Seymour Siwoff, the brilliant numbers cruncher for Elias Sports Bureau, walked into the NFL's New York headquarters Tuesday animatedly waving a piece of paper bearing the latest statistics on the stunning offensive explosion the league is experiencing this season.
"It's almost unbelievable," he said, pointing at figures indicating that the average number of points per game through the first seven weeks is a whopping 44.8. It's the highest league-wide average since the 1963 season, when teams combined to average 45 points a game. The figure back then was slightly skewed, because it included numbers from the pass-happy, wide-open, high-scoring American Football League before it merged with the more sedate NFL in 1970.
Other seven-game stats are also intriguing. Games are averaging 665.6 yards of offense from the two teams, the most yards since 1984 when it was 661.1 through seven weeks. There have been 16 individual 150-yard rushing games so far, on pace for 40 for the season. The league record was 29 in 2000.
Average passing yards per game is 437.4, the most since 1995, with 437.8. Last year's season figure was 412.6 yards. And 19 touchdowns have been scored so far on kick and punt returns. Last year through seven games, there were eight.
And how about all these overtimes? In Week 7, there were four extra sessions, one short of tying a weekend record set in 1995. Through seven weeks, there have been 12 overtime games, the second most in that span to the 13 in the first seven weeks of '95.
All those eye-catching numbers can be looked at as a glass half-full or half-empty. On the one hand, it appears there may be more talented players at skill positions: running back, wide receiver, quarterback and returner. Also, the widespread use of the so-called West Coast pass-oriented offense has opened the game up and put tremendous pressure on opposing defenses.
With teams using so many personnel packages on offense and defense, players who once toiled exclusively on special teams have far more responsibilities. Fatigue may be a factor, along with more nagging injuries slowing defenders.
But the half-empty side also would indicate that perhaps recent expansion, now with 32 teams, has clearly diluted the talent pool, forcing teams to start defensive linemen and defensive backs who previously would have been reserves. There's also been lots of sloppy tackling and blown coverages, another explanation for all those points and yards.
"I wish I had an answer for you," said Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning. "I wish it was true for us. We're struggling on offense. I'd like to see us contribute to that average. I know this. It's not easy [to move the ball] with some of these defenses and coverages we're seeing. I really think it all comes down to solid execution, and people making plays."
It's been another tough year for starting quarterbacks, as Redskins followers know all too well after Steve Spurrier's bait-and-switch seven-game debut that includes changing starters three times. But all around the league, it's been revolving quarterbacks, a trend that continues with the Cowboys benching Quincy Carter in favor of rookie Chad Hutchinson against Seattle today.
If Tampa Bay's Brad Johnson is still bothered by a fractured rib suffered against the Eagles last week, he'll be replaced by Rob Johnson, who moved his team nicely down the field in Philadelphia as a fourth-quarter fill-in.
If Rob plays over Brad, it will mean 11 teams have started at least two quarterbacks this season.
That list also includes the Browns, Jets, Dolphins, Steelers, Falcons, Panthers, Bears, Lions and Seahawks. The Redskins are among three teams to start three quarterbacks, along with the Rams and Bengals. Only 16 of the NFL's 32 starters are playing for their original rookie teams, and seven starters have come to the NFL after playing well in either Arena Football, the XFL, NFL Europe or the Canadian Football League.
Chasing Payton, History
Emmitt Smith would love nothing better than to break Walter Payton's all-time rushing record today at Texas Stadium in front of a sellout home crowd. Team owner Jerry Jones would like it even more, if only because it's a chance for the camera-conscious Jones to play a major role on a national media stage.
Smith needs 93 yards to overtake surpass Payton, and he'll face a Seattle defense that yielded 183 yards to Marshall Faulk last week. If he fails Sunday, he'll go to Detroit. There would be some irony if he breaks the record there. Lions running back Barry Sanders retired in the prime of his career, needing 1,457 yards to surpass Payton.
Matt Millen needs to remember he's no longer an outspoken linebacker or an opinionated broadcaster, but the team president of the NFL franchise in Detroit. Last week, feeling the testosterone from Mike Ditka on the former coach's radio show, Millen said on the air that one of his players (unnamed) was a "devout" cowardly Lion.
"Oh Mike . . . he's the greatest practice player you've ever seen," Millen said, making it worse. "He did a couple of things today in practice, and I sat there, and I just wanted to grab him by the throat and choke him. Then you get into a game, and it's like, 'Where are your guts?' ''
Millen's comments evoked lots of anger in the Lions' locker room, which translated into a spirited win over the Bears. Millen eventually apologized, saying: "What I said was stupid and wrong." Unless the Lions somehow make the playoffs, it may be way too late for what could soon be a former team president.
Mitchell High on List
Former Redskin Brian Mitchell, the Eagles return man, is in third place on the all-time combined yardage list (rushing, receiving, kickoffs, punts, interception and fumble returns) with 20,263 yards. Payton (21,803) is the current leader, soon to be caught by Raiders wide receiver Jerry Rice (21,497). . . .
Since the 2000 season, the Eagles have the best record in the league coming off a loss. They're 11-1, followed by Denver (11-2) and Green Bay (10-2). . . .
The Rams' Faulk, with those 183 rushing yards against Seattle last Sunday, became the 15th player in league history to rush for 10,000 yards. . . .
Lions rookie quarterback Joey Harrington is now 2-2 as a starter, with the two losses coming by a total of 13 points.
Game of the week: Arizona at San Francisco, 4:15 p.m.
Best bet (3-3): Take Oakland, a 3-point favorite at Kansas City.
Upset pick: (2-4): Take Seattle, a two-point underdog at Dallas.