News flash: NE's offense falling apart!

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Dec 12, 2007



Stop the presses!
 
The New England offense is falling apart at the seams.
 
Or maybe not.
 
Here's our now weekly look at New England's effort to challenge numerous offensive and team-wide records. It could be worse. Some sites out there, like ESPN apparently, have created entire sections devoted to the Patriots. We're content with the once- or twice-weekly story.
 
There are still 31 other teams out there. And, of course, New England's place in the record books is still largely dependent upon the team proving it can beat phenomenal Indy and Dallas teams twice in one season.
 
The Colts, for example, are 27-6 over the last two seasons, including a little win in Super Bowl XLI. A rematch is not a game Patriots fans should put in the win column just yet, like many of them seem to be doing.
 
With that said, here's where New England stands relative to the record books in numerous areas, including a number of items you probably won't read anywhere else.
 
Scoring offense falls off record pace
New England has scored a merely mortal average of 30.7 PPG in its last three games. So its once-record scoring pace, which topped more than 41 PPG a few weeks ago, has dropped to a mere 38.69 PPG.
 
That average is now just second in history, 14/100ths of a point behind the 1950 Rams (38.83). But it's well ahead of the Super Bowl Era record set by the 1998 Vikings of 34.75 PPG.
 
The Patriots need just 54 points to break the total-point record of 556 set by those 1998 Vikings, and should top that mark easily. The Patriots need to score 119 points in their final three games (39.7 PPG) to break the average scoring mark set by the 1950 Rams.
 
Brady falls off record completion-percentage pace
Tom Brady was once on pace to shatter the single-season completion percentage set by Ken Anderson in 1982 (70.55).
 
He's fallen off to a mere 70.17 percent (334 for 476) following three straight sub-70-percent games, including a downright Michael Vick-esque 47.4 percent day (18 for 38) two weeks ago vs. Baltimore.
 
The top three seasons in history look like this:
  • Ken Anderson, 70.55 percent (218 for 309), 1982
  • Sammy Baugh, 70.33 percent (128 for 182), 1945
  • Steve Young, 70.28 percent (324 for 461), 1994
Interesting to note that Brady has completed passes at a 70-percent clip over more attempts than anyone. Anderson attempted his 309 passes in the nine-game, strike-shortened 1982 season. Baugh attempted his 182 passes in a 10-game season. Only Young played 16 games, but tossed just 461 passes that season. Brady has already attempted 476 passes and, as you'll see below, is on pace for 586 attempts.
 
New England's disdain for running the ball
New England's alleged lack of a running game is a hot topic of conversation among Patriots fans, based upon the emails we've received in recent weeks. Several called us out for not mentioning the decline in New England's running game since the loss of Sammy Morris in last week's look at their ground attack. Even folks like Bill Simmons of ESPN accused us of drawing a picture of New England's running game with rose-colored finger paints.
 
We never pretended the Patriots had a great running game. They have a servicable running game, one more than capable of winning a Super Bowl. Especially in a sport where the ground game doesn't matter a whole lot. If running the ball was so important, the 2007 Vikings, who currently stand as one of the best teams ever at running the ball on offense and at stopping the run on defense, would be one of the best teams ever. Instead, they're 7-6.
 
Plus, the quality of New England's running game has not declined. It's as good as the running attacks of any of its Super Bowl teams, and in some cases much better. The 2003 Patriots, for example, had the worst running attack (3.40 YPA) of any Super Bowl champion.
 
But what has declined is New England's seeming desire to run the ball. But this should come as no surprise.
 
As the Cold, Hard Football Facts have proven time and again, "establishing the run" is more of a cliché than it is a necessity for victory, as the "pundits" would have you believe. Especially when you can pass the ball at will and with little concern for turnover, as the Patriots can do right now.
 
The Patriots are trying to prove true our irrefutable analysis by simply refusing to run the ball.
 
Simply note the nine rushes New England attempted against Pittsburgh Sunday. Only 14 teams in NFL history have made fewer efforts to run the ball in a game.
 
Back in 2004, a 34-20 Steelers win in Pittsburgh that ended New England's record 21-game win streak, the Patriots ran the ball six times, tying the all-time record for fewest rushes in a single game (Chicago Cardinals, 1923; Arizona, 2006).
 
Also, last year, in a 31-7 New England win at Minnesota, the Patriots and Vikings combined for just 30 rush attempts (15 each), the second fewest combined attempts in NFL history (the Chicago Cardinals and Boston Redskins combined for 16 rush attempts in a 1933 game).
 
In other words, over the past four seasons, the Patriots have been a part of three games in which their rushing attempts were among the fewest in history. They're 2-1 in those three games and scored an average of 28.3 PPG.
 
The futility of passing attempts
Of course, as we have long noted, passing the ball often means nothing. Passing the ball effectively means everything. New England's last two starting quarterbacks provide a perfect case study of this phenomenon in action.
 
Tom Brady has attempted 476 passes through 13 games, which puts him on pace for 586 attempts this season.
 
It seems to some that New England passes the ball on every down, and certainly in recent weeks they have all but abandoned the run. But those 586 attempts would fall far, far short of the single-season record for attempts of 691 – set by Drew Bledsoe of the Patriots in 1994.
 
Here's what Brady's final 2007 numbers might look like, projected over his current pace:
  • 411 for 586, 70.14%, 5,040 yards, 8.60 YPA, 55 TD, 6 INT, 123.4 rating
Here's what Bledsoe's season look liked in 1994:
  • 400 for 691, 57.89%, 4,555 yards, 6.59 YPA, 25 TD, 27 INT, 73.6
And here's what Brady's 2007 would look like, projected over a Bledsonian 691 attempts:
  • 485 for 691, 70.19 percent, 5,946 yards, 8.60 YPA, 65 TDs, 7 INT, 123.6
For those of you keeping score at home, that would be, based upon the same record number of attempts:
  • 1,391 more yards for Brady
  • 85 more completions
  • 50 more passer rating points
  • 40 more TD passes
  • and 20 fewer INTs.
Those pesky 1942 Bears
There's one team standing between the 2007 Patriots and status as the most dominant team in NFL history: the 1942 Bears.
  • The 2007 Patriots outscore their opponents by an average of 21.61 PPG (38.69 to 17.08)
  • The 1942 Bears outscored their opponents by an average of 26.54 PPG (34.18 to 7.64)
New England would really have lay waste to the Jets, Dolphins and Giants to set the all-time record for scoring differential. But with their toughest games behind them (including seven wins over Quality Teams), and two puff-cakes remaining on the schedule, New England is well poised to remain the most dominant team of the Super Bowl Era. The current record is held by the 1968 Colts.
  • The 2007 Patriots outscore their opponents by an average of 21.61 PPG (38.69 to 17.08)
  • The 1968 Colts outscored their opponents by an average of 18.41 PPG (28.71 to 10.29)
But both those teams provide a lesson in humility for the Patriots.
 
The 1942 Bears went 11-0 in regular season. Then the most dominant team in NFL history lost, 14-6, to the 10-1 Redskins in the NFL championship game.
 
The 1968 Colts went 13-1 in the regular season. Then the most dominant team in the Super Bowl Era lost, 16-7, to the 11-3 Jets in Super Bowl III.

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