Posted Thu Oct 8th by Monty
For those who want a more in-depth look at the numbers that drive the NFL, we strongly recommend Football Outsiders. As the NFL rolls on and trends continue to develop, we’ll be taking a look at DVOA rankings to gain some perspective on the Broncos‘ upcoming opponent.
New England Patriots
Passing Offense: 44.0% (6th)
Rushing Offense: 13.0% (9th)
Overall: 25.5% (6th)
Analysis: This Patriots offense isn’t making anyone forget the record-setting unit circa 2007, but the Pats have been getting the job done since their Week 1 struggles. Tom Brady, in particular, has really come on of late. Consider Brady’s response to a sack and forced fumble that resulted in a Baltimore Ravens TD in Week 4. Brady calmly led his Pats on a 74-yard drive touchdown drive in which he went 4-of-4, capped by a 14-yard score to Randy Moss on third down. The drive gave Moss his first touchdown of the season and sent a crystal clear message to the rest of the NFL: Tom Brady is back.
Perhaps somewhat because of their passing game, the Patriots have always been underrated on the ground. This year’s rushing unit has been a mixed bag, but free agent acquisition Fred Taylor has looked very strong this season. They’re not sticking to Taylor, though (update: Taylor has been ruled out following ankle surgery) — in true running-back-by-committee form, the Patriots ran five different running backs in Week 4 against Baltimore. No Pats RB rushed more than seven times, and none rushed fewer than five. This after Taylor cracked the century mark on 21 carries in Week 3.
Passing Defense: 17.4% (18th)
Rushing Defense: -5.8% (17th)
Overall: 7.9% (18th)
Analysis: As chaotic as the personnel turnover on the Broncos defense has been over the past few seasons, the Patriots have been just as fluid. This Patriots defense has been getting younger and younger as draft picks continue to start in spots veterans once filled, and the transition hasn’t always been smooth. Bill Belichick‘s hybrid 4-3/3-4 defense, renowned for years around the league, looks very average in 2009, and dare I say: very beatable.
They’ve been disciplined, though, as one would expect. The Jets‘ Jerricho Cotchery had a 45-yard reception in Week 2; other than that, New England hasn’t allowed a passing play over 29 yards. After #1 WR Derrick Mason caught six passes on Baltimore’s first drive, they adjusted their coverage, bracketed Mason between a corner and safety, and held Mason to one catch the rest of the game.
Against the run, though, Baltimore RB Ray Rice‘s stats last week suggest they’re vulnerable. Outside of his big 50-yard run, Rice churned up 53 yards on 10 carries for a 5.3 rushing average against the Patriots (9.4 avg. with the 50-yarder included).
Special Teams: -1.7% (15th)
Both teams are below the league average in S/T DVOA. Special teams shouldn’t be too big a factor, although the Broncos have been excellent in opposing field position. The Broncos need to keep an eye on trick plays; the Pats ran a fake field goal in Week 4 that was negated by an illegal formation.
Team Overall: 15.9% (10th)
The defense adjustments kicked in this week, and (as expected) the Broncos were knocked down a few notches. But not too far — they fell from 3rd to 7th with an overall 36.5% rating. The fact that these teams’ rankings are so close, even after only four weeks of data, suggests that another close game is in the works.
Common sense suggests the same thing. Like last week against Dallas, the Broncos are about to pit their strength against the strength of their opponent, and the offense will need to do just enough against an average defense to keep the team in the game.