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Nuggetpalooza: Patriots vs Broncos statistical preview!

10.06.12 at 9:20 am ET
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Tom Brady squares off against Peyton Manning on Sunday as the Patriots try to capture their first home win of the season. Here are some numbers that I thought might interest you:

* – If it seems like the Patriots usually play the Broncos on the road (in regular season games), you’re right. This is their 25th regular season meeting since 1972, and 15 of the previous 24 have taken place out west (including eight of the last 12).

* – On Sunday, the Patriots amassed 33 first downs, the 31st time since 1991 that a team has racked up 33+ in a game. Thing is, the Patriots were the 30th team to do it also, as they collected 33 against the Ravens as well. Only one other team, the 2004 Chiefs, have put up 33 or more first downs two weeks in a row, and both of those came at home. The Patriots and Bengals are the only teams that have put up two such games on the road in total over the last 22 seasons and the Pats are the only ones to do it twice in one year, much less twice in a row.

Note this: The 19 rushing first downs by the Patriots were the most by any NFL team since 2005, the second most ever by a Patriots team (21 vs. Denver, 1976) , and the most allowed by the Bills since at least 1991.

NFL Note: The Cardinals remained unbeaten last Sunday despite zero rushing first downs. They were the first team since 2006 to win without picking up a first down on the ground and just the 10th such winner since 1991. Funny thing is that four of the other nine such winners over the last 22 seasons did so while playing AGAINST Arizona.

* – On a related note, the Patriots have gone three-and-out only three times this season, the fewest in the league. But here’s where it gets interesting: The Broncos’ defense has forced their opponents into 15 three-and-outs, the most in the league. That’s a whopping 34% of opponent possessions, on pace to be the second highest percentage since they began tracking the stat in 1995, trailing only the 1999 Ravens (35.5%).

* – By far this season, when you’ve heard the name Peyton Manning, the words most often heard along with it were “arm strength”. Well, I guess “tapenade” would be up there as well, but I digress. It’s a small sample size of only four games, but let’s take a look at Manning’s passing by length of throw so far this season and in 2010, his last season before his injury. When I use “rating”, I’m referring to a rating that takes average net yards per pass play (so sacks are factored in) plus 30 times the touchdown percentage, minus 50 times the interception percentage (so interceptions hurt more than touchdowns help), and compare that figure to the league average net yards per pass play. Whew. So here we go:

Passes thrown behind the line:
2012: 23-for-30, +5.02 rating (2nd);
2010: 88-for-105, +0.82 rating (5th);

Passes thrown 1 to 10 yards downfield:
2012: 54-for-77 (70% completions; 9th), 3 TD, 0 INT, +1.62 rating (4th);
2010: 266-for-357 (75% completions; 1st), 17 TD, 3 INT, +1.10 rating (9th);

Passes thrown 11 to 20 yards downfield:
2012: 18-for-35 (51% completions; 21st), 1 TD, 0 INT, -1.05 rating (20th);
2010: 76-for-140 (54% completions; 13th), 7 TD, 7 INT, -1.44 rating (13th);

Passes thrown 21 to 30 yards downfield:
2012: 2-for-7 (29% completions; 20th), 1 TD, 3 INT, -20.39 rating (32nd; Last);
2010: 13-for-52 (25% completions; 24th), 4 TD, 6 INT, -4.63 rating (25th);

Passes thrown 31+ yards downfield:
2012: 2-for-5 (40% completions; 8th), 1 TD, 0 INT, +7.50 rating (12th);
2010: 7-for-25 (28% completions; 24th), 2 TD, 1 INT, -0.15 rating (16th);

In 2010, before he got hurt, 11% of Manning’s passes were thrown 20 or more yards downfield and his rating was -3.45, which ranked 21st. So far this season, only 8% of his throws have been long passes of 20+ yards, and his rating is -8.61, ranked 29th. Just to complete the puzzle, Manning’s rating on long passes was -1.07 in 2009 (17th) and -1.76 in 2008, also ranked 17th.

So judging by the numbers only, it’s difficult to tell if Peyton’s arm strength is worse post surgery, because he was not a terribly effective long passer before his injury.

* – The Broncos pass rush has been tough on opposing quarterbacks so far this season, recording a QB knock down on a league high 22.7% of opposing pass plays:

22.7% – Broncos
22.4% – Cardinals
20.3% – Bengals

That’s quite a step up for the Broncos as last year they managed a knock down or forced a hurry on just 17.6% of opposing pass plays, ranked 27th.

Note this: That stout pass rush has it’s drawbacks, however, as the Broncos have been flagged for roughing the passer three times this season, tied with the Titans for the most in the league (and matching their total for all of last season). Their seven personal foul penalties overall ranks second in the league (Baltimore, 10).

Note this too: New England’s pass rush has been non-existent so far, getting a QB knock down or forcing a hurry on 14.8% of opponent pass plays. Only the Titans (11.8%) and the Bills (12.0%) have been worse. New England has not taken a roughing the passer penalty yet in 2012.

* – The Patriots have 18 rushes of 11 or more yards this season (4.5 per game), tied with the Eagles for third most in the league this season. Only the 49ers (20) and Redskins (19) have more. Last season, the Pats averaged just 2.1 such rushes per game and only four teams had fewer.

* – New England’s 576 rushing yards are their third-most through their first four games in the last twenty seasons. Only in 2007 (628 yards; Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk) and 2006 (616 yards; Corey Dillon, Maroney) did they gain more on the ground at the quarter pole since 1983. Their club record through four games is 865 yards in 1976 (Sam Cunningham, Don Calhoun).

* – New England now leads the league in points per game (33.5) and the Patriots and Broncos rank one-two in average points in the second half:

20.0 – Patriots
19.8 – Broncos
18.0 – Giants

The Patriots were the league’s top second half scoring team last season as well, averaging nearly 18 points per game after halftime.

* – The Patriots have started 11 drives (22.4%) on their opponent’s side of the 50-yard-line already this season, both figures are NFL highs. So far, however, they’ve only cashed those opportunities in for a total of 44 points (five touchdowns, three field goals, and two squanders). Their 4.0 average points per opportunity ranks just 15th. That was a bit of a problem last year, too, as the Patriots averaged just 2.9 points on their 26 such drives, mustering seven touchdowns and eight field goals.

* – Last Sunday, the Bills scored four touchdowns from 20 or more yards out against the Patriots. On the season, New England has allowed seven such touchdowns already, after having allowed just five during all of last season. According to Pro-Football-Reference’s awesome play finder, last week was just the third time since 2000 that the Patriots have allowed more than one such touchdown in a game (two each vs. Colts and Saints in 2009). An amazing 59.8% of Patriots points allowed have come from outside the red zone, the highest percentage in the league:

59.8% – Patriots
58.0% – Packers
44.7% – Redskins

Last season, only 13.7% of points against the Pats came from outside the 20-yard-line, the LOWEST percentage in the league.

* – The Jets lead the league at tackling receivers with no yards after the catch this season (they’ve stopped them in their tracks on 20-of-67 receptions outside the end zone… 29.9%). They’re followed by the Dolphins and the Falcons (each at 22.8%). The Patriots secondary boasts a league worst 12.1%, as they’ve allowed “YAC” on 80-of-91 receptions outside the end zone so far.

NFL Note: You want a stat that illustrates that the 49ers are a title threat because they dominate the trenches? They lead the league by gaining four or more yards on 54% of their rushing plays and also lead the league by allowing four or more yards on just 33% of opponent rushes. It will be interesting to see how the Bills effective rushing offense and terrible rushing defense matches up.

Enjoy your football weekend!

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