Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Why Pats' signings make sense
By Jeremy Lundblad
Tom Brady can't have too many weapons.
Over the past week, the New England Patriots added four potential targets for Brady. Here's a look at what the numbers say about each signing.
Did the Patriots finally find the deep threat that's eluded them since Randy Moss was sent packing? That's the hope with Lloyd, the biggest splash New England has made thus far.
Consider that in 2007, Moss caught 13 passes thrown 21 or more yards. That's the same number Brady has completed in each of the past two seasons.
In the Super Bowl, Brady was 0-for-5 on passes thrown over 20 yards. That's a common factor in New England's recent postseason losses. Over their last four playoff losses, Brady is 0-for-19 on passes over 20 yards.
Enter Brandon Lloyd.
Over the past two seasons, Lloyd leads the NFL in targets (73) and receptions (27) on throws over 20 yards. Over that same span, Patriots wide receivers combined for 62 targets and 21 receptions.
That includes six catches on passes thrown over 41 yards. By comparison, Tom Brady has only three such completions over the past four seasons. In 2007, Brady was 7-for-16 for two touchdowns on passes of 41 yards or more. Since then, he's just 3-for-29.
In 2007, Stallworth was a key weapon in New England's historic passing attack. His 46 receptions ranked fourth on the team, and third among wide receivers.
Stallworth was actually surpassed by Jabar Gaffney late in 2007. But the big reason for his short tenure in New England? The Patriots saved $11 million by going in another direction.
Since Stallworth left, the Patriots haven't found a consistent third receiver. That issue was most apparent in 2011, when the Patriots received almost no production at wide receiver outside of Wes Welker and Deion Branch.
Chad Ochocinco (15), Julian Edelman (four), TIquan Underwood (three) and Matthew Slater (one) combined for exactly half of Stallworh's total in 2007.
While New England hasn't found a third receiver of his caliber, those years also haven't been kind to Stallworth. In the four years since leaving, amidst injuries and legal trouble, Stallworth managed only 42 catches.
So could a reunion be just what both sides need?
Ochocinco and Joey Galloway were just the latest free-agent busts at wide receiver for New England. In Stallworth, the Patriots bring back someone who has already succeeded within their system and meshed with Tom Brady.
The Patriots were widely connected to Gonzalez going into the 2007 draft. As it turned out, New England had something else in mind.
Having traded for Wes Welker two months earlier, the Patriots dealt for Randy Moss on Day 2 of the draft. Gonzalez went to the Indianapolis Colts with the final pick of the first round.
By his second year, Gonzalez was knocking on the door of a starting job. In 2008, he hauled in 57 passes, highlighted by a two-touchdown performance against New England.
Then the injuries hit.
Over the past three seasons, Gonzalez has suffered PCL injuries in both knees and a high ankle sprain. The result? According to Pro Football Focus, he's been on the field for only 126 snaps over the past three seasons.
With all of those injuries in mind, could Gonzalez replace Julian Edelman as the fourth receiver? That starts with understanding just how little Edelman did on the offensive end.
Consider that Edelman ran 62 pass routes last season, but was targeted only eight times. According to Pro Football Focus, of the 153 wide receivers who ran at least 60 routes, Edelman's rate of one target per 7.75 routes was the 13th lowest.
A healthy Gonzalez (last seen three years ago) is known as a crisp route runner and possession receiver. In 2008, 36 of his 57 receptions were thrown 10 yards or less. Peyton Manning was 22-for-29 when targeting Gonzalez on third down, resulting in 17 first downs.
It's easy to look at Fells' 2011 numbers and come away unimpressed. Despite playing more downs than any other Broncos skilled position player, he finished with just 19 receptions -- the same number Lloyd had in four games in Denver.
As a pass catcher, Fells fell victim to the Tebow era. In four-and-a-half games with Kyle Orton as quarterback, Fells was targeted 18 times. Tebow threw his way just 13 times.
Fells was on track for 35 receptions when Tebow took over. The drop-off was in part due to the offense becoming run-focused. However, it also had to do with protecting Tebow.
Consider that from Week 7 on, Fells blocked on 36 percent of passing downs for which he was on the field. In the first five weeks, it was just 22 percent. Fells became primarily a pass-blocking tight end.
His 128 pass-blocking snaps were the third most of any tight end. In fact, he was a pass blocker more than all Patriots tight ends combined last season. As a team, the Patriots had tight ends stay in to pass block on just 120 snaps in 2012.
Of those, Aaron Hernandez had only 11 snaps as a pass blocker, while Rob Gronkowski accounted for 73. Fells' biggest contribution with the Patriots might be as a pass-blocking tight end who, unlike Nate Solder, can also serve as a receiver. With an offense increasingly geared toward tight ends, Fells provides key depth.
Jeremy Lundblad is a senior researcher with ESPN Stats & Information. He provides statistical analysis for ESPNBoston.com.