Stats & Info: AFC East

Top stats to know: Patriots at Chiefs

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
3:12
PM ET

Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesTom Brady is poised to become only the sixth player in NFL history with 50,000 passing yards.
The New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs will meet for the fourth time on "Monday Night Football" (8:30 ET on ESPN) as Week 4 of the NFL season comes to a close. The Patriots have won all three previous MNF meetings.

Overall, New England is 11-3 on "Monday Night Football" since 2005, the second-best record over this span (min. 10 games), behind only the Chicago Bears (12-3).

Tom Terrific
Tom Brady is 219 yards shy of 50,000 for his NFL career.

When he reaches the milestone, he’ll join Brett Favre (71,838), Peyton Manning (65,778), Dan Marino (61,361), Drew Brees (52,284) and John Elway (51,475) as the only players in league history to reach this mark.

Terrible Tom
That milestone might not come as easily as one might think, as Brady has really struggled this season.

He has either overthrown or underthrown his receivers on 27 percent of his pass attempts. That is the highest percent of off-target passes in the NFL this season.

One reason for this might be the losses of guard Logan Mankins (traded to Tampa Bay) and longtime offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia (retired before the season).

Brady’s been under pressure (sacked, hit while throwing or under duress) at a higher percentage each season since offensive tackle Matt Light retired before the 2012 season.

Short is better for Smith
Last week against the Dolphins, Alex Smith threw for only 186 yards, but he still had three passing touchdowns with no interceptions. One reason for his success was his ability to keep his throws short.

Over the first two weeks for the season, Smith completed 58 percent of his passes while throwing one touchdown and three interceptions. He averaged 5.9 yards per attempt with his average pass traveling 8.1 yards.

Against Miami, he completed 76 percent of his passes while averaging 7.4 yards per attempt on his passes that traveled an average of 2.9 yards.

Quick hitters
• Tom Brady has thrown 42 touchdown passes in his career on "Monday Night Football," the most in the NFL since the start of the 2002 season.

• Brady is completing 84.6 percent of his passes to Julian Edelman this season and 51.1 percent to all other players.

• This is the Chiefs' first home game on "Monday Night Football" since Week 8 of the 2011 season, when they beat the Chargers 23-20 in overtime.

• Kansas City has lost four straight home games, the second-longest active streak in the NFL, behind only the Raiders (five).

• Since starting the 2013 season 9-0, the Chiefs are 3-8 in their past 10 games including the playoffs.

Top stats to know: Bears at Jets

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
2:02
PM ET

AP Photo/Tony AvelarThe Chicago Bears have provided solid protection for Jay Cutler in 2014.
The Chicago Bears and New York Jets meet for the second time on Monday Night Football (8:30 ET on ESPN/WatchESPN). Here are the statistical angles of note for tonight’s game.

Bearing down
The Bears were staring at an 0-2 start but outscored the San Francisco 49ers 21-0 in the fourth quarter last week in a 28-20 win.

It was the first time they won a game after trailing by at least 17 points since 2006 against the Arizona Cardinals – which is also the game then-Cardinals coach Dennis Green uttered the famous postgame words, “The Bears are who we thought they were.”

Through two games, the Bears have been outscored by 20 points in the first half. They’re plus-25 in the second half.

Protect the quarterback
The Bears’ Jay Cutler has had much better protection to start this season. In two games, he’s been sacked on 3.4 percent of his dropbacks, continuing a positive trend for the past few seasons.

He’s feeling the heat much less overall, facing duress on 12.5 percent of his dropbacks in two games – best in the league entering Week 3. For context, Peyton Manning led the league in this category last season, facing duress on 14.9 percent of his dropbacks.

Cutler will be making his 70th start with the Bears. His record with Chicago is 40-29 (.580).

Ground-and-pound
The Jets enter this game tops in both rushing offense (179.0 YPG) and rushing defense (52.5 YPG). The Jets are the first team to hold that distinction after any week of an NFL season since the Vikings ended 2007 leading in both categories.

That would appear to be bad news for a Bears defense that allowed 193 rush yards in Week 1 and 129 in Week 2. Defending the run has been a major issue for Chicago, ranking at or near the bottom of every defensive rushing category since the start of last season.

Odds and ends
• The Bears are in a stretch that will see them play four of five games on the road. They host the Green Bay Packers next week, then play the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons on the road.

• The Bears are 11-3 on Monday Night Football since 2006. They won both of their appearances last season (Week 9 at Green Bay and Week 14 against Dallas). They appear twice this season with the second game coming in Week 15 (host the Saints).

• Geno Smith is making his second career start on Monday Night Football. In Week 5 last season, he went 16-20 for 199 yards and three touchdowns in a 30-28 win at Atlanta.

Is AFC East now wide open?

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
2:03
PM ET

Adam Hunger/USA TODAY SportsAfter losing to Miami on Sunday, New England is alone in last place in the AFC East.
The New England Patriots were ranked as the No. 3 team in the Week 1 ESPN.com NFL Power Rankings behind the Seahawks and Broncos. Meanwhile, the Patriots’ AFC East rivals were all ranked in the 20s.

With Week 1 in the books, the Bills, Dolphins and Jets are all 1-0 and the Patriots sit at 0-1. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Patriots are in sole possession of last place for the first time since Tom Brady became quarterback.

Is this just a Week 1 mirage, or is there reason to believe the AFC East is more wide open than originally seemed?

Patriots
Week 1 Rank: 3
Week 2 Rank: 7

The Patriots lost their opening game for the first time since 2003, and could potentially fall to 0-2 (they play at Minnesota) for the first time since 2001. Week 2 of that season would be when Tom Brady replaced Drew Bledsoe as the Patriots quarterback.

Brady has been one of the best quarterbacks ever since, but time may be catching up to him.

In Week 1, Brady attempted 18 passes thrown at least 15 yards downfield and completed only two. The 16 incompletions on those attempts were the most in game by a passer since 2006.

Although Rob Gronkowski caught a touchdown in the game, his impact was limited.

Brady completed only four of 12 attempts to Gronkowski, the duos lowest completion percentage in a game with more than five targets.

Jets
Week 1 Rank: 21
Week 2 Rank: 22

It might have been against the Raiders, but Geno Smith did complete a career-high 82.1 percent of his attempts in Week 1. Smith was able to do so by keeping it short, with his average pass traveling 4.5 yards downfield, second lowest of the week.

The Jets ranked 30th with a 33.2 Total QBR last season and still finished the season 8-8. Smith playing smarter will help the Jets hang onto the ball, and will give their group of capable running backs – led by former 2,000-yard rusher Chris Johnson – a chance to shine. The Jets gained more rushing yards in Week 1 (212) than they did in a game all of last season.

Dolphins
Week 1 Rank: 22
Week 2 Rank: 15

The Dolphins were able to take down the Patriots in Week 1 with a strong rushing attack. Miami’s 191 rushing yards in the opener was more than it had in any of its games last season.

Maybe more importantly for the Dolphins’ success, Ryan Tannehill was sacked only once in Week 1. Last season, Tannehill played in 16 games and was sacked multiple times in 14 of them.

Bills
Week 1 Rank: 29
Week 2 Rank: 23

The Bills could be the biggest Wild Card of the AFC East. The Bills had one of the most disruptive defenses in the NFL last season, especially on passing plays, trailing only the Seahawks in opponent Total QBR.

The Bills’ big weakness last season was their offense as rookie EJ Manuel struggled to stay healthy.

In Week 1 Manuel completed a career-high 72.7 percent of his passes, including 5 of 7 of his attempts thrown at least 15 yards downfield. Last season Manuel ranked 33rd completing those passes (38.1 percent).

Top stats to know: The 2014 Buffalo Bills

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
9:22
AM ET

Brett Carlsen/Getty ImagesThe Bills are counting on Sammy Watkins for big numbers in 2014.
NFL training camps are opening and SportsCenter will be on hand at select teams as they get ready for the upcoming season. Monday, we pay a visit to the Buffalo Bills.

Here are some statistical takes on 10 topics sure to come up throughout the day.

1. The Bills haven’t made the playoffs since 1999, the longest active playoff drought in the NFL. Their last playoff game was a loss to the Titans in the 1999 Wild Card Playoffs (a.k.a. the Music City Miracle). Their last playoff win was in the 1995 Wild Card Playoffs against the Dolphins. The only teams without a playoff win from 1996 to 2013 are the Bills, Lions, Browns, Bengals and Chiefs.

2. The Bills have lost at least 10 games in five straight seasons, tying the franchise record from 1967 to 1971. Over the last six seasons, the Bills have finished in last place in their division five times. That’s tied with the Browns and Redskins for the most last-place finishes in that span.

3. The Bills traded from the No. 9 pick to the No. 4 pick to draft wide receiver Sammy Watkins, giving up their first-round pick and fourth-round pick in next year’s draft to the Browns.

Currently, Buffalo is the only team that doesn’t own its first-round pick in the 2015 draft. However, the Bills got a conditional mid-round pick in 2015

4. Watkins is the 19th WR drafted in the top five in the Common Draft Era. The previous 18 averaged just 38 catches for 569 yards and 3.5 touchdowns as rookies. Only one of them had 1,000 yards as a rookie (A.J. Green – 1,057 yards in 2011).

5. EJ Manuel was 4-6 in his 10 starts last season. He completed 59 percent of his passes for 1,972 yards with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He ranked 28th in the NFL in the Total QBR (rating of 42.3 on the 0-100 scale). His 10 starts were third most ever for a Bills rookie quarterback behind Joe Ferguson (14 in 1973) and Dennis Shaw (12 in 1970).
E.J. Manuel
Manuel
6. Manuel’s biggest problem might have been against the blitz. He completed only 41 of his 85 passes when blitzed, giving him the league’s second-worst completion percentage against it (48 percent) (Case Keenum – 46 percent).

Manuel was also bad on third down, completing only 48 percent of his passes (second-worst in NFL) for 5.2 yards per attempt (worst in the NFL). That’s one reason the Bills converted on only 34 percent of their third down attempts (29th in NFL).

7. While the Bills passing attack struggled (194 yards per game, 28th in NFL), the rushing attack averaged 144 yards per game, second-best in the league behind the Eagles. The Bills called run plays on 45 percent of their snaps, the third-highest percentage in the NFL behind the Seahawks and 49ers.

C.J. Spiller (933 yards) and Fred Jackson (890 yards) were the only teammates to each run for at least 800 yards last year. They’ll both be pushed for playing time by Bryce Brown, acquired in a trade with the Eagles this offseason.

8. The Bills defense was the inverse of the Bills offense last year: good against the pass and bad versus the run. Buffalo had the league’s 28th-ranked run defense, allowing 129 yards per game on the ground, and the league’s fourth-ranked pass defense, allowing only 204 yards per game.

The Bills held opponents to the lowest completion percentage in the league (55 percent) and the second-lowest Total QBR (36.0). That might be a tough feat to repeat after losing safety Jairus Byrd, their best defensive back and 2013 franchise player, in free agency.

9. Another problem for the Bills defense is the loss of linebacker Kiko Alonso to a season-ending torn ACL suffered this offseason. Alonso is the reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He ranked third in the NFL with 159 tackles last season, 32 more than any other rookie and 77 more than any other Bills player.

Alonso also played all 1,089 snaps for the Bills defense last season, the seventh most defensive snaps of any player in the NFL.

10. The Bills were second in the NFL with a franchise-record 57 sacks last season. Mario Williams (13.0), Kyle Williams (10.5) and Jerry Hughes (10.0) became the first trio of teammates with double-digit sacks in a season since the 2000 Saints (La’Roi Glover, Darren Howard, Joe Johnson). In two years since signing a massive free agent deal ($39.4M guaranteed) with the Bills, Williams is tied for sixth in the NFL with 23.5 sacks and has played a team-high 1,839 defensive snaps.

NFL free agency: Numerical needs (AFC)

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
12:02
AM ET
ESPN Stats & Information’s video analysis data has revealed needs that may not be apparent through traditional statistics.

Here’s a team-by-team look at areas of need for each AFC team heading into free agency.

AFC East
Buffalo Bills: offensive line, linebacker/safety
Bills quarterbacks were sacked a league-high 33 times when facing four or fewer pass rushers last season. When opposing four-man rushes pressured Buffalo quarterbacks, the Bills’ 23.8 completion percentage was worst in the league.

On the other side of the ball, the Bills’ rush defense allowed 1.8 yards after contact per rush last season, fourth worst in the league. The Bills allowed 36 rushes with at least 5 yards after contact. Only the Browns (37) had more.

Miami Dolphins: offensive line, wide receiver/tight end
Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill was sacked a league-leading 58 times last season, the most of any quarterback since Jon Kitna in 2006.

The Dolphins also rushed for 37 first downs inside the tackles, 12 fewer than any other team.

Tannehill threw four touchdowns and 13 interceptions on throws deeper than 10 yards downfield last season. Tannehill’s minus-nine TD-Int differential on those throws was the worst in the league.

New York Jets: wide receiver, quarterback, pass rush
There have been 116 different 1,000-yard seasons posted by receivers in the past seven seasons. None has been by a Jet. Free agent Jeremy Kerley gained 523 yards last season to lead the Jets, the lowest total of any team leader.

The Jets (59.0 percent) were the only team whose quarterbacks completed fewer than 60 percent of throws 10 yards or fewer downfield. Geno Smith completed 58.9 percent of short throws, worst of any quarterback who appeared in at least nine games.

On defense, the Jets recorded sacks on 4.6 percent of third-down dropbacks, the only team in the league at least than 6.5 percent. One of their best pass-rush specialists, Calvin Pace, (10 sacks last season) is a free agent.

New England Patriots: defensive line/linebacker, cornerback, wide receiver
After losing Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo by Week 7, the lack of depth in the Patriots’ front seven was exposed. Undrafted defensive tackles Chris Jones and Joe Vellano hadn’t played a snap before 2013 but each played more than 600 snaps last season.

Over the last 11 weeks of the season, the Patriots ranked 27th in yards allowed per rush and 29th in yards allowed per game.

In the secondary, Aqib Talib is an unrestricted free agent. Talib tied for a team-high 14.0 disrupted dropbacks (sacks, interceptions or pass breakups) last season. Since Talib’s first game in New England (Week 11 of 2012), no Patriot has more interceptions than his five.

Talib (819 snaps) and Steve Gregory (813) ranked second and third respectively in defensive snaps played among New England’s secondary. Gregory was cut in February.

On offense, Julian Edelman is an unrestricted free agent after posting 105 catches last season (fourth in NFL). Edelman’s 70.5 catch percentage was best in the league among 60 wide receivers with at least 75 targets.

AFC North
Cincinnati Bengals: linebacker, defensive end, offensive line
Bengals defenders had 26 tackles for loss on rushing plays last season, eight fewer than any other team. Sixteen teams had at least twice as many tackles for loss on rushing plays as the Bengals did.

A pair of impact Bengals are free agents, one on each side of the line. Defensive end Michael Johnson had 25 disrupted dropbacks (sacks, interceptions or pass breakups) over the past two seasons, 12th among defensive linemen.

Offensive lineman Anthony Collins played in 15 games last season, with quarterback Andy Dalton’s sack percentage jumping from 3 percent with Collins on the field to 7 percent with Collins off.

Cleveland Browns: wide receiver, running back, defensive back, defensive line
Browns wide receivers had 24 drops last season (6.6 percent of targets), the most of any team in the league. Josh Gordon was excellent, but he didn’t get much help, as the chart on the right shows.

Seven different Browns players led the team in rushing in a game last season. Among that group were Gordon and fellow receiver Travis Benjamin and defensive back Josh Aubrey.

On defense, the Browns forced eight fumbles last season, the only team with less than 10. Cleveland’s secondary and defensive line forced three combined fumbles, half as many any other team.

D’Qwell Jackson (1,105 snaps) and T.J. Ward (1,073) ranked first and second in defensive snaps played last season. From 2010-13, Jackson and Ward posted at least 100 tackles five times (including both last season), something no other Brown did over that span.

Baltimore Ravens: running back, wide receiver
The Ravens averaged 3.1 yards per rush last season, worst in franchise history. Baltimore was one of two teams (Jacksonville) to average fewer than 2.0 yards per rush before contact last season.

Baltimore wide receivers caught 55 percent of targets last season, 27th in the league. Baltimore was one of five teams without a wide receiver recording more than 40 catches on throws 10 yards or fewer downfield.

Pittsburgh Steelers: defensive line/linebacker, offensive line, wide receiver
The Steelers' defense allowed 6.5 yards per rush outside the tackles last season, the second highest average in the league and more than double what it allowed in 2012. Pittsburgh was the fifth team in the past five seasons to allow at least 5.0 yards before contact per rush outside the tackles.

On offense, The Steelers averaged 3.5 yards per rush last season, fourth lowest in the league. Pittsburgh is the only team to have ranked in the bottom four in yards before contact per rush in both 2012 (1.7, last) and 2013 (2.0, 29th).

The Steelers have five wide receivers under contract for next season. Antonio Brown set career highs with 110 catches for 1,499 yards and nine touchdowns.

The other four combined for eight catches for 84 yards last season. Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery are both free agents.

AFC South
Indianapolis Colts: wide receiver, defensive line, defensive back
Colts receivers dropped 8 percent of third-down targets last season, the highest drop percentage in the league. Reggie Wayne’s return should help, but even Wayne dropped three of his 18 targets on third downs before being placed on injured reserve.

On defense, Robert Mathis was outstanding for the Colts last season but didn’t have much help. Mathis recorded 13.5 sacks when the Colts sent four or fewer rushers, more than the rest of the Colts combined (9.5).

Mathis forced six fumbles when Indianapolis sent standard pressure, He was the only Colt to force one in those situations.

Two of the three Colts defenders who played at least 900 snaps (Antoine Bethea and Vontae Davis) are free agents, as well as Cassius Vaughn (393 snaps).

Jacksonville Jaguars: quarterback, defensive line, offensive line
Jaguars quarterbacks posted a league-worst 23.8 Total QBR last season, the second time in the past three seasons Jacksonville has had the league’s worst QBR. The Jaguars have a 24.7 Total QBR since drafting Blaine Gabbert (2011), the only team below 30 during that span.

The Jaguars averaged 1.7 yards before contact per rush last season, worst in the league and one of only two teams below 2.0.

On defense, Jacksonville’s 20 sacks when sending four or fewer pass rushers was tied for 10th-fewest in the league last season, despite using standard pressure more often than any other team (82 percent of opponents’ dropbacks).

Houston Texans: quarterback, cornerback, inside linebacker
Texans quarterbacks handled the blitz worse than any team in the league last season. Houston’s Total QBR against at least five pass rushers was 20.9, worst in the NFL.

On defense, the Texans intercepted seven passes last season, fewest in the NFL and less than half of their total in both of Wade Philips’ previous two seasons as defensive coordinator. Houston intercepted three passes intended for wide receivers, less than half of any other team’s total.

Darryl Sharpton and Joe Mays (both free agents) were the only two Texans’ inside linebackers to record at least 500 snaps last season. Brian Cushing (315 snaps) missed nine games with a left leg injury.

Tennessee Titans: cornerback, defensive line
The Titans' defense allowed six receiving touchdowns by wide receivers last season, with only the Dolphins allowing fewer (five). But top cornerback Alterraun Verner is a free agent.

The Titans' rush defense allowed 4.0 yards per rush inside the tackles last season, 11th in the league.

However, Tennessee allowed 1.7 yards after contact on those rushes, 23rd in the league. The Titans allowed the fourth-fewest yards before contact per rush last year, but defensive lineman Antonio Johnson (363 snaps) is an unrestricted free agent.

AFC West
Denver Broncos: defense, running back
Forty-four percent of Denver’s defensive snaps last season were logged by players who are restricted or unrestricted free agents, including five of seven Broncos with at least 650 defensive snaps.

Three of the four secondary snaps leaders are free agents. Shaun Phillips (team-high 10 sacks) and Wesley Woodyard (second on team with 83 tackles) are also unrestricted free agents.

On offense, Broncos free-agent running back Knowshon Moreno rushed for 1,038 yards last season, 12th in the league. Moreno played 671 snaps -- more than fellow running backs Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson combined.

Kansas City Chiefs: defensive back, wide receiver
The Chiefs allowed 6.4 yards after the catch per reception last season, worst in the league. The Chiefs also share a division with the Broncos (first in yards after the catch) and Chargers (fifth). Defensive snap leader Kendrick Lewis is a free agent.

On offense, Chiefs wide receivers ranked among the league’s least-productive units last season, ranking last in receptions, receiving yards and first downs.

San Diego Chargers: cornerback, defensive line, outside linebacker
The Chargers' defense allowed 9.1 yards per attempt to wide receivers last season, highest in the league. Richard Marshall was one of two cornerbacks to play at least 600 snaps for the Chargers last season and is a free agent.

The Chargers put opposing quarterbacks under pressure on 19 percent of dropbacks with a four-man pass rush last season, the second lowest rate in the league. Opposing quarterbacks averaged 7.9 yards per attempt against San Diego’s standard pass rush, fifth worst in the league.

Oakland Raiders: defensive line, cornerback, offensive line
The Raiders had a league-low 12 sacks with four or fewer pass rushers last season, 21 behind the league-leading Panthers. Fifteen teams had at least twice as many sacks with a standard pass rush as Oakland did.

The Raiders also allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete a league-worst 69.1 percent of passes targeting wide receivers last season.

On offense, Raiders quarterbacks were under duress on 32 percent of dropbacks last season, the fourth-highest rate in the league. Tackles Jared Veldheer and Tony Pashos are free agents. Veldheer is the team leader in snaps played over the past four seasons (3,184), but missed the first 11 games of 2013 with a triceps injury.

All eyes on Watkins at Clemson Pro Day

March, 6, 2014
Mar 6
11:16
AM ET

Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsSammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd keyed the Clemson Tigers' success this past season.
Plenty of scouts will put pencil to paper today as they check out Clemson’s Pro Day.

Teams looking for help at wide receiver need look no further than the Tigers’ Sammy Watkins – who was a big-time play-maker during his collegiate career. Of his 27 career receiving touchdowns, 21 came on plays of at least 25 yards.

The average pass thrown to Watkins this past season traveled just 4.7 yards downfield. As his career has gone forward, Watkins has been targeted closer and closer to the line of scrimmage.

In 2013, Clemson did whatever they could to get him the ball, targeting him behind the line of scrimmage 65 times last season, 14 more than any other AQ player.

At the NFL Combine, Watkins measured 6’1” and ran a 4.43 second 40-yard dash. That combined with his production in college was enough for Scouts, Inc. to rank him as the fourth-highest player on the board. Todd McShay and Mel Kiper are in agreement that he is the best wide receiver available – with both projecting him to go at No. 5 to the Oakland Raiders.

Watkins’ quarterback Tajh Boyd was a consistent performer in college as well and finished his career as the ACC leader in 300-yard games, touchdown passes and touchdowns responsible for.

Boyd also showed improvement each season as his yards per attempt and completion percentage climbed in each successive year.

The deep ball was one of Boyd’s specialties as he completed 54.7 percent of passes of at least 20 yards. That ranked highest among all BCS-AQ quarterbacks – nearly five percentage points better than the next two closest: Blake Bortles of UCF and Marcus Mariota of Oregon.

Although he was productive in college, Boyd’s height is one reason why he is just the 11th-ranked quarterback according to Scouts Inc. 54 players threw at least 20 passes in the NFL last season, and just seven of them were 6'1" or shorter. Of course one of those was Russell Wilson – who recently won the Super Bowl.

Postseason struggles for Brady, Belichick

January, 20, 2014
Jan 20
1:30
PM ET

Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY SportsTom Brady and Bill Belichick are one of the most successful quarterback-head coach duos in NFL history. But they have not had the same success in recent years.
Next year will be the 10th season since the Patriots’ run of three Super Bowl wins in four seasons. Their last Super Bowl-winning campaign came in 2004.

What loss means for Tom Brady
Tom Brady is .500 (8-8) in postseason games since New England's loss in the 2005 divisional playoffs at Denver. Before that game, Brady was a perfect 10-0, which included winning three Super Bowls.

In his postseason career, Tom Brady has a 2-4 record when facing a Manning as the opposing QB and a 16-4 record against all other starting quarterbacks.

But is it all on Brady? Consider that in Brady's first 10 playoff games (when the Patriots were 10-0), the defense allowed an average of 15.8 points per game and got a sack every 13.2 dropbacks.

In his past 16 playoff games, the defense has allowed an average of 22.9 points per game and got a sack every 18.2 dropbacks.

The Patriots have allowed 20 or more points in six straight playoff games.

But even with all of the negative trends, it's important to remember that Brady still owns the record for most postseason wins by a QB in NFL history. The next-closest active quarterback is Peyton Manning with 11.

Bill Belichick's successes and failures
Since New England’s Super Bowl loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII, the Patriots' playoff performance has fallen short of their lofty regular-season standard.

In the past six seasons, the Patriots have a .750 winning percentage in the regular season compared to a .444 winning percentage in the postseason.

Bill Belichick’s 19 postseason wins as a head coach are one shy of tying Tom Landry for most all time. He could have arrived there sooner, however; the Patriots have lost six of their past 10 postseason games.

Defense is what Belichick is known for, and the defense is what failed them against the Broncos on Sunday.

New England gave up 507 yards to the Broncos, the most they've allowed in a game -- regular season or postseason -- under Belichick.

The Patriots became one of six teams since the AFL-NFL merger to lose consecutive AFC Championship Games, and just the second in the past 25 years. The division rival Jets in 2009 and 2010 were the last to do so.

Of those six teams, only one -- the Raiders -- made the AFC Championship Game the next season. And that Raiders team went on to win not just the AFC Championship but the Super Bowl too.

Seahawks defense pounces on 49ers' lapses

January, 20, 2014
Jan 20
2:40
AM ET

Joe Nicholson/USA Today Sports Richard Sherman (25) and the Seahawks flexed their strength in the second half
In earning their spots in Super Bowl XLVIII, the Seattle Seahawks (the NFL’s top scoring defense) and the Denver Broncos (the league’s top scoring offense) rode their strengths to victory in Sunday’s Conference Championship games.

The Seahawks, trailing 10-3 at halftime, made 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick pay for his second-half lapses. The Broncos inflicted the worst postseason thrashing on a Patriots defense in at least the past eight seasons.

Seahawks’ defense rises, Kaepernick’s QBR falls
Entering Sunday’s NFC Championship game, Colin Kaepernick had an 85.4 Total QBR in the playoffs, the highest total since 2006 among quarterbacks with at least five postseason starts. Behind strong running (eight rushes for 98 yards), Kaepernick posted a 96.8 first-half Total QBR, his strongest first half in a playoff game in his career. His best first half had been 88.2 against the Falcons in the NFC Championship last year.

Here’s how his QBR fell apart:

    6:38/3rd: Kaepernick hits Anquan Boldin for a touchdown for a 17-10 lead. QBR: 96.2

    10:17/4th: Kaepernick takes a delay of game penalty and loses a fumble on a sack on the next play. QBR: 83.3

    7:44/4th: On his next pass, he throws an interception to Kam Chancellor that leads to a Seahawks field goal. QBR: 69.7

    0:30/4th: His final interception in the end zone seals the game. QBR: 65.1.

Kaepernick’s erratic second-half play was forced by a revived Seahawks defense. In the first two quarters, the Seahawks defense contributed -3.5 points to the team’s scoring margin, its third-worst first-half mark this season. In the second half, the defense contributed 4.6 points to the scoring margin. The 8.1-point difference is tied for the Seahawks’ second-largest positive swing from a first to a second half (27.4 in Week 4 against Houston and 8.1 in Week 14 against San Francisco).

Kaepernick’s second-half QBR of 27.0 is his worst performance in a half of any playoff game in his career. His previous low was 39.4 in the first half of the Super Bowl last season.

Manning sets QBR Standard in Rematch
Sunday’s AFC Championship game differed considerably from the season’s first meeting between the Broncos and Patriots. Perhaps the most significant difference was the performance of Peyton Manning.

He had a 28.1 QBR in Week 12, a 34-31 overtime loss by the Broncos. On Sunday, with more at stake, Manning posted an 88.8 QBR – not only enough to eliminate the Patriots, but also enough to set a standard against a coach regarded for his defensive acumen. That 60.7 change in QBR was the greatest QBR increase in a rematch game against a Bill Belichick-led defense in the QBR era.

Since 2006, a quarterback has started against the same defense twice in a season 664 times (not including the rare third matchup in a season – such as in Sunday’s NFC Championship game). Looking at all QB-opponent matchups, QBR drops 3.2 points on average from the first to the second meeting.

Quarterbacks have fared worse against the Patriots. Against a Belichick-coached defense, opponent QBR in a rematch has dropped 8.8 points on average, more than 2 times greater than the league average.

Before Sunday, Peyton Manning had faced the same opponent twice in the same season 27 times (since 2006). In the rematch game, Manning’s QBR rose 5.0 points on average, the fifth-highest average change among QBs who have had at least 10 rematches in that span.

Two of the dynamics entering the game were defenses historically improving against a quarterback the second time around and Manning typically improving against a defense in a rematch. But the magnitude of Manning’s improvement and the Patriots’ deterioration would have been hard to predict.

Sunday’s game was the Patriots’ worst defensive effort in the playoffs in terms of points contributed since 2006. The defense contributed -14.5 points to the Patriots’ scoring margin against the Broncos.

In all three games in which the Patriots faced a starting quarterback for the second time this season, he improved his Total QBR from the first matchup, the first time that happened in a Patriots season in ESPN’s data set (since ’06). New England lost all three games.

With his improvement in his second game against the Patriots, Manning surpassed Ryan Tannehill of the Miami Dolphins, who had a 29.8 QBR followed by an 82.2 this season for a 52.4 point improvement.

Keys to victory: Broncos 26, Patriots 16

January, 19, 2014
Jan 19
6:49
PM ET

Peyton Manning made it look easy for most of the day against the Patriots.
This time, the New England Patriots didn't have enough time to catch up to the Denver Broncos. Denver's ball-possession strategy was key in beating New England in the AFC Championship Game.

The Broncos advanced to their seventh Super Bowl, their first since the 1998 season. They will try to win their third Super Bowl title.

Broncos hold on and don’t let go
Denver won this game by sustaining long drives. It gained 507 yards on offense, held the ball for 35:44 and had zero turnovers. The 507 yards were the most allowed by a Bill Belichick-coached team.

The Broncos had a pair of scoring drives of seven minutes or longer. They had only one such drive all season entering this game. It came in last week’s win over the San Diego Chargers.

Manning perfect in one way, great in other ways
Peyton Manning threw for 400 yards with two touchdown passes and zero interceptions. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that only two other quarterbacks have had a playoff game in which they hit all those benchmarks -- Kurt Warner in Super Bowl XXXIV and Drew Brees in the 2010 and 2011 NFC wild-card round. Manning and Brees are the only quarterbacks to have three postseason games in which they threw for at least 400 yards.

The 400 yards were a Broncos team record for passing yards in a postseason game.

Manning, 37, will become the second-oldest quarterback to start a Super Bowl, trailing only Broncos team president John Elway.

How good was Manning in this game?

He was 8-for-8 for 116 yards, eight first downs and two touchdowns when using play-action. He established Demaryius Thomas as his top target early and often, connecting on seven of his first eight throws to Thomas for 134 yards. He was 7-for-9 for 186 yards on throws that traveled at least 15 yards downfield.

Manning was rarely pressured. He was under duress on only three of his 43 dropbacks. The Patriots' pressure percentage -- 7 percent -- was their lowest in a game this season. Their previous low was 17 percent against the Bills in Week 1.

Manning improved to 5-10 in games against Tom Brady, but he has won five of his past nine.

This one was a decisive victory.

Patriots, Brady could never catch up
The Patriots fell behind and could never do enough on offense to make up the deficit. Their run game could not match what it had done to get to this point.

New England ran 12 times between the tackles, netting 42 yards (3.5 yards per carry). In their previous three games, the Patriots averaged 5.8 yards per carry when rushing between the tackles.

Brady tried to go deep to get points in a hurry, but that didn’t work. He was 1-for-5 in the first three quarters on throws at least 21 yards downfield. He also could not replicate Manning’s success with Thomas with his go-to guy, Julian Edelman.

Brady was 4-for-7 throwing to Edelman in the first three quarters for only 27 yards. Edelman finished with 10 catches, but they were not enough to overcome Denver's dominance.

Manning makes most of limited yards

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
2:06
AM ET
Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesPeyton Manning had modest traditional stats Sunday but broke the 90 barrier in Total QBR.
Peyton Manning passed for 230 yards Sunday in the Denver Broncos’ 24-17 victory over the San Diego Chargers in the NFL Divisional Playoffs. Manning’s passing yards were his second-fewest of the season. But Manning piled up those yards when it counted the most, leading to a milestone Total QBR for the Broncos quarterback.

Manning’s final statistics (25 of 36 passing, two touchdowns, one interception) might not seem like the high-flying numbers fans got used to during his record-breaking regular season, but the circumstances surrounding his big plays helped him post a career playoff-best 91.1 Total QBR.

In the first quarter, Manning completed 7 of 9 passes for 71 yards and one touchdown, helping the Broncos build their 7-0 lead; his Total QBR was 98.9. By halftime, Manning had thrown for 100 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, completing 11 of 16 throws and leading the Broncos to a 17-0 lead; his Total QBR was 90.4.

The Broncos held a double-digit lead until there was 3:53 left in the fourth quarter, making Manning’s second-half performance less relevant than the plays he made in the first half. His Total QBR did not drop below 85 after his first completion, with 8:41 left in the first quarter.

Manning has the most games (including the postseason) of 90+ QBR since 2006 – and it’s not close. Sunday’s game was his first in the postseason with a QBR that high in the eight seasons for which ESPN has QBR data.

Panthers go nowhere inside the 10
The Carolina Panthers’ offense was locked down inside the San Francisco 49ers’ 10-yard line in the 49ers' 23-10 victory. The Panthers’ offense contributed -9.5 expected points, the Panthers’ worst showing in that part of the field in the eight seasons of ESPN’s data set.

The Panthers rushed the ball four times from the 49ers’ 1-yard line, getting stopped all four times for a combined loss of one yard, including one failed fourth-down attempt in the first quarter. In all, the Panthers ran eight offensive plays inside the 10-yard line and came away with three points.

Expected points reflect strength of Patriots’ rushing game
As if six touchdowns weren’t impressive enough, the New England Patriots on Saturday had the second-greatest expected points of any team’s rushing game in a playoff game since 2006. LeGarrette Blount (four touchdowns) and Stevan Ridley (two) powered the Patriots’ offense against the Indianapolis Colts, combining for 38 rushes and 218 yards. The Patriots’ rushing game added 12.2 expected points, the team’s best rushing EPA in a playoff game since 2006 (their previous best was 4.2).

Brady posts high QBR despite no TD
The Patriots’ win over the Colts on Saturday marked the fourth time in 25 postseason games that Tom Brady did not throw a touchdown pass. Brady posted a 75.1 Total QBR, the greatest mark for any quarterback without a touchdown pass in a playoff game. He completed six of his nine third-down pass attempts, all completions for first downs, including five on touchdown drives.

Compared with Brady’s 66.7 percent conversion rate, the Colts’ Andrew Luck (7 of 14 third-down passing) posted a 42.9 percent conversion rate. The regular-season league average was 39 percent.

Wilson's low QBR doesn't stop Seahawks
Russell Wilson had a 25.9 Total QBR on Saturday against the New Orleans Saints, the second-worst rating in a playoff victory in the last five seasons. Wilson completed nine of 18 passes for a career-low 103 yards. He was sacked three times and averaged 5.7 yards per attempt. Wilson also owns the third-worst Total QBR in a playoff victory, posting a 36.0 QBR in a win against the Washington Redskins last year.

The Seahawks’ special teams added 7.6 expected points to their net scoring margin, their highest total in a playoff game since 2006, helping them overcome Wilson’s low QBR. Steven Hauschka hit three field goals, including a 49-yard kick. The Seahawks had an average starting field position of their own 33-yard line and held the Saints to a starting field position of their 25-yard line.
A win Saturday night in Foxborough would make Andrew Luck the first quarterback drafted first overall to win two playoff games by the end of his second season. Considering the company on that list -- names like Terry Bradshaw, John Elway, Troy Aikman and both Peyton and Eli Manning -- Luck is playing for an impressive amount of early postseason success.

If any quarterback knows early playoff success, it’s Tom Brady, who started his career 10-0 in the postseason with three Super Bowl championships before his first loss but has gone 7-7 since.

Here’s a look at how Brady has contributed to the 7-7 stretch as well as three other key matchups that will send either the Indianapolis Colts or New England Patriots to the AFC Championship Game.

The Colts’ four-man rush vs. Brady
Brady’s postseason play has been part of New England’s recent playoff problem. His 71.1 Total QBR in the regular season since losing Super Bowl XLII is fourth best in the league, but his 45.7 playoff QBR in that span ranks 19th.

Brady has always been good against the blitz. He has 76 touchdowns and six interceptions when opponents send at least five rushers since the start of 2008 (including the playoffs). His plus-70 TD-Int differential is best in the league, and only Aaron Rodgers has even thrown 70 touchdowns.

The problem is teams don’t blitz Brady as often in the postseason. The 2007 Giants solidified a basic tenet for beating Brady: don’t rely on extra pass-rushers. Teams have followed that blueprint with success since the 2007 Giants.

T.Y. Hilton vs. Aqib Talib
After Reggie Wayne went down in the fourth quarter of Week 7, Hilton emerged as Luck’s preferred target. Over the final 10 weeks of the regular season, Hilton’s 55 catches tied for eighth in the league. He had the fewest drops among the 18 players with at least 80 targets in that span.

The Chiefs didn’t provide an effective model for stopping the speedy Hilton. He set Colts playoff records (and career highs) with 13 catches for 224 receiving yards and added a pair of touchdowns. Hilton’s season-high 72 yards after the catch was the third highest in a game by a wide receiver against the Chiefs this season.

The New England secondary allowed only one wide receiver to reach 50 yards after the catch in a game this season -- Josh Gordon (90 in Week 14, 71 of which came on an 80-yard touchdown).

Hilton will likely draw Talib in coverage Saturday night. Talib, who was named second-team All-Pro last week, has been effective playing physically this season, something Hilton struggled with this year. Hilton caught 65 percent of targets against non-press coverage this season but only 48 percent against press coverage.

Donald Brown vs. Patriots rush D
While Trent Richardson was the most-publicized Colts running back this season, Brown quietly put together an impressive season.

Brown’s 5.3 yards per rush was second best in the league among running backs and more than a yard better than his career average entering this season (4.1). He averaged a half-yard more after contact per rush (2.7) than any other qualified rusher in the NFL this season.

Brandon Spikes is the latest Patriots run-stopper to be placed on injured reserve. Both Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo had played their final game of the season by Week 6, and from Weeks 7 to 17 the Patriots rush defense was ranked in the bottom six in rush yards, yards per rush, yards before contact per rush and first downs allowed.

Julian Edelman vs. Colts secondary
Injuries left Edelman and a cast of rookies as Brady’s supporting cast in the passing game. Edelman became Brady’s top receiver and had an extremely productive season.

If Edelman’s per-game averages without Rob Gronkowski (11.1 targets and 7.8 catches) were prorated for a full season, he would lead the league in catches (125) and tie A.J. Green for the league lead in targets (178).

The Colts defense allowed 8.0 yards per attempt to slot receivers this season, 23rd in the league. Edelman ran almost exactly half his routes from the slot this season (275 of 549) and has the third-shortest average target distance (8.1) of the 34 players with at least 100 targets.

Matchups to watch: Patriots at Ravens

December, 20, 2013
12/20/13
10:50
AM ET
Doug Kapustin/MCT/Getty ImagesThe Ravens beat the Patriots in last season's AFC Championship.
Six teams have played the New England Patriots at least five times in the past six years (including the playoffs). Among those six (New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos, Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts), only Baltimore (3-3) has a .500 record against the Patriots.

Considering New England’s 70-25 record against the rest of the league over that span, .500 is a success. The Ravens have taken two of the three postseason meetings between the teams, including last season’s AFC Championship.

Here’s a closer look at Sunday’s Week 16 matchup:

As the QB goes...
Simply put, the Ravens have received better quarterback play in recent meetings against the Patriots.

Baltimore has picked off nine of Tom Brady's passes since 2008, tied with the Dolphins for most by any team. Miami has also played twice as many games (12) and allowed 14 more touchdowns vs. the Patriots than Baltimore.

The Ravens are a different defense from the unit that led the league in defensive expected points added from 2008-12 (+434). Baltimore’s +29.8 defensive EPA ranks eighth in the league, not as dominant as year’s past.

Patriots pass rush vs. Ravens offensive line
The Patriots are reliant on a four-man pass rush (they rush four men 75 percent of the time, the fifth-highest rate in the NFL), but their defensive line has struggled this season.

New England has controlled the line of scrimmage on 43 percent of pass plays this season, last in the league (for an explainer on how that is calculated, click here. Even before Vince Wilfork’s Week 4 injury ended his season, the Patriots defensive line only controlled 44 percent of pass plays. That’s well below league average (50 percent), a number New England has not met in its last nine games.

The player whose presence is missed the most isn’t Wilfork, but Tommy Kelly. When New England had Kelly on the field, it controlled the line on slightly more than half of opposing dropbacks. Without Kelly, the number drops to only 41 percent.

Every team wants to pressure the quarterback, but for New England it’s especially important. The Patriots defense has the third-best Total QBR allowed when quarterbacks are under pressure, but the fourth-worst when quarterbacks aren’t pressured. The 26-spot difference in rank is the biggest in the league.

Ravens CB vs. Patriots WR
Baltimore’s secondary has defended or intercepted 50 passes this season, tied for fourth most in the league, with Lardarius Webb’s 18 the second most among players. Only the Ravens and Browns have three defensive backs with at least 10 pass breakups or interceptions.

Baltimore is a top-10 defense in completion percentage and Total QBR allowed against at least three wide receivers, and has excelled defending slot receivers.

Brady’s weapons last week were all slot receivers. Of Brady’s 55 passes against Miami, 43 went to Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Josh Boyce or Austin Collie.

Ray Rice vs. Patriots LB
Ray Rice has topped 125 yards from scrimmage in four of his six games against New England, but New England held him to 70 yards from scrimmage and 3.0 yards per opportunity (targets and rushes) in last year’s AFC Championship. Both were the lowest of his six games against the Patriots.

Rice’s recent form has been dismal. His 3.1 yards per rush ranks 46th among qualified rushers, while no qualified running back has averaged fewer yards after contact per rush than Rice (1.1). He’s averaged 4.2 yards per target, 44th in the league among 50 backs with at least 20 targets.

Is facing New England what Rice needs to get back on track? The Patriots defense has allowed 150.4 yards from scrimmage per game by running backs, seventh most in the league. With no Jerod Mayo, look for Dont’a Hightower on early downs and possibly Dane Fletcher in sub packages to be tasked with slowing Rice.

Life without Gronk

December, 9, 2013
12/09/13
3:44
PM ET

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
The Patriots offense will be much less explosive without Rob Gronkowski

According to ESPN and Media reports, Rob Gronkowski suffered a season-ending ACL and MCL tear after being upended by safety T.J. Ward in the third quarter of yesterday’s game. This is a significant blow to the Patriots, who came back to beat the Browns and secure their 11th consecutive season with at least 10 wins.

What Gronk means to the Pats Offense

The Patriots go back to "life without Gronk" which was not a pretty sight the first time around this season. The Patriots offense ranked among the league's worst the first six weeks of the year when they last played without the tight end.

The Patriots are second in the league in points per game since Gronkowski made his season debut in Week 7, scoring over 11 more points per game than they did in the first six weeks of the season.

They ranked in the top five in most offensive categories with him in the lineup this season.

The Red Zone

The Patriots have also been much more effective in the red zone. The Patriots scored a touchdown on 68.8 percent of their red zone trips this season with Gronkowski on the field. When he was inactive in the first six weeks of the season, New England scored a touchdown on 40.9 percent of red zone possessions.

Since Gronkowski’s forearm injury in Week 11 of last season, he has missed 11 of the Patriots next 20 games (including playoffs) during that span.

Is Brady better with Gronk?

Since Gronk entered the league in 2010, Tom Brady has been significantly more effective with Gronkowski on the field. Through Week 13 of 2013, Brady has a 78.5 Total QBR with Gronkowski on the field. Brady has a 59.0 QBR without Gronk on the field. Brady has thrown 5.1 touchdowns per interception with Gronkowski on the field. That ratio drops to 2.2 touchdowns per interception with Gronkowski on the sideline.

This season, the connection between Brady and Gronkowski was not as strong as their first three years together. From 2010 to 2012, Brady threw only two interceptions to go along with 38 touchdowns when targeting Gronk.

This season, Brady threw four interceptions when targeting Gronk to go along with only only four touchdowns. Brady completed 59.1 percent of his passes to Gronkowski this year after completing 72.2 percent of his passes to Gronkowski in their first three seasons together.

Manning shows he has Chiefs' number

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
1:53
AM ET

AP Photo/Ed ZurgaPeyton Manning threw four of his five touchdown passes to Eric Decker

Peyton Manning had a 97.2 Total QBR Sunday, his highest in a game since Week 17 last season, also against the Chiefs (99.0). Manning has posted a Total QBR above 90.0 in 13 games in the two seasons since he joined the Broncos, easily the most in the NFL. Russell Wilson (8) is second, and Tom Brady (6) is third.

Manning’s Total QBR and the Broncos’ win probability swung dramatically with two straight passes in the 3rd quarter. His 37-yard touchdown pass to Eric Decker making the score 21-21 sent his Total QBR from 76.4 to 90.6, and the Broncos’ win probability went up 16.8 percentage points.

Manning’s next throw was a 77-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas, raising his Total QBR from 90.6 to 95.3 and the Broncos’ win probability by 20.4 percentage points.

Chiefs defense disappears
The Chiefs’ defense was riddled by Manning and the Broncos’ offense Sunday. The Chiefs allowed 535 yards, their second-worst total in the past 20 seasons. All five of the Broncos’ touchdown drives covered 70 yards or more. The Broncos averaged 8.1 yards per play, the fifth-most the Chiefs have allowed in the past 20 seasons.
Based on expected points added -- which takes into account everything a defense does to affect the score, including keeping the opponent from moving the ball, scoring points and forcing turnovers –- the Chiefs had their worst one-game defensive performance in the 8 seasons for which we have expected points data. Sunday’s -27.8 defensive expected points beat the team’s previous low-water mark of -25.0 – set the week before against the Chargers.

Geno in bad company
Geno Smith's Total QBR was 1.6 in Sunday's start and is 3.8 over his last 5 starts. He has made 5 straight starts with a Total QBR under 15.0. Since 2006, only JaMarcus Russell has a longer streak.

Colts not the same without Wayne
Andrew Luck had a 37.1 Total QBR in Sunday’s game, just below his average performance without Reggie Wayne in the last 5 games. Although the Colts are 3-2 in those games, the offense has contributed -1.0 expected points per game without Wayne (-5.3 Sunday), 23rd in the NFL. In 7 games with Wayne, the Colts’ offense averaged 7.4 expected points added, 5th in the NFL.

Brady leads another comeback ...
The Patriots have overcome a double-digit deficit and minuscule win probability at halftime in 2 straight games thanks largely to Tom Brady. After the 2nd half in those games (4 quarters of play plus OT), Brady has completed 75 percent of his passes with more than 500 passing yards.

Other than Stephen Gostkowski’s tying and go-ahead field goals, the play that improved the Patriots’ win probability the most Sunday started with Brady. His 9-yard touchdown pass to Shane Vereen with 8:06 left in the third quarter gave the Patriots their first lead (21-17) and increased their win probability by 9.6 percentage points to 65.9%.

The Patriots began that drive with a 35.2% win probability. Brady was 5 of 6 for 70 yards on the drive, adding 28.5 percentage points to the probability.

... and Texans blow another lead
The Texans lost their 3rd game this season after leading by double digits, all at home. In each game, the Texans' win probability was greater than 85% at halftime. According to Elias, the last team to lose more games at home in a season when leading by double digits was the 1980 Buccaneers (4).

Brady beats the blitz ... eventually

December, 1, 2013
12/01/13
5:06
PM ET
Tom Brady has beaten the Houston Texans’ blitz before.

This time, it just took him a little longer to figure it out.

The Texans’ blitz gave Brady problems in the first half, holding him to 2 for 7 passing (with an interception and a sack) when sending at least five pass rushers.

But Brady was much improved in the second half against the Texans’ blitz, which Wade Phillips dialed up almost twice as often as in the first two quarters. The chart on the right illustrates the difference.

Brady’s two most notable passes against the blitz in this game were the touchdown throw to Shane Vereen that gave the Patriots their first lead of the game, and the third-down 17-yard completion to Rob Gronkowski to the Texans 43, which led to the eventual game-winning field goal.

The change in approach came in how far Brady threw the ball when he was blitzed. He elected to throw shorter passes.

Brady’s average throw against Houston’s blitz was 15.0 yards downfield in the first half and 8.5 yards downfield in the second half.

Brady beat the Texans’ blitz last year in both games he faced the Texans. Brady was 25 for 38 for 356 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in Week 14 and the Divisional Playoffs combined when Houston sent at least five rushers.

Brady did have one notable streak against the blitz come to an end. He had thrown 31 touchdown passes without an interception against pass rushes of five or more since he threw an interception against it in a game against the Washington Redskins in Week 14 of the 2011 season.

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