October 26, 2021


Let's Get It!

1984 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

22 min read

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.)

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.

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:

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:

(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:

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.

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:

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!


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