Sunday, February 2, 2014

Three Yards and a Cloud of Dust: The Evolution of Passing in the NFL

"Three yards and a cloud of dust" (1) - that's how Woody Hayes described his "crunching, frontal assault of muscle against muscle", the offense that defined the Ohio State Buckeyes in the 50s and 60s. He went on say that, in regards to the passing game, "only three things can happen when you pass and two of them are bad". Hayes' colourful description of his offense springs directly from the original vision of American Football: run, run, run. Were he alive today, he would be shocked to see that the game has evolved into a philosophy of pass, pass, pass. This phenomenon has elevated one player position above all others: the quarterback. He has become king; all other players are subject to the whims of the crown. How did this happen? Let's review the game, its history and follow it through.
thumbnail image: Three Yards and A Cloud of Dust: The Evolution of Passing in the NFL
The Most Popular Sport in the World
American Football - simply known as “football” in the United States - generates the most revenue of any sporting franchise in the United States and indeed the world (2). In 2012, the NFL (National Football League) took in nearly $10 billion dollars (U.S.) compared to the Premier League at $3.3 billion. Still not impressed? Attendance numbers tell the same story: the NFL attracts nearly 4 million spectators more than the nearest competitor which, interestingly, is not what you might guess (hint: it’s not the Premier League and it’s not some other American sports league). If you guessed the Bundesliga association football (i.e. “soccer”) league in Germany, congratulations! That league holds the number two designation (3), which drew 13.8 million visitors during the 2011-12 season compared to 17.2 million for the NFL.
This article was written by the the author of "Graph of the Week" for Statistics Views and published on January 30, 2014. Read the rest of this article there.


  1. Hey there Patrick...Welcome back. Nice going on stats...but "sacked" on the Broncos. Given the defensive power of the Seahawks pumped higher by the hyped-up focus on the legendary P. Manning by sport commentary, fired-up the Seahawks to win. The psychological rush fueled by the hype gave them the edge and why I picked them to win (but not to dominate).

    That's my take from a social science perspective. No stats. :)

    1. Hey Sarge -

      Yep, Broncos got it handed to them. Note that Russell Wilson is also an elite quarterback, enabling his team to score on the Bronco mishaps.

  2. I'm surprised you've forgotten about the #1 sport in the United States. Major league baseball revenue is $8 billion, attendance is _75 million_ !

    1. Hi Kevin -

      I'm a baseball fan too! That being said, the NFL out-grossed MLB by about $2 billion dollars:

      You are absolutely correct about total attendance. MLB outdraws everybody due to the large volume of games played. My wording in the article was incorrect on this point - I should have said "average" attendance per game and cited those numbers, but I cited the total attendance numbers while thinking average attendance in my head. By that measure (average per game) the NFL is #1:

      However, given the wording of the article, you are correct on point #2 - MLB is king when it comes to attendance. Thanks for pointing this out! :-)


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