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Nuggetpalooza: Do the stats show the Dolphins as a threat to the Patriots’ streak?

12.23.11 at 9:00 am ET
By

As Santa loads his sleigh and lines up his reindeer for his annual journey, the Patriots continue their quest for the AFC’s top seed by hosting the Dolphins in a Saturday matinee in Foxboro. Instead of nuggets, let’s call these statistical “chestnuts” this week:

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* – Who’d have thunk? The Dolphins have won seven of their last nine road games after December 1, dating back to the 2008 season. From 2001 through 2007, Miami won only three of their 16 December and January road tilts. Their last two late season trips to Foxboro have resulted in losses of 28-7 (12/23/07) and 38-7 (1/2/11).

Note this: New England is 23-2 in regular season home games on or after December 1 since the start of the 2001 season. The Patriots (along with Old Man Winter) have allowed an average of 12.4 points in those games, the lowest in the league in that span:

12.4 – Patriots
14.7 – Packers
15.4 – Jets
16.0 – Steelers

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* – If I asked you which NFL team has gotten big gains (25 or more yards) on the highest percentage of their pass plays (pass attempts plus sacks) in 2011, who would you guess? Nope. Wrong. That’s wrong too. Because I’m pretty sure that none of you shouted out “THE DOLPHINS”. They’ve had 34 gains of 25 or more yards this season on 451 pass plays (7.54%):

7.54% – Dolphins
7.17% – Packers
6.69% – Cowboys
6.68% – Panthers

It’s quite a turnaround for Miami as they had finished in the bottom 10 in that category in each of the last five seasons. Their highest percentage in any of those years was 3.87%, just barely half of their 2011 rate.

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* – Miami LB Cameron Wake leads the NFL in combined quarterback knockdowns and hurries this season:

37.0 – Cameron Wake, Dolphins
36.5 – Tamba Hali, Chiefs
36.5 – Clay Matthews, Packers

Overall, the Dolphins have gotten a knockdown or hurry on 23.8% of opponent pass plays this year, the fifth highest rate in the league.

Note this: The Patriots come in ranked 21st at 18.6%, but last week they roughed up Tim Tebow to the tune of five knockdowns and five hurries on 27 pass plays, a league high rate of 37.0%. That was their highest rate of the season and their second over 30%. The other was Week 1 at Miami (32.6%).

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* – Miami and New England are two of the least penalized teams in the league. The Dolphins have been penalized just 74 times (5th fewest) while the Patriots have only 78 penalties (7th). It’s probably worth noting that when the Dolphins have drawn a flag, it’s often been a biggie, as their 9.5 average yards per penalty is second highest, behind only the Redskins (9.9).

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* – New England receivers lead the league in yards after contact (889) and yards after contact per reception (2.53):

2.53 – Patriots
2.11 – Steelers
2.10 – Raiders

New England is 108 yards away from the single season record of 997, set by Dallas in 2009.

Note this: Rob Gronkowski’s career 3.08 yard average following contact is tops among non-running backs since they began tracking the stat in 1997 (min. 100 catches):

3.08 – Rob Gronkowski
2.78 – Miles Austin
2.63 – Donte Stallworth
2.61 – Aaron Hernandez
2.61 – Oronde Gadsden

Ocho Cinco Nugget: Since the start of the 1997 season, 151 different receivers have caught at least 250 career passes in the NFL and here are the ones with the lowest average receiving yards after contact:

0.73 – Marvin Harrison
0.81 – Isaac Bruce
0.90 – Chad Ochocinco

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* – Coming out of the locker room, the Dolphins’ offense has been pretty darn potent, scoring a total of 169 points in the first and third quarters, good for fifth in the league (behind the Packers, Patriots, Saints, and Chargers). But they’ve REALLY bogged down in the second and fourth quarters, totaling just 117 points, ranked 30th. Only the Chiefs (101) and Rams (102) have scored fewer points in the second/fourth quarters this year.

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* – The Dolphins have allowed only six rushing touchdowns, second fewest in the league. Only the 49ers, who have yet to allow any, have been better. Miami’s run defense has allowed an average of 3.62 yards per rush, third best in the league:

3.31 – 49ers
3.41 – Ravens
3.62 – Dolphins

The Patriots’ rushing offense ranks just 21st in average yards per carry (3.99), mainly due to their inability to break off long runs. Only 7.1% of their rush attempts have gained 11 or more yards this season. Only three teams (Browns, Jets, Giants) have had lower percentages.

But what New England has done well is gain decent yardage on their runs of less than 10 yards, or “grinders” as I like to call them. On all rushing plays that fail to gain 10+ yards, the Patriots have averaged 2.98 yards per carry, good for the second best “grinder” average in the league:

3.02 – Saints
2.98 – Patriots
2.89 – Cowboys

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* – Over the 2009-2010 seasons combined, Patriots’ opponents began 42 drives with under 2:00 left in the half or game and scored just 16 points on those drives, an average of 0.38 points per “hurry-up” drive. In 2011, the Patriots have already allowed 23 such points, seven more than in the previous two seasons combined, on 18 “hurry-up” drives, an average of 1.28 per possession.

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* – When defending a short field (i.e. their opponent starts a possession inside their 50-yard-line), the Dolphins have been very good (or lucky), allowing just 2.26 average points on those 19 drives (4 touchdowns; 5 field goals). That’s the lowest average points allowed in the league on those possessions:

2.26 – Dolphins
2.42 – Ravens
2.57 – Raiders

It would be Miami’s third consecutive season allowing fewer than 3.00 average points on such drives, the longest active streak in the league. For some perspective, note that the Saints defense has allowed an average under 3.00 only once since they began tracking the stat in 1995 and New England has allowed 3.00 or over in eight of the last 10 years (including 3.17 in 2011).

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* – Over the last seven games, Miami’s opponents have started 23 drives inside their own 20-yard-line and failed to score a touchdown on any of them. During that same span, Patriots’ opponents have also started 23 such drives, but have scored NINE touchdowns.

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* – The Patriots have gotten into the Red Zone 63 times this season, tied with the Saints for the most in the league. What’s more, they’ve cashed those drives in to the tune of 5.21 average points (40 touchdowns, 16 field goals, 7 squanders), third best in the league (Jets, 5.40; Packers, 5.31). The Dolphins have struggled in the Red Zone, averaging just 4.22 points (26th) on 47 trips (21 touchdowns, 20 field goals, 8 squanders). So this plays right into the historic “bendability” of the Patriots defense this season.

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* – Tom Brady and the Patriots are vying to join the 2009 Vikings and 2006 Dolphins as the only teams since at least 2003 to avoid throwing an interception on a long pass (thrown 21+ yards downfield) for an entire season. The Redskins and Eagles have each thrown 10 such picks this season alone.

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* – The Dolphins have completed 12 passes where the receiver was tackled for a loss this season, losing a league high 50 yards. They had only lost 39 yards on such plays over the last two seasons combined. The single season record for yards lost on negative pass completions (since they began tracking the stat in 1995) is 55, set by the Saints in 2010. Miami has a good shot at erasing that mark at some point over the next two weekends.

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Enjoy the game, folks. Then I hope all of you have the happiest of holidays! Be safe, enjoy your families, and I’ll see you next Sunday!

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