The ’90s Cowboys had the Triplets — Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin — that helped define the team’s dynasty. Well, the modern Packers have not just an outstanding quarterback, a great running back, and one excellent wide receiver: they have two excellent wide receivers.
Let’s take some “basic” stats and see how the 2014 Packers fared:
- To measure quarterbacks, let’s use Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt. Aaron Rodgers ranked 1st in ANY/A last year.
- To measure running backs, we can use the most basic measurement out there: rushing yards. Eddie Lacy ranked a respectable 7th in rushing yards.
- To measure wide receivers (and tight ends), let’s use Adjusted Catch Yards, which is receiving yards with a 5-yard bonus for receptions and a 20-yard bonus for receiving touchdowns. Jordy Nelson ranked 3rd in ACY last year, while Randall Cobb ranked 8th.
Where does that rank since 1970? Well, one thing we could do is just add the ranks: 1 + 7 + 3 + 8 = 19. That’s a pretty good score for a group of four players, but it’s not the best ever. It’s tied with two other teams for 6th best ever. Can you guess which team since 1970 has the best score using this methodology? While you think about it, let’s look at the other teams to produce a score of less than 20.
T6) 2014 Green Bay Packers (19): Aaron Rodgers (1), Eddie Lacy (7), Jordy Nelson (3), and Randall Cobb (8)
The Packers finished 1st in points, 6th in yards, 1st in NY/A, and 6th in yards per carry. Green Bay made it to the NFC Championship Game, losing in Seattle in overtime.
In 2000, Warner led the league with a 7.97 ANY/A average, courtesy of an absurd 9.9 yards per attempt average. Faulk missed two games but still finished 8th in rushing yards that season.1 St. Louis finished 1st in points and yards, and 1st in NY/A and 2nd in yards per carry. The Rams lost in the Wild Card round to New Orleans, 31-28.
The story here was Carmichael, who led the league in receptions and receiving yards (but not True Receiving Yards). Philadelphia led the NFL in pass attempts that year, and Gabriel was outstanding: he ranked 4th in ANY/A and 1st in Brad O’s key metric on evaluating quarterbacks. Gabriel, who may be the best quarterback ever at avoiding interceptions, led the NFL in interception rate this year, too. Young, a 22-year-old rookie out of USC taken with the 6th overall pick, was the AP choice as first-team All-Pro, and ranked 4th in the NFL in both receptions and receiving yards.
But that wasn’t enough. Philadelphia finished 5-8-1, courtesy of an Eagles defense that ranked second-to-last in points, yards, first downs, passing yards, NY/A, rushing yards, and YPC. The Eagles finished 2nd in yards but “only” 8th in points, NY/A, and YPC. Sullivan, a second-year player, had what appeared to be a breakout season by averaging 4.5 yards per carry and 74.5 yards per game. He led the league with 11 rushing touchdowns in ’74, but these two years were the highlights of his career. Young was the rare player who peaked as a rookie.
We transition from a below-average team to one of the greatest ever. Rypien led the NFL in yards per completion and ANY/A, a product of one of the more talented offenses in league history. The offensive line was led by Mark Schlereth, the primary cause of three Super Bowl champions, and Joe Jacoby, Jeff Bostic, and Jim Lachey.
Byner, who ranked 4th in rushing yards in 1990, ranked 5th in that category in ’91. And Clark was dominant in ’91, ranking 2nd in receiving yards (and ACY) while playing for a team that ranked 3rd from the bottom in pass attempts. And Monk was Monk, leading the team in receptions. Washington led the NFL in points, NY/A, and rushing touchdowns, while ranking 4th in yards.
The ’82 strike robbed us of seeing what records the Chargers could break. San Diego ranked 1st in points, yards, first downs, passing yards, passing TDs, NY/A, and rushing touchdowns. Fouts led the league in ANY/A, but perhaps more impressively averaged 320 passing yards per game, an NFL record that stood for nearly 30 years. Fouts was phenomenal in the team’s first playoff game, leading a two-touchdown 4th quarter comeback in Pittsburgh to pull out a 31-28 victory. But the team imploded in Miami a week later, highlighted by fumbles on consecutive kickoff returns early in the game.
Fouts wasn’t alone in setting a per-game yardage record: his top wideout, Chandler, gained 1,032 yards in 8 games, a 129 yard-per-game average that remains the highest in league history. Winslow was the AP first-team All-Pro for the third straight year as he continued to redefine the position. Muncie was the weak link here, ranking 13th in rushing yards.
On one hand, you might see”1970s Steelers” and historically dominant offenses in the same article and think you misread something. On the other, it makes a lot of sense to see a team with four HOFers at the top of an article about the best quadruplets ever. This is the only team with all four players in the top 6 in their respective categories, and it’s one worth remembering.
The 1977 Steelers went 9-5 and lost to the Broncos in the playoffs, but this was still the core of the team that would win the next two Super Bowls (and already had two titles on their resumes). Bradshaw, who won the MVP while ranking 3rd in ANY/A in 1978, ranked 5th in that category in 1977. He led the league in NY/A in 1977 and 1979, and ranked 2nd in that category in ’78. While he may be overrated in some corners of the world, he’s underrated in others. From ’77 to ’81, Bradshaw was a legitimately great, HOF quarterback, and this was the beginning of his peak years. At running back, Harris had a prime that stretched over most of the ’70s. His best year was ’75, when he ranked 2nd in rushing yards, but he was still 4th in 1977 and 7th a year later.
That brings us to the wide receivers. Swann had a peak from ’77 to ’80, and he and Stallworth were probably top-5 wide receivers during that stretch. Swann ranked 3rd in ACY in 1977, while Stallworth was just 35 yards behind him and ranked 6th in that category. The Steelers ranked 7th in points scored and 4th in yards, while the defense ranked 17th(!) in points allowed and 7th in yards allowed.
The Lions began running the Run ‘N’ Shoot under Mouse Davis in 1989, but the offense peaked under Tom Moore when the talent blossomed six years later. Mitchell came over from Miami in ’94 but struggled during his first season with the Lions. In his second year, he looked like one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, ranking 2nd in yards and 3rd in passing touchdowns.
You don’t need me to tell you about Sanders. But just in case you do, know that his 1,500 rushing yards and 4.8 YPC average in ’95 were actually below his career averages! At wide receiver, Moore led the NFL in receptions and finished third in receiving yards, while Perriman finished sixth in both categories.
Detroit went 10-6, ranking 2nd in points, 1st in yards, 3rd in yards per carry, and 4th in NY/A. It was a historically dominant offense, but the team’s defense was far below average. In Detroit’s first playoff game, the Eagles jumped out to a 38-7 halftime lead and led 51-7 in the third quarter, before the Lions scored four touchdowns to make it… no, 58-37 doesn’t even classify as respectable.
Why yes, it’s an article about a great Broncos offense, but no, there’s nothing in here about John Elway or Peyton Manning. If you managed to guess that the 2000 Broncos would have the highest score in this random, made-up category, I am impressed!
In 2000, Griese actually led the NFL in interception rate and passer rating, and ranked 4th in yards per pass attempt. The Broncos defense was a disaster this year, ranking 25th in NY/A and 29th in YPC allowed, and finished 23rd in points allowed. The only thing the defense had going for it was that it forced 44 turnovers, the second most in the NFL. The offense, though, was legitimately outstanding, ranking 2nd in both points and yards (to the dominant Rams in both metrics), while finishing in the top six in passing yards, passing TDs, interceptions, NY/A, rushing yards, rushing TDs, and yards per carry. And the Broncos even led the NFL in first downs! With 383 first downs, Denver fell just four shy of the record set by the ’84 Dolphins. And while modern offenses are picking up first downs with ease, the ’00 Broncos still rank 9th all-time in first downs.
Anderson burst on to the season as a rookie, rushing for 1,487 yards in essentially just 13 games. Meanwhile, McCaffrey and Smith both caught 100 passes. It’s easy to overlook the 2000 Broncos — they are the post-Elway/SB Broncos and have to compete with the Rams — but this was an offense worth remembering. Unfortunately for Denver, they had two big problems in the playoffs: an injured starting quarterback, and a historic defense on the schedule.
- He also finished 4th in rushing yards per game, 2nd in yards from scrimmage, and 1st in yards from scrimmage per game. [↩]