Rushing, not passing, key to beating Pats

December, 8, 2010
12/08/10
1:57
AM ET
Even after allowing just 149 passing yards to the New York Jets in Monday night’s blowout victory, the New England Patriots are still 31st in the NFL, allowing 276.8 pass yards per game. Only the Houston Texans have a more porous pass defense this season.

That being said, this season has shown that the ground game, opposed to going through the air, is the key to beating the 10-2 Patriots.

The two teams to beat the Patriots this season, the Jets in their first meeting and the Cleveland Browns back in Week Nine, averaged 187 yards passing and 183 yards rushing in their wins over New England. In the Patriots 10 wins, they allowed averages of 294.8 pass yards and 100.3 rushing yards.

The end result of the game strategy? The Browns and Jets averaged 31 points in their two wins. In the 10 losses, Patriots' opponents scored 20.7 points a game.

In games where the Patriots allowed 200 or fewer pass yards, they’re 1-2, with the Browns gaining 174 and the Jets 200 in their wins. The only win in that span was Monday night's thrashing of the Jets. In games allowing more than 200 pass yards, New England is 9-0.

The key also seems to lie with sticking with the run. In those two losses, Patriots’ opponents averaged 38 rushes a game, to the tune of 4.8 yards a carry. In the 10 wins, the Patriots faced only 24.5 rush attempts a game, allowing 4.1 yards a carry.

So, while the Patriots defense allows some gaudy passing numbers, they’ve also faced a league-high 474 pass attempts this season. New England has also intercepted 18 passes this season, the second-most in the NFL behind only the Philadelphia Eagles.

And what teams want to avoid is trying to out-pass the Patriots, as New England, led by Tom Brady, has a league-high 27 TD passes this season, against only five interceptions, the second-fewest in the NFL, behind only the run-happy Kansas City Chiefs, who lead the league in rushing attempts.
Matt Willis has been a studio researcher at ESPN since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2006 with a degree in journalism. While there, he worked on ICTV, on shows such as "Ya Think You Know Sports?" and "Sports Final." He also was a member of the IC Comedy Club and figures about half of the jokes he makes in his column are actually funny.

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