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Gameday Nuggetpalooza: Patriots vs. Bengals

09.10.10 at 9:46 am ET
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nuggetpalooza-smallFinally! From now on, the games count! Time to kick off the third season of Nuggetpalooza Patriots game previews. For the uninitiated, each week during the season I’ll break down the stats and present a whole slew of numbers that help shape that week’s Patriots matchup.

If you’re new to this, I hope these previews will enhance your enjoyment of the game. If you’re a seasoned veteran, welcome back!

As always, leave a comment or email me at gmarbry@weei.com if there’s something that you like, don’t like, or would just like to talk football.

Let’s get to it, keeping in mind that using last year’s stats to preview this year’s game ain’t perfect, but it’s all we’ve got for now.

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* – Turnover Margin: If you consider the Patriots to be a playoff caliber team, then here’s a clip and save: The Bengals are 4-52 since 1997 vs. eventual playoff teams when they don’t win the turnover battle. Keep in mind that includes games in which each team commits the same number of turnovers.

I should mention: During that same span, they are 15-13-1 against eventual playoff teams when they win the turnover battle.

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* – Move the Chains: The Patriots led the NFL in first downs in 2009 at 23.3 per game, but the Bengals allowed the 5th fewest first downs (17.3). Also, New England gained 2.3 first downs per game via penalty (1st in the league), however, Cincinnati allowed just 1.0 per game (2nd fewest).

I should mention: The Bengals allowed 15.8 first downs per game on the road in 2009, the lowest figure by a Cincinnati defense in the last 20 years.

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* – Late Half Action: The Bengals scored 25.9% of their points last year in the last two minutes of either the first or second half. That was the 3rd highest percentage in the league:

30.9% – St. Louis Rams
28.9% – Oakland Raiders
25.9% – Cincinnati Bengals

What’s more, 24.1% of all points scored against the Bengals came within the final two minutes of a half, the 2nd highest percentage in the league:

24.4% – Dallas Cowboys
24.1% – Cincinnati Bengals
24.0% – Philadelphia Eagles

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* – Not On The Ground: New England has not allowed a rushing touchdown in the 3rd quarter at home since December 17, 2006, a streak of 24 straight home games. It’s the 2nd longest active streak of it’s kind in the league (Pittsburgh is currently at 28 home games in a row). San Diego had a streak of 30 straight home games without allowing a 3rd quarter rushing TD from 2005-2008.

I should mention: Cincinnati has exactly 1 third-quarter rushing TD in its last 34 road games dating back to December 2005.

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* – Ball Security: Last season, New England fumbled on 1.03% of their offensive touches, the 4th lowest percentage in the league. What’s more, the Bengals forced fumbles on 1.12% of opponent touches, the 2nd worst percentage.

I should mention: When either the Patriots or Bengals defenses did strip the ball last year, neither was particularly good at falling on it. New England recovered 36% of opponent fumbles (27th) while Cincinnati fell on 35% (28th).

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* – Sure Tacklers: The Bengals defense suffered only 38 broken tackles last season, the lowest figure in the NFL. They had 991 total tackles recorded, giving them an NFL best tackle efficiency of 96.31%:

96.31% – Cincinnati Bengals
96.16% – Chicago Bears
96.02% – New York Giants

I should mention: New England (95.39%) ranked 13th, while the Tampa Bay Bucs (92.40%) were last.

I should also mention: In 2008, the Bengals ranked 12th (94.81%).

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* – Pinned Deep: Cincinnati forced opponents to begin 39 drives inside their 20 yard line (i.e. 80+ yards from paydirt) and allowed only 12 points on those drives, an average of 0.31 per possession, by far the lowest in the NFL:

0.31 – Cincinnati Bengals
0.66 – Carolina Panthers
0.67 – Indianapolis Colts

I should mention: New England allowed an average of 1.24 points on those possessions (18th). Problem was, their opponents only started 33 drives inside their 20, tied with Detroit for the fewest in the NFL.

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* – 10+ Play Drives: Cincinnati had 33 drives of 10+ plays in 2009, 4th most in the NFL, although one of the teams with more such drives last year was New England:

38 – Atlanta Falcons
37 – New England Patriots
36 – Miami Dolphins
33 – Cincinnati Bengals

On those long drives, the Bengals averaged 4.18 points (7th) while the Patriots managed only 3.46 (14th).

I should mention: Cincinnati had 53 scoring drives in 2009, and 42 of them (79.2%) were 60+ yards, the highest percentage in the league. What’s more, 35 of 45 scoring drives against the Patriots (77.8%) were 60+ yards, the 2nd highest percentage allowed in the league.

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* – Cashing In On Shorter Drives: When a possession lasted fewer than 10 plays, the Bengals averaged 1.73 points, which was 17th. But the Patriots averaged an NFL-best 2.55 points on those shorter drives. Keep in mind that about 86% of NFL possessions last fewer than 10 plays.

I should mention: The Bengals scored only 2 “quick strike” touchdowns (TD’s on 4 plays or fewer). Only St. Louis (zero) scored fewer. (The Patriots scored 8 such touchdowns).

One Last Thing: Over the last four weeks of 2009, the Bengals scored points on 93% of their 10+ play drives (1st in the NFL) but on just 13% of their other drives (last in the NFL).

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* – Finding Those Throwing Lanes: Last season, Patriots quarterbacks (mostly Brady) had only 1.01% of their pass attempts batted at the line of scrimmage, the 2nd lowest percentage in the NFL. Over the last two seasons, Bengals quarterbacks have had 3.23% of their passes batted down, the 2nd highest percentage in the league.

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* – First Down Efficiency: The Patriots gained 4 or more yards on 55% of their first down plays last year, the best mark in the NFL:

55.0% – New England Patriots
53.1% – New Orleans Saints
51.3% – Dallas Cowboys

However, Cincinnati was quite stingy on first down, allowing 4+ yards just 43.5% of the time, the 4th best mark in the league.

On the flip side of that coin, the Bengals were just middle of the pack at first down offense (45.9%; 16th), but the Patriots were a poor 50.7% on defense (29th). The Pats were bad in 2008 as well (48.4%; 23rd).

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* – Three and Out: New England went three and out on just 16.9% of their possessions in 2009 (about 1.8 times per game), 3rd in the NFL. The Bengals went 1-2-3-punt 28.2% of the time (about 3.1 times per game), ranked 28th. Cincy showed improvement over 2008, though. That year they went three and out on 34.4% of their drives (4 times per game), dead last in the league.

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* – Third and Long: Cincinnati converted 19 of 69 times on 3rd and 10+ yards last year (27.5%), the 4th best percentage in the league. Compare that to New England’s 8 for 39 (20.5%; 17th). The Bengals’ offensive success here doesn’t match up well with the Patriots’ 3rd down defensive strength: Stopping 3rd and short. NE allowed 46.7% conversions on 3rd and five or less, the 4th best mark in the NFL.

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* – Good Punt Returns: The Bengals (11.9; 2nd) and the Patriots (11.4; 5th) were two of five NFL teams that averaged 11 or more yards per punt return last season.

I should mention: Only five NFL teams have not had a punt return for a touchdown in the last six seasons: New England, Cincinnati, Carolina, Jacksonville, and the New York Jets. The Patriots are the only NFL team without such a TD in the last EIGHT seasons (307 punt returns).

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* – Poor Punting: The Patriots averaged 39.0 yards per punt last season, the lowest average in the NFL:

39.0 – New England Patriots
40.6 – Washington Redskins
40.7 – New York Giants

I should mention: Cincinnati dropped 24 punts inside their opponents’ 20 yard line and had 10 touchbacks, a 71% “coffin corner percentage”. That was the 2nd worst percentage in the league (Green Bay, 60%). Of course, Cincinnati’s opponents put up an even worse coffin corner percentage (68%), while New England’s opposing punters put up a league-high 92% (22 inside 20 versus 2 touchbacks).

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* – Blitzing: The Bengals blitzed on 31% of opponent pass plays last season, but out of 18 touchdown passes allowed, only 2 (11.1%) came when they blitzed, the lowest percentage in the NFL. However, both of those TD passes versus blitzes came in the final month of the season.

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* – Careful Early: Cincinnati committed only one turnover during their first possession of a half last season. Every other team had at least two. The Patriots had a whopping nine (3 picks, 3 fumbles lost, and 3 on downs), tied for the MOST in the league.

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* – Few Long Runs For NE: Last season, only 39.6% of New England’s rushing yards came on runs of 10 yards or more, the 4th lowest percentage in the league:

34.2% – San Diego Chargers
37.4% – Houston Texans
39.1% – Buffalo Bills
39.6% – New England Patriots

What’s more, only 35.2% of rushing yards against Cincinnati’s defense came on runs of 10+ yards, the lowest percentage in the league:

35.2% – Cincinnati Bengals
35.3% – San Diego Chargers
38.6% – Baltimore Ravens
38.9% – Miami Dolphins

I should mention: 44.1% of rushing yards against the Patriots were on 10+ yard runs, ranked 16th.

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* – Inside 30 Passing: Last season, the Bengals managed just 3.95 yards per pass attempt once inside their opponent’s 30 yard line, 7th worst in the NFL. But the Patriots played poor pass defense inside their 30, allowing 10.06 yards per attempt (2nd worst). So what will happen in 2010?

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* – Favorable Field Position?: Cincinnati scored only 36 points on 19 drives that started on the opponents’ side of the 50 (i.e. fewer than 50 yards from paydirt), an average of 1.89 points per possession, the lowest average in the NFL:

1.89 – Cincinnati Bengals
1.95 – St. Louis Rams
2.00 – Oakland Raiders

I should mention: New England wasn’t much better, as their 2.75 average ranked just 26th.

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* – Kickoff Returns: While both teams finished last year in the middle of the pack in kickoff return average, the Patriots recorded returns of 20+ yards 72% of the time, the 3rd highest percentage in the NFL, trailing only Tampa Bay (76%) and Arizona (74%). But Cincinnati’s returns went for 20+ just 48% of the time, the 2nd lowest percentage in the NFL (Oakland, 38%).

I should mention: The Bengals have not allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown since December 24, 2005, a streak of 253 consecutive opponent KOR’s, the 3rd longest current streak in the league (Green Bay, 454; Seattle, 286).

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* – Long Passes: While the Patriots struggled to complete long passes (21 or more yards downfield in the air) in 2009, completing just 15-64 (23.4%; ranked 23rd), the Bengals were even worse. They completed just 7 such passes all season (the fewest in the NFL) and their completion percentage (23.3%) ranked 24th. It was the 2nd straight season in which Cincinnati has had the fewest long pass completions in the NFL as they had only 5 such completions in 2008.

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* – Snap the Ball: Cincinnati’s offense was penalized 12 times for delay of game in 2009, the most in the league:

12 – Cincinnati Bengals
10 – San Francisco 49ers
7 – San Diego Chargers

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* – Short Passes Were Short Gains: Cincinnati threw 320 passes to receivers less than 10 yards downfield last season (completing 213) and only 2 of those receptions wound up gaining 25+ yards (0.6%), the lowest percentage in the NFL.

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* – Third Quarter Troubles: The Bengals have scored 7 or fewer 3rd quarter points in their last 23 straight road games dating back almost three seasons (9/16/07). They’ve been outscored 97-52 in the 3rd quarters of those 23 games.

I should mention: The Patriots have allowed 8 or fewer 3rd quarter points in 35 of their last 36 home games, dating back to November, 2005.

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* – Bengals Stingy Pass Defense: Cincinnati was one of eight defenses last year that intercepted more passes than touchdown passes allowed (18 TD / 19 INT). For some context, Arizona hasn’t done that since 1994 (15 consecutive seasons allowing more TD passes than interceptions). Dallas hasn’t had such a season since 1999, and Atlanta has exactly one such season over the last 20 years. New England’s defense last year? 18 interceptions and 25 touchdown passes allowed.

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* – No Field Position Gifts: The Patriots were the only team in the league that never allowed their opponent to begin a drive inside the New England 20 yard line last season. The Bengals allowed 5 such possessions.

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* – Few Penalties But Big Ones: New England was penalized only 23 times on defense last season, the 2nd fewest in the NFL (KC, 21). But when they did get flagged, the average penalty yards was 13.7, the highest in the league:

13.7 – New England Patriots
11.7 – Baltimore Ravens
10.9 – Pittsburgh Steelers

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Enjoy the game and be sure to check back tomorrow for my “Around the NFL Nuggetpalooza!”

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