3rd and Hopefully NOT SLATER!

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3rd and Hopefully Not Slater

Introduction

3rd down is the money down in the NFL. In three of the four Patriots loses 3rd down percentages were dramatically in the opposing team’s favor. While many Patriots fans blame a controversial referee call or non-call one third down stop last year could have been difference between Denver-New England being in Foxboro. Patriots-Panthers (Pats offense 5/10 on 3rd and Carolina offense 8/11), Patriots-Bengals (Pats 1/12 offense on 3rd and Bengals offense 6/15), Jets-Patriots (Pats- 1/12 on 3rd and NYJ offense 11/21), and Patriots-Dolphins (Pats offense 9/17 and MIA offense 4/11). This article serves as an analysis of 2013 and the past five years of the Patriots offense and defense on the money down. Obviously 2013 stats are skewed offensively due to a huge turnover of receivers, but a statistical analysis will break down our offensive players and highlight efficiencies and inefficiencies. It is well known that I have personal bias toward certain players and I will try and be as objective as possible until my final thoughts.
WARNING LOTS OF STATS WILL BE THROWN AT YOU!!!

Offense

Since 2009 Tom Brady has had the highest passer rating, completion percentage, and conversion rate on 3rd down among NFL QBs. The previous 5 years (2003-2008) were also lead by Brady in conversion rate, but not in completion % or passer rating (Peyton Manning lead in both). Last season Tom Brady ranked 11th in 3rd down passer rating, 16th in completion percentage, and 9th in 3rd down conversions. Overall as an offense the Patriots faced 221 third downs in 2013 and converted 37.6% of 3rd downs (16th in league). In 2012 the Patriots converted 48.7% (ranked 1st), 2011 45.9% (ranked 4th), 2010 48.2% (ranked 2nd), and 2009 43.7% (ranked 9th). Although we had a low 3rd down conversion rate by our past standards, the Patriots still ranked 2nd in total 1st downs (historically from 2009-2013 the Patriots have finished 09 -1st, 10- 3rd, 11-2nd, 2012- 1st). Our 2012 NFL offense actually produced an NFL record 444 first downs. Overall setting up 3rd down our offense faced a Patriots team history high of 3rd down and 4.97 yards to go (ranking 29th in the NFL). Previous averages have been 2012- 4.03, 2011- 4.19, 2010-4.43, 2009- 4.30.

In 2013 Julian Edelman lead our receiving options with 54 first down catches. Trailing Edelman were: Amendola 37, Gronk 31, Dobson and Vereen 25, Thompkins 21, Hooman 7, Boyce, Collie, Bolden 6, and Develin with 3. On 3rd down Julian Edelman was again our number one option- Tom Brady had a 119.6 passer rating when targeting Edelman on 3rd down. Brady’s passer rating on 3rd down was 91.2 for Amendola, 88.9 for Gronkowski, 85.6 for Thompkins, 81.4 for Vereen, and 72.7 for Dobson. By historical comparison Brady to Edelman’s 2013 3rd down passer rating is only eclipsed by 2011 Wes Welker (123.2). On the flip side Aaron Dobson’s 72.7 passer rating when being targeted on 3rd down is the lowest Tom Brady has had as a receiver (with a minimum of 25 3rd down targets) in the history of the New England offense. To give a comparison for QB rating with Tom Brady throwing on any down: Brady had a 103 passer rtg when passing to Edelman, 101.6 to Gronkowski, 97.3 for Amendola, 95.7 for Vereenm 88.2 for Thompkins, 83 Dobson, and 46.2 to Boyce.

In the running game Stevan Ridley lead our team with first down conversions on 3rd down. LeGarrete Blount’s higher 3rd down conversion percentage may have been skewed by his last few games. And Shane Vereen did also post an above 50% conversion percentage for 3rd down runs. All in all we were the 6th most successful team running the ball on 3rd down.

Defense

3rd down defense has not been a strength for New England the past few years…in 2013 we ranked 26th giving up 1st downs on 42.2% 3rd down opportunities. (2012 22nd -40%, 2011 28th- 43.1%, 2010 32nd 47.1%, 2009 12th 37.1%). The mantra and philosophy has been “bend but don’t break” but in reality our red zone defense has been in the bottom half of the league each of those five years too. Of the 98 1st downs converted by opposing offenses 62 came via the air and 36 via the run. On average opposing offenses faced 3rd and 4.2 7vs. the Patriots (30th in the NFL). Additionally, on 3rd and extra long (defined by me as 3rd and 12 or longer) we have give up a league worst 45.5% conversions!

First, we will look at the corners and their correlation to third down struggles. On any pass Logan Ryan was our best CB- opposing QBs had a 53.3 QB rating when targeting Ryan, Talib 72.3, Dennard 82.7, Arrington 101.3, and Cole (Oh no!) 120.1. On 3rd down, Talib was our leading corner with QB’s targeting him having a 64.7 QB rtg, followed by Ryan 64.9, Dennard 88.8, Arrington 98.2, and Cole “Oh no” 125.3. Arrington’s struggles on 3rd down came in that he also gave up the most YAC on 3rd downs, while Dennard gave up the least followed by Talib and then Ryan.

Finally for our defense, we will analyze the pass rush. The Patriots pass rush was rated #30 by Pro football focus (take that Chicago and Atlanta). League average has quarterbacks having roughly around 2.75 seconds to throw the football. Our own Tom Brady and Peyton Manning (known for quick throws averaged 2.3 seconds). On the average passing play the Patriots defense allowed 3.04 seconds to throw (28th in the league). On the average 3rd down passing attempt the Patriots defense allowed 3.42 seconds (31st in the league). “Time to get a sack” is the stat that measures the average amount of time it takes a defender to contact the QB when a sack has occured. Tom Brady was sacked 3.36 seconds (27th in the league) and our defense averaged 4.68 seconds to record a sack (31st in the league). Among players with 10 or more sacks, Chandler Jones averaged 4.77 seconds per sack. Comparing that to other players with 10+ sacks only Shaun Phillips (4.22 seconds per sack) and Jared Allen (4.12 seconds per sack) took over 4 seconds to get to the quarterback. Robert Quinn’s 19 sacks averaged 3.39 seconds. Chris Jones and his 7 sacks averaged 5.12 seconds for him to contact the quarterback. On the otherhand Tommy Kelly’s 3 sacks averaged 3.8 seconds to contact the QB.

Resolution

Third down was troubling for the Patriots in 2013, yet we still rocked out 12-4 and a trip the AFC Championship game. I do think this highlights two things: the resiliency of the Patriots and finding ways to win and probably the best coaching job of Bill Belichick’s career. The postiivescan be that our defensive backs actually held up pretty well most of last year with Logan Ryan being the surprise metric champion (Clark is happy) and that our running game was extremely efficient last season. On the negative side offensively we have to develop more reliable options on 3rd down other than Edelman. Saying we need Rob Gronkowski healthy is obviously an understatement and he presents in my opinion the difference between another “great effort” in the playoffs and a championship banner going up. But as the Patriots have to prepare for life with and without Gronkowski they should continue to maintain a balanced attack and pray for progression from an underwhelming receiving performance last year. Defensively the excitement of Revis should not be understated. But any of the top 3 corners (Sherman, Revis, Haden) have a difficult time covering a “go to” receiver when the QB has all the time in the world. While having physical corners to disrupt timing is critical- we should keep in mind the ability to generate a pass rush is still a glaring weakness. Chandler Jones needs to continue to progress as a pass rusher and the health of the defensive tackles will allow us to use players like Chris White, Joe Vellano, Easley, or Kelly as situational guys. But perhaps the biggest benefit would be the emergence of a reliable 3rd defensive end. The snaps Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich played (both over 95% of team snaps) as compared to Robert Quinn (80%) and Greg Hardy (83%) are alarming. Offensive we need to hope we never have to see “3rd and Slater” and defensively we have to hope Peyton Manning has to say Omaha several times because he knows he will be on his back soon enough.

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