|Nuggetpalooza: NFL Week 1, Patriots vs. Titans statistical preview!||09.07.12 at 8:57 am ET|
Ah, football season. Finally.
The Patriots kick off the 2012 season on Sunday in Nashville against the Titans. If you’re familiar with my weekly Patriots previews, welcome back. I hope you have enjoyed these posts in previous seasons and that you will find this year’s edition even better. If this is your first time here, my goal is to provide you with stats that are not only pertinent to the upcoming game, but I also try to show you numbers that you most likely will not see elsewhere.
Let’s be honest, though. Statistics from last season must be taken with a HUGE grain of salt, considering all the changes that teams make every offseason. Tennessee, for example, has a new starting quarterback in Jake Locker, who if he leads the club in passing this season would make 2012 the fourth straight season with a different passing leader for the Titans. But, since last season’s numbers are all we have at this point, let’s get to it:
* – GET OFF ON THE RIGHT FOOT: Only four teams last season never suffered a turnover (fumble, interception, or via downs) in their opening possession of a game: The Patriots, Titans, Chiefs, and Rams. New England is the only NFL team that has not committed an opening drive turnover in either of the last TWO seasons.
Note this: Tennessee managed to put up points only once all last season on their opening possession of the second half, as they wound up punting 14 times in 16 games. The Patriots ranked fifth in the league, opening up their 16 second halves by scoring six touchdowns and two field goals for a total of 48 points.
* – FIRST DOWN DEFENSE?: Last season, the Patriots’ defense allowed 3,455 yards on 501 first down plays, an average of 6.90 yards per play. That’s the highest allowed by any NFL defense since they began tracking the stat in 1995:
6.90 – Patriots, 2011
6.80 – Lions, 2008
6.57 – Redskins, 2010
6.52 – Texans, 2010
Note this: New England also intercepted a league-high 13 passes on first down last season, the most ever by a Patriots defense and tied for third-most ever in a single season (since they began tracking the stat in 1991):
17 – Buccaneers, 2002
15 – Bengals, 1996
13 – Four teams tied including 2011 Patriots
* - FRIENDLY SKIES LAST YEAR: “YAC” yards, or yards gained after the catch by receivers, has been tracked since 1995. Knowing the number of YAC yards also allows us to determine the number of “air yards” (i.e. yards gained by passing without any benefit from runs after the catch). Here is an exhaustive list of teams that have allowed 3,000 or more air yards in a season since 1995: The 2011 New England Patriots (3,021). No other team in the last 17 seasons has allowed even 2,800 air yards in a single year.
Note this: The 3,021 air yards allowed by the Patriots last season works out to an average of 188 per game. In the postseason, they (predictably) allowed just 79 against the Broncos, then gave up 188 against the Ravens and 189 against the Giants.
Note this too: The Titans reached 188 air yards only twice on offense in 2011.
* – STAY AHEAD OF THE CHAINS: The Patriots converted 46% of their 3rd down tries last season, good for 5th in the NFL. One way that the Pats helped themselves in this regard is by “managing the chains”. That is, putting yourself in 3rd-and-short is much more conducive to a high conversion percentage. Here is the Patriots’ 3rd down chances broke down by yards to go in 2011:
1 – NE 16%; TEN 10%
2/3 – NE 18%; TEN 11%
4/5 – NE 16%; TEN 15%
6/9 – NE 28%; TEN 30%
10+ – NE 22%; TEN 34%
So a league high 64% of Tennessee’s 3rd down plays required six or more yards to convert, while only 50% of New England’s fell into that category. Only the Saints (47%) had a lower percentage of their 3rd down plays needing 6+ yards last year than the Patriots. The league converts only 27% of their tries on 3rd-and-6 or more but 53% if fewer than six yards are needed.
* – ESCHEWING THE PUNT: Tennessee went for it on 4th down 14 times last season and converted a league high 10 of them, a 71% conversion rate, also the highest in the NFL.
* – UP AND DOWN THE FIELD: New England’s offense led the league with 72 pass plays that gained 20 or more yards in 2011. Their defense allowed 79 such completions, also the most in the league and a club record, obliterating the old mark of 56, set in 2005. So, in all, 151 pass plays gained 20+ yards in Patriots’ games last season, the most in the NFL since they began tracking the stat in 1995:
151 – Patriots, 2011
141 – Packers, 2011
138 – Rams, 2000
132 – Chiefs, 2004
Note this: Only 4 (tied for the league low) of those 79 long pass plays allowed by the Patriots went for touchdowns (5.1%), the lowest percentage since 1995 (min. 40 long pass plays allowed):
5.1% – Patriots, 2011 (4-79)
5.6% – Vikings, 2003 (3-54)
5.8% – Vikings, 2001 (3-52)
6.0% – Patriots, 2001 (3-50)
Can the Patriots continue to “bend but don’t break” again in 2012?
* – NO NEED TO MEASURE: The Pats’ defense allowed an NFL high 370 first downs last season, a club record and third most in the NFL in the 16-game era:
406 – Colts, 1981
371 – Seahawks, 1981
370 – Patriots, 2011
Note this: While the Patriots allowed an AVERAGE of over 23 first downs per game last season, the Titans’ offense has not gained more than 23 first downs in any of their last 36 games, dating back to Week 13, 2009.
* - FIRST QUARTER TOUCHDOWNS: The Patriots scored six first quarter touchdowns in their first five games last season, then found first quarter pay dirt just four times over their last 11 games. The Titans allowed only two first quarter scores at home last season and have not allowed multiple touchdowns in a first quarter in Nashville since 2005, 48 home games ago. That’s the third longest current streak in the league:
61 – Packers
59 – Vikings
48 – Titans
* – RUSHING STRUGGLES IN TENNESSEE: The Titans managed only 592 first half rushing yards last season, the fewest in the NFL and the fewest by the team since they moved to Tennessee in 1997. New England’s defense allowed a club record (since 1991) 1,093 first half rushing yards last season, the first time since 2002 that Pats’ opponents broke the century mark since 2002. What makes first half yardage worthwhile to analyze is that it’s (usually) not skewed too much by teams reacting to the score. In other words, teams that are trailing don’t generally shift into “catch-up” mode until the second half.
* - DEPENDABLE KICKERS: Tennessee kicker Rob Bironas missed his first field goal try of the season last year, a ridiculous 66-yard try at the end of the first half of an eventual 16-14 loss to Jacksonville. After that, he made 29-of-31 tries, including 6-of-6 from 50+ yards. His career percentage from 50+ yards out (21-of-29; 72.4%) is the NFL’s best in the 21 seasons that they’ve tracked the stat (min. 20 such tries):
72.4% – Rob Bironas
72.2% – Jeff Wilkins (26-of-36)
68.2% – Mike Vanderjagt (15-of-22)
Note this: The Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski is 5-of-8 (62.5%) from 50+ in his career, but is a sparkling 4-of-5 (80%) on the road.
* – PINNED BACK: Both teams were very good at bottling up their opponents, forcing them to start drives from deep in their own territory. Patriots’ opponents average starting position was the 24.5 yard line. Only San Francisco (24.3) forced their opponents to start further from pay dirt. Tennessee ranked fourth (25.7).
* – STICKY FINGERS: Patriots’ receivers were the most surehanded group in the NFL last season, dropping just 5.2% of passes ruled catchable, while the Titans pass catchers ranked third with 5.6% drops.
* – GRIND ‘EM OUT: Last season, the Patriots ranked 20th in rushing yards (1,764) and the Titans ranked 31st (1,438), which leads one to believe that both teams had puny ground games. But since a large percentage of rushing yards accumulate on one or two breakaway plays each game, it masks the effectiveness level of the majority of rushing plays, those that gain fewer than 10 yards (which I like to call “grinders”). Those are the plays that allow offenses to “stay ahead of the chains”. Below are the top five rushing averages last year (per carry) on running plays that gain fewer than 10 yards:
3.18 – Saints
2.95 – Patriots
2.90 – Cardinals
2.88 – Jets
2.85 – Cowboys
Note this: The Titans averaged 2.15 yards on “grinders” last season, tied with the Falcons for the lowest such average in the NFL. However, the Patriots defense allowed 2.96 yards on such plays last year. Only the Packers (3.24) allowed a higher average on “grinder” rushes.
* – LAUNDRY ON SPECIAL TEAMS: Tennessee was flagged for 29 special teams penalties last season, by far the most in the league as no other team had more than 23. Their 269 yards in ST penalties were the most in the NFL since 2005, when the Ravens had 298. Meanwhile, Patriots’ special teams were penalized only nine times, second FEWEST in the NFL (Chargers, eight) and matching their club record (since 1995) set in 2008 and tied in 2010.
* – PINNED BACK II: The Patriots offense began 21 drives last season at, or inside, their own 10-yard-line, and scored 24 points on those possessions. But here’s the interesting part: They scored touchdowns on three of their first four such drives (including that memorable 99-yard Brady-to-Welker beauty against Miami), then went scoreless on 16 straight from September 18 through the first such drive on Christmas Eve before managing a field goal on their last such drive of the regular season. Why is this relevant on Sunday? Tennessee forced their opponents to start a league most 23 drives at or inside their own 10 last season.
Comments, gripes, or suggestions? I’d love to hear ‘em. Call me out on Twitter (@nuggetpalooza), leave a comment here, or fire off an email (email@example.com). Enjoy your football weekend!
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