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)
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)
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