Points well taken: Reasons behind NFL's record-setting week

The economy may be in a downturn, but NFL scoring is on the upswing.

There were a NFL-record 837 points scored in Week 12, the league's first 800-point week. Twelve teams scored 30 or more points, and five lost despite scoring 28 or more, which had to be frustrating to the coaches and players of those teams.

To give you an idea of how the Week 12 scoring stacked up with others this season, I went back and looked at Weeks 1 and 3 when all 32 teams played (Week 2 had only 15 games because Hurricane Ike forced the postponement of the Ravens-Texans game in Houston).

In Week 1, only four teams scored 30 or more points and no team that week scored at least 28 points in a losing cause. In Week 3, eight teams managed to score 30 or more points in a game, but only two scored 28 or more and lost.

Was Week 12 unique? Or, is it a sign of where scoring is headed?

Last week, seven teams threw more than 40 passes in their games, as compared to five teams in Week 1 and three in Week 3. Sacks last week were down and pass attempts were up from the earlier full-schedule weeks. Those factors help teams score points.

The difference is a piece to the answer, but it isn't strong enough to stand on its own.

Quarterbacks running for touchdowns played a big role in Week 12 scoring, with QBs accounting for seven scores on the ground. Trent Edwards (two), Matt Cassel, Chad Pennington, Jake Delhomme, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger all took off in the red zone and got to the end zone. A willingness of coaches to give the green light to quarterbacks and the athleticism of the quarterbacks to run for a score should have a profound effect on scoring for the rest of the season.

NFL defenses don't usually assign a defender to the quarterback, and when you think about the six guys who hit pay dirt in Week 12, I doubt defenses are going to spy on them in the future. The shortest of the quarterback touchdown runs last week was 5 yards, and the seven scores averaged 9 yards. Red-zone scoring efficiency is going to go way up if quarterbacks keep taking off when they are just inside the 10-yard line.

Here's a look at goal-to-goal scoring from 2005 to 2008. As you will see, the league is on pace for a very productive year. The 2008 number is a projection based on where we are after the events of Week 12. Just raising the touchdown rate by one touchdown per team will generate 32 touchdowns, or 224 points.

Besides the touchdown runs by quarterbacks, there were other significant scores last weekend that added to the big point total. There were three interception returns for touchdowns, bringing the total for the season to 38, which puts the league on pace for 55. That number would surpass the best season total in the last four years.

There were three punt returns for touchdowns last week, and there are 14 for the year with five weeks left in the regular season. The most touchdown returns in the past four years was 17, so it looks like that number will easily be beat this season with a projection of 20, which would tie the combined total in 2004 and 2005.

Last week, there were two fumble returns for touchdowns, a kickoff return for a touchdown as well as two safeties, and those scoring areas are holding their own against the past four years.

The other area where extra scoring is coming from is blocked punts and field goals. Already this season there are eight touchdowns off blocks, which beats the six scored in 2006 and 2007 combined.

Coaches are doing a great job of emphasizing transition scoring, and teams spend a lot of time working on scoring off interceptions, blocked kicks, fumble recoveries and the return game. Last week, 67 points came from those areas. Combined with the 42 points from quarterback runs, 109 points came from those areas alone in the Week 12 total.

Scoring is also up because of how well offenses are doing on first and third downs, which are critical to setting up scoring opportunities. Here's a look at how teams are doing gaining at least 4 yards on first downs and converting third-down conversions. There has been a steady increase in this area over the past three years.

After this past week, it sure looks like we better get used to games with teams scoring in the 40s and 50s.

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