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Nuggetpalooza: My stats nuggets on the Patriots vs. Ravens AFC Title Game

01.19.13 at 10:35 am ET

Tomorrow at chilly Gillette, it’s a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship Game between the Patriots and Ravens for a berth in the Super Bowl. The Patriots are a solid favorite, but you can’t take anything for granted in a game like this. Here are some stats that struck me as interesting:

* – The Patriots have recorded at least one takeaway in their last 27 regular season games, the longest current streak in the league. Only the Bengals (15) ended 2012 with a streak of 10 games or more. However, the Patriots have managed only three total takeaways in their last five postseason games, getting one each against Houston, Baltimore, and Denver, but none against the Giants last year and the Jets in January, 2011.

Note this: From 2010-2012, the Patriots are a combined +70 in turnover margin in the regular season, by far the best in the league in that span (Packers +41, 49ers +36). But during that same span in the postseason (five games), New England has a minus-four turnover margin, tied with the Saints for the worst in the league in that span. Baltimore’s +10 is the best postseason turnover margin over the last three seasons.

Note this: Baltimore’s defense has recorded at least one takeaway in all 19 postseason games in franchise history, the third longest postseason streak by any team since the merger in 1970:

31 – Dolphins (1970-1995)
25 – Redskins (1982-2012)
19 – Ravens (2000-2012)
17 – Patriots (2001-2009)

* – During the regular season, Baltimore attempted 85 passes thrown more than 20 yards downfield, the third most in the league. Only the Colts (88) and the Lions (87) tried more. The Ravens were the only NFL team that never threw an interception on a long pass (21+ yards downfield). However, their 9.8 average yards per attempt on those passes ranked just 20th in the league. The 49ers (17.4), Saints (15.8), and the Redskins (15.2) made up the top three. New England’s long passes averaged 10.1 yards per attempt (19th) and suffered three picks.

Note this: While Joe Flacco and the Ravens never threw a pick on a long ball during the season, the Patriots’ pass defense picked off a league high eight such passes out of 78 opponent attempts (also a league high). They had just eight such picks over the previous two seasons combined.

* – Baltimore’s miraculous game-tying touchdown last Saturday came culminated a 77-yard drive in three plays. In the last two regular seasons combined, the Ravens had only two touchdown drives of 75 yards or more that took three plays or less, the fewest such touchdowns in the league in that span. The second fewest such touchdowns? The New England Patriots, with three. Only one of those came this season, the 83-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Shane Vereen early in the second quarter on Thanksgiving night against the Jets.

Note this: Which team led the NFL in such “quick strike” touchdowns over the last two seasons? The Titans, with 10.

* – The Patriots allowed 14 touchdowns of 20 yards or more this season, their most since allowing a league high 20 back in 1995. It was just the third time in the 18 seasons that they’ve tracked the stat that they’ve allowed 10 or more such touchdowns. They allowed only 13 such touchdowns in the 2010 and 2011 seasons combined.

Note this: The Pats allowed a 25-yard touchdown pass last week against Houston (Schaub to Posey in the fourth quarter) and one in last year’s AFC Championship Game against the Ravens (29 yards, Flacco to Torrey Smith in the third quarter).

Note this too: Baltimore had THREE touchdowns of 20 or more yards in last Saturday’s win at Denver. Since 2000, the Ravens have scored three such touchdowns in a game (regular season or playoffs) only one other time (2009 against the Vikings).

* – During the regular season, the Patriots ranked in the middle-of-the-pack in “crunch time rushing”. They averaged 3.3 yards per carry (16th) on rushing plays (kneel downs excluded) in the last seven minutes of the fourth quarter, leading by a touchdown or less (or tied). However, the Ravens were the best team at DEFENDING those rushes (when the defense trailed by a TD or less), allowing only 12 yards on 10 carries, an average of 1.2 yards per carry (min. 5 such attempts).

Note this: Last Saturday, Denver ran six times (for 16 yards) in the final seven minutes of the fourth quarter, including that fateful no gain on 3rd-and-7.

* – In the past, I’ve mentioned “grinder” plays as a way to analyze consistency in the rushing game. Any rushing play that gains fewer than 10 yards I define as a grinder play. That way, a few long runs won’t skew the rushing average. In both 2010 and 2011, the Patriots ranked second in the league in grinder average (3.01 in 2010 and 2.79 last year). This season, they ranked just 10th (2.67). Last Sunday, they rushed for 59 yards on 21 carries (2.81) when you eliminate their three long runs (23, 22, 14).

Note this: The Ravens’ defense allowed 2.94 yards on grinder plays this season, the second highest/worst average in the league:

2.96 – Packers
2.94 – Ravens
2.85 – Seahawks

In their two playoff wins, Baltimore has allowed 2.82 yards on grinders.

* – The Ravens were penalized 1,127 yards this season, the most in the league and the most in Ravens history:

1,127 – 2012 Ravens
1,094 – 2009 Ravens
1,067 – 2005 Ravens

Note this: In their 53 seasons, the Patriots have been flagged for 1,000 or more penalty yards only once (1,051 in 1992).

* – Opponents attempted nine fourth down runs against the Patriots this season and managed only two first downs, the lowest/best conversion percentage by any defense in the league with more than five such tries. Compare that to the three previous seasons (including playoffs), when opponents converted 75% of fourth down rushing attempts (15-of-20)

Note this: Houston went 2-for-2 on fourth down runs last Sunday, although both came in the fourth quarter when the game was already out of hand. They were the first fourth down rushing tries against the Patriots in a playoff game since the (first) Super Bowl against the Giants, when Brandon Jacobs converted a 4th-and-1 with 1:34 left in the game, three plays before fate was terribly unkind to New England.

* – Baltimore led the league with seven rushing touchdowns in the first quarter this season. They also led the league by allowing six such touchdowns.

* – Baltimore’s pass rush knocked down opposing quarterbacks on 15.7% of opposing pass plays, the eighth highest percentage in the league (Oakland led the league at 18.5%). However, they caused “hurries” only 4.9% of the time, ranked 25th. That was the lowest percentage of hurries by the Ravens in at least the last four seasons.

Note this: New England’s pass rush was one of the weakest in the league (by these measures), knocking down quarterbacks 12.7% of the time (20th) and recording hurries on 4.8% of opponent passes (26th).

Thanks to Pro-Football-Reference for their awesome stats resource.

Enjoy the game!



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