By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts mess officer
With the second season just hours away, we take a look back at the 2009 season with a few tasty statistical leftovers from the big heaping plate of Cold, Hard Football Facts that we've served up this week: nutritious trends, savory facts and juicy little factoids that may have gone undigested by the untrained stomach.
Here are the 2008 NFC West standings: Arizona (9-7), San Francisco (7-9), Seattle (4-12), St. Louis (2-14).
Sound familiar? Yep. This year it was Arizona (10-6), San Francisco (8-8), Seattle (5-11), St. Louis (1-15). It marks the first time since the league went to eight divisions that the teams stayed in order from the previous season all within a game of the same record. The AFC West also had the same order of finish as 2008.
It was the year of the tight end, for sure. Six tight ends caught eight or more touchdowns this year (Visanthe Shiancoe, Greg Olsen, Antonio Gates, Vernon Davis, Dallas Clark and Brent Celek).
How exceptional is that? Tight ends have caught eight or more touchdowns just 76 times since 1960 (50 seasons), and only 14 times in the first nine years of the decade. So six in one year is far, far above the norm. And the 2009 figures don't even include big-name TEs Jason Witten (94 catches, 1,030 yards but just two TDs) or Tony Gonzalez (83 catches, 867 yards, six TDs).
Not only did Chris Johnson finish with a legendary 2,006 rushing yards, he also bested the rest of the field by 590 yards (Steven Jackson was second with 1,416). That was the biggest gap between 1-2 since 16-game era that began in 1978. In 1980, Earl Campbell was 474 yards ahead of Walter Payton (1,934-1,460).
Similarly dominant against the field was the Jets defense. The Jets not only led the league in yards per play allowed (4.24), they outpaced No. 2 green Bay (4.80) by more than a half-yard. The gap of .56 yards topped Pittsburgh's dominance of 0.52 yards per play ahead of Baltimore last year, which was the biggest since the 1991 Eagles over No. 2 New Orleans (0.57 yards per play).
Interceptions were at an all-time low in 2008 at 14.5 per team. The number rebounded to a more standard 16.4 INT per team in 2009, despite BrettFavre's new found ability to throw to his own guys
. And we saw four players grab nine INTs this year (Jairus Byrd, Darren Sharper, Asante Samuel, Charles Woodson).
In addition to his 14.5 sacks and 50 tackles, Minnesota's Jared Allen was the only player in the league to post at least one forced fumble, fumble recovery, interception, safety and touchdown. Ed Reed was the only other player in the decade to accomplish those feats in the same season (2006).
Have you ever heard of David Buehler? We hadn't either. But he's the kickoff specialist for the Cowboys this year, and he led the league with 29 touchbacks – none of which hit the JerryTron 3000. The worst kickoff man was easily Pittsburgh's Jeff Reed, who had only three touchbacks, was last with a 59.8-yard average and saw four kicks run back for TDs. Had the Steelers invested in Buehler with their 53rd roster spot, we have to think they'd be in the playoffs this week.
Green Bay's Greg Jennings was the only player with a pair of two-point conversions; there were a total of 24 conversions in the NFL this year. When the two-point conversion was added in 1994, there were a whopping 58 successful tries that season.
Josh Cribbs fell short of Derrick Mason's all-purpose yardage record (2,690 yards), finishing with 2,510. But he did join a very unique group by scoring touchdowns as a runner, receiver, kick returner and punt returner – Brian Mitchell was the last to do it in 2000. On the negative side, Cribbs also fumbled at least once as a runner, receiver, kick returner and punt returner. Still, PAY THE MAN!
Jaguars quarterback David Garrard threw only 10 interceptions in 516 attempts (fifth best INT rate in the league). But he also lost five fumbles in the red zone – no one else did it more than twice.
How good were the Saints' receivers this year? They dropped only 19 passes, tied for third least in the league, yet they were also tied for third with 39 "big play" receptions of 25+ yards.
The Rams were the only team not to produce to a 100-yard receiving game.
If you're looking for a fatal flaw in Philip Rivers' game, four of his seven interceptions this year came while he was inside his own 20 yard line (tied with Matt Cassel for most).
Indy's tackles had an incredibly clean season protecting Peyton Manning. At right tackle, Ryan Diem was beaten for only a single sack and wasn't whistled for holding once in 15 starts. On the left side, Charlie Johnson and Tony Ugoh allowed 2.5 sacks but also didn't get a holding call. So that's 614 dropbacks, 3.5 sacks and no holding penalties from the Colt tackles. Not bad.
Philadelphia right tackle Winston Justice, famously beaten for four sacks in his only start as a rookie in 2007, rode the bench for all of 2008. Pressed into service thanks to injuries, he started all 16 games this year ... and allowed only four sacks.
Chiefs receiver Mark Bradley was probably the worst in the league this year. He was thrown to 57 times, caught just 24 of them and finished tied for fourth in the league with nine drops. His teammate Dwayne Bowe tied Vernon Davis for the league lead with 11 drops.
The Bills had the most players go on injured reserve (20). Tampa Bay had the second highest number of players on IR with 15, followed by New Orleans with 14, and five teams with 13: Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Houston and St. Louis.
Minnesota lost only one player to injured reserve.