DVOA Analysis
Football Outsiders' revolutionary metrics that break down every single play of the NFL season

1984 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

1984 image
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

The top team in DVOA for the 1984 season is not a surprise. The surprise is the distance between the 1984 San Francisco 49ers and the rest of the NFL. It's nowhere near as big as you are probably expecting.

Many fans consider the 1984 49ers to be one of the top teams in NFL history. The 49ers were the first team to ever finish 15-1 after the NFL went to a 16-game season. They finished first in points allowed and second in points scored, with 13.8 Pythagenport wins (sixth since 1983). San Francisco won four times by at least 30 points and their only loss came by 3 points to Pittsburgh, which was a playoff team.

Despite all that, San Francisco ended up with "only" 33.5% DVOA. That's very good and was clearly No. 1 in 1984, but it doesn't even land the 49ers among the top 20 teams of DVOA history, at least as far as the regular season goes.

So, what's going on here? The first culprit is schedule strength. San Francisco played the easiest schedule of any team in the league in 1984. The 49ers had only two regular-season games against teams that finished in the top dozen of DVOA: a 37-31 win over No. 5 Washington and the previously mentioned loss to No. 10 Pittsburgh. On the other hand, they had nine games against teams in the bottom ten of DVOA.

The other issue is defense, where the 49ers were not as good as that No. 1 ranking in points allowed would usually indicate. San Francisco ranked just 10th in takeaways and total yards allowed. They were only 15th in yards per play allowed. They were better in DVOA, ranking eighth, but they were more than 20 percentage points behind the No. 1 Chicago Bears.

OK, so how did the 49ers lead the league in points allowed? They were the No. 3 defense in the league in goal-to-go situations at -28.3%, which helped. They often had good field position because of strong special teams (second in DVOA) and a league-low 22 turnovers, five fewer than any other offense. And they allowed no return touchdowns on either defense or special teams. That last fact is pretty remarkable given that the mid-80s may have been the all-time peak for defensive touchdown scoring. In 2020, there were 49 touchdowns after either interceptions or fumbles lost on offense. In 1984, there were 73 such touchdowns despite 32 fewer games being played. But none of those return touchdowns came against San Francisco.

The 1984 49ers look a lot better if we include the playoffs in our analysis, as they won the NFC Championship Game 23-0 over Chicago and then beat Miami 38-16 in the Super Bowl. That lifts their DVOA up to 42.5%, which does break into the top 10 of DVOA history for teams including both the regular season and the postseason, with an asterisk. (The asterisk is that the past years of playoffs are not yet updated to the new DVOA v7.3 that we introduced this season.)

BEST TOTAL DVOA
INCLUDING PLAYOFFS, 1983-2020
Year Team W-L DVOA
1991 WAS 17-2 61.7%
1985 CHI 18-1 59.6%
2007 NE 18-1 50.3%
1989 SF 17-2 48.1%
1996 GB 16-3 45.8%
1987 SF* 10-3 44.1%
2013 SEA 16-3 43.2%
1984 SF 18-1 42.5%
1992 DAL 16-3 42.4%
1998 DEN 17-2 41.9%
2002 TB 15-4 41.0%
2010 NE 14-3 40.6%
*only 13 games due to strike

Here for you San Francisco fans is a list of the top 10 regular-season 49ers teams by DVOA. The 1987 numbers do not include strikebreaker games, where the 49ers went 3-0.

Top 10 San Francisco Teams by DVOA, 1983-2020
YEAR TOTAL
DVOA
RK W-L OFF.
DVOA
RK DEF.
DVOA
RK S.T.
DVOA
RK PLAYOFFS
1987 47.2% 1 10-2 23.8% 1 -22.0% 1 1.3% 9 Lost DIV
1995 40.0% 1 11-5 19.5% 4 -22.7% 1 -2.2% 22 Lost DIV
1989 37.2% 1 14-2 26.4% 1 -11.1% 5 -0.3% 17 Won SB
1984 33.5% 1 15-1 23.8% 2 -4.4% 8 5.4% 2 Won SB
1992 30.8% 3 14-2 34.5% 1 3.4% 18 -0.3% 15 Lost CCG
2012 30.2% 4 11-4-1 17.4% 5 -14.3% 4 -1.5% 20 Lost SB
2019 29.0% 5 13-3 7.7% 7 -20.3% 2 1.0% 12 Lost SB
1996 28.8% 2 12-4 10.1% 6 -15.3% 2 3.4% 8 Lost DIV
1994 28.0% 3 13-3 19.5% 1 -7.4% 7 1.1% 11 Won SB
1997 27.5% 4 13-3 5.7% 10 -20.9% 1 0.9% 15 Lost CCG

If you are wondering about the relatively low rating for the 1994 Niners, also considered one of the best teams of all time, we covered that here. (The numbers are a little different because it's an older version of DVOA.) It's mostly related to the huge Week 5 loss to Philadelphia and a meaningless Week 17 game where the starters sat in the second half.

While you may be surprised that San Francisco didn't end up higher in DVOA, the team they beat in Super Bowl XIX is right where you expect them to be. Miami ends up No. 2 in DVOA and of course the Dolphins are No. 1 in offense. Dan Marino became the first quarterback to throw for 5,000 yards in a season and destroyed the passing touchdowns record. It was 36 touchdowns, by Y.A. Tittle of the 1963 Giants (and George Blanda in the AFL with the 1961 Oilers). Marino threw 48 touchdowns, breaking the record early in Week 14 against the Raiders with two and a half games still to go.

To understand how amazing Marino's 1984 season is, you have to understand how much the average quarterback's numbers in 1984 differed from the average quarterback's numbers in 2020. Check out the average passer stats for each NFL team and then what Marino did compared to, say, Aaron Rodgers winning the MVP this year.

Player Cmp Att C% Yds Yd/At Yd/C TD INT Sacks
1984 Average 288 512 56.4% 3,651 7.14 12.66 22 21 47
1984 D.Marino 362 564 64.2% 5,084 9.01 14.04 48 17 13
2020 Average 367 563 65.2% 4,078 7.24 11.11 27 12 35
2020 A.Rodgers 372 526 70.7% 4,299 8.17 11.56 48 5 20

After a big adjustment for era and an adjustment downward for a relatively easy schedule, Marino ends up third all-time in both passing DVOA (value per play) and passing DYAR (total value). Here's where Marino stands among the best quarterback seasons of the last almost 40 years:

BEST PASSING DYAR, 1983-2020
Year Player Team DYAR
2007 T.Brady NE 2,674
2013 P.Manning DEN 2,475
1984 D.Marino MIA 2,437
2004 P.Manning IND 2,434
2006 P.Manning IND 2,317
2011 D.Brees NO 2,259
2011 A.Rodgers GB 2,059
2012 T.Brady NE 2,035
2018 P.Mahomes KC 2,031
2009 T.Brady NE 2,021
2011 T.Brady NE 1,994
2010 T.Brady NE 1,909

The list of top seasons by passing DVOA has more seasons from the 90s, when the top quarterbacks didn't throw the ball quite as much so they weren't quite as high in DYAR:

BEST PASSING DVOA, 1983-2020
(min. 200 pass plays)
Year Player Team DVOA
2004 P.Manning IND 58.9%
2007 T.Brady NE 54.1%
1984 D.Marino MIA 53.0%
2006 P.Manning IND 51.3%
2010 T.Brady NE 46.7%
2011 A.Rodgers GB 46.6%
1992 S.Young SF 45.1%
1998 R.Cunningham MIN 45.1%
2013 P.Manning DEN 43.2%
1998 V.Testaverde NYJ 42.2%
1991 M.Rypien WAS 41.9%
2009 P.Rivers SD 41.7%

Miami was also very impressive in team offensive stats, as Marino combined with the No. 5 ground game of 1984 to give Miami one of the best overall offenses we've ever measured:

BEST OFFENSIVE DVOA, 1983-2020
Year Team W-L DVOA
2007 NE 16-0 44.1%
2010 NE 14-2 42.8%
2002 KC 8-8 35.4%
2018 KC 12-4 35.4%
1998 DEN 14-2 35.0%
1992 SF 14-2 34.5%
1984 MIA 14-2 34.4%
2011 GB 15-1 34.2%
2013 DEN 13-3 34.2%
2003 KC 13-3 33.9%
2011 NO 13-3 33.5%
2011 NE 13-3 32.6%

It turns out 1984 is only the third season where the top two teams in DVOA during the regular season faced off in the Super Bowl. The others were 2002 (Tampa Bay and Oakland) and 2013 (Seattle and Denver).

Before we talk about the rest of the league in the 1984 season, let's run all the numbers for you.

  TEAM TOTAL
DVOA
NON-ADJ
TOT VOA
W-L OFF.
DVOA
OFF.
RANK
DEF.
DVOA
DEF.
RANK
S.T.
DVOA
S.T.
RANK
1 SF 33.5% 41.4% 15-1 23.8% 2 -4.4% 8 5.4% 2
2 MIA 27.1% 35.2% 14-2 34.4% 1 7.8% 21 0.5% 14
3 CHI 23.4% 23.3% 10-6 -1.5% 13 -26.3% 1 -1.3% 18
4 SEA 21.5% 23.5% 12-4 -4.1% 19 -21.8% 2 3.8% 4
5 WAS 16.9% 21.5% 11-5 11.4% 5 -4.4% 10 1.1% 11
6 STLC 16.9% 12.4% 9-7 20.8% 3 2.4% 17 -1.6% 19
7 LARD 16.4% 16.3% 11-5 -3.3% 16 -14.2% 5 5.5% 1
8 DEN 13.1% 14.5% 13-3 4.1% 8 -10.7% 6 -1.8% 20
9 DAL 12.0% 6.5% 9-7 -5.4% 20 -16.4% 3 1.1% 12
10 PIT 11.7% 16.0% 9-7 -5.5% 21 -14.5% 4 2.6% 6
11 NE 9.3% 5.5% 9-7 10.3% 6 2.6% 18 1.6% 10
12 GB 7.8% 6.2% 8-8 4.2% 7 -3.7% 13 0.0% 16
13 LARM 6.4% 2.1% 10-6 2.6% 10 1.5% 16 5.3% 3
14 KC 2.8% -1.4% 8-8 -3.5% 17 -4.4% 9 1.9% 7
15 CIN -0.9% -0.8% 8-8 3.0% 9 3.8% 19 0.0% 17
16 NYG -1.4% -1.7% 9-7 1.1% 11 -3.5% 14 -6.0% 27
17 SD -2.4% -4.6% 7-9 13.4% 4 15.9% 26 0.2% 15
18 PHI -3.3% -8.1% 6-9-1 -8.2% 23 -4.1% 11 0.8% 13
19 NO -6.5% -13.9% 7-9 -7.9% 22 -3.9% 12 -2.6% 24
20 CLE1 -6.6% -3.9% 5-11 -12.6% 25 -7.8% 7 -1.8% 21
21 NYJ -8.0% -3.1% 7-9 -0.3% 12 10.8% 23 3.1% 5
22 TB -14.0% -11.7% 6-10 -2.7% 15 9.3% 22 -1.9% 22
23 DET -16.0% -14.6% 4-11-1 -2.6% 14 7.7% 20 -5.7% 26
24 ATL -20.3% -21.9% 4-12 -4.1% 18 14.0% 24 -2.3% 23
25 IND -21.5% -21.1% 4-12 -23.6% 28 -0.3% 15 1.8% 8
26 HOIL -35.2% -35.5% 3-13 -10.3% 24 19.8% 27 -5.0% 25
27 BUF -40.6% -40.3% 2-14 -18.3% 26 15.8% 25 -6.5% 28
28 MIN -41.2% -41.8% 3-13 -21.4% 27 21.5% 28 1.8% 9

DVOA for 1984 is now listed in the stats pages:

A reminder: These pages are not behind a paywall! It's a registration wall. You simply need to register for the site and make sure you are logged in to see these historical DVOA pages.

The Chicago Bears finished third in DVOA with the highest defensive rating in the league, the start of the remarkable stretch where their defense completely dominated the NFL. In 1983, although the Bears ranked fifth in points allowed, they were only 15th in yards per play and 14th in DVOA. Then for the next three years, 1984-1986, they had perhaps the best defense in NFL history. The Bears are the only team to finish No. 1 in defense for three straight years, and all three seasons rank among the ten best ever measured by DVOA:

BEST DEFENSIVE DVOA, 1983-2020
Year Team W-L DVOA
1991 PHI 10-6 -42.0%
1986 CHI 14-2 -33.6%
1985 CHI 15-1 -33.3%
2002 TB 12-4 -31.2%
2008 PIT 12-4 -29.2%
1988 MIN 11-5 -28.6%
2004 BUF 9-7 -28.2%
2008 BAL 11-5 -27.6%
1991 NO 11-5 -27.4%
1984 CHI 10-6 -26.3%
2012 CHI 10-6 -26.1%
2009 NYJ 9-7 -25.6%

So if 1984 was the year the Bears defense ascended to greatness, what changed from prior seasons? Buddy Ryan had been defensive coordinator in Chicago since 1978, and he had been playing the 46 as Chicago's base defense since 1981. And Chicago's starting lineup was almost entirely the same in both 1983 and 1984. The only change was second-year defensive end Richard Dent starting 10 games instead of three, with Dan Hampton moving inside to tackle. Obviously, Dent had a huge impact; He's a Hall of Famer and went from three sacks in 1983 to 17.5 sacks in 1984. But it's hard to imagine that Dent alone took the Bears from average to historical greatness. It seems like the Bears just had the whole scheme and roster mature together all at once.

Of course, since this is the Chicago Bears we're talking about, the defense couldn't fully live up to its potential because the passing game was a complete mess. The Bears somehow finished 13th in offensive DVOA despite starting five different quarterbacks. No quarterback for the Bears had 200 passes to qualify for our quarterback rankings. Jim McMahon was healthy enough to start nine games, and was fantastic with a 31.2% passing DVOA. Steve Fuller was above average as well in four starts. But Rusty Lisch threw passes in seven games with one start and was dismal. Bob Avellini was poor playing parts of the first four weeks with one start. The Bears even dug up 38-year-old Greg Landry, who had been playing in the USFL, and gave him an emergency start in Week 16. The depth chart was so decimated that Mike Ditka pulled Lisch in Week 15 against Green Bay and gave Walter Payton a few snaps at quarterback in the second quarter (video here). Payton, who had always been good on the halfback option, threw two passes out of the shotgun, one incomplete and one intercepted after going 46 yards in the air.

Seattle ranked fourth in total DVOA for 1984, including second on defense behind Chicago. This was the best Seattle team until the Matt Hasselbeck/Shaun Alexander squad that advanced to Super Bowl XL in 2005. Most fans don't remember these 80s Seattle defenses very well but both nose tackle Joe Nash and Hall of Fame safety Kenny Easley made first-team All-Pro that year. The Seahawks had three shutouts on the year, including a 45-0 blowout over Kansas City in Week 10. Seattle had six interceptions in that game, plus a seventh nullified after an offside penalty. Four of those interceptions were pick-sixes thrown by three different quarterbacks (Bill Kenney 2, Todd Blackledge 1, Sandy Osiecki 1) and intercepted by three different Seahawks defensive backs (Dave Brown 2, Keith Simpson 1, Easley 1).

The two teams that competed for the NFC East title are effectively tied for fifth, although Washington is ahead by decimal points. The 9-7 St. Louis Cardinals ranked sixth might be a bit of a surprise. The Cardinals were 3-5 in one-score games that year and their schedule strength ranked sixth in the league. Based on DVOA, the 1984 Cardinals were the franchise's best team until the 2015 Carson Palmer-led Cardinals went 13-3 and finished second in DVOA. The Cardinals had a shot at the NFC East title if they could win on the road in Washington in the final week of the season. Instead, they lost by two points. Mark Moseley hit a 37-yard field goal with 1:37 left to give Washington a 29-27 lead. The Cardinals got the ball back without any timeouts and Neil Lomax moved it down to the Washington 33, but Neil O'Donoghue's 50-yard field goal try was short and wide left and the Cardinals didn't make the playoffs until 1998.

The defending champion Los Angeles Raiders finished seventh in DVOA, including first in special teams. It wasn't a very exciting year for special teams around the league, as the Raiders were very low for a top-ranked team. This is one of just three years where no team hit at least 6.0% in special teams, along with 1992 and 2019.

Just behind the Raiders you'll find the team that beat them for the AFC West title, the Denver Broncos. The 1984 Broncos are an interesting team because they were sailing along at 11-1 in mid-November but that record was built on a lot of close victories. If Football Outsiders had existed in 1984, every week's DVOA commentary would have gone in depth into how the Broncos were not as good as the 49ers and Dolphins. (Also, if Football Outsiders had existed in 1984, I never would have gotten my homework done since I was in fourth grade at the time.) The Broncos were 5-0 in games decided by a field goal through Week 12, plus another win by just a touchdown. But clutch wins are a cruel mistress. In both Week 13 and Week 14, Denver put itself in position to send a close game to overtime only to lose due to a missed field goal. In the first game, Rich Karlis hit the right upright from just 25 yards out and Seattle won by 3. The next week, Karlis hit the left upright from 42 yards out and Kansas City won by 3. The Broncos won another close game in Week 15 over San Diego, finished up the sesaon with a big win over Seattle, and went into the playoffs at 13-3. But they got upset in the divisional round by Pittsburgh, which was nearly tied with Denver in DVOA during the regular season but finished only 9-7. It was yet another close game. This time, Elway threw a pick at his own 25 with three minutes left, and Eric Williams returned it to the Denver 2. The Steelers just had to run it in from two yards out to take a 24-17 lead at the two-minute warning, then forced Elway into a four-and-out that included three incomplete passes and a sack. The next week, the Steelers lost to Dan Marino -- the quarterback they should have drafted the year before -- in the AFC Championship Game.

Another interesting team from 1984 was the Green Bay Packers. The Packers were terrible to start the season, going 1-7 over their first eight games with the only win coming by one point over St. Louis in Week 1, 24-23. But the Packers completely turned things around with a 41-9 drubbing of the Lions in Week 9. The Packers went on to win seven of their final eight games, with six of those wins coming by multiple scores. Green Bay's first half of the season had some close losses so DVOA had them better than their 1-7 record. They had -12.4% DVOA in Weeks 1-8, which ranked 19th over that period. But they zoomed up to 32.9% DVOA in Weeks 9-16, making them the best team of the second half of the season, slightly better than even the 49ers! The Packers finished with plus-81 point differential despite finishing 8-8. And did this amazing second half of the season roll over into 1985? No, of course not. The 1985 Packers went 8-8 again and were only 21st in DVOA for the season.

By the way, that Week 9 Packers-Lions game where the Packers blew out Detroit was also notable as the first game after Billy Sims suffered the catastrophic knee injury that ended his career. Lions fans probably remember this as a turning point that crashed their offense, but it turns out the decline was a lot larger in conventional stats than it was in DVOA. The reason? Detroit's strength of schedule also dramatically changed at midseason of 1984. Six of Detroit's first eight games that year came against teams that ranked in the bottom seven on defense, including two games against the league's worst defense in Minnesota. Then, every single opponent after midseason was better than average on defense, including both of Detroit's games against the league's best defense in Chicago. And so:

Detroit Lions Offense by Week, 1984
Weeks DVOA VOA Suc Yd/Play
Weeks 1-8 1.2% 10.8% 46% 5.63
Weeks 9-16 -6.5% -18.4% 38% 4.74

Let's skip past the rest of the great unwashed middle of 1984 and talk about the three teams at the bottom of the standings: the Houston Oilers, the Buffalo Bills, and the Minnesota Vikings. There was a very big gap between these three teams and the rest of the league, and having three teams this bad is pretty rare. Only two other seasons had three different teams below -35% in DVOA: 2000 (Arizona, Cincinnati, and Cleveland) and 2009 (Detroit, Oakland, and St. Louis).

None of these teams ended up in last place in offensive DVOA -- that spot belonged to Indianapolis in its first year in the Hoosier Dome -- but all three teams ranked in the bottom five for both offense and defense. The great Sid Hartman declared the 1984 Vikings as the worst team in franchise history, but at least Minnesota was okay at special teams. Buffalo and Houston were also bottom five in special teams, so they join a very special list of teams that ranked in the bottom five in all three categories. That group also includes the 1994 Bengals, 2000 Bengals, 2009 Lions, 2013 Raiders, and 2014 Redskins.

The Oilers at least improved at the end of the year. They went 3-3 over their last six games with weighted DVOA over 7 points higher than total DVOA. And did this roll over into the next year? Nope. Houston was 5-11 in 1985 and Buffalo and Houston were the two worst teams by DVOA again.

Now let's take a look at the best and worst players by position.

Quarterbacks: Again, Dan Marino blew the league away in both passing DVOA and passing DYAR. Joe Montana finished second in DVOA while Dan Fouts was third. In DYAR, they switched places because Fouts had almost 100 more pass plays than Montana despite starting two fewer games. That 80s Chargers offense really threw the ball a lot for the time. Showing the power of both the San Francisco and San Diego offenses, both backups also had excellent passing DVOA. Montana's backup, Matt Cavanaugh, was at 24.9%. Fouts' backup, Ed Luther, started three games and had 30.2% DVOA, slightly higher than Fouts!

Neil Lomax ranked fourthin both DVOA and DYAR, and then a surprising fifth was Tony Eason. A 23:8 touchdown to interception ratio was phenomenal for 1984, suggesting early on that Eason might be the third or even second-best quarterback from the legendary class of 1983. John Elway was farther down, just 15th in passing DYAR. Ken O'Brien was 24th, Todd Blackledge was 26th, and of course Jim Kelly was over in the USFL.

Warren Moon ranked 13th in passing DYAR in his first season after coming over from the CFL. Moon took a while to get going in the NFL, and didn't reach the top 10 in DYAR until he was fifth in 1988. Archie Manning was in his final NFL season and didn't have much left, with -139 DYAR while starting two games for that terrible Minnesota team.

Last place in passing DYAR, at least among qualifying quarterbacks, belonged to Joe Ferguson with -365 DYAR in his final year in Buffalo. However, two quarterbacks ended up even lower than Ferguson with fewer than 200 passes. One was the already mentioned Rusty Lisch of Chicago, with -383 DYAR. But the absolute worst value among quarterbacks belonged to the cursed Art Schlichter of the Colts. Returning from a year-long gambling suspension in 1983, the former No. 4 overall pick ended up with -461 DYAR in nine games (five starts). Schlichter completed only 44% of his passes for just 5.0 yards per attempt, with more than twice as many interceptions (7) as touchdowns (3).

Running Backs: Now it's time to take on the other record-setting season of 1984: Eric Dickerson set the all-time rushing yardage record by gaining 2,105 yards on 379 carries. Where does this stand on the all-time Football Outsiders DYAR list?

The answer is "nowhere near the top." Dickerson ranks No. 1 for the year with 370 rushing DYAR, and nobody else is above 300. But 370 rushing DYAR doesn't even make the top 30 rushing seasons since 1983. The problem is fumbles. My god, did Eric Dickerson fumble a lot. Dickerson had 13 fumbles in 1984. There were a lot more fumbles in 1984 than there are in the modern NFL. The average NFL team in 1984 had 9.3 fumbles from running backs on running plays. This year, in 2020, the average NFL team had just 2.5 fumbles from running backs on running plays. But even compared to the rest of the league which had a lot of fumbles, Dickerson had a lot of fumbles. He's tied for the league lead because Wendell Tyler of San Francisco also had 13 fumbles on runs. Tony Dorsett was third in the league with 10.

Anyway, if we take out the 13 fumbles, Dickerson would end up with 605 rushing DYAR which would narrowly top Terrell Davis' 1998 season for the all-time record. By comparison, Davis had one fumble in 1998. Dickerson's season is the only one ever with at least 300 rushing DYAR that has more than seven fumbles. Dickerson averaged 5.6 yards per play with a very respectible 52% running back success rate (18th among qualifying backs). But yikes, those fumbles.

By the way, here's a fun segment of play-by-play from the Week 10 Rams at Cardinals game:

  • First-and-10 at Rams 20, Dickerson rushes for 21 yards
  • First-and-10 at Rams 41, Jeff Kemp sacked for 10 yards
  • Second-and-20 at Rams 31, Kemp sacked for 15 yards
  • Third-and-35 at Rams 16, Dickerson rushes for 34 yards.

Thirty-four yards! This is possibly the longest unsuccessful run of all time! And did the Rams follow this up by going for fourth-and-1 at midfield with their awesome running back? No, of course not, they punted to the Cardinals 16.

With the one-back offense spreading throughout the league, we saw some huge carry totals in 1984. Five different backs went over 300 carries, with three of those backs over 370. Gerald Riggs and John Riggins were No. 2 and No. 3 in rushing DYAR, but they didn't hit the 370-carry mark. Walter Payton did, however, rushing for 1,684 yards on 382 carries. He finished fourth in rushing DYAR due to a poor success rate. It's interesting to note that Dickerson, Payton, and Riggs all had negative receiving value by DYAR, while Riggins had only nine targets total.

Another running back almost set a record but couldn't quite get there: James Wilder of Tampa Bay. My god, did the Bucs use James Wilder a lot in 1984. Wilder paced the league with 407 carries, over 90% of the total running back carries in Tampa. (By comparison, Derrick Henry had 65 more carries than any other running back in the NFL and still had only 82% of Tennessee carries in 2020.) With only 3.8 yards per carry but a tough schedule, Wilder ended up seventh among qualifying running backs in rushing DYAR. He had 1,544 rushing yards. (Our data says 1,546, so we've got a 2-yard discrepency somewhere in the play-by-play.) Wilder also was a huge part of the passing game, catching 85 passes on 104 targets for 685 yards and 96 receiving DYAR (12th among running backs).

You may have noticed that 407 carries and 85 catches is an awful lot of touches. In fact, 492 touches in a season destroyed the record at the time, which was Dickerson's 441 touches in his rookie year of 1983, and is still the record today by 35 touches over Larry Johnson's 457 in 2006. And with a lot of touches come a lot of scrimmage yards. At the time, the record for scrimmage yards belonged to O.J. Simpson, who had 2,243 yards from scrimmage in the 14-game season of 1975. Dickerson had already broken Simpson's record for rushing yards at the end of the Rams' Week 15 game with Houston. In Week 16, both Dickerson and Wilder were approaching Simpson's record for total yards from scrimmage. Dickerson played on Friday night and passed Simpson's record by one yard, finishing with 2,244 total yards. Tampa Bay, finishing up a 6-10 season, decided to do anything possible to get Wilder past that number so he could hold the record. They fed Wilder over and over from the start of the game. They kicked onside with 1:21 left and a 41-14 lead over the Jets, trying to get the ball back so Wilder could get the yards he needed to set the record. When the onside kick failed, the Buccaneers let the Jets score so they could get the ball back and get Wilder one last shot. The Bucs ended up with the ball and 47 seconds, but Wilder lost 2 yards on his first carry, gained 2 on the next carry, and was finally stuffed at the line. He finished the season with 2,229 scrimmage yards, 15 yards short of the record. Tampa Bay head coach John McKay was eventually fined $10,000 by the league for actions that hurt the integrity of the game. The Jets were so pissed off about it that when they faced Tampa Bay again the next season, they ran up the score to win 62-28.

In the same game, Mark Gastineau of the Jets had two sacks to set an NFL record with 22 on the season, since broken by Michael Strahan in 2001.

Returning to the running backs, a couple of backs had awesome years with small sample sizes in 1984. Fullback Hokie Gajan of the Saints finished fifth in DYAR thanks to a 64% running back success rate and over 6.0 yards per carry on 102 carries. And Green Bay running back Eddie Lee Ivery just missed qualifying for our rankings with 99 carries but he would have been sixth in rushing DYAR with 99 carries for 552 yards and six touchdowns with a 60% success rate.

Marcus Allen led all running backs in receiving value, followed by Roger Craig and then Tony Nathan of the Dolphins.

Wide Receivers: It's no surprise that a wide receiver working with Dan Marino topped the league in 1984. Mark Clayton caught 18 touchdowns, which set a new NFL record at the time, and was third in the league with 1,389 receiving yards, so he led the NFL with 490 receiving DYAR as well as 38.9% receiving DVOA. His partner Mark Duper was third in both DYAR and DVOA. In between them, you'll find a big comeback year from Hall of Famer John Stallworth with 427 DYAR. Stallworth had only 441 receiving yards in the 1982 strike year and then had just eight catches for 100 yards on four games started in an injury-riddled 1983. But in 1984 he bounced back with a career-high 1,395 yards. Roy Green of the Cardinals led the NFL with 1,555 receiving yards on 150 targets and ended up sixth in receiving DYAR.

Buffalo wide receiver Byron Franklin was in last place in receiving DYAR. His standard stats look good, as he had 862 yards and 4 touchdowns, but he only gained 12.5 yards per reception which was very low for the 1980s plus he fumbled four times. The legendary Cliff Branch, in his next-to-last year, finished next-to-last in receiving DYAR. (He played four games in 1985 but with no receptions.)

Tight Ends: Do you want efficiency or do you want volume? If you wanted efficiency, you had Doug Marsh of the Cardinals, who caught 39 passes for 608 yards and 15.6 yards per reception against a tough schedule. He led the league in both receiving DYAR and receiving DVOA for tight ends. Another efficient tight end was M. L. Harris of the Bengals; in his only year as a starter, Harris caught 48 passes for 759 yards at 15.8 yards per reception. He was second in receiving DYAR. If you preferred volume, no tight end in the 1980s had volume like Todd Christensen of the Raiders, and I'm not just talking about his luscious perm. Christensen caught 80 balls for 1,007 yards and 7 touchdowns, and finished third in receiving DYAR.

Surprisingly, a Hall of Famer did very poorly in our stats in 1984 despite also catching a ton of passes. Ozzie Newsome caught 89 passes for 1,000 yards and 5 touchdowns. But he had 148 listed targets, giving him a poor 60% catch rate, and thus he ended up slightly below replacement level by DYAR.

A few other 1984 notes:

  • The worst offense in the NFL didn't stop Indianapolis head coach Frank Kush from being aggressive on fourth downs. In Week 6, the Colts went for it on fourth-and-inches from their own 15 on their first drive of the game. Randy McMillan ran for an 85-yard touchdown (video here) that got called back by a holding penalty. Four weeks later, the Colts went for it again on fourth-and-inches, this time from their own 24 near the start of the second quarter. McMillan converted with a 2-yard run and then Mark Herrmann connected with wide receiver Ray Butler on the next play for a 74-yard touchdown. Unfortunately for the Colts, that was Herrmann's only touchdown pass in two starts. Overall, the Colts went for it on fourth-and-1 or fourth-and-2 a league-leading 15 times in 1984, converting 13 of those.
  • The Giants started their Week 5 game with the Rams with a very strange play. On the opening kickoff, the Rams just never touched the ball, and Phil McConkey of the Giants recovered the kickoff in the end zone for a Giants touchdown. (You may remember a similar play between the Jets and Bills at the end of the 2016 season.) However, Ali Haji-Sheikh missed the extra point, which may have been the first sign that the Giants were not in line for a great special teams game. In the second quarter, the Giants gave up an 83-yard punt return to the Rams' Henry Ellard. Then after halftime, the Rams set an all-time NFL record as the only team to ever score three safeties in the same game (video here). They got all three safeties in the same quarter! They blocked a Giants punt out the back of the end zone, then sacked Phil Simms in the end zone, and finally blocked yet another punt which the Giants recovered in the end zone for the third safety. The Rams ended up winning the game 33-12 after the Giants scored a garbage-time touchdown and Haji-Sheikh missed that extra point too. The Giants had -41.8% special teams DVOA for the game.
  • Green Bay traveled to Denver in Week 7. On the first play of the game, running back Gerry Ellis was stripped by future NFL Primetime host Tom Jackson and Steve Foley returned it for a Denver touchdown. The Broncos kicked off again, and the Packers offense came back on the field. They handed the ball to Jessie Clark, who fumbled it without being touched after a 5-yard gain. Denver cornerback Louis Wright picked it up and returned it for a second Denver touchdown. That's two fumble return touchdowns in the space of 30 seconds of game time. Denver only scored a field goal on offense so those two touchdowns won them the game, 17-14.
  • You know that thing where head coaches kick a late field goal to turn a one-score deficit into a one-score deficit, hoping to hold their opponent to three-and-out, get the ball back, and score again to win? New Orleans actually pulled this off against Cleveland in Week 9. With 3:05 left in the game, the Saints had fourth-and-2 from the Cleveland 3, down 14-10. Instead of trying for a touchdown, Bum Phillips sent Morten Andersen out to kick a 21-yard field goal. The Saints kicked it away to the Browns down 14-13, with two timeouts and the two-minute warning left to stop the clock. New Orleans didn't even get the three-and-out, as Browns completed a 15-yard pass before running down the clock. After the punt, New Orleans got the ball back on their own 23 with no timeouts and 59 seconds left. Richard Todd, in his only season starting for the Saints, hit receiver Lindsay Scott for a 36-yard gain on the first play. A pass to fullback Hokie Gajan got it five yards closer. And then Andersen hit a 53-yarder with 6 seconds left for the 16-14 New Orleans win.
  • Once again, Jeremy Snyder has put together an extensive Year in Quotes to take you back in time with all the crazy things that happened in 1984.
  • Coming in the next couple weeks: 1983 DVOA!

Comments

110 comments, Last at 08 Mar 2021, 1:15pm

1 NOR FB Hokie Gajan

He is mentioned 2x in this article. Trivia time: Can anyone tell me the correct pronunciation of his last name (without googling it)?

(I started following the Saints in 1982, so I do know the answer. I will post it later tonight or tomorrow.)

6 Gah-zhan I'm not even sure…

Gah-zhan

 

I'm not even sure how to phoenetically write the "zh" sound.  I don't think that sound exists in an English words.  I guess it would sound similar to "Zsa-Zsa Gabor".

11 Gah-zhn

I don't know if it's right, but that's how my friends and I pronounced it then.

I imagine I would have heard it pronounced at one point on Inside the NFL or something, but maybe not (my attention was often split lol).

2 James Wilder

Wilder ended up seventh among qualifying running backs in rushing DYAR. He had 1,544 rushing yards. (Our data says 1,546, so we've got a 2-yard discrepency somewhere in the play-by-play.)

The Tampa scorer botched the yardage assignments on two different run + penalty plays in Week 5.  I really wish Wilder had fallen just one yard short of the record.

3 I am pretty surprised Marino…

I am pretty surprised Marino "only" ended up third on the all time list.

It was so far above the mean performance for QBs at the time. It would be as if Mahomes threw 70 tds and 7k yards. 

Manning's 04 season was probably the height of my fandom. I can only imagine what a fins fan would have felt in 1984. 

7 Yes, I was also surprised …

Yes, I was also surprised (and disappointed).  1984 Dan Marino is what really turned me into an NFL and Dolphins fan.

I guess it was opponent adjustments that brought him down?  But like at the top 12 DYAR list.  It's Dan Marino in 1984 and then a bunch of guys from 2004-2018.  For 20 years nobody came close to Marino.  Off the top of my head, I would guess that either 1994 Steve Young or 1999 Kurt Warner would be the DYAR leader in the 1985-2003 period.

8 Nope.  I was thinking of the…

Nope.  I was thinking of the wrong Kurt Warner season.  But 1999 is in there.

 

DYAR over 1500, 1985-2003:

 

1. 2003 Payton Manning, 1891

2. 2000 Peyton Manning, 1882

3. 2001 Kurt Warner, 1790

4. 1986 Dan Marino, 1693

5. 2000 Jeff Garcia, 1642

6. 1994 Steve Young, 1634

7. 1992 Steve Young, 1609

8. 1998 Randall Cunningham, 1598

9. 1999 Kurt Warner, 1586

10. 1995 Erik Kramer (!!!), 1585

11. 1999 Peyton Manning, 1581

12. 1998 Vinny Testaverde, 1530

13. 1995 Scott Mitchell, 1520

43 You’re surprised by Jeff…

You’re surprised by Jeff Garcia, but have no comment about Erik Kramer and Scott Mitchell???

In seriousness, Kramer could never stay healthy into his 30’s, but he owns two impressive unicorn-type accomplishments: the only Detroit playoff win in the modern era, and the most productive Chicago quarterback season in the modern era.

68 1995 was weirder than 2020

I'm too lazy to link, but I think the 1995 DVOA article mentions the weirdness of Favre being the third-best QB in the NFC Central. Scott Mitchell was a legit MVP candidate that year. 

Vinnie 1998 is the other name that surprises the heck out of me.

82 It doesn’t make the list,…

It doesn’t make the list, but Vinny’s 1996 season with the Ravens (in their first year of existence) was pretty damn good, also.  Unfortunately, Baltimore’s awesome offense was unable to overcome a putrid defense, and the Ravens finished 4-12.

84 Yes, that was news to me…

Yes, that was news to me. Reading about that '96 Baltimore season, WR Michael Jackson's 1201 receiving yards still stands as a franchise record, which is quite remarkable. Baltimore is to wide receivers as Chicago is to QBs (almost). 

85 Chicago is more than just the QB's

You should take a peek as to who is still the franchise leader in receptions. Hint, it's not a wide receiver.

Oh and while you are at it, check out who is second in franchise history in receptions. It's still not a wide receiver. 

87 No doubt. But even then,…

No doubt. But even then, there have been occasional good seasons by Chicago wide receivers in recent memory. Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall both had 1400+ yard seasons in the last decade. Heck, Allen Robinson had 1250 yards this year, which would have broken the Baltimore all-time record. 

Edit: as an exercise I tried to come up an all Ravens team for their 25 years of existence. They've probably got the best defense of any franchise in that period (Bears or Steelers maybe), a selection of HOFers and all pros across the O-line, and even now an MVP QB. But receiver is a total wasteland. The best I could come up with is the fag end of Derrick Mason or Anquan Boldin's careers. 

100 Wrong team

He was talking about Chicago (per his post title that Chicago is more than just the QBs). Their leading receivers are RBs.

104 Comment #84 was regarding…

In reply to by dbostedo

Comment #84 was regarding Baltimore, but it was in regards to single-season receiving yards, and the fact that Michael Jackson still owns that record. 

Derrick Mason did indeed have an impressive back half of his career with Baltimore (catching passes from quarterbacks such as Kyle Boller, old Steve McNair, and young Joe Flacco), but he never eclipsed 1200 yards in a single season.  

108 It's seems like its due to volume

DYAR is a mixture of efficiency (which has been adjusted for era) and volume (which has NOT been). Marino throwing as many passes as he did was a pretty big reason why his season was an outlier. The list of the top passing seasons by DVOA is much more balanced, with 7 seasons in this century (5 by the two greatest QBs ever). 

31 Same. However, he was more…

Same. However, he was more than 1,000 DYAR ahead of 2nd place (2,437 vs 1,383 for Fouts), which is a record; none of the other guys near him (i.e. Brady and Manning lol) achieved such a wide margin. So his season might have the highest Z-score ever, which is something!

33 I think maybe this is a…

I think maybe this is a consequence of DVOA being anchored by yearly baselines. One of my projects in the offseason(so sometime in the next couple months) is to come up with a rolling baseline and use that for era adjustments

57 Indeed

Exactly. I don't think DVOA & DYAR are quite capturing the absurdity of Marino's performance. The fact that his TD record stood for 20 years, and the yardage record for 27 years, suggests that it probably is the GOAT QB season.

Speaking of long-standing records... I can't wait for the 1951 season write-up, to give us the DYAR for Norm Van Brocklin's 554 yard game! I'm guessing north of 400.

69 The 90s were a dark period…

The 90s were a dark period for QBs. Without searching PFR: who were the Top 5 QBs drafted after Brett Favre (1991), and before Peyton Manning (1998)?

Kurt Warner went undrafted, so I'm going to guess Favre backups Mark Brunell & Matt Hasselbeck, Jeff Garcia, Trent Green, and... crap. Ummm. 

Neil O'Donnell? Jeff George? 

I genuinely haven't looked, so I don't know the answer. 

ETA: I looked it up (by career AV), and wow, I was way off. I cheated and guessed six names instead of five, and still got 2/5 (with three of my highly illegal six choices being drafted outside of that window). I'll post the answer later if anyone else wants to play. HINT: all five were from just two draft classes out of the six.

79 The 49ers drafter Jim…

You mentioned Jeff George, but he was drafted by the Colts, who traded up to #1 overall in 1990, so he’s just outside your cutoff.

The 49ers drafted Jim Druckenmiller in 1997 (I think in the late 1st round) as an heir apparent to Steve Young.  He....wasn’t up to the task.

Drew Bledsoe was #1 overall in 1993.  Despite his low efficiency numbers, he had a fine career, if you take into account he was basically the only decent skill player on the Patriots offense...he needed to carry the offense by sheer volume alone.  And of course he made it to a Super Bowl.  

Right after Bledsoe, Rick Mirer was #2.  I remember him having a decent rookie year, as a he seemed to elevate Seahawks pass offense from all-time terrible (‘92) to run of the mill bad (‘93).  The ‘Hawks improved from 2-14 to 6-10.  Unfortunately, he slowly regressed over the next 3 seasons.

Speaking of Mirer...not to keep twisting the knife into Bears fans, but in 1997 Chicago (once they gave up on Erik Kramer ever staying healthy) gave up a 1st (11 overall) and another pick to acquire Mirer, in hopes of resurrecting his career.  It was an even worse version of the Carson Wentz trade for its era (because Mirer never came close to being as good as Wentz’s better seasons).  I remember the trade being panned at the time, because the Bears were only bidding against themselves...IIRC correctly, no other team was interested in him.

Obviously it didn’t work out.  Not only was Mirer unable to beat out Kramer in training camp, he only started 3 more games before his career was over.  What did the Bears miss out on?  They could have had Tony Gonzales in the 1st round, and Jake Plummer in the 2nd (I didn’t play by the rules of your game, but I’d be willing to bet Plummer was one of the top QB’s drafted in your time period, as long as you take into account his Denver years).

94 I'm not sure that type of…

I'm not sure that type of fallow period for QB drafting is so unusual. For example, who are the best QBs drafted between 2005 (Rodgers) and 2012 (Wilson, Luck)? Matt Ryan is obviously best, but then after that? Stafford? Cam Newton? It's pretty lean. 

56 I really hope Football Outsiders can do 1980-1982 team DVOAs...

...because Dan Fouts had massive seasons all three of those years.  In 1980, he threw for 4715 yards and in 1981 he passed for 4802 yards.

Fun fact - in the 1982 nine game strike season, threw for 2883 yards.  Had 16 games been played that season and Fouts maintained his yards per game pace, he would have had the first 5000 yard passing season in NFL history, throwing for 5125 yards.

103 Given most of the list is year 2000+

It's pretty impressive for someone in a different ERA to make the list at all. I was not surprised how iffy Marino's defense was. It's a shame Miami had so few good defenses over his career. I remember Neil Lomax had to retire early. He was better than people remember or more to the point, no one remembers him. 

I wonder if there's any change that happened going from the 5 team to 4 team divisions that comes out in the stats?     

106 I don't know if the division…

I don't know if the division size affects anything (it could).  But there are a handful of things that have improved QB efficiency.

I went to a lot of high school football games between 1998 and 2018.  Over those 20 years, the utilization of the QB improved quite a bit.  In 1998, a lot of the QB's I saw could barely throw the ball.  And most teams just concentrated on running the ball.  But by 2018, there were way more teams that had functional passing games.  So I think QB's are just learning how to play the position at a younger age.  Teams are willing to let them, plus dedicated QB camps, etc.

Even college football still had teams running the wishbone in the 1990's.  Does anybody but the military academies do that now?  So college QB's are more ready for the pros than they used to be.

Plus rule changes in the NFL makes passing easier, and coaches better understand that passing is more efficient than running, and throwing interceptions is costly, so teams are more focuses on reducing risky pass plays.

5 regarding the '84 Mighty Pack

Forrest Gregg inherited an excellent, Lynn Dickey offense from Bart Starr in '84. Due to 'not winning', he then went Smash-Mouth in '85. The offense and team both cratered, or course.

25 I can dream

In reply to by bravehoptoad

This is my pipe dream, that we find someone who has either USFL gamebooks or USFL tapes for every game. I don't think it's going to happen. 

41 My USFL memory

I got to go to one New Orleans Breakers' game--my dad, my brother, two friends, and me. Before buying our tickets at the Dome, there was a guy trying to sell his tickets (not scalp them) b/c he had like 8 tickets and wanted to just get his money back. 40 yard line, middle level, definitely some of the pricier tickets. We were planning to sit in the cheap seats. Our friends only had enough money for their tickets (we had already eaten), and their mom was on a fixed income--this was a luxury for them. My dad could have paid the difference for the 3 of us, but not for all 5--he didn't have that much money on him. The guy was so desperate that he sold us the 5 tickets at less than face value so he didn't eat the money. Once inside, it wasn't hard to see why--the Dome was less than 1/2 full. Back then, even before the Saints became good, the Dome was still pretty full, even during pre-season (when we always went). Best seats I ever had at a football game. (Marcus Dupree was the RB--that's all I remember of the game.)

58 I really enjoyed the USFL as a 10-11 year old...

...especially because I was a Philadelphia Stars fan.  The Stars had Jim Mora as their head coach; he later became the best head coach in Saints history prior to Sean Payton, leading the Saints to their first winning seasons and playoff berths in franchise history.  (A good chunk of the Saints' success under Mora was also attributable to the USFL players Mora brought in after he took the job.)  Three of Mora's defensive assistants (defensive coordinator Vince Tobin, and defensive position coaches Dom Capers and Vic Fangio) later became NFL head coaches themselves.  Carl Peterson was the Stars' GM; he later turned around the Chiefs in the 1990s as their GM.  Finally, the Stars also had a handful of future standout NFL players who started their pro football careers with the team, including Sam Mills, William Fuller, Irv Eatman, Bart Oates, Mike Johnson, Kelvin Bryant, and Sean Landeta.  That list doesn't include established NFL players who jumped from the NFL to the USFL and played for the Stars, like nose tackle Pete Kugler (who played with the 49ers before and after his time in the USFL).

The Stars played in all three USFL championship games, winning two of them.  In all honesty, the 1984 Stars, who went 16-2 and are widely considered the best team in the USFL's three year history, were probably better than the 1984 Eagles.  They definitely were more enjoyable to watch than the 1984 Eagles.

Incidentally, I've long considered Stars quarterback Chuck Fusina the Joe Montana of the USFL.  Like Montana he didn't have a big arm and didn't have the huge stats like say Jim Kelly did (Kelly was the Dan Marino of the USFL), but Fusina did post very good, efficient numbers and his teams won a lot.  (Having said that, the Stars' standout unit was their defense, which even had a nickname - the Doghouse Defense.)  Fusina never made it in the NFL, but he was very good quarterback in the USFL.

12 Wonderful article as always,…

Wonderful article as always, Aaron! I have only one critique: this sentence could use some editing:

"The 9-7 St. Louis Cardinals ranked sixth might be a bit of a surprise, but the St. Louis Cardinals ranking sixth in DVOA despite finishing with just a 9-7 record."

I'm genuinely surprised at how low the Niners were (I figured they'd be 40-45%) and at just how dismal the Minnesota Steckels ended up! Will Allen always says that the Vikes collectively quit on Les to make sure he never head coached again. Mission accomplished!

Three straight years of -30% DVOA D from the Bears... wow. That's pretty clearly the best defensive stretch in modern history. If only McMahon had been healthy enough to start full-time from 84-86, they might've won 3 straight Super Bowls.

 

26 Oops!

Edited that Cardinals sentence. Yes, I was also really surprised. I expected the 1984 49ers to be up there with the best teams in DVOA history... which they are, but only if you include the playoffs. I thought their regular season would be that high too.

60 I remember the 1984 NFL season...

...and in all honesty, I'm not that surprised the 49ers had a relatively low (by historical standards) DVOA that year.  They were a great team but they weren't an overwhelming team.  The 1985 Bears were talked about a lot more back in the late 1980s than the 1984 49ers.  And the most dominant 49ers team in the regular season during their 1981-1998 run was the 1987 team, who were destroying teams in the latter half of the goofy replacement player season.  Having said that, I do remember prior to the 1984 NFCCG there was talk about how the Bears defense would shut down the 49ers offense or at least keep them in check (so even at the time there was an awareness the Bears defense that year was really good).  IIRC, the 49ers' defense felt slighted by the all the talk about the Bears defense and took that as a challenge.  They rose to the challenge by shutting out the Bears in that NFC championship game.

In contrast with the 49ers, I'm NOT surprised the Vikings ranked so low.  I remember late in the season it seemed like they got crushed in a lot of games.

Incidentally, I'm not surprised the 1984 Cardinals had a good DVOA.  That was a very good team that underachieved a bit.  IIRC, for most of the season it looked like the Cardinals would be a playoff team.  I remember looking into that season this past summer, and had the Cardinals beaten the Redskins in their regular season finale at RFK Stadium, the Cardinals would have won the tiebreaker with the Bears for the #2 NFC playoff seed.

One final bit of trivia - going into their Week 16 regular season finale, the Giants, who were 9-6 and in the wild-card hunt, had no control over their playoff destiny; they could have missed the playoffs even with a win and made the playoffs even with a loss.  Part of that was due to a quirk in the schedule (as well as the fact the Giants played a 5th place schedule); the Giants played a Saturday game, after the Rams (10-6) lost to the 49ers the previous night (a rare Friday night NFL game) but before the Sunday (9-6) Cardinals/(10-5) Redskins game and Monday night (9-6) Cowboys/Dolphins game.  New York ended up playing a listless game against the Saints, losing 10-3; Bill Parcells was not happy.  However, as was noted in the article above the Redskins edged the Cardinals and the Dolphins then came from behind to beat the Cowboys in the NFL regular season finale, allowing the Giants to claim the second wild-card spot.  In the playoffs, they beat the Rams in Anaheim in the wild-card game before losing to the 49ers in the divisional round.

14 That Broncos-Packers game…

That Broncos-Packers game was played in  blizzard (despite it only being mid-October, but that's Denver for you), which helps explain all the fumbles and lack of offense. The Packers ended up fumbling a total of seven times. It was also a Monday Night Football game.

27 Great question, idiot!

As mentioned in the article, the first two plays were off-tackle runs. A Green Bay (Milwaukee, actually) sports reporter asked Coach Gregg after the game if maybe he should've opened with safer plays given the conditions. Seldom has a reporter been blistered more deservingly!

61 This should not be confused with...

...the snow game in Denver where a fan threw a snowball while the opposing team was attempting a field goal, and the snowball landed close enough to the holder to distract him, screwing up the field goal attempt in a game the Broncos ultimately won by 1 point.  That happened the following year in a different ABC MNF game featuring the 49ers and Broncos.

15 1984 was the year I set my…

1984 was the year I set my own record in Mile High Stadium.  I used to sell beer there to help out Denver's City Wide Marching Band, which had the concession rights to one of the lower sections.  I wasn't in the band, but my sister was, and they always needed people to sell.  It didn't pay, but the unofficial rule was that if you sold beer for the first three quarters, you could take the fourth quarter and grab any empty seat in the section to just watch the game.  What an amazing deal--that year there were a lot of good 4th quarters in that stadium. 

Anyway, one day--I think it was the Minnesota game--the little mini-bus carrying the people who were actually in the band broke down, so the only people to sell beer for the whole section were the four of us who showed up independently.  People were so desperate for beer I never made it a third of the way down my aisle before my flat was empty, people running up to meet me, grabbing them out of the tray, shoving money at me.  Mid-way through the third quarter I realized that if I hustled I could blow past the record, which stood then at 18 flats.  The professional beer people who had the rights to every other section in the stadium always hated us volunteers, and I was happy enough to hate them back.  I hustled.  By the end of the 4th?  23 flats. 

That record stood until the band lost the concession.  Shoot, it might have stood until they dynamited the stadium in 2002.  (Hard to tell.  There were no stats sites tracking beer concessions back then.)

I didn't get to watch any football at all that day, just glimpses now and then of John Elway looking like he was four inches taller than anyone else on the field, casually flicking the ball sixty yards downfield, but the glory...the glory...23 flats of beer...one game....

23 when I was a stadium volunteer

I was surprised, then puzzled why the stadium professionals hated me. For about 2 seconds. Took me that long to figure out that my type had already cost so many of their co-workers and compatriots their jobs, and stood to soon torpedo them, too. Made their animosity understandable and very easy for me to quietly wave away.

35 Sure, if the Citywide…

Sure, if the Citywide experiment had worked out, then more and more concessions rights would have gone to Good Causes instead of part-time contractors.  It didn't, partly because of blunders like the day where we had 4 people to sell beer for an entire section. 

I was a teenager, and it was absolutely no fun to quietly wave away a good source of animosity.  Much more fun all around to embrace it. 

48 I was a kid working in the…

I was a kid working in the old Met Stadium in Bloomington, MN, for a couple years in 70s, for Vikings and Twins games. Couldn't sell beer but I'd run new kegs to the beer stands, and cart off the empty ones. Tarkenton's last year, and he's slippin, Tommy Kramer in the wings. I'm bringing a kep to the third deck, on an elevator, two overserved meatheads get on, arguing about whether Tarkenton should be benched. The Tark fan decides he's heard enough, knocks the Kramer fan out with one punch. Then nearly bursts into tears out of remorse. Ahhh, nostalgia..

53 That woulda' been in…

That woulda' been in character! Google "Tommy Kramer basement" to get an update on the living situation on ol' Tommy, since his third wife left him. What a beauty. Love his insights on life during a pandemic...

"“There’s no bars open,” Kramer said. “You can’t go anywhere. I just stay here and watch TV all day and night. Investigative Discovery.”

36 Well done, Aaron

"If you preferred volume, no tight end in the 1980s had volume like Todd Christensen of the Raiders, and I'm not just talking about his luscious perm."

Love these annual recaps, thank you

39 Fun stuff-thanks!

The turnover totals are just crazy to see in retrospect.

 

Like the Packers in 1984 those last eight games turned it over 15 times.  But generated 29 turnovers.  In 8(!) games

 

GB played in 7 games where one or both(!) teams turned the ball over at least 4 times.  Wow

40 The GB defense had two capable corners

in Mark Lee and a young Tim Lewis.  But within 2 years Lewis would hurt his neck and be out of the game.  Rotten luck.  He seemed like a guy who was ready to take the next step up in his career at the time

42 Dickerson's 3rd and 35

"By the way, here's a fun segment of play-by-play from the Week 10 Rams at Cardinals game:

  • First-and-10 at Rams 20, Dickerson rushes for 21 yards
  • First-and-10 at Rams 41, Jeff Kemp sacked for 10 yards
  • Second-and-20 at Rams 31, Kemp sacked for 15 yards
  • Third-and-35 at Rams 16, Dickerson rushes for 34 yards."

Several of us at the St. Louis Cardinals Football Facebook group seem to recall Dickerson picking up a first down on a 3rd and 30-something, which greatly impacted the outcome of the game, which ultimately could have cost this very good team (apparently about 6th best) a shot at going far in the playoffs. Many of us have speculated that a deep run in the playoffs that year would have kept the Cards in St. Louis. This game is one of the most talked about among the group besides that final Redskins game.

So are all us misremembering that Dickerson play, and he really didn't pick up the first and then the Rams punted? Could the play-by-play possibly be wrong? Did Dickerson make TWO 30-plus runs on 3rd and 30 plus? I have yet to see a replay of this play and or any part of this game, so I really don't know. Even in that great year for the Cardinals, home games were blacked out a lot, so there probably aren't many Cardinals fans who have the tape.

When discussing the old St. Louis Football Cardinals heartache or the amazingness of Eric Dickerson, I always bring up that time they couldn't stop Dickerson on 3rd and 39 (or whatever it was), so it would be good to know whether or not I was wrong all this time.

47 I think you're conflating…

I think you're conflating two plays in your memory.  The 34-yard run on 3rd-and-35 happened in the first quarter, and resulted in a punt.  

But in the fourth quarter, with 10:46 on the clock and the score tied at 13, Neil Lomax was sacked at midfield, fumbled, and the Rams recovered.  On the very next play, Dickerson went around left end for 30 yards to get into the red zone.  The Rams sputtered out from there, but kicked the field goal for the 16-13 lead, and that ended up being the final score (Lomax through a couple interceptions as the Cards tried to come back).

63 That's not even the half of…

In reply to by RickD

That's not even the half of it.  Dickerson had runs of 49, 21 and 34 yards...in the first quarter.  And then the other 30-yarder in the fourth.

It does not surprise me at all that that's blended into a hodgepodge of "Dickerson ran all over us", because, well, he did.

64 Funny how so many of us have…

Funny how so many of us have this same wrong memory. Kind of like how lots of people still think Buckner's error allowed two runners to score. So now after 38 years, I can stop blaming that Dickerson run for the downfall of the Cardinals franchise in St. Louis.

44 “Of course, since this is…

“Of course, since this is the Chicago Bears we're talking about, the defense couldn't fully live up to its potential because the passing game was a complete mess.”

The proverbial evergreen statement.

45 Re: Jets vs Bucs game and…

Re: Jets vs Bucs game and James Wilder’s record attempt:

It was actually funnier than it sounds here.  There was an old NFL Films special (that I unfortunately can’t find anywhere on the internet) where they interviewed the people involved.  Wayne Fontes (Bucs D coordinator) instructed his defense to let the Jets score after the failed onside kick, but the Bucs kept botching it and accidentally played defense for once.  They kept tackling the Jets ball carriers over and over again.  An exasperated Fontes finally yelled at his defense: “GUYS...LET THEM SCORE!!”  The wasted time contributed greatly to Wilder not getting the record.  

As an aside, Lions safety Will Harris almost did this when he forgot his instructions and tried to tackle Todd Gurley prior to his accidental touchdown in week 7 this year.

46 No team ever quit on a coach…

No team ever quit on a coach worse than the Vikings quit on single season disaster Les Steckel, whom I am convinced was picked over Jerry Burns because they could pay him like an assistant. The entire team, grizzled veterans and rookies alike, just decided, after about 4 or 5 games, they hated ol' Les so much that they'd risk their own careers to get rid of him.

I was sitting in a bar the night of the firing, next to a guy who knew some of the players. Scott Studwell, mlb, still the all time tackles leader in Viking history, a guy so well respected that after playing that he worked in player evaluation for the team until about 5 years ago, was interviewed on local t.v.. The guy next to me looks at the t.v. screen and exclaims "Studwell did it! I didn't think he would!" I say "Did what"? He says "Studwell said he'd say good bye to Steckel in a special way". I look at the screen with Studwell on camera with a baseball hat on with "AMF" stenciled across the front. I'm a little slow on the uptake, until my drinking companion says, "Yep, that's "Adios, Motherf cker". Good times.

66 I was wondering how the…

I was wondering how the Vikings' D went from worst in the league in '84 to one of the best of the DVOA era in 1988.  Getting rid of Steckel was certainly one factor, but what other changes occurred?

67 Drafting HOFer Chris Doleman…

Drafting HOFer Chris Doleman, signing Keith Millard from the USFL, who was on a HOF path until his knee exploded, and drafting well above average DT Henry Thomas helped, as did drafting multiple Pro Bowler safety Joey Browner in 1983, who by '85 was terrific. Vikings always had a good personnel department, hamstrung by cheapskate ownership until the Wilfs bought the team in 2006.

72 1985 draft

Why did the Vikings pick fourth in the 1985 draft? Buffalo (2-14 in '84) had the first pick (Bruce Smith); while the Oilers and Vikings (Both 3-13 in '84) picked third and fourth (Ray Childress and Chris Doleman, respectively). The Falcons (4-12 in'84) picked second (Bill Fralic). Why did the Falcons have the second pick? Was there trade with either the Oilers or Vikings to move up to number 2? I remember watching the draft all day in my dorm room at Mankato State (it started at, I believe, 7am!), but I don't recall if there was a trade involved.  Does anyone here remember? Will?

74 It appears the Falcons…

In reply to by Horse Meat Pie

It appears the Falcons traded 4 overall and a third-rounder to Minnesota for 2 overall. Atlanta got Bill Fralic, Minnesota got Chris Doleman.

https://www.thefalcoholic.com/2019/6/20/18681370/falcons-throwback-thursday-og-bill-fralic

59 Fumbles

I know I could google this, so feel free to point and laugh at me, but didn't the NFL change the rules sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s to make it so that the ground couldn't cause a fumble if the runner was going to be down by contact?  Would that explain the fumbles, or were they more unforgivable than that? 

(As always, these are amazing - some of my favorite articles anywhere on the web.  Thanks, Aaron and team.)

78 I also haven't Lougled this,…

In reply to by billycurley

I also haven't Lougled this, but I think you're spot on. 

Sometimes there's an easy explanation out there.  There was a time when if a player got knocked to the ground and the ball popped out, it was a fumble.  And I believe that time was happening until the mid-80s.

65 I wasn't thinking of fumbles at all

When I checked the RB (after checking the QBs, of course), I laughed at how "low" Dickerson's DYAR was, but I just initially assumed that was the nature of the running game, that he had a lot of carries that got positive yards but negative DYAR, but fumbles makes much more sense. 

It'd be interesting to see an "all time" rushing DYAR (& DVOA) list that doesn't take fumbles into account; (since you mention Dickerson would pass TD if this was done)  see who was the best at moving the football downfield on the ground, regardless of whether it came out at the end of the run. You mention TD's 1998 only had 1 fumble, but I see the next 3 seasons in DYAR had 4,3, & 7 fumbles respectively (TD, Stephen Davis, and Emmitt (97,99,95 respectively)). Wonder if those would be enough fumbles, when removed, to push them beyond TD's 1998.

Speaking of Stephen Davis, can we talk about of the most underrated rushing seasons ever? Probably because of the team he was on, and the "low" number of actual rushing yards (& only playing 14 games), but he's 3rd in DYAR and 3rd in DVOA (min 200 att, 4th at min 150 att) since 84!   It also couldn't have helped that he didn't maintain similar levels of dominance for the rest of his career.

71 I've wondered about it for…

I've wondered about it for years, but never got a satisfactory answer: why did rushing fumbles decline so precipitously as passing INTs did the same? I mean as a causative mechanism, not the economist's explanation that they had to in order to keep pace with the passing game.

You can point to Bill Walsh's offense and pass-friendly rule changes to explain why passing got more and more efficient over the years - but running really hasn't changed much since the leather helmet days. Turnovers have never a good thing, so it's not like I can imagine old school coaches like Shula and Landry telling their players not to worry about ball security. Actually, Shula's a great example, because he literally coached the entire way through the entire transition. The only rule change I can think of making an impact is when it was decided the ground could no longer cause a fumble. What the heck else had changed? 

73 Reduced Fumbles

I think the primary reason for the reduction in fumbles over the last 20-25 years is the gloves the RBs and WRs wear (which also is the main reason the WRs are able to make so many one-handed catches.) I don't think that QB fumbles have declined nearly as much as RBs and WRs because few QBs wear gloves (Teddy Two-Gloves notwithstanding.)

80 Madden used to emphasize a…

Madden used to emphasize a lot: "The ground can't cause a fumble." I feel like he said that 5 times a game and maybe it got enforced more because of it. I think there was also more emphasize on ball security. You see a lot of guys running around in the 70's and early 80's holding the ball with one hand I feel like. I think you also see people not fighting for yards as much particularly after getting the first down or being nowhere close.

I'm real interested on how Billy Sims ranks, but I think he'll got docked for fumbling too much.

 

95 More consistent ball…

More consistent ball pressure?

One change was that teams got control over the preparation of the footballs that they would use on offense. Before that, footballs were notorious for inconsistent pressure. Balls might be way over pressure or under pressure, with either resulting in more interceptions AND more fumbles — especially for over pressurized balls. And the teams had literally no recourse when it happened.

After that change, if a team had to deal with slippery “rocks” for footballs, it was their own fault.

https://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/03/sports/football/03football.html

97 Your point about old school…

Your point about old school coaches wanting discipline IS a real head scratcher. As Kimchee pointed out below, there was a pretty clear trend of stars of yester-year playing fast & loose when holding the ball (while high & tight to the chest is much more common, now. Tiki Barber switching from the former to the latter really helped reduce his fumble problem). Early Adrian Peterson did that a lot too, and low & behold, fumbled a lot. 

Maybe, coaches were okay trading a little security for the increased play-making ability (ie: able to shimmy & shake more when you can move your arm too), especially since teams relied more on their RBs back then?  Then again, there's still coaches who think "establishing the run" is a valuable thing, so back then I wouldn't be shocked if coaches supported something that was inefficient. 

81 The DVOA ceiling

I like that 60% is a sort of mythical DVOA ceiling for QBs, with Manning at 58.9% and Brady's and now Marino's best in the mid-50s. 

A bit surprised Marino's year didn't break it (or break the DYAR record) but I guess there's more incompletions and interceptions, even relative to average, to knock it down.

Now that I think of it 60% seems to be a ceiling for teams as well, as I think the '91 Redskins are a bit below 60% as well.

88 They are slightly different…

They are slightly different. Pythangenport is based on the usual Pythagorean wins, but adjusts the exponents to make it more accurate. 

There is also a "Pythangenpat" variation out there too. 

https://legacy.baseballprospectus.com/glossary/index.php?search=pythagenport

89 From my own research, I've…

From my own research, I've found that using simple average margin of victory is slightly more effective than the Pythagorean formula. Using the ERF function from Excel/Sheets (i.e. the cumulative distribution function of the normal distribution), the following formula yields better results:

expected_win_percentage = (1 + ERF(average_margin_of_victory / 18)) / 2

Then you can multiply by the number of games played to get expected wins.

91 effect of the USFL

The one thing I have always been interested in is the effect of the USFL on the 1983 and 1984 NFL seasons. With many NFL caliber players playing in the USFL this was a time NFL records were getting crushed. Both the single season rushing record and several single season passing records were crushed. Art Monk broke the single season reception record. All of that in 1984. In 1983 the single season team scoring record was broken. 

92 This is a great point and I…

This is a great point and I can't believe it's never occurred to me. I knew there were a slew of records set in these two years but I never thought about the connection with the USFL.

93 92 commehys already

Was doig other stuff so never got here last two nigjfs. Now here and see 92 comments

 Will look tjrough them all late r in weeekend.Only looked at first few abluf pronouncing Hokie  Gajan's nams.. if was here, would have written to people "guy zhon".

96 name pronunciation

As a compliment to you, I knew that if anyone here knew, it would be you. Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, thanks for being a little busy so that other faithful, less-knowledgeable users of this site would have a chance to guess. :)

102 Art Monk

This is, by DYAR, the best season of Art Monk's career (he finished 4th among WRs). He set a league record for catches and was the first ever to break 100, by way of getting the most targets in the league and catching a remarkable 69% of them. Despite his reputation, he was not consistently among the league leaders in catch% after this year.

(Pro-Football-Reference also has Monk as the 1984 season leader in Yards Per Touch, but that is only because their minimum to qualify is 100 touches per 16 games, so Monk was the only non-RB to qualify.)

Monk's career does not seem like it's Hall of Fame worthy as a WR, but if you look at him as a hybrid TE it's much more impressive. (He was often on the field with 2 other WRs and an H-back, so in an offense that nominally didn't have a TE he was more or less in that role.) His career yardage is comparable to Witten, Gates, and Sharpe, and well ahead of Graham. Obviously Witten was a better blocker, but it's not clear that the others were much better blockers than Monk. Gates has way more TDs, but the others have roughly similar TD numbers. Witten has far more receptions, but the others are all comparable (Graham is again well behind the others). Monk actually leads this group in both receiving yards per game and in yards per catch, by a small amount.

I'm not trying to claim that Monk was on a level with Tony Gonzalez or Gronk, but I think that you can argue that he was a more-or-less-TE who slots in at the second tier with Gates and Sharpe, behind Witten and ahead of Graham.

110 One additional note: I'm…

In reply to by Bowl Game Anomaly

One additional note: I'm note sure if you can directly compare WR DYAR to TE DYAR, but if you can, Monk's 365 DYAR in 1984 would be the 3rd highest total in history for a TE.

107 Worth the wait for 8-4

What a great project this is, to go back so far in time. I loved the write-up too.

It should't really be a surprise that the 49ers don't come out as a historically great regular season team. Their real DVOA is actually a shade higher than Andreas Shepherd's estimate, moving them up four spots and into the top 20 among the national champions since 1950. That puts them right behind the 1999 GSOT Rams, the other Superbowl champion that got a boost from a notoriously soft regular-season schedule. The '84 Niners' schedule was not just the easiest of the year, it was the third-easiest of the 1980s (so far).

One of the reasons for that is the surprisingly mediocre DVOA of the 10-6 division-rival Rams. Andreas Shepherd projected this team to be a full eight percentage points better than it turned out to be. Interestingly, most of the difference is in special teams: I'd have thought this would be the simplest part of the formula to estimate, but apparently not. Shepherd thought the '84 Rams would have +9.8% special teams DVOA, not far from their historically great score the following season, and vastly superior to the actual #1 team from across the city. I wonder what made the difference. The biggest one I can see is that, by pure yards per kickoff return, the Rams ranked fourth, but DVOA places their kick returns an unremarkable eighth.

In the opposite direction, Shepherd's formula underestimated the Washington future Football Team. Washington's Real DVOA is higher in all facets compared with the estimate, but the offensive numbers particularly stand out. Shepherd had Washington at +3.9%; the real total is +11.4%. The raw stats aren't all that special: they're substantially below average in yards per play, with a league-average number of sacks and fumbles, although only the 49ers had a better interception rate. I presume that's what DVOA liked. They were clearly a team that ran too often, although the aging, lumbering John Riggins wasn't the problem so much as a steep decline in Joe Washington's production. I would love to see the numbers for the elder Wonsley Brother, Otis, who narrowly missed the cut with 18 carries, but leeched 4 TDs off the Diesel all the same!

In my comment on the following season's numbers, I said "Steve DeBerg really, really stands out in 1985 as a quarterback who was far too good for the team he played on. Kind of the story of his career." Just cutting and pasting that, making a note to replace the 5 with a 4. By DYAR he was the best QB in the NFC Central – not a herculean achievement, but a solid one, especially on a 6-10 team determined to feed its halfback the ball on as many running and passing plays as it could. DeBerg was narrowly pipped by Gary Danielson(!) in DVOA. The passing revolution came slowly to the NFC Central.

It's funny how my favorite wide receivers of this era do quite poorly by FO's numbers. I mostly saw them on highlight reels, speeding past cornerbacks and making spectacular catches. What the highlights didn't show me was the mediocre catch rates of James Lofton, Roy Green, Mike Quick and Carlos Carson. I realize that their underwhelming numbers are due to air yards: these were deep threats on so-so teams, the entire offense was based around trying to get them free behind the secondary. Still, it's galling to see that the bombs-away offenses I loved in my youth were so inefficient.

At least Lofton led the league in Rushing by WRs. No wonder announcers of that era couldn't make the difference between a reverse and an end-around, they only happened about as often as a blocked punt!

DVOA confirms that John Jefferson's second season in Wisconsin was as dire as it was made out to be at the time. And speaking of busts, the 1984 season was Rich Campbell's best, by the numbers, with minus-76.3% DVOA. If we ever get the numbers from 1981, the other season he made it onto the field, he is likely to fare even worse than that (a zero-to-4 TD:Int ratio will do that to you – on 30 attempts!). He had a grand total of 75 dropbacks in his career, and is likely to have the worst DVOA of any QB who played that much. Certainly of any top-three draft pick who played that much! (Akili Smith's DVOA hovers around a comparatively cromulent minus-50%.)

I'm really looking forward to 1983 now. The team stats pages have spoilt much of the suspense in the form of the Last Year column, which is a bit of a shame I think. But I'm eager to find out how the Falcons and Oilers defenses could possibly have been worse than Green Bay's!