New England's capital-F Fatal Flaw

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Dec 05, 2010



The Patriots walk into Gillette Stadium Monday night with a Fatal Flaw: a pass defense that's simply not good enough to win a Super Bowl.
 
Or at least that's what history and the Cold, Hard Football Facts tell us.
 
You already know that the NFL is all about the passing game: teams that dominate the passing lanes on both sides of the ball dominate on the scoreboard. And you already know that Defensive Passer Rating is a critical measure of success on defense. It's far better way to measure the quality of each pass defense than meaningless yards allowed.
 
And you already know that New England dominates on one side of the ball: Tom Brady leads the NFL with a 105.8 passer rating.
 
And finally, you already know that pass defense is a huge problem for the Patriots. Entering Week 13, they ranked 25th in Defensive Passer Rating (91.7) and dead last in pass completion percentage against them (68.3%).
 
So you know they're bad. But we didn't realize how bad.
 
As far as we can tell, New England's pass defense is a Fatal Flaw, the one factor that will ultimately prevent them from winning a Super Bowl. At the very least, if the Patriots do win the Super Bowl -- and at 9-2 they've been able to overcome this weakness all year -- it will be something close to a statistical miracle. 
 
We did a number of little statistical exercises to size up New England's pass defense. Those exercises are no small feat: we get winded just walking to the bathroom.
 
First, we compared the Defensive Passer Rating of every team in franchise history. Only one team in a half century of football was worse than the current club: the 1972 Patriots. And they went 3-11.
 
Here's the whole chart, listed from worst to first.
 
Patriots Defensive Passer Rating (1960-present)
Year
DPR
Record
1972 92.2 3-11
2010 91.7 9-2
1989 91.6 5-11
1995 91.4 6-10
1990 89.9 1-15
2008 89.8 11-5
2005 87.8 10-6
1991 87.1 6-10
2000 86.0 5-11
1970 85.5 2-12
2009 81.7 10-6
1992 81.3 2-14
1993 81.1 5-11
1975 80.4 3-11
1984 80.3 9-7
1967 79.7 3-10-1
1980 78.4 10-6
2002 78.2 9-7
2007 78.1 16-0
1999 77.3 8-8
1998 77.1 9-7
1981 75.7 2-14
2004 75.3 14-2
1969 75.2 4-10
1983 74.4 8-8
1961 74.0 9-4-1
1978 73.1 11-5
1994 72.2 10-6
1997 71.8 10-6
1966 70.7 8-4-2
1973 69.1 5-9
1996 68.9 11-5
2001 68.6 11-5
1971 68.5 6-8
1986 68.4 11-5
1974 68.2 7-7
1977 68.1 9-5
1987 67.5 8-7
2006 66.1 12-4
1982 65.3 5-4
1962 64.8 9-4-1
1979 64.8 9-7
1988 64.4 9-7
1968 63.4 4-10
1965 62.7 4-8-2
1960 62.1 5-9
1964 61.9 10-3-1
1985 61.2 11-5
1976 60.9 11-3
1963 60.0 7-6-1
2003 56.2 14-2
 
You'll notice something about the teams with the stingiest Defensive Passer Ratings: they were all good. Look at the five best:
 
No. 1 --The 2003 Patriots posted the best pass defense in franchise history, went 17-2  and won a Super Bowl.
 
No. 2 -- The 1963 Patriots were hampered by an average offense, but rode the second-best pass defense in franchise history to an appearance in the AFL title game (where they were wiped out 51-10 by the Chargers).
 
No. 3 -- The 1976 Patriots went 11-3 and were the best team in franchise history before the 2001 Super Bowl champs. They handed the 13-1 Raiders their only loss and dropped 30 on the best of all of Pittsburgh's Steel Curtain defenses. They lost a controversial rematch to the Raiders in the playoffs.
 
No. 4 -- The 1985 Patriots rode a great ground game, efficient passing and great pass defense to three straight road wins in the playoffs and the franchise's first AFC title. They were memorably destroyed by the Bears, 46-10, in Super Bowl XX.
 
No. 5 -- The 1964 Patriots went 10-3-1 and were the best team in franchise history before 1976.
 
Bottom line: good pass pefenses typically make for good teams. The 2010 Patriots, meanwhile, have won in spite of their defense.
 
You'll also notice that many of the worst pass defenses in team history were fielded over the past decade. Kind of punctures the whole "Bill Belichick is a defensive 'genius' theory" and the belief that Brady has won because he's played with consistently great defenses.
 
2010 Patriots vs. Super Bowl champions
New England football history is all well and good. But we want to know how the 2010 Patriots compare to Super Bowl champs of the past. And it spells trouble here, too.
 
Ironically, the 2007 Giants currently hold the distinction of the worst pass defense to win a Super Bowl (83.4). And even then they were much better than New England's 91.7 Defensive Passer Rating.
 
The 2007 Giants also improved dramatically in the postseason. They faced a murderer's row of efficient and prolific passers in the playoffs that year (Jeff Garcia, Tony Romo, BrettFavre, Tom Brady) but held them to a cumulative 5.76 yards per pass attempt and a humble 69.86 passer rating.
 
It seems the Patriots will need a similarly dramatic turnaround if they're to win a Super Bowl, too.
 
The average Super Bowl champion boasted a 61.67 Defensive Passer Rating. The average Super Bowl champion in the Live Ball Era (1978-present) boasted a 64.36 Defensive Passer Rating.
 
In other words, teams win Super Bowls largely because they make life miserable for opposing passers. The 2010 Patriots do not make life miserable for opposing passers. In fact, they welcome them with open arms and with huge tracts of open field in the heart of the defense.
 
Defensive Passer Rating (Super Bowl champions)
Year
Champion
DPR
2007
Giants
83.4
1998 Broncos 80.5
2006 Colts 80.4
1993 Cowboys 75.3
2004 Patriots 75.3
2005 Steelers 74.0
1995 Cowboys 72.3
1988 49ers 72.2
1983 Raiders 71.8
1997 Broncos 71.5
1992 Cowboys 69.9
1987 Redskins 69.3
1976 Raiders 68.8
1986 Giants 68.6
2001 Patriots 68.6
2009 Saints 68.6
1989 49ers 68.5
1994 49ers 68.1
1982 Redskins 67.7
1984 49ers 65.6
1999 Rams 64.1
2008 Steelers 63.4
2000 Ravens 62.5
1990 Giants 62.2
1980 Raiders 61.8
1970 Colts 60.3
1981 49ers 60.2
1991 Redskins 58.8
1979 Steelers 56.4
2003 Patriots 56.2
1971 Cowboys 55.9
1996 Packers 55.4
1968 Jets 52.4
1978 Steelers 51.8
1985 Bears 51.2
2002 Bucs 48.4
1977 Cowboys 48.2
1972 Dolphins 47.4
1966 Packers 46.1
1974 Steelers 44.3
1975 Steelers 42.8
1969 Chiefs 42.1
1967 Packers 41.5
1973 Dolphins 39.9

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