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Nuggetpalooza: Stats you need to get ready for the monster Patriots vs. Ravens game!

01.21.12 at 9:19 am ET
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AFC championship game. The top two seeds. In Foxboro. All the marbles. What more needs to be said, except: “Get yer numbers heyah!”:

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* – Patriots tight ends have combined for 100 or more receiving yards in 15 of their last 17 (and 11 consecutive) regular season games (not including their 200 yards last Saturday night against Denver). Since 2000, no other team has had more than seven such games in a season.

Now take a look at the longest active streaks without ALLOWING an opposing team’s tight ends to amass 100 or more receiving yards:

69 – Ravens
28 – Bears
21 – Saints

SIXTY-NINE GAMES!

Note this: Baltimore’s defense has allowed two games of 100+ yards by tight ends in their last 144 games (dating back to 2002): In Week 3 of the 2006 season, the Ravens allowed 110 yards to the Browns’ tight ends (Kellen Winslow, 92; Steve Heiden, 18) in a 15-14 win, and allowed 105 yards in Week 12 of the 2007 season to Antonio Gates of the Chargers in a 32-14 loss. Both of those games were Ravens’ road games.

Note this, too: It’s been 76 games since the Ravens allowed a pass play of more than 40 yards to an opposing tight end. The Patriots completed a pass for a 40+ yard gain to either Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez in four of their last six regular season games.

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* – The Ravens pass defense was the best in the league this season (using “my” rating, which is based on a rating used by The New York Times in the past which compares net yards per pass play to the league average and is explained in more detail at the end of this post):

-1.35 – Ravens
-1.34 – Texans
-1.32 – Steelers

But hang your hats on this Patriots fans: Their defensive passing rating ON THE ROAD this season ranked just 14th, at -0.16, compared to a ridiculous -2.98 at home. Let’s dig a little deeper into thes splits:

Completion percentage allowed: 57% on the road; 51% at home.
Net yards per pass play: 6.43 on the road; 4.47 at home.
Sack Effect (% of gross yards lost due to sacks): 5% on the road; 12% at home.
Interception percentage: 1.5% on the road; 3.6% at home.
Touchdown percentage: 1.8% on the road; 2.0% at home.
Big play percentage (25+ yard gains): 5.8% on the road; 2.9% at home.

So with the exception of touchdown percentage allowed, the Ravens’ pass defense was SIGNIFICANTLY better at home, allowing many more yards per pass play and big plays, with interceptions and sacks reduced greatly.

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* – What about the Patriots’ passing offense? In overall pass rating, they finished the 2011 season tied for second:

+3.89 – Packers
+2.46 – Saints
+2.46 – Patriots
+1.44 – Giants

Actually, the Patriots were better on the road this season (+3.51, ranked first) than they were at home (+1.47, ranked fourth). The problem was that Tom Brady and the Patriots had three sub-par home games this year: The two against the Cowboys and Giants (a total of four picks and five sacks in those two) and the December game against Miami (sacked four times). The two picks each by the Cowboys and Giants marked the first time since 2000 that the Patriots have thrown multiple interceptions in consecutive home games within a single season.

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* – The Ravens allowed only one score (a touchdown) on opponents’ 16 opening drives this regular season, joining the ’10 Saints (9), ’09 Vikings (6), and ’05 Chargers (9) as the only teams over the last seven seasons to allow fewer than 10 points on such drives in a season. They did allow a field goal on the Texans’ first possession last week. Thing is, Baltimore SCORED 48 points on their opening drives this season after never scoring more than 34 such points in any season from 2005-2010. That gave them a +41 point differential on opening drives this season. The Patriots scored 44 points on their opening drives while allowing 40, giving them a +4 differential. Want some context? In 2007, the Patriots were +61 on opening possessions, scoring 71 points while allowing only 10.

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* – Although Baltimore ended up scoring 58 more points off of long drives (10 or more plays) this season (they scored 130 off of 32 such drives and allowed 72 off of 22), they wilted some at the end of the season. Over their first 12 games, they allowed more than one long drive in only three of them (whether their opponent scored on it or not). But they allowed two such drives in EACH of their last four games.
Note this: The Ravens allowed 13 long drives in their eight road games this season versus just nine in their home games.

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* – The Ravens ended the regular season by going 0-for-14 on 3rd-and-6 yards or more over their last two games, then went 1-for-7 last Sunday in those spots.

Shoot, Denver converted two of those 3rd-and-long situations on their 14-play, zero-points drive in the fourth quarter last Saturday.

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* – The Patriots managed only two first quarter touchdowns in their eight home games during the regular season, before striking for two last Saturday against the Broncos. Before Saturday, they had not scored a first period TD in their last six home games. Here are Patriots’ touchdowns by quarter this season, home and road (including last week’s playoff win):

1st quarter: 4 (home)/8 (road)
2nd quarter: 10/9
3rd quarter: 10/8
4th quarter: 10/8

While we’re at it, here are Ravens’ touchdowns allowed by quarter, home and road (also including last Sunday’s game):

1st quarter: 2 (home)/2 (road)
2nd quarter: 7/2
3rd quarter: 3/5
4th quarter: 3/3

Note this: Only one team allowed fewer points in road games than the Ravens’ 147 this season: The 49ers allowed only 142.

Note this too: The Patriots allowed 154 points at home this regular season, an average of 19.3 points per game and the eighth best mark in the league. However, after allowing 19.6 points at home in 2010, it’s the first time since 1995-96 that they’ve allowed 19+ points per game at home over consecutive seasons.

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* – Lots of home/road stuff this week, including this, which amazed me: During the regular season, the Patriots defense allowed an average of 6.90 yards on first down, the highest such average allowed since at least 2000. But get this: At Foxboro, opponents averaged “just” 5.75 yards on first down, which over the complete season would have ranked them a “still bad but not historic” 23rd. But on the road, they allowed 2,059 yards on 257 first down plays, a jaw-dropping average of 8.01 per play!

Note this: The Patriots held Denver to 67 yards on 27 first down plays last Saturday, a season-best average of 2.48 yards. In fact, during the regular season only 10 defenses held their opponents to a lower average on first down… and three of those were playing the Rams.

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* – Opposing field goal kickers made 87.8% of their tries against the Patriots this season (20-for-23), which ranked just seventh highest in the league this season (opponents went 29-for-30 against the Jets) but was the highest percentage made against the Pats since 1990.

Note this: No opponent attempted a field goal against New England this year from 50 yards or more. The Patriots were the only team in the league this year (and just the second since 2007) without such an attempt by an opposing kicker in a season.

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* – Irresistible force meets the immovable object: Once inside their opponents’ 30-yard-line, the Patriots cashed in to the tune of 4.87 average points per possession, third best in the league, trailing only Green Bay (5.27) and Detroit (4.91). However, the Ravens’ defense allowed an average of only 3.46 points once inside their 30, the lowest/best average in the league.

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* – I’ve mentioned before how puny the Patriots were this season at returning kickoffs, averaging just 21.4 yards per return (29th) and their longest was just 37 yards (the first time in 17 years without a 40+ yarder). Well, maybe they have a shot at something big on Sunday: The Ravens kickoff coverage ranked 31st in the league, allowing an average of 29.2 yards per return, easily their worst in their 16 years in the league.

Note this: Through Week 10, the Ravens (Billy Cundiff) had kicked off 48 times and 47 of them had reached the end zone (98%, second highest in the league). Since then, only 20-of-33 kickoffs have reached the end zone (61%, third LOWEST in the league in that span). Cundiff put 3-of-5 into the end zone last Sunday. The Patriots (Steve Gostkowski) have actually improved kickoff distance as the weather has worsened this year, putting 72% (39-of-54) into the end
zone through Week 10 and 85% (41-of-48) since then. Gostkowski put 5-of-7 kicks past the goal line last Saturday, including his last five straight.

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My pick: Patriots win it, 27-23, and advance to Indianapolis for the Super Bowl.

Mumbo jumbo alert (explanation of “my” passing rating): It’s based on a rating devised a few years ago by the New York Times, with some differences. Basically, the rating is net yards per pass play (that way, sacks are accounted for), plus 30 times the touchdown percentage, minus 50 times the interception percentage, minus the average net yards per pass play for the league as a whole. So if a team’s net yards per pass play is exactly league average with zero touchdowns or interceptions, their rating will be 0.00. Note that the league average changes depending on the stat split. In other words, the league average net yards per pass play is a little over six yards overall (6.08) but it’s just 3.08 yards in the red zone.

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