Defenseless: Shutouts in the NFL

After Oakland finally showed up last week, the Raiders went Raiders and collapsed against the New York Jets, losing 38-0.  It was so bad that Raiders’ head coach Tom Cable (finally) benched JaMarcus Russell.  It was bad enough that Jets QB Mark Sanchez had time to enjoy a hot dog (allegedly because his stomach was not feeling well).

Just score, baby!

Just score, baby!

But for as awful as the Raiders have been this season, it was “only” their first time being shutout in 2009.  However, it marked the seventh time this season that an NFL team has been shutout!

Seven shutouts in seven weeks seems like a lot for professionals.  You would expect that people getting paid to play a sport would be talented enough to muster at least one touchdown.

These were not really close games either.

  • Week 1: Seattle 28, St. Louis 0
  • Week 3: New York Giants 24, Tampa Bay 0
  • Week 4: San Francisco 35, St. Louis 0
  • Week 5: Seattle 41, Jacksonville 0
  • Week 6: Green Bay 26, Detroit 0
  • Week 6: New England 59, Tennessee 0
  • Week 7: New York Jets 38, Oakland 0

I am not sure which is more amazing, the number of early season shutouts or the fact that both of Seattle’s wins were shutouts.  All or nothing for the Seahawks, I suppose.

Most teams also failed to just show up at all.  In five of the seven shutouts, the offending team managed less than 200 total yards of offense.  This includes the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who managed less than 100 yards (86 net yards to be exact), and the Tennessee Titans’ abysmal -7 passing yards.

The two teams that produced the best were the St. Louis Rams against Seattle (247 yards) and Oakland (263 yards).

And keep in mind that this does not include the games where a team only scored a field goal and managed a late touchdown to avoid the shutout.

With the explosion of shutouts so early in the season, it seems like there are more shutouts than in previous seasons.  So what does the trend look like?  Glad you asked:

  • 2009: seven (through 25 October)
  • 2008: six
  • 2007: five
  • 2006: 15
  • 2005: six
  • 2004: four

Certainly 2006 jumps out as an outlier, but with the other four seasons, there is an average of 5.25 shutouts per season.  So, the 2009 season is well ahead of the trend.  Plus, in those four seasons, the shutouts primarily occurred towards the end of the season — teams “giving up” or resting players (see Tennessee in 2008).

Nevertheless, shutouts are more common that one might think.

To finish the thought before touching on the 2006 season, there is a tendency for the same teams to be shutout.  Since 2004, both Oakland and Cleveland have been shutout five times.  St. Louis, Miami and the Jets have been shutout three times.

Of the 43 shutouts since 2004, 26 have involved AFC teams.  By division, the AFC East has the most teams shutout (nine), with the NFC West is second with seven.  The NFC East has been shutout the least, both times in 2005 (Philadelphia shutout by Seattle and Washington shutout by the Giants).

Now, what of the 2006 season?  The 2009 season is ahead of the pace set in 2006 (six through Week Seven in 2006).  But the 2006 season began with three shutouts on opening week (Tampa Bay, Green Bay and Oakland) and a Week Two Monday night shutout of Pittsburgh by Jacksonville (9-0).

Things were quiet in the middle of the 2006 season (one shutout in Week 9), but then there was an explosion of shutouts between Weeks 11 and 15.

  • Week 11: three shutouts
  • Week 12: two shutouts
  • Week 14: one shutout
  • Week 15: two shutouts

The shutouts in 2006 were spread across the board, with two playoff teams (New England [12-4] and New York Jets [10-6]) and two awful teams (Oakland [2-14] and Cleveland [4-12]) being shutout.  In all, ten different teams were shutout in 2006, with Green Bay, Pittsburgh and the Jets being shutout twice and the Raiders three times.

In 2009, the shutout trends appears to be among the worst teams in the NFL.  The six teams are a combined 6-33 this year and includes the three winless teams (Tennessee, St. Louis and Tampa Bay).  The St. Louis-Tennessee game on 13 December could end up being a 0-0 tie!

Well, it could have been worse for the Brits.  It could have been another Bucs shutout.

Well, it could have been worse for the Brits. It could have been another Bucs shutout.

So is the rash of shutouts this season unusual?  Well, shutouts do seem to occur more often than I initially thought.  Excluding the 2006 as an outlier, there are around five per season.  There has also been at least one shutout since 2000 (the scores on NFL.com or ESPN.com do not go back beyond that year).  So shutouts are not extremely rare.

Still, given that there are a total of 256 games per year, only five shutouts per season is still a minuscule number (2.05 percent of all games played).  But it is a fact that a shutout will occur during the season.

And considering that there appear to be so many bad teams in the NFL this year, and since there tends to be an increase in shutouts towards the end of the season as teams give up (Washington?  Kansas City?  Cleveland?), we can expect even more shutouts as the season progresses!

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