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Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Pats are outpacing 2007 juggernaut

By Jeremy Lundblad
ESPNBoston.com

After putting up 108 points in their past two games, the New England Patriots are currently averaging more points per game (37) than they did in their historic 2007 season (36.8).

The Patriots are on pace for the second-highest scoring average in NFL history, trailing only the 1950 Los Angeles Rams (38.8).

Could a team that started 3-3 really exceed the scoring output of the illustrious 16-0 Patriots from five years ago?

In 2007, Tom Brady had arguably the greatest season in NFL history, while Randy Moss attacked the receiving record books.

No significant individual records will be broken in 2012. So how are the Patriots on track to average even more points?

It seems spurious to question the explosiveness of any team averaging 37 points, but the 2012 Patriots lack downfield speedsters like Moss, Donte' Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney.

But could this offense actually be better than the one that rewrote the record book?

How the points are scored

To say the 2012 Patriots are outscoring the 2007 Patriots is a true statement. But the 2007 offense actually averaged more points than this version is.

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Seven of New England's 49 touchdowns (14 percent) in 2012 have been scored by the special teams or defense. In 2007, eight of the team's 75 touchdowns (10.7 percent) came on returns.

In other words, it might be a mistake to compare the 2007 and 2012 offenses on the basis of points alone.

This season's offense is on track for six fewer touchdowns than the offense had in 2007. The difference has been return touchdowns and field goals.

Only the Chicago Bears (eight) have more return touchdowns this season. The Patriots are on track to set a franchise record (10).

New England's non-offensive touchdowns are a slight indictment of the greatness of the offense, at least when compared to 2007's, yet the scoring distribution has been remarkable.

The Patriots lead the NFL with 18 rushing touchdowns, are tied for second with 24 passing touchdowns and rank second with seven return touchdowns.

Pace through 11 games

Even though the Patriots are on track to score more points than the 2007 team, they are actually behind where that team was through 11 games.

In 2007, the Patriots had scored 442 points through 11 games, the most in NFL history. This year's team has 35 fewer points -- or more than three per game.

In fact, both the 2000 Rams (412) and 2009 Saints (407) equaled or bettered New England's current total through 11 games.

The Patriots averaged 29.4 points per game over the final five games of 2007 -- an otherwise impressive scoring rate.

The 2012 team has seen its scoring total inflated by a pair of 50-plus point outputs. Without another one, maintaining the current scoring pace would be a tall order.

Achieving a balanced attack

The best case for the 2012 offense over the 2007 offense focuses on balance.

In 2007, Laurence Maroney led the Patriots with 835 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns. The team averaged 115.6 rushing yards per game and scored 18 rushing touchdowns.

This season, Stevan Ridley (939 rushing yards, eight rushing touchdowns) has already exceeded Maroney's season. The Patriots are averaging 143.7 rushing yards per game and have already matched the 2007 rushing touchdown total.

The addition of a rushing attack differentiates the 2012 Patriots from the aerial attack of 2007.

New England is on track to be the second team in NFL history -- joining that prolific 1950 Rams team -- to average 140 rushing yards and 300 passing yards per game.

Ridley is on track for more than 1,300 rushing yards, while Brady is on track for just under 4,800 passing yards.

The only teammates to reach both of those milestones in the same season were Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk with the 2001 Rams.

The Patriots' balanced attack hasn't come at the expense of big plays. They lead the NFL with 188 plays of 10-or-more yards. That puts them on track for 48 more 10-yard plays than they had in 2007.

Whereas the 2007 team ranked 21st in big rushing plays, this year's rushing attack has the third-most 10-yard plays.

The rest of the numbers

Points are not the only numbers that support the greatness of the 2012 Patriots' offense.

The Patriots have only 11 three-and-out drives this season and are on pace for the lowest three-and-out percentage in the NFL in at least the past 15 seasons. In 2007, the Patriots went three-and-out almost twice as often.

New England has converted 53 percent of its third downs, which is on track to be the third-highest rate in the NFL over the past 20 years. With a tip of cap to the running game, that includes an NFL-best 70.2 percent on third-and-short.