The vanishing shutout

NFL defenses posted just three shutouts last season, one off the all-time low. There weren’t many the previous three years, either — six in 2012 and five in both ’11 and ’10. You don’t have to be Norman Einstein, as Joe Theismann would say, to figure out that’s one shutout every 53.9 games — in this decade, at least.

The whitewash in pro football is even more of an endangered species than the complete-game whitewash in baseball. And you wonder why James Harrison is perpetually perturbed?

If this offensive explosion keeps up — and it shows no signs of abating — the shutout may go the way of the single-bar facemask. Especially with kickers becoming increasingly accurate. Since 2000, 183 shutouts have been spoiled by a single field goal. That didn’t happen nearly as often in the Pre-Soccer-Style Era.

Shutouts, decade by decade (regular season only):

● 1940s (85 total) – 1 every 6.4 games

● 1950s (40) – 1 every 18.2 games

● 1960s* (73) – 1 every 22.1 games

● 1970s (158) – 1 every 12.2 games

● 1980s (98) – 1 every 21.7 games

● 1990s (83) – 1 every 28.1 games

● 2000s (89) – 1 every 28.6 games

● 2010-13 (19) – 1 every 53.9 games

*NFL and AFL combined

In the ’40s, of course, there were too many shutouts. But the situation corrected itself as the T formation spread and the passing game evolved. There were too many shutouts in the ’70s, too. That calamity was fixed by rule changes in 1978 that limited contact against receivers and allowed blockers to use their hands.

Don’t expect the NFL to do anything about the current imbalance, though. Offense sells tickets and, besides, who — outside of defensive players and coaches — is complaining?

Not that these people don’t have a point. Let’s face it, the game hasn’t been this far out of whack in decades. Pro football, to its great profit, has always favored the offense, but there are times when it gets a little ridiculous. This is one of those times.

A shutout miscellany:

The Last 5 Teams to Post Back-to-Back Shutouts

● 2009 Cowboys (11-5) — Beat Redskins 17-0, Eagles 24-0. Lost in second round of playoffs. Hall of Famers: LB DeMarcus Ware (projected). Pro Bowlers: Ware, NT Jay Ratliff, CB Thomas Newman, CB Mike Jenkins.

2000 Titans (13-3) — Beat Browns 24-0, Cowboys 31-0. Lost first playoff game. Hall of Famers: None. Pro Bowlers: DE Jevon Kearse, CB Samari Rolle, SS Blaine Bishop.

 2000 Steelers (9-7) — Beat Bengals 15-0, Browns 22-0. (This came during a five-game stretch in which Pittsburgh allowed no touchdowns and just six field goals.) Missed playoffs. Hall of Famers: None. Pro Bowler: LB Jason Gildon.

● 2000 Ravens (12-4) — Beat Bengals 37-0, Browns 12-0. Won Super Bowl. Hall of Famers (1): FS Rod Woodson (with LB Ray Lewis in the waiting room). Pro Bowlers: Woodson, Lewis, DT Sam Adams.

● 1985 Bears (15-1) — Beat Cowboys 44-0, Falcons 36-0. Won Super Bowl (and racked up two more shutouts in the postseason). Hall of Famers (3): DE Richard Dent, DT Dan Hampton, LB Mike Singletary. Pro Bowlers: Dent, Hampton, Singletary, DT Steve McMichael, LB Otis Wilson, SS Dave Duerson.

The Only Teams Since the 1970 Merger to Post 3 Straight Shutouts

● 1976 Steelers (10-4) — Beat Giants 27-0, Chargers 23-0, Chiefs 45-0. Lost in AFC title game. Hall of Famers (4): DT Joe Greene, LB Jack Lambert, LB Jack Ham, CB Mel Blount. (They had five shutouts in all, tying them with the 1944 Giants for the most in a season since the ’30s.)

● 1970 Cardinals (8-5-1) — Beat Houston Oilers 44-0, Patriots 31-0, Cowboys 38-0. (Note: A three-week stretch in which they outscored their opponents 113-0.) Missed playoffs. Hall of Famers (2): CB Roger Wehrli, FS Larry Wilson.


● 1948 Eagles (9-2-1) — Had three 45-0 blowouts (Giants, Redskins, Boston Yanks), the first two in consecutive weeks. Won NFL title. Hall of Famers (2): E Pete Pihos, LB Alex Wojciechowicz.

● 1962 Packers (13-1) — Handed out two 49-0 beatings (Bears, Eagles). Won NFL title. Hall of Famers (5): DE Willie Davis, DT Henry Jordan, LB Ray Nitschke, CB Herb Adderley, FS Willie Wood.

● 1960 Dallas Texans (8-6) — Shut out both teams that reached the AFL championship game (Chargers 17-0, Oilers 24-0). Hall of Famers: None. (DT Buck Buchanan and LB Bobby Bell didn’t come along until ’63.)

And finally, lest we forget:

● The 1934 Lions had more shutouts in their first seven games (7) than the entire NFL had in each of the past four seasons (5, 5, 6, 3).


3 thoughts on “The vanishing shutout

    1. Dan Post author

      Or rather, let me put it this way: He wasn’t playing nearly as much defense as he did earlier in his career. Nobody, including teammates, thought that much of him as a defensive player. The other two were pretty solid — and had a lot more to do with the unit’s success.

Comments are closed.