The Elias Sports Bureau does not list a single-season record for the highest average gain per pass attempt by a team in the NFL’s annual Record and Fact Book.
With the Atlanta Falcons’ passing game operating at such a high level, research became mission in order to determine how Atlanta’s average gain compares to the best of all time.
The Green Bay Packers will visit the Falcons on Sunday for the first time in five years. Win, lose or draw, the Packers will depart knowing this: These birds can fly!
Atlanta is doing its best to move beyond last season. A year ago, the team suffered through 17 interceptions and compiled its lowest passer rating (87.8) since 2009.
This year, the Falcons rank fifth in completion percentage (67.6), second in passer rating (113.5) and first in touchdown percentage (6.6). That’s good work, but those numbers – or something similar – get posted by one team or another nearly every season.
What truly sets Atlanta apart is how well it stretches the field. The Falcons are averaging 14.2 yards per completion and 9.62 yards per pass attempt. Both averages are well ahead of those of the second-place Patriots (12.5; 8.80).
Think of 14.0 and 9.0 as ceilings. Since 1991, only four teams have cracked 14.0 and just two have exceeded 9.0.
The Falcons are in a position to join those short lists.
Years ago, dinking and dunking wasn’t as prevalent as it is today. In the first 45 years of record keeping (1932-76), at least three teams averaged 14 or more yards per completion each year.
The ranks swelled during the 1960s. At least 10 teams (NFL and AFL combined) were in the mix every year from 1961 through '69.
Five teams cracked the barrier as recently as 1988. But once the Raiders of 1988-90 came back to earth – they averaged 16.0, 16.7 and 15.8 yards, respectively – the league settled down.
In the years since, only the 1991 Redskins (14.4), 1998 Falcons (15.8), 2000 Rams (14.5) and 2013 Eagles (14.2) have broken through. All four made the playoffs with Washington (win) and Atlanta (loss) reaching the Super Bowl.
Matt Ryan and Julio Jones have the Falcons soaring along those lines. Ryan has completed 33 passes of 20 or more yards and has connected on a dozen that have traveled 40 or more yards. Jones has 16 receptions of 20 or more yards and five of 40-plus.
Those numbers are all league bests.
If Atlanta’s yards per completion is impressive (14.2), its average yards per attempt (9.62) borders on the sublime. That’s because 388 teams averaged 14 or more yards per completion (1932-2015), but only 14 could generate 9 or more yards per attempt over that span.
So in essence, the Packers are facing an opponent that comes around only once a decade.
The last team to average more yards per attempt than Atlanta over an entire season was the 1954 Rams. Los Angeles (9.91) easily outpaced the second-place Browns (8.67) but finished fourth in the Western Conference (6-5-1) in part because they threw more interceptions (23) than touchdown passes (15).
The Falcons don’t have that problem. Ryan has thrown 16 touchdown passes to four interceptions.
Two outstanding games helped push Atlanta’s average gain skyward. In Week 2 Ryan threw for 396 yards on 34 attempts (11.6) in a 35-28 triumph at Oakland. In Week 4 he staked claim to 507 yards on 37 attempts (13.7) in a 48-33 win over the Panthers.
Only one player in NFL history – Tony Romo with 36 – needed fewer attempts to reach 500 yards passing in a regular-season game.
Even under the best of circumstances, Atlanta would pose a huge challenge for the Packers. Given the current state of Green Bay’s defense, the Falcons easily could turn this game into a nightmare.
Green Bay is allowing 7.87 yards per pass attempt. That’s the worse showing by the team since 1958 (7.90).
Given the Packers’ injury situation in the secondary (no Sam Shields, no Damarious Randall and possibly no Quinten Rollins), that number easily could climb as the Falcons take flight.
Julio Jones' high-flying start
No player has gained 2,000 yards receiving in a season. A select few, however, have topped 1,000 yards in the first eight games of a season.
Julio Jones needs 170 yards to become the fourth player to hit or surpass 1,000 yards in eight games. Don Hutson (1,032; 1942), Elroy Hirsch (1,058; 1951) and Charley Hennigan (1,122; 1961) are the three who have.
Jones twice has exceeded 170 yards receiving this season (300 vs. Carolina; 174 vs. San Diego). The Packers twice have allowed receivers (Stefon Diggs, 182; Marvin Jones, 205) to do the same.
Should Green Bay permit Jones such a haul, it would mark the first time in Packers history that the team granted three receivers a total of 170 or more yards receiving in the same season.
nflgsis.com, pro-football-reference.com, NFL record manuals and football historian T.J. Troup served as sources for this article.
Overall: Green Bay leads 15-12
At the Georgia Dome: tied 2-2
Packers: Aaron Rodgers (84-41 overall; 2-2 vs. Atlanta)
Falcons: Matt Ryan (78-55; 2-3 vs. Green Bay)
Better than average
Teams that produced the highest average gain per pass attempt in NFL history.
Avg. Team Year
10.21 Bears 1941
10.18 Bears 1942
10.10 Browns 1953
10.09 Bears 1943
9.91 Rams 1954
9.62 Falcons 2016
9.61 Browns 1957
9.51 Browns 1955