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The 1968 Cardinals and Outlier Teams

Hart had a great career, but was still developing in '68

Hart had a great career, but was still developing in ’68

In 1968, the St. Louis Cardinals did not have a very good passing offense. The Cardinals averaged 3.9 ANY/A, good enough for 11th place in a 17-team league where the league average was 4.5. The main issue? St. Louis finished dead last with an anemic 44% completion rate. That was mostly due to the second-year starter, 24-year-old Jim Hart. His 44.3% completion rate remains the lowest by any Cardinals quarterback in history with a minimum of 300 pass attempts, and no quarterback with even 160 pass attempts for the Cardinals has dipped below 45% since Hart in ’68. The defense was also below-average against the pass: the Cardinals allowed 6.2 ANY/A, 5th worst in the NFL.

Teams that are below-average at passing and stopping the pass are usually not very good. In the Super Bowl era, each additional yard of ANY/A (on either offense or defense) relative to league average increases a team’s winning percentage by about nine percent. The Cardinals, at -0.5 Relative ANY/A on offense and -1.7 RANY/A on defense, would therefore be expected to win about 30% of their games. Instead, the Cards won 68% of games, going 9-4-1.

The table below shows the 100 teams of the Super Bowl era that have most exceeded expectations based on Offensive and Defensive RANY/A. In general, using ANY/A and RANY/A will get you most of the way there with a team’s record, but not for these teams. The Cardinals had an Off RANY/A of -0.52, a Def RANY/A of -1.72, and therefore, an expected winning percentage of 0.296. By having an actual winning percentage of 0.679, the Cardinals exceeded expectations by 6.1 wins per 16 games.

RkTeamYearOff RANY/ADef RANY/AExp Win %Win %Diff
1St. Louis Cardinals1968-0.52-1.720.2960.6796.1
2Buffalo Bills1973-2.05-0.430.2760.6435.9
3Chicago Bears1968-1.91-2.030.1410.5005.7
4Philadelphia Eagles1966-1.41-0.370.3400.6434.8
5Cleveland Browns1973-1.98-0.560.2710.5714.8
6New York Giants19860.030.790.5780.8754.8
7Los Angeles Raiders19820.350.650.5930.8894.7
8Chicago Bears2001-0.360.570.5220.8134.7
9Tennessee Titans19990.91-0.540.5340.8134.5
10Miami Dolphins1981-0.14-0.450.4470.7194.3
11Atlanta Falcons2004-
12Indianapolis Colts2012-0.29-0.610.4200.6884.3
13Houston Oilers1967-1.970.980.4140.6794.2
14Los Angeles Raiders1985-0.370.220.4890.7504.2
15Cleveland Browns1972-0.650.170.4580.7144.1
16Dallas Cowboys1972-0.19-0.260.4600.7144.1
17Denver Broncos1984-0.040.720.5650.8134.0
18Kansas City Chiefs19970.250.500.5710.8133.9
19Chicago Bears1987-0.470.370.4930.7333.8
20Pittsburgh Steelers20040.801.330.6970.9383.8
21Detroit Lions1991-0.200.310.5120.7503.8
22Miami Dolphins19700.03-0.250.4810.7143.7
23Baltimore Colts1978-1.59-2.990.0810.3133.7
24Atlanta Falcons19981.550.020.6440.8753.7
25Baltimore Colts19690.05-1.380.3790.6073.7
26Minnesota Vikings2012-0.94-0.190.3990.6253.6
27Minnesota Vikings2015-0.650.210.4630.6883.6
28New York Jets19860.61-1.680.4020.6253.6
29Atlanta Falcons20100.470.500.5900.8133.6
30New England Patriots1976-0.391.050.5640.7863.6
31Oakland Raiders19770.610.080.5650.7863.5
32Chicago Bears1986-0.692.330.6550.8753.5
33Jacksonville Jaguars19990.631.040.6550.8753.5
34Washington Redskins19821.250.590.6700.8893.5
35Indianapolis Colts19991.64-0.590.5960.8133.5
36Dallas Cowboys19830.65-0.290.5340.7503.5
37Kansas City Chiefs19950.001.020.5970.8133.4
38Los Angeles Rams1984-0.65-0.350.4100.6253.4
39Denver Broncos19770.920.640.6450.8573.4
40St. Louis Cardinals1982-0.41-1.300.3440.5563.4
41Philadelphia Eagles20030.230.190.5410.7503.3
42Jacksonville Jaguars2010-0.53-1.750.2930.5003.3
43Denver Broncos19981.730.090.6680.8753.3
44Houston Oilers1975-0.340.390.5070.7143.3
45Denver Broncos2015-1.121.560.5440.7503.3
46Oakland Raiders19763.02-0.570.7230.9293.3
47Pittsburgh Steelers1987-1.970.040.3270.5333.3
48Baltimore Ravens2000-0.891.330.5440.7503.3
49Miami Dolphins19741.29-0.410.5810.7863.3
50New England Patriots20080.30-0.500.4830.6883.3
51Detroit Lions1969-1.891.590.4780.6793.2
52San Francisco 49ers19901.190.710.6760.8753.2
53New York Jets1975-1.68-3.620.0150.2143.2
54New England Patriots20130.250.290.5510.7503.2
55Houston Oilers1993-0.240.770.5520.7503.2
56Buffalo Bills1983-1.01-1.180.3020.5003.2
57Boston Patriots19660.35-0.930.4470.6433.1
58Indianapolis Colts1988-0.60-0.860.3680.5633.1
59San Diego Chargers20061.380.580.6810.8753.1
60San Francisco 49ers20110.290.970.6180.8133.1
61Washington Redskins19860.87-0.250.5570.7503.1
62New York Jets2010-
63Chicago Bears2006-0.241.520.6210.8133.1
64Minnesota Vikings1971-
65New England Patriots20041.290.730.6860.8753.0
66Oakland Raiders1971-0.22-0.300.4540.6433.0
67New England Patriots1972-1.94-3.240.0270.2143.0
68New England Patriots19780.74-0.740.5010.6883.0
69Carolina Panthers20150.911.810.7520.9383.0
70Philadelphia Eagles2014-0.09-0.580.4410.6253.0
71New York Giants2007-0.770.100.4410.6252.9
72New England Patriots1988-2.220.840.3790.5632.9
73Houston Texans20120.400.310.5660.7502.9
74Dallas Cowboys19910.71-0.670.5040.6882.9
75Arizona Cardinals20140.05-0.020.5040.6882.9
76Cleveland Browns1967-0.15-0.310.4600.6432.9
77Atlanta Falcons20121.090.320.6300.8132.9
78Buffalo Bills19930.390.340.5680.7502.9
79Indianapolis Colts20091.420.680.6940.8752.9
80New York Jets2013-1.69-0.320.3190.5002.9
81Denver Broncos19960.480.940.6320.8132.9
82Denver Broncos1980-1.08-0.890.3210.5002.9
83Cleveland Browns19690.80-0.030.5720.7502.8
84New York Jets1979-0.14-1.790.3230.5002.8
85Indianapolis Colts20130.21-0.110.5110.6882.8
86Dallas Cowboys19800.510.280.5740.7502.8
87Oakland Raiders1981-1.62-1.010.2620.4382.8
88Pittsburgh Steelers20010.770.710.6370.8132.8
89Chicago Bears2005-1.901.970.5130.6882.8
90Chicago Bears2010-0.890.990.5130.6882.8
91Tampa Bay Buccaneers2005-0.420.530.5130.6882.8
92Los Angeles Raiders19830.340.470.5770.7502.8
93New York Giants1977-2.10-1.380.1840.3572.8
94New York Giants19890.260.570.5770.7502.8
95Miami Dolphins19851.50-0.650.5780.7502.8
96Seattle Seahawks2006-0.77-0.450.3900.5632.8
97St. Louis Rams20030.060.760.5780.7502.8
98Denver Broncos1992-1.18-0.710.3290.5002.7
99Tampa Bay Buccaneers1995-1.58-0.960.2700.4382.7
100Houston Oilers1980-0.690.870.5200.6882.7

The obvious question to ask, then, is why? Why were these Cardinals so successful despite struggling to pass and stop the pass? The Cards were good in one-score games — 4-0-1 — but St. Louis still had a points differential of +2.6 points per game. This wasn’t just a bad team that got lucky. There are a few reasons.

  • The Cardinals were 4th in rushing yards, 4th in rushing first downs, 5th in yards per carry, and tied for 1st in rushing touchdowns. Fullback Willis Crenshaw led the way, but the Cardinals also benefited from TE Jackie Smith (12/163) and wide receiver Dave Williams (3/47) gaining 210 yards on just 15 carries. St. Louis had a great offensive line with Bob Reynolds, Irv Goode, Bob DeMarco, Ken Gray, and Ernie McMillan all making the Pro Bowl in either ’67 or ’68.
  • On defense, St. Louis ranked between 4th and 6th in rushing yards, yards per carry, rushing touchdowns, and rushing first downs.
  • The Cardinals also had great special teams. Chuck Latourette led the NFL in both punt return yards and kickoff return yards, while also leading the NFL in punt return average and ranking second in kickoff return average.  Latourette added 135 yards of value as a punt returner and 251 yards of value as a kickoff returner.
  • Opposing kickers against St. Louis hit just 15 of 33 attempts; that 45.5% rate was ten percent below the league average. Meanwhile, Jim Bakken made 15 of 24 attempts.

Passing is more than half of the game, but the running game and special teams can tilt things in a close game. The Cardinals went 9-4-1 in ’68, but the script flipped the following year: St. Louis went 4-9-1.

  • Ryan

    Great recap Chase, so strange to see an offense with Jim Hart fair so poorly, what a historically cool team.

    • sacramento gold miners

      The mid 70s Cardinal teams with Jim Hart were really special, but St. Louis just didn’t have the defense to go deeper into the playoffs.

  • Joe Wright

    Is 12 rushing attempts a record for someone with primary position of TE?!

  • Christopher Linden

    Is there something era-specific about this measure? Seems to be a clustering around certain years …

  • Josh Sanford

    Chuck Latourette was also their punter?!? He was 4th in the league in yards per punt that year, on top of his return work.

  • Richie

    There are those 99 Titans again.

  • Richie

    If I remember correctly, those 2001 Bears stole a few wins on interception returns by Mike Brown.

  • Tim Truemper

    They had an interesting collection of decent to very good defensive players such as Larry Wilson, Jerry Stovall, and Larry Stallings.

  • Tim Truemper

    BTW Chuck LaTourette was their punter for five seasons too. That stellar year as a return specialist was a real outlier.