rule changes to eliminate defense.

    Nobody is or should be against what they’re doing to make it safer, but there have been rules removed that they have had to retroactively adjust to because those changes actually made the game more dangerous, not less.

    An example of this was after the 03 season and the Ty Law game where he basically mugged Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison in a defensive performance that now would have seen Ty Law either be ejected or Peyton throw for 0 yards yet the Colts have 300 through PI calls. The next year they instituted the 5 yard check off rule. Well that almost erased physical man to man coverage from the game. So much so that Defenses switched almost exclusively to zone coverage. Now there’s nothing wrong with that but if you look at it from a safety perspective now instead of hand fighting while I’m running down the field (and limiting my top speed because I’m getting pressed throughout my route) I have a 220 lb corner getting a running start before he tackles me because I crossed into his zone.

    This then made them add things like the launching penalty, and then crown of the helmet which was largely added in because of a poor tackle by Shazier last year, not because football was dangerous, just his play was at the time.

    But all of this removes defense and makes the game a shell of what it once was, and truly looks more like College but for different reasons. In college defenses aren’t great because they don’t have time to create chemistry and practice, in the pros it’s because they’re not allowed to be.

  12. The 1978 rule change regarding defensive backs was unofficially known as the “Mel Blount rule”

    The obsession with defenseless WRs came after James Harrison nearly murdered Mohamed Massaquoi.

    The Steelers: ruining it for everyone else for 40 years

  13. It’s not just the rule changes that have increased passing efficiency. It’s also the gloves receivers are wearing. It’s offensive coordinators reading defenses and relaying it to quarterbacks before the microphone shuts off. It’s more and more passes being caught behind the line of scrimmage. Etc.

  14. truthprofessor says:
    November 27, 2018 at 2:09 pm

    Rivers was sacked 4 times
    Mariota was sacked 6 times

    Both of them would have helped their teams more by throwing the ball away (taking an incompletion) rather than taking a sack, on multiple occasions
    ————————————
    That’s a lot easier for you to say, since you aren’t the one surrounded by 6 or 7 giant men all waiting to slam you into the dirt, while trying to look down the field for an open receiver, which are rarely there for Mariota. With what little protection Mariota gets, it’s not always easy to get outside of the pocket and avoid an intentional grounding penalty.

    I really don’t think Mariota is the type of guy who is more concerned about chasing stats rather than putting his team in the best position to score and win. Mariota isn’t like that. Mariota throws it away on many occasions. He can also run it pretty well, in case you didn’t know. He doesn’t want to take sacks. That’s a laughable claim.

  15. A lot of this complaining is revisionist history

    Go to YouTube and watch a highlight video of Jerry Rice.
    He is NOT being held and pushed all the way down the field.

    Like the old timers would have you believe.

  16. The NFL should keep two sets of records. One for pre-defenseless football and one for today’s game. Just like baseball needs three sets of records, one for the dead-ball era, one for the steroid era, and a third for the rest of the time.

  17. “I really don’t think Mariota is the type of guy who is more concerned about chasing stats rather than putting his team in the best position to score and win. Mariota isn’t like that.”

    After watching last night’s game I could not disagree more. Last night I saw one of the most selfish performances I have ever seen by a qb. All Mariota was concerned about was not throwing an incomplete pass. If that meant taking an eight yard sack then so be it. If that meant sliding for a one yard gain, rather than giving a receiver a chance, AFTER BREAKING A BLITZ, than so be it. If that meant leading a receiver into the sideline, so be it! For crying out loud, his star receiver, 84, was thrown to five times all night in a game that demanded opening up the passing attack!

    All night long I saw a qb who played as if his contract dictated he get fined for every incompletion.

  18. Flash1287 says:
    November 27, 2018 at 2:45 pm
    A lot of this complaining is revisionist history

    Go to YouTube and watch a highlight video of Jerry Rice.
    He is NOT being held and pushed all the way down the field.
    ———————————

    Jerry Rice is the exception, not the rule.

  19. “Rivers was sacked 4 times
    Mariota was sacked 6 times

    Both of them would have helped their teams more by throwing the ball away (taking an incompletion) rather than taking a sack, on multiple occasions”

    I hear you on this, but world of difference as Rivers did throw many low percentage passes to allow his receivers a chance. It was just a freak game where his recievers made every play, many spectacular catches. Mariota threw the ball down field twice all night, one a td, a second a long p i–ON FIRST DRIVE. Unlike Mariota, who seems as if he fears an incompletion, Rivers likes to dink ball to set up downfield passing attack.

  20. “The 1978 rule change regarding defensive backs was unofficially known as the “Mel Blount rule”
    ————–
    I’d attribute it more to the “Bill Polian Rule” where illegal contact was reworded and enforced in 2004 after his Indianapolis Colts got beaten up by the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, this tweaked the rules and led to a huge rise in gaudy passing statistics.

  21. It just makes you appreciate good defense more. The Vikings have given up less than 200 yards passing in each of their last five games, including games agains Brees, Stafford, and Rodgers. It’s not like it’s impossible to slow down the passing game.

  22. If the N.F.L is really concerned about the saftey of a quarterback amd to throw the defense a bone why not go back to the “in the grasp” rules we hated in the 90’s????
    I remember people being mad because qb’s like John Elway could shake off the tackle /sack and get a pass off and todays quartebacks like Big Ben can shake off a tackle no problem.If we call “in the grasp” a sack it can be a good clean way to teach safer tackling techniques to the ends and line backers…It seems like a real fair option….

  23. The beginning of the end for defense began with the 1970s Raiders “criminal element” (Chuck Noll quote). From that point on, the NFL began to look at the defense more critically. So blame the Raiders for starting the ball rolling.

  24. It’s gotten so completion percentage by itself means basically nothing. You can stink up the joint and still have a great completion percentage. Tampa has struggled this year and if you’ve watched their games you know their QB play has been up and down with too many turnovers, etc. But Fitzpatrick and Winston each of 4 games over 70% completions and each has hit 80% once. Fitz is 2-2 in those games and Winston is 1-3 including losing the game where he hit 80%.

  25. Maybe that’s because the league removed the ability to cover wide receivers.

    Brady won 3 Super Bowls under the old rules and 2 under the new rules and was effective in both eras. His numbers in 2004, when I would argue he maybe had some of his best games of all time, were miniscule to what he’s been putting up in his late 30s and early 40s. The game has completely changed. It’s basically impossible to compare eras now.

  26. What if all the elite athletes at every level start focusing in offense only?

    They will have a better chance to become superstars and payed better than the defensive players.

    In 10 years from now the gap between offense and defense will make the game unbearable to watch.

  27. sammievee says:
    November 27, 2018 at 2:53 pm

    “I really don’t think Mariota is the type of guy who is more concerned about chasing stats rather than putting his team in the best position to score and win. Mariota isn’t like that.”

    After watching last night’s game I could not disagree more. Last night I saw one of the most selfish performances I have ever seen by a qb. All Mariota was concerned about was not throwing an incomplete pass. If that meant taking an eight yard sack then so be it. If that meant sliding for a one yard gain, rather than giving a receiver a chance, AFTER BREAKING A BLITZ, than so be it. If that meant leading a receiver into the sideline, so be it! For crying out loud, his star receiver, 84, was thrown to five times all night in a game that demanded opening up the passing attack!

    All night long I saw a qb who played as if his contract dictated he get fined for every incompletion.
    —————————————–
    You clearly don’t watch the Titans. The receivers are never open. We’re not sure what Corey Davis is going to be yet, but at this moment he is definitely not a star receiver. There is no one to throw to. They’re missing three WRs from last year and Pro Bowl TE/favorite target Delanie Walker. And he is dealing with his 3rd head coach and 3rd offensive coordinator in 4 years. And he has no time to throw. I wouldn’t say he is comfortable in that offense.

    Mariota isn’t selfish. If he was concerned about stats, he wouldn’t wait until year 4 to finally reveal that – because his stats have not been very good. I’m not saying there aren’t some sacks he could’ve avoided, but he wasn’t chasing stats. He is just not that good at throwing the football. Also he’s probably hurt, because he always is.

  28. Rob Brzezinski is a Magician says:
    November 27, 2018 at 3:09 pm
    It just makes you appreciate good defense more. The Vikings have given up less than 200 yards passing in each of their last five games, including games agains Brees, Stafford, and Rodgers. It’s not like it’s impossible to slow down the passing game.

    ————–

    The Vikings have slowed teams down with their defense, but they haven’t beat a team that will make the playoffs yet and the Vikings offense is pretty good.

  29. If you want to call that pass interference call on one of the two Mariota passes downfield last night a catch…

  30. Gee I wonder why. Defenses can barely touch a QB without a flag and a fine. Receivers have to be allowed to “make” make a football move, before they can be tackled. The defenses have been severely crippled. Each of those “Player Safety” rules should have been accompanied by something that helps defenses.

  31. garby95 says:
    November 27, 2018 at 3:35 pm
    What if all the elite athletes at every level start focusing in offense only?

    They will have a better chance to become superstars and payed better than the defensive players.

    In 10 years from now the gap between offense and defense will make the game unbearable to watch.

    ———–
    I do not understand the desire to take all the risk out of a contact sport.

    At some point it’s flag football without the flags, which is harder to defend then flag football.

    Nobody will watch flag football.

    They need to decide and hold to some level of acceptable risk.

  32. brownsfandrinkingmakersmark says:
    November 27, 2018 at 2:14 pm
    Can’t touch the QB.
    Can’t touch the WR.
    No fear of running over the middle.
    Everyone on offense can be “defenseless” at anytime.

    Makes total sense that records will fall.

    Add to the list the increasing use of pick plays, which seem subject to random judgements as to whether legal or not. IMHO, given all the rule changes in favor of offense, picks or “moving picks” such as in basketball, should be illegal within 5 yards of the LOS.

  33. “Passing offenses are playing so much better this year than they ever have before” is written incorrectly.

    It should be “Defenses have been crippled so much more this year, more than they ever have been before”

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