Stats & Info: New England Patriots

Did Pats rookies ruin Tom Brady in 2013?

June, 18, 2014
Jun 18

Elsa/Getty ImagesThis was a familiar pose for Tom Brady, who had one of his worst statistical seasons in 2013.
Tom Brady is coming off his least efficient season in some time, but his average output in 2013 might not have been entirely of his own making.

The numbers suggest that youth on the Patriots roster, especially at the wide receiver position, played a big role in Brady's struggles.

2013 Was a Down Year For Brady
Tom Brady completed just 60.5% of his passes last season, his lowest completion rate in a season since 2003.

He ranked 22nd in the league in completion percentage, behind Matt Flynn, Matt Schaub and Chad Henne, among others.

Brady's 6.9-yard average per pass attempt was 24th-best in the league.

It’s a steep decline from 2011-12, when Brady averaged 8.1 yards per attempt, third best in the NFL.

Brady’s 25 pass touchdowns were his fewest in a full season since 2006, when he threw 24. Julian Edelman led the team with 6 TD catches, which tied for 30th in the NFL.

The Rookie Factor
But Brady's down season didn't occur in a vacuum.

He attempted 163 passes to rookies last season, the highest total of his career and 35 more than any other quarterback in the NFL.

On average, those pass attempts weren't particularly successful. His completion percentage on those throws was 47.9%, compared to better than 67% to all other targets.

That low completion percentage wasn't merely a symptom of poor chemistry. Patriots rookies dropped 8% of the passes they received from Brady, compared to a drop rate of 4.7% by other Patriots players.

Top stats to know: NFL Free Agency (Day 5)

March, 15, 2014
Mar 15
What were the top statistical storylines from Day 5 of NFL Free Agency?

Edelman stays in New England

Unrestricted free agent Julian Edelman agreed to terms to remain with the New England Patriots. Edelman developed a great rapport with Tom Brady last season, becoming his favorite target. No Patriots receiver had more receptions, yards, touchdowns or targets than Edelman last season. In fact, Edelman caught 70.5 percent of his targets from Tom Brady last season, the highest completion percentage by a QB-WR duo with at least 75 attempts.

Edelman ranked fourth with a career-high 105 catches last season, a huge leap from his previous career high of 37 in 2009. He was one of five players to catch 100 or more passes in 2013. Among 60 wide receivers with at least 75 targets last season, Edelman’s 70.5 catch percentage was best in the league.

He also thrived in the slot position, recording over half of his receptions from there last season. Edeleman’s 53 slot receptions ranked third in the NFL, behind only Kendall Wright and Wes Welker.

Peppers picks the Packers

Julius Peppers could help bring some pass rush help back to the Green Bay Packers. The Packers sacked or put opposing quarterbacks under duress on 22.5 percent of dropbacks last season, tied for third worst in the NFL. However, the Packers tied with Peppers' former team, the Chicago Bears.

There are some questions on how effective Peppers can be at this point, especially as games progress. Peppers posted 7.0 sacks last season, tied for the second-lowest total of his career. He posted a sack for every 118.6 defensive snaps he was on the field last season, his worst rate in the last six seasons.

As a member of the Bears, Peppers was very disruptive in the first halves of games, recording 26.0 sacks. As the game wore on, however, Peppers' sack totals declined. All 7.0 of his sacks last season were in the first half.

Peppers has primarily played defensive end in a 4-3 scheme throughout his career. The Packers base defense is a 3-4. If the Packers have Peppers move to linebacker, it will be a relatively new experience for him. Since 2010, Peppers has logged a total of 19 snaps as a linebacker. He has played 3,328 total snaps over that time.

Seahawks defense pounces on 49ers' lapses

January, 20, 2014
Jan 20

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

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.

In playoffs, it's all about defense (not QBs)

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17
Much of the focus heading into Sunday’s Conference Championship games will be on the quarterback play, particularly with future Hall of Famers Tom Brady and Peyton Manning facing off for the fourth time in their postseason careers.

But if recent playoff history is any indication, it’s not the quarterbacks who will have the most impact on which teams get a trip to MetLife Stadium, but rather the defenses’ ability to stop those quarterbacks that will make a bigger difference.

Just looking at the past few Super Bowl champions, quarterbacks who rated outside the top half of the league in Total QBR through the Divisional Playoffs have led their teams to championships, including Eli Manning in the 2007 season, Ben Roethlisberger in 2008 and Joe Flacco just last year.

What those quarterbacks had in common was a defense on the other side that could control opposing quarterbacks, each ranking in the top quarter of the league in terms of QBR allowed. Even the recent Packers and Saints title teams, which had elite quarterbacks, paired them with Top-3 defenses in terms of opponents' QBR.

An examination of all playoff games back to 2006 (as far back as QBR goes) shows that although quarterback play seems to carry over from game to game in the regular season, that correlation decreases in the postseason.

And conversely, the ability of a team to contain opposing quarterbacks seems to have a greater impact on how quarterbacks perform – and as a consequence, who wins – in the playoffs.

The details of our study
This analysis looked at how two components entering each game – the quarterback’s QBR for the season and the defense’s QBR allowed on the season to that point – related to the quarterback’s Total QBR in the game as well as the final result.

To ensure each of those numbers were representative, the only games analyzed were those in which both the quarterback and the defense had at least 100 action plays entering the game, and in which the quarterback had at least 15 action plays within the game.

The first graph below shows how well a quarterback’s QBR entering a game does in terms of “predicting” QBR within that game, with separate trend lines for regular season and playoff games.

The regular-season trend shows a decent amount of regression to the mean, as quarterbacks with extreme QBRs entering the game have less extreme performances, on average.

But the general trend of good quarterbacks having above-average games and bad quarterbacks having below-average ones is clearly present with the upward trending line.

On the other hand, the trend line for the playoffs is pretty wacky. This is what happens when quarterbacks like Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow and Joe Flacco have games of 90 or higher QBR, and Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and Matt Ryan each post games with a QBR less than 20.

Now, contrast that picture with the one below, which looks at how strongly the opponent’s QBR allowed entering the game influences the quarterback’s play in the game.

The regular season trend is almost flat, showing that defensive quality has minimal impact on how well a quarterback plays in those games.

But look at the postseason trend – while clearly not perfect, there seems to be a stronger impact on QBR by defense entering the game in the playoffs. The elite defenses mentioned above flexed their muscles in the postseason, limiting opposing quarterbacks as they had earlier on in the season.

A more rigorous analysis using multiple regression shows that the quarterback’s QBR entering the game is still significant in the postseason, but the defense’s QBR allowed becomes more predictive in the postseason. The small sample size of the postseason means that this pattern might be due to random fluctuation, but the trend is still something worth keeping an eye on.

We can go one step further and look at how impactful these pregame QBR values are in terms of actually winning the game. A look at the chart below shows that the pattern is similar to that with the actual QBR in the game.

Having a starting QB with a better QBR entering the game gives you a solid chance to win in the regular season, but the team with that advantage is just 44-40 in the postseason since 2006. Conversely, teams that have a better QBR defense than the opponent are 51-33 in those same playoff games, including 6-2 so far this postseason.

Looking ahead to this weekend, perhaps we can de-emphasize Peyton Manning’s 22-point advantage over Brady in QBR and instead focus on the defenses that they line up against.

As it works out, though, the Patriots and Broncos have very similar, mediocre opponent QBR values to this point: 48.3 for Denver, 50.5 for New England. So there isn’t any clear advantage there.

In this regard, the more interesting matchup is out in Seattle. Both defenses in the 49ers-Seahawks game rank in the top five in terms of QBR allowed, but the Seahawks are ahead of all other NFL teams at 29.5.

In each of their past seven games, the Seahawks have limited the opposing quarterback to a QBR at least 20 points below what he came in averaging entering the game, including their last meeting against Colin Kaepernick in Week 14.

If the Seahawks can keep up their own trend of shutting down opposing quarterbacks and the similar bigger-picture pattern that has emerged over the last several postseasons, they should give themselves a good chance to win this weekend.

And even though the road would go through Brady or Manning, the trend of strong defense carrying over more in the playoffs gives Seattle a pretty good chance of taking home the Lombardi Trophy in early February.

AFC Championship: Matchups to watch

January, 16, 2014
Jan 16

USA TODAY SportsBoth the Patriots and Broncos rushing games will be important in Sunday's AFC Championship.
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will get the headlines leading up to Sunday’s AFC Championship game, but in the Week 12 meeting between the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos, the teams combined for 396 rushing yards.

That first meeting also went to overtime, a reflection of how narrow the gap is between the Broncos and the Patriots.

Down 24 points at halftime, Brady led his team back with three second-half touchdown passes before Manning forced overtime with an 11-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas. A muffed punt was the difference in the game, setting up a 31-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal that capped the comeback.

Here are four matchups that will stamp a ticket to the Super Bowl.

Patriots Rushing Game vs Terrance Knighton
The Patriots have been rush-heavy in their last three games, with LeGarrette Blount tripling his inside-the-tackle rushes per game average.

Blount is averaging 130 rush yards per game inside the tackles since the start of Week 16, which is not only more than any other player, but also more than 28 of 31 other teams.

Denver’s Terrance Knighton has been very effective this year as a run-stopping defensive tackle.

Knighton has been on the field for 70 percent of first and second-down rushing attempts the Broncos have faced this season, and the Broncos have allowed 3.5 yards per rush on those plays. That would rank second in the league on first or second down. When Knighton is off the field, Denver’s 5.2 yards per rush would rank as the second worst.

Broncos running backs vs Patriots unloaded box
New England practically begged the Broncos to run the football in Week 12. Denver had 47 rushes against six or fewer defenders in the box, 14 more than any other team had in a game in the last six years.

The Broncos rushed for 281 yards and averaged 6.0 yards per rush in Week 12 against that “unloaded” front.

New England’s defensive tackles last Saturday were Chris Jones, Joe Vellano and Sealver Siliga - none of whom were drafted or had played a game before 2012.

Broncos secondary vs Patriots receivers
Denver has allowed a 36.9 QBR in the regular season and a 61.6 QBR in the playoffs since start of 2012, and failed to hold a lead in both Week 12 vs. New England and in last year’s playoff loss to the Ravens.

Improved secondary play may be a tall order after Chris Harris was placed on injured reserve with a torn ACL, especially after Philip Rivers went 11 of 15 for 173 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter with Quentin Jammer in for Harris.

The Broncos have been terrible this year against slot receivers, which is basically almost all of the wideout options that Brady has left. Champ Bailey has been Denver’s slot cornerback for the last three weeks, but may be pressed into perimeter action with Harris’ injury.

Blount's historic day leads Patriots to win

January, 12, 2014
Jan 12
David Butler II/USA TODAY SportsLeGarrette Blount became the second player to run for four touchdowns in an NFL postseason game.
Playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012, LeGarrette Blount had 151 rush yards and two rushing touchdowns the entire season.

In the New England Patriots’ divisional playoff victory Saturday night over the Indianapolis Colts, Blount surpassed both of those numbers, making NFL history with 166 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns in the 43-22 victory.

He’s just the second player in NFL postseason history to run for at least four touchdowns in a game. Ricky Watters had five for the San Francisco 49ers in a divisional playoff game in the 1993 season. No other player has had more than three, making Blount the first player in postseason history to have more than 120 rushing yards with at least four rushing touchdowns in a game.

For the game, 162 of Blount’s 166 yards came on runs inside the tackles. That’s the fifth-most by a player in a game this season, regular and postseason.

The Patriots' blocking deserves a lot of credit for the performance as well. Blount had 146 of his yards before contact, the second-most such yards for a player in a game this season. Only DeMarco Murray (149 against the Rams in Week 3) had more this year.

Blount didn't do it alone
Blount wasn’t the only Patriots running back to find the end zone. Stevan Ridley scored twice to give the Patriots six rushing touchdowns for the game, making them just the third team in NFL postseason history to reach that mark.

Before Saturday, the Patriots had never rushed for more than four touchdowns in either a regular-season or postseason game.

Patriots win without Brady TD
All the success the Patriots had running the ball meant the load was lighter on Tom Brady.

This is the fourth time that Brady has played a postseason game and not thrown for a touchdown. The Patriots are 4-0 in those games, two of them coming in 2001, Brady’s first season as a starter. The other was in the 2011 AFC Championship Game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Scoring at least 43 points in a postseason game without a touchdown pass is a rare accomplishment; it’s now been done just three times in NFL history.

• Super Bowl XX: The Bears beat the Patriots 46-10 with four rushing touchdowns and an interception return for a touchdown.
• 1993 divisional playoffs: The 49ers beat the Giants 44-3 with no TD passes from starter Steve Young, thanks to those five Watters scores.
• Saturday: All six Patriots touchdowns come on runs.

It’s unusual that the Patriots lean this heavily on the run. The Patriots called designed rush plays on 46 of their 73 offensive snaps (63 percent) against Indianapolis -- their highest rate in any postseason game since 2001. During the regular season, the Patriots ran the ball 41.3 percent of the time, the 15th-highest rate in the NFL.

Matchups to watch: Patriots at Ravens

December, 20, 2013
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

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

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
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.

Patriots' rally is almost one of a kind

November, 25, 2013

USA TODAY Sports/Greg M. CooperTom Brady and the Patriots rallied from a 24-0 halftime deficit
With their 34-31 overtime victory Sunday night, the Patriots became just the 2nd team since 2001 to win a game after trailing by at least 24 points at the end of the 1st half. The only other team to win after trailing by that much? Denver last season against San Diego.

Since 2001, teams are 2-148 in games in which they trailed by at least 24 points at the end of the 1st half.

Patriots special teams added 11.8 expected points Sunday, their most in a game since 2010. Tony Carter’s fumble on Ryan Allen’s punt with 3:11 left in overtime added 4.6 expected points for the Patriots. Stephen Gostkowski kicked the 31-yard game-winner 2 plays later.

Should the Packers have gone for it?
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy opted to kick the field goal on 4th-and-2 in overtime, thereby giving the Vikings a chance to match Green Bay’s field goal and extend the game.

But according to ESPN’s win probability model, this decision did not give the Packers their best chance of winning. Going for the touchdown would have made a Packers victory more likely.

Since 2001, NFL teams are 30-for-66 scoring a TD on 4th-and-goal from the 2 (45%). Taking into account the risk of not making it, the Packers would have had an 82 percent win probability had they gone for the touchdown on 4th-and-goal.

After the field goal, the Packers had a win probability of 71%. If they had not scored the touchdown, they would have had a win probability of 67% with the Vikings taking over inside their own 5-yard line.

There was very little to gain from making the field goal - approximately 71% chance to win versus 67% if the Packers missed but left the Vikings backed up.

The upside of the touchdown – guaranteed victory – makes going for it, given the fact that teams had scored a touchdown on 45% percent of previous such attempts, the better decision.

Romo leads Cowboys over Giants
On the 1st 10 Cowboys drives against the Giants, Tony Romo posted a total QBR of 32.3. The Cowboys converted 12.5 percent of their third downs and punted 7 times.

On the final drive, Romo posted a 92.8 QBR and went 3-for-3 on third down, converting all of those attempts for 1st downs. The Cowboys chewed 4:45 of clock as they drove 64 yards downfield, allowing Dan Bailey to kick the 35-yard game-winning field goal as time expired.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise – since 2011, Romo has 11 game-winning drives in the 4th quarter or overtime, most in the NFL.

Over last 3 seasons, Romo has posted a 75.0 Total QBR with his team trailing by one score or tied in the 4th quarter or overtime, 4th best among quarterbacks with at least 10 such games in that span.

Chiefs’ offense thrives, defense struggles against Chargers
It was a wild one in Kansas City, as the Chiefs and Chargers traded blows, but the usually dominant Chiefs defense could not keep up with San Diego.

Entering the week, the Chiefs defense had added an average of 9.4 expected points per game, best in the league and on pace to be the best by any defense since 2009.

Sunday, the Chiefs D posted a minus-25.0 EPA, the 9th-worst EPA posted by a defense in any game this year. Chargers receivers ran for 228 yards after the catch, the most the Chiefs have allowed since at least 2006. Philip Rivers posted an 86.7 QBR, more than 59.4 rating points higher than the Chiefs NFL-best average entering the week.

While the Chiefs defense struggled, the offense was the best it’s been in a while. The Chiefs offense posted a 16.4 EPA, the best output Kansas City has had in a game since 2010. Alex Smith posted a season-high 79.4 Total QBR.

Keys to comeback: Patriots 34, Broncos 31

November, 25, 2013
Besides the fumble at game's end, what were the keys to the biggest come-from-behind win in New England Patriots history?

Brady’s short game

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady excelled with his short passes. He completed 20 of 24 throws that traveled 10 yards or less in the second half for 161 yards. He had five incompletions on 15 such throws in the first half.

All three of Brady’s touchdown passes came on throws of that length.

Brady has now thrown for eight touchdowns and only one interception in his past three games.

Brady was 13-for-17 when throwing to Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman in the second half. Gronkowski now has a touchdown reception in each of his past three games and eight of his past 10.

The Patriots had 134 total yards and seven first downs at halftime. They had 177 total yards and 12 first downs in their 21-point third quarter alone.

Manning uncomfortable

Peyton Manning was uncomfortable with the pressure of the Patriots defense. He went 0-for-6 with an interception when throwing under duress. Five of those incompletions, including the interception, came in the second half.

Manning finished with 150 passing yards, his first sub-200-yard game with the Broncos.

That made Denver entirely reliant on its run game, which worked well often (Knowshon Moreno rushed for 224 yards, the most by a Broncos player since Clinton Portis ran for 228 against the Cardinals in 2002), but not often enough.

The Broncos had eight drives in the second half, seven of which resulted in a punt or turnover. The average drive started at the Broncos 19-yard line, lasted six plays and gained 26 yards.

The Broncos ran one offensive play that gained at least 20 yards. That's a season low.

Manning was previously 6-0 when his team led by at least 24 points at halftime. Each of the six wins was by at least 24 points.

Coincidentally …

The last time the Patriots trailed a game by at least 24 points at halftime while being shut out was in Week 12 of the 1996 season against none other than the Broncos.

The Broncos entered that day 9-1 and the Patriots entered 7-3, just as these teams were for this game.

The difference on that day was that John Elway & Co. were never challenged by Drew Bledsoe. The Broncos would win in a 34-8 rout.

Inside the matchup: Broncos vs Patriots

November, 22, 2013
Stew Milne/USA TODAY SportsTom Brady (left) and Peyton Manning (right) will face each other for the 14th time Sunday.

Sunday marks the 14th meeting between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning including the playoffs. Brady is 9-4 in the previous 13, with his nine wins tied for the most by one quarterback against another since 1993.

Despite Brady’s historical success against Manning, the Broncos offense has a couple key edges on paper against the Patriots defense. Though Brady’s offense sputtered out of the gate, improvement since Rob Gronkowski's return has them looking closer to the New England offense of old.

Here’s a look at four key matchups that will decide Sunday’s showdown.

Patriots pass rush vs Peyton
The Chiefs didn’t sack Manning last week, and if the Chiefs couldn’t get to Manning, the Patriots may be in real trouble.

New England’s defense has allowed opposing quarterbacks an average of 3.85 seconds before passing, the second-highest average in the league. Manning throws his average pass a full second faster (2.83). Even Manning’s slowest game of the season (Week 7 vs Colts) was two-thirds of a second faster than the Patriots defense’s average.

For some quarterbacks in some systems, getting the ball out quickly isn’t a point of emphasis. Those quarterbacks are not Manning, who has 21 touchdowns and one interception when passing two seconds or less after the snap (13-5 when holding for more than two seconds). Manning’s 158 such attempts lead the league, and no other quarterback has more than 11 touchdowns on quick throws.

Wes Welker vs Patriots slot cornerbacks
If the Patriots pass rush can’t get to Manning, it will be a long day. The Patriots defense has allowed an 84.8 Total QBR when they don’t pressure the quarterback, 25th in the league.

The biggest of these matchups is in the slot.

The Patriots defense has allowed nine touchdowns to slot receivers with only two interceptions on passes targeting slot receivers. No team has a worse TD-Int differential allowed on slot targets than New England.

Take a wild guess which player leads the league in slot targets, receptions, yards and touchdowns. Only six players have more targets than Wes Welker has catches (47) from the slot, 10 more than any other wide receiver.

Three New England cornerbacks have at least 90 snaps in the slot this year, Kyle Arrington (233), rookie Logan Ryan (109) and Marquice Cole (90). None of them inspire confidence against the league’s best slot receiver.

Broncos linebackers/safeties vs Rob Gronkowski
Adjusting to life without Welker is one thing, but losing both Welker and Gronkowski for the first six games would be tough on any quarterback. Since Gronkowski returned, the Patriots have looked a little more like the efficient unit Brady is accustomed to running.

Denver’s pass defense hasn’t been tested against tight ends much this season, but the two top receiving yards totals against the Broncos this year were by Antonio Gates and Jordan Reed, who also has the most catches in a game (eight) against the Broncos this year.

Broncos ball carriers vs fumble-itis
In Denver’s 39-33 Week 7 loss in Indianapolis, two key fumbles decided the game. Trindon Holliday fumbled a punt in the first quarter on his own 14-yard line. The Colts recovered and scored on the next play. A fourth-quarter Ronnie Hillman fumble on the goal line cost Denver seven more points, a combined 14-point swing in what was ultimately a 6-point game.

These aren’t isolated incidents for the Broncos. Denver running backs have fumbled five times this season- only the Cardinals (six) have fumbled more. More troubling for Denver is Holliday- special teams fumbles can swing a game quickly, and no one has more special teams fumbles than Holliday (three).

Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning: Round 14

November, 19, 2013
USA Today SportsTom Brady and Peyton Manning will meet for the 14th time in the regular season or playoffs.
Tom Brady has won nine of his 13 head-to-head meetings against Peyton Manning, although Manning has thrown for more yards and more touchdowns in those games.

Seven of the 13 games have been decided by a touchdown or less. Let’s rank those 13 games in order of most notable:

1. 2006 AFC Championship – Colts 38, Patriots 34
Manning helped the Colts overcome a 21-3 deficit by throwing for 349 yards and a score. Their 18-point comeback is tied for the fourth-largest in postseason history and is the biggest in an AFC or NFC Championship Game.

2. 2003 Week 13 – Patriots 38, Colts 34
The Colts had first-and-goal from the Patriots' 2-yard-line with less than a minute remaining but failed to convert, as New England stopped Edgerrin James on first, second and fourth down. Manning threw four touchdowns in a losing effort, becoming the first player to throw four touchdowns against Bill Belichick’s Patriots.

3. 2009 Week 10 – Colts 35, Patriots 34
Leading by six with 2:08 remaining, Belichick went for it on fourth-and-2 from the Patriots' 28-yard-line. Brady’s pass to Kevin Faulk came up a yard short, and Manning threw the game-winning score to Reggie Wayne four plays later to complete the 17-point, fourth-quarter comeback.

4. 2003 AFC Championship – Patriots 24, Colts 14
Manning threw four interceptions, three of them to Ty Law, and was sacked four times in his first postseason meeting with Brady.

5. 2007 Week 9 – Patriots 24, Colts 20
The Patriots improved to 9-0 en route to the first 16-0 regular season in league history as New England overcame a 10-point deficit in the game’s final eight minutes. It was Brady’s ninth straight game with at least three passing touchdowns, breaking Manning’s NFL record from 2004.

6. 2004 Week 1 – Patriots 27, Colts 24
The Patriots defense’s goal-line stand with four minutes left prevented the Colts from taking the lead. Mike Vanderjagt missed a game-tying field goal attempt, and the Patriots extended their win streak to 16.

7. 2006 Week 9 – Colts 27, Patriots 20
The Colts improved to 8-0 behind 326 yards and two scores from Manning. Their defense kept Patriots receivers out of the end zone and picked off Brady four times, one of Brady’s two career games with zero passing touchdowns and four interceptions.

8. 2010 Week 11 – Patriots 31, Colts 28
The Colts’ potential rally from a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit ended when Manning was intercepted by James Sanders at the Patriots' 6-yard line with less than a minute remaining.

9. 2004 Divisional Playoffs – Patriots 20, Colts 3
Brady increased his head-to-head record against Manning to 6-0, throwing a 5-yard pass to David Givens for New England’s first touchdown and scoring on a 1-yard rush for its second. Brady would win his third Super Bowl ring three weeks later.

10. 2005 Week 9 – Colts 40, Patriots 21
Manning threw for 321 yards and three touchdowns to get his first win against Brady in their seventh head-to-head meeting and also his first career win in Foxborough.

11. 2001 Week 3 – Patriots 44, Colts 13
In his first career start, Brady completed 13 of 23 passes for 168 yards in a blowout win against Manning and the Colts. Manning threw three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns.

12. 2012 Week 5 – Patriots 31, Broncos 21
In the first Manning-Brady matchup that didn’t double as a Colts-Patriots game, the Patriots jumped out to a 31-7 lead and held on to drop the Broncos to 2-3 on the season. Since this game, the Broncos are 20-1 in the regular season.

13. 2001 Week 6 – Patriots 38, Colts 17
Brady improved to 3-1 as a starter and threw for three touchdowns for the first time in his career. He threw two touchdown passes to David Patten, who also had a rushing and passing touchdown. Patten became the first player with a passing, rushing and receiving touchdown in a game since Walter Payton in 1979.