Tom Brady‘s stats through seven games this year are better than they were at the same point in 2013. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
With seven games in the books for the 2014 Patriots, the strengths and weaknesses of the team are starting to come into sharper focus. You can use stats to make any argument you want, but from this viewpoint, when given some context and deconstructed with the help of some film breakdown, they can be very illustrative, and help give a clearer picture of where a team succeeds or fails. With that in mind, here are 10 numbers that help shed some light on the state of the team after seven games, and where they could be headed the rest of the way.
1) 21.1 – The difference in passer rating for Tom Brady between the first seven games of the 2014 season when stacked against the first seven games of the 2014 season. (Brady’s rating for the first seven games of this season is 96.4, while he was at 75.3 over the first seven games of 2013.) Much of that is likely attributable to the presence of Rob Gronkowski — he missed the first six games of the 2013 season, and it took him a few games after that to get up to speed in the offense. This year, even though the big tight end only recently returned to 100 percent, he has a clear impact on several aspects of the offense, and the passing game in particular. Even when he’s a decoy, he opens things up underneath for other pass catchers like Brandon LaFell, Julian Edelman and Shane Vereen.
Here’s a complete look at Brady’s numbers from the first seven games in 2013 measured against the first seven games of 2014:
2013: 158-for-285, 1,708 yards, 55 percent. 8 TDs, 5 INTs, 20 sacks
2014: 151-for-246, 1,775 yards, 62.1 percent, 13 TDs, 2 INTs, 13 sacks
2) 7 – The difference in sack totals for Brady from the first seven games of the 2013 season (20) to the first seven contests of the 2014 campaign (13). There are multiple reasons for the change — when you put a stopwatch on him, it’s clear that quicker release times have been the focus. But while there have been major issues with pass protection through the earlier part of the season — and pressures still remain an issue — things have started to even out slightly over the course of the last month. If the Patriots get center Bryan Stork and guard Dan Connolly back for next Sunday’s game against the Bears, those numbers should get better.
3) 0 – The number of pass plays of 40 yards or more the Patriots have allowed over the course of the first seven games of the season. The Patriots are the only team in the league to not yield a pass play of 40-plus yards to this point in the season. The old-school ‘Get The [Bleep] Back’ directive has been employed to great effect this year, as the New England secondary hasn’t been beaten deep. At the same time, the priority or now allowing deep balls can occasionally be a double-edged sword, as it leaves a pass defense more vulnerable to shorter and intermediate pass plays. We’ve seen that on occasion, as teams have taken advantage of some softer spots in the Patriots secondary to occasionally pick up chunk yards in the passing game. But for a defense that was routinely torched by the long ball over the last four years, it’s a tradeoff they appear to be safe making.
4) 190 – The number of different offensive lineups used by the Patriots over the course of the first seven games, which includes seven different starting lineups. It’s not completely fair to judge New England against the rest of the league — the fact that the Patriots and Jets played on Thursday night throws the numbers slightly out of whack — but it’s unlikely any team will be able to surpass New England by the end of the week, as the Patriots are miles ahead of the rest of the league. The Jets are No. 2 at 156, and the Lions are next at 154 different lineup combinations on offense. (On the other end of the spectrum, the Broncos have utilized just 43 different lineup combinations.) Much of it has to do with the constant shuffling along the offensive line, but there has also been a lot of different combinations in the backfield as well.
5) 3 – The number of times the Patriots have allowed 190 or more rushing yards this season, which was first brought to our attention by colleague Kevin Duffy. In the opener, the Dolphins rushed for 191 yards, while the Chiefs hit for 207 in the Monday Night massacre last month. And on Thursday, the Jets rushed for 218 yards. (To put this number in perspective, from 2005 through 2013, New England allowed 190-plus rushing yards five times.) The statistical damage has been minimized slightly because the Patriots have held their four other opponents (Minnesota, Oakland, Cincinnati and Buffalo) to less than 80 yards on the ground.
6) 144, 1,348 – The number of penalties and penalty yards the 2014 Patriots are on pace to finish with. They have 63 through seven games (not counting calls that were declined or offset) for 590 penalty yards. Both are tops in the league, but it’s important to remember that because of Thursday’s game, New England and the Jets have played seven games, while most of the rest of the league is still on six games. Not that it matters — the Patriots are 100 penalty yards ahead of their nearest competitor, the Redskins (480). Two important things to remember: one, the franchise record for penalties in a season is 114, set by the 1985 team, while the franchise record for most penalty yards in a season is 1,051, set by the 1992 team. And two, the league record for penalties in a season is 163, set by the 2012 Raiders, who also set the NFL mark for penalty yards in a season (1,358).
7) 0.5 – While there have been statistical gains when it comes to fewer sacks, when you stack the start of the 2013 season against the start of the 2014 season, the Patriots have seen a drop-off in yards per carry. Through seven games last year, the Patriots were averaging 4.2 yards per carry, one of the best averages in the league through that span (195 carries, 813 rushing yards). Through seven games in 2014, the Patriots are averaging 3.7 yards per carry (193 carries, 723 rushing yards). It doesn’t seem like a colossal difference, but over the course of a 16-game season, it starts to add up.
8) 6.6 – The difference, percentage-wise, in New England’s third-down defense over the first seven games. Last season through seven games, the Patriots defense held teams to a 39.4 conversion rate (43-for-109) on third down. This year, that number has ballooned to 46 percent rate (40-for-87), including strong third-down efforts by the Jets (56 percent) and Chiefs (58 percent).
9) .686 – Heading into Sunday’s slate of games, the combined winning percentage of the next six opponents on the Patriots schedule: Chicago (3-3) Denver (4-1), Colts (4-2), Lions (4-2), Packers (4-2), Chargers (5-1).
10) 5 – In truth, most of these numbers are just window dressing. Bill Belichick has said on several occasions that in the end, it comes down to an ability to score points and stop the opponents from scoring. And it it’s important to note that the Patriots have averaged five more points per game through the first seven games of the 2014 season (26.7 points per game) than they did through the first seven games of the 2013 season (21.7). The numbers on defense aren’t as positive, as those have gone from 18.1 points allowed in 2013 to 22 points per game in 2014. But the fact that the average point differential has gone from 3.6 points per game last year to 4.7 this season is a positive for this franchise.