We know that some people think stats are for losers. But we believe that, 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 stats that should give you a better idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the 2012 Patriots, and some likely points of emphasis heading into the offseason. (Stats are courtesy of WEEI.com, Gary “Nuggetpalooza” Marbry and ESPN Stats & Information.)
4: For several years, one of the Patriots’ trademarks has been to defer the coin toss (if not flat-out lose the toss) and kick off to start the game. That would allow them to take possession to start the second half, with the specific focus on scoring just before the end of the first half and on the first drive of the second half, which, if properly executed, would provide anywhere between a six and 14-point swing in their favor. However, New England struggled with that throughout the season -- ultimately, the Patriots scored four touchdowns with two minutes or less left in the half (second or fourth quarter), which was tied for eighth fewest in the league. Comparatively, the Steelers, Eagles, Saints, Raiders and Lions all had at least twice as many.
72.1: While he had another remarkable run where he spent the bulk of the year in the MVP discussion, Tom Brady and the Patriots were dismissed after a sloppy performance against Baltimore. In eight games (five regular season and three postseason), Brady's career passer rating against the Ravens is 72.1, which represents his lowest mark against any opponent. While Brady has a 5-3 record in games played against Baltimore, he has consistently turned in some of the worst performances of his career against the Ravens. In addition to the passer rating, his 57.7 completion percentage and 8:10 touchdown-to-interception ratio in eight games against Baltimore both represent his worst showing against any NFL opponent. (For what it’s worth, the Patriots are scheduled to travel to Baltimore for a game against the Ravens in 2013.)
3.9: The 2012 Patriots had the sixth-best rush defense in the league at 3.9 yards per rush. (Last season, the Patriots’ rush defense allowed 4.6 yards per rush, ranked 24th in the NFL.) In addition, despite facing 10 more rushes in the regular season this year (415) than last year (405), the Patriots’ defense allowed five rushes of at least 20 yards this season, half as many as last year. While the New England pass defense struggled at times, the run defense was equal to the task for most of the 2012 season. Only one running back (Ray Rice) hit them for 100 yards or more. (He finished with 101 yards in Baltimore’s win in September.) Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork was his usual steady self up front, while linebacker Brandon Spikes emerged as one of the most potent run stoppers in the league.
35.4: Before acquiring cornerback Aqib Talib in a trade with Tampa Bay November, the Patriots sent at least five rushers on 15.0 percent of plays, the most conservative defense in the league, and allowed an 85.6 Total QBR with at least five rushers (fourth-worst in NFL). After acquiring Talib, they sent added pressure on 35.4 percent of dropbacks, ninth-most aggressive in the league, and allowed an 18.2 Total QBR (seventh-best). The change in numbers is not completely because of Talib, but it’s not coincidental. The addition of the veteran corner allowed the Patriots to do some things that they couldn’t or wouldn’t do before he arrived, such as shuffling Devin McCourty from corner to safety and bumping Kyle Arrington into the slot. And while there are many variables in play when it comes to judging a successful pass defense, there’s no debate that all of the defensive numbers (including passing yards allowed per game, number of pass plays that went for 20 yards or more and total yards allowed per game) improved after Talib showed up.
-7: From 2010-2012, the Patriots are a combined plus-70 in turnover margin in the regular season, by far the best in the league in that span. (That included a league-high plus-25 this past regular season, a year where they had 20 interceptions and 21 fumbles recovered.) But during that same span in the postseason (six games), New England has a minus-seven turnover margin, the worst in the league in that stretch. That series includes seven interceptions thrown by quarterback Tom Brady, and a minus-three (including two picks by Brady) in last Sunday’s AFC title game defeat at the hands of the Ravens.
6: Patriots receivers had six drops on 72 targets deeper than 20 yards downfield this season. New England’s 8.3 drop percentage on those throws was the second highest in the league (trailing only the Bears, 8.6 percent). While STATS indicates that Wes Welker led the team in dropped passes with nine (tied for sixth in the league), it was Brandon Lloyd who had four drops on 26 deep (20 yards downfield) targets, a 15.4 drop percentage that ranked last among 86 players with at least eight targets. (One other odd statistical quirk about Lloyd: his lack of YAC, or yards after catch. On an offense that has annually had several pass catchers in the Top 20 when it comes to YAC -- Welker finished the year with 668 YAC, best in the league -- Lloyd ended the regular season with 180 YAC, the lowest total of any receiver who had at least 70 catches on the season.)
6: Stevan Ridley was one of six running backs in the NFL this season to finish with at least 290 carries, 1,200 yards, 4 yards per carry and 10 touchdowns. The LSU product, who ended the season with 290 carries, 1,263 rushing yards, 4.4 yards per carry and 12 touchdowns, joined a group of elite-level backs that included Arian Foster, Adrian Peterson, Alfred Morris, Doug Martin and Marshawn Lynch. The last New England running back to hit all those marks in the same season was Corey Dillion in 2004, who had 345 carries, 1.635 yards, 4.7 yards per carry and 12 touchdowns that season.
73: Over the course of the regular season, the catch rate of running back Danny Woodhead, who caught 40 of the 55 passes thrown in his direction. The percentage was the best of any New England skill position player who was targeted at least 10 times. Woodhead also became the first Patriots’ running back since Kevin Faulk in 2008 to get at least 40 carries and 40 catches in a single season -- he finished the regular season with 76 carries and 40 catches.
523: The Patriots ran the ball 523 times during the 2012 regular season -- the highest number of carries for a New England team since the 2004 team ran the ball 524 times over the course of the regular season. There was simply no comparison between the 2011 and 2012 running attacks: In the 2011 regular season, the Patriots had 438 carries, 1,764 yards, 4.0 yards per carry and 18 touchdowns. In the 2012 regular season, those numbers jumped to 523 carries, 2,184 yards, 4.2 yards per carry and 25 touchdowns. That’s an increase of six carries per game (from an average of 27 to 33) and 27 yards per game (from 110 yards per game to 137 yards per game), both of which represent sizable increases, particularly in this era of spread offenses. As a group, New England was able to hit 500 carries and 2,100 rushing yards and maintain an average of better than four yards per carry for the third time in the Bill Belichick era.
1,379: According to the NFL, Patriots center Ryan Wendell led the league in total snaps over the course of the regular season with 1,379. (That includes offensive and special teams snaps.) Left tackle Nate Solder (1,339) and defensive back Devin McCourty were ranked second and third, respectively.