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Patriots vs. Ravens statistical Nuggetpalooza!

09.21.12 at 9:20 am ET
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On the heels of a crushing last-second home loss to the Cardinals, the Patriots hit the road for a nationally televised game in Baltimore on Sunday night. Would a second straight loss by the Pats cripple their season? Not at all. But this could turn out to be a pivotal game in terms of jockeying for prizes like home-field advantage in the postseason. Here are some numbers to chew on:

* – CHUCK AND DUCK: Through two weeks, the Ravens have flexed their pass rush muscles, not necessarily in sacks (6), but they’ve knocked down the opposing quarterback on 22.7% of pass plays, the second highest percentage in the league:

25.0% – Packers
22.7% – Ravens
19.5% – Broncos
19.0% – Lions

Note this: Last season, the Ravens ranked fourth (16.1%). The Patriots’ pass rush has 13.7% knockdowns, ranked 18th, and were 12th last year (14.3%).

* – DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT PART ONE: Submitted with the understanding that the Patriots’ first two opponents’ offenses have not exactly been the “Greatest Show on Turf”:  After allowing a league record 6.90 average yards on first down last season, New England’s defense has allowed just 3.96 first down yardage this season so far, 7th lowest/best in the league.

* – DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT PART TWO: Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty, much maligned last year for his 1,115 receiving yards allowed, pitched a shutout last Sunday, allowing no receptions on the four passes thrown at him. So far in 2012, he’s allowed only four receptions and 53 yards on the 11 passes thrown his direction.

* – RAVENS KRYPTONITE?: Since the Ravens began play in 1996, they’ve held every opponent below 20 points in at least one regular season game except two: The Seattle Seahawks (22 or more points in all four meetings) and their opponent this Sunday, the New England Patriots (20 or more points in all six games).

* – WRAPPING THEM UP: Baltimore’s is one of only three defenses (along with Green Bay and Dallas) who have not allowed a broken tackle yet this season. Last year, the Ravens allowed an uncharacteristic 40 broken tackles and ranked 19th in the league. It appears they are back in business now.

* – TRENCH WARFARE: Based on the first two weeks, the Ravens’ rushing attack against the Patriots’ rushing defense could be quite a battle. The Ravens, led by Ray Rice, have averaged 5.30 yards per carry on the ground (4th) and 3.01 yards on “grinders” (rushes that gain fewer than 10 yards), which is also 4th. What’s more, their 3.18 average yards following contact ranks 4th as well. New England’s run defense has allowed just 2.55 yards per carry (2nd), 1.85 yards on “grinders” (3rd), and just 1.08 yards after contact (2nd). Last season, the Pats ranked 5th, allowing 1.90 yards following contact.

Note this: While the Ravens have held their own running left (4.47; 7th) and right (4.60; 13th) so far in 2012, they’ve really gashed defenses right up the gut, averaging a league-high 7.90 yards per carry up the middle.

* – RAVENS “D” SHOWING CRACKS?: After allowing only 22 drives of 10+ plays last season, Ravens’ opponents have already had five such possessions through two weeks this year. Baltimore never allowed more than four such possessions over any two weeks last season.

Note this: New England has scored at least one touchdown at the end of a 10+ play drive in their last five straight regular season games (tied with Detroit for the longest current streak in the league) and at least one in nine of their last 10 games.

* – FLUKY 3RD DOWN STAT: The Ravens are 0-for-6 on 3rd-and-3 yards or less this season. Yep, you read that right. The rest of the league converts those chances at a 56% clip. They went 0-for-1 against the Bengals in garbage time, then 0-for-5 against the Eagles last Sunday as Joe Flacco threw three incomplete passes, one interception, and completed one pass to Ray Rice for a loss of five yards.

Note this: Baltimore converted 61% of those chances last season, ranked 10th in the league.

Random NFL note that you didn’t sign up for: Dallas’ two opponents are a combined 0-for-11 on 3rd-and-6+ yards in 2012.

* – NOT SO FAST STARTS: Last season, the Patriots first possession of the game produced eight scores and eight punts. This season, one punt and one interception. It was the first turnover committed by the Pats in an opening possession since the 2009 season.

Note this: In the last 34 games (in other words, since the start of the 2010 season), the Ravens have allowed just 17 points on opponents’ opening possessions, by far the fewest in the league in that span:

17 – Ravens
41 – Broncos
42 – Saints
44 – Raiders
44 – Texans

* – BOMBS AWAY IN BALTIMORE: Through two games, the Ravens have seven pass plays of 25 yards or more, the most in the league. They have led the league in “big pass plays” only once before in their history and that was in 1996, their first year as the Ravens. In their last 14 seasons, they have never finished higher than 10th.

* - THEY’RE GIFTS SO CASH THEM IN: After scoring 105 points on possessions following turnovers last season (second most in the league), the Patriots have yet to scratch on three drives following turnovers (including one fairly memorable whiff last Sunday). Every other team that has two or more such possessions this season has scored at least three points.

* – THE STICKEM SHIPMENT FINALLY ARRIVED: Last year, Baltimore’s receivers were one of just nine teams with 30 or more dropped passes. This year, they’re the only team with zero drops.

* – WILD THING?: In each of the last three seasons, Patriots’ passers (obviously, mainly Tom Brady) have ranked among the top four in passing accuracy (i.e. highest percentage of passes deemed catchable). So far this season, only 71.4% of Brady’s throws have been regarded as catchable, ranked 12th. The top two most accurate passers so far this season? Alex Smith of the 49ers and Matt Schaub of the Texans.

* – BALL SECURITY AND FUMBLE LUCK: New England, who tied for the third fewest fumbles in the league last season with 13 (and tied for the fewest fumbles lost with five), have yet to fumble in 2012. Oh, and they’ve recovered all three of their opponents’ fumbles this year as well. Since the start of 2010, a New England player has fallen on 39-of-66 fumbles, a very fortunate 59% rate.

* – THE LINEMAN DID IT: Remember in December, 2010 when Patriots’ offensive lineman Dan Connolly rumbled 71 yards with a kickoff against the Packers? Of course you do. Did you know that was 84 kickoffs ago and was the last time that a Patriot has returned a kickoff 40 or more yards?

* – FIRST PERIOD FUTILITY: The Patriots have allowed points in the first quarter of their last six regular season games. The last time that they had such a streak reach seven games was back in 1998-1999. They’ve got quite a ways to go to threaten the longest such streak in the NFL since 1997 though:

20 – Saints (2007-2008)
16 – Raiders (2009-2010)
15 – Cardinals (2007-2008)

* – NONE IF BY LAND (IN THE THIRD QUARTER): After pitching third quarter shutouts in seven of their last eight regular season games last year, the Patriots have allowed a third quarter touchdown in each game this season, both through the air. They’ve allowed only one rushing TD in their last 25 third quarters (including playoff games).

If you’re any type of “stathead” be sure to check out Sports-Reference.com, especially their baseball and football sites. They are, in my opinion, the best sports resource sites on the web without question. Their football site (www.pro-football-reference.com) added a searchable play-by-play database for this season, which is just tremendous. It’s where I do almost all of my research for these previews and I cannot recommend it more highly.

Enjoy your football weekend! It should be a good one Sunday night.

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