Monday, October 10, 2016

Stat Check: Patriots Defense A Bend-But-Don't-Break Entity

Bend but don't break - Nobody likes it. It causes blood pressure to rise, protracted waiting periods between beer/bathroom breaks and has been linked to panic attacks and periods of uncontrollable episodes of yelling at inanimate objects, television sets in particular.

No wonder New England Patriots' fans are particularly stressed out. But the fact is that this style of defense works for Bill Belichick's charges, and advanced statistics bears this out.

First off, the Patriots are twelfth in the National Football League in total defense, yielding 345 panic-inducing yards per game, but are fourth in the league in scoring defense, giving up a miserly 14.8 points per game.  The disparity in these basic statistics is the very definition of bend but don't break.

But why? What is the reasoning behind the maddening philosophy?

Well, it's not as if Belichick and his defensive protege Matt Patricia get a percentage of anxiety medication sales in the New England region, nor a cut of the sale of blood pressure meds or flat screen TV's - but what they do get is the joy of watching the opposition fall right into their trap of unwittingly controlling the clock and limiting possessions on both sides. In other words, they are using the aggressiveness of their competitors against them.

Patriots' opponents throw the ball more against them than all but 6 other teams in the league and complete a greater percentage than 7 other teams at 64%, and for a middle-of-the-road 87.7% passer rating - but New England's defense ranks in the top 10 in the NFL in yards per pass attempt (6.6) and yards per completion (10.2), all of which feeds into the notion that the opposing quarterback is getting rid of the football quickly...

...accounting for both New England's low sack total (two per game) and their opponent's propensity for moving the sticks through the air, causing a queasy feeling among the Foxborough faithful - but when the Patriots can get the other guys to third down, the odds morph dramatically in New England's favor.

The opposition converts only four of ten third downs into first downs, forcing 25 punts in 53 possessions, and when one considers that seven other possessions ended in turnovers on downs and eight more with either a fumble or interception, that means that the Patriots' defense has given up only 13 scores - nine touchdowns and four field goals.

But how is this possible?  Don't the Patriots seem to give up long gainers every time we turn around?

Truthfully, there have been some long gainers, a total of 30 pass plays against them going for 10 yards or more, which accounts for only 15% of all opposition passing attempts, hence the 6.6 yards per attempt.  By contrast, however, the run defense has surrendered just six carries of 10 yards or more by opposing running backs, a microscopic 5% of all carries.

You see, the primary goal of the Patriots' defense is to limit the running game and force their foes to the air, where many more bad things can happen.

It gets so dismal for teams trying to run the ball against New England that they average only 23 rushing attempts (10th in the NFL), 89 yards per game (9th), 26 first downs (7th) and accounting for less than a quarter of total yards (5th).

Not surprisingly, The Patriots' defense leads the entire NFL in the normally obscure yards per points surrendered (23), second in red zone scoring attempts per game (2) and points per play (0.23).  What this all adds up to is a defense that gives up plenty of yards between the 20's, but doesn't let teams venture into the red zone many times at all, which is fortunate as the Patriots rank dead last in red zone scoring defense at 80%.

So, Patriots' fans, don't fret.  If your defense doesn't allow their foes into the red zone, the chances are excellent that they won't give up many points, if any at all. If they do, well, as Belichick says, they always have something to work on...

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