Ravens vs Patriots: Preview
Halfway through the season and just like everyone predicted, the Fantasy MVP is the Patriots defence. I want to take a closer look at the statistics. The two hot-takes seems to be a) The Patriots defence is all-time great, best ever, and b) They have played all the worst teams, so of course they look great, they ain’t nothing special until they do it against a good team.
As usual, I think the truth is c) a little of both; this unit is great, with a capital ‘G’. But it’s hard to dispute that they have benefited from a friendly first half of the schedule, so numbers might not look quite as good by the end of the season, even if it is still best in a generation or so.
Rather than dying on that hill, I decided to take a look deeper into the numbers to see if I can figure out who has it right. Let’s go down the rabbit hole.
The Patriots numbers are off the charts good:
· 7.6 PPG (1st)
· 148.8 passing yards per game (2nd)
· 85.2 rushing yards per game (4th)
· Total Yards per game (234.0) (2nd)
· 25 takeaways (1st)
· +17 turnover differential (1st)
· Opponent 3rd down conversion 15.6% (1st)
So, how do we determine if these stats are inflated by beating up on bad teams? I’ve gone back over that statistics for every game, and compared how those teams performed against the Patriots alongside their season averages. This way we can tell if the Patriots D is over or underperforming. For example, the Patriots have held the Jets to 14 points in 2 games, at 7 PPG. If the Jets are only scoring 7 PPG against everyone else, then the Pats D is nothing special, but actually, the Jets average 11.1 PPG. So, even though the Jets are struggling to score on teams, they are finding it even more difficult against the Patriots, indicating this defence really does have something a bit extra. Are you with me?
At first glance it does look like this Patriots defence is good, in spite of the level of opposition and not just because of it. In every game, except one, the Patriots opposition have scored fewer points than their season average. That exception was against the Jets in week 3, when none of those points were actually given up by this defensive unit, the Jets scored on a muffed punt recovery and a pick-6.
In all but 2 games, the teams have gained fewer total yards than their season average. Especially in the passing game, where the Patriots have only given up more than 161 passing yards twice.
In all but 2 games, the Patriots have secured more turnovers than teams are committing on average, often quite a bit more.
The Patriots have never let a team convert more than 25% of their third downs in any game. That’s ridiculous. And 15.6% on the season, are you kidding me?
In all but 2 games, the Patriots are getting teams off the field, limiting their time of possession to less than their season average.
I’m not going to sit here and argue that 7.6 PPG or only allowing 16% third down conversion is sustainable for the next 8 games, it’s not. But looking at this gives me confidence that they won’t dramatically increase. Last season, the Patriots allowed 20.4 points per game, and 38% 3rd down conversions, I think they’ll still come in comfortably under those totals.
Does this tell us anything about potential opportunities to attack the Patriots defence? The two games where the Patriots have been tested the most, are against the Bills, and the Browns. Both of whom, ran the ball effectively (the Redskins rushing stats are inflated by that 65 end-around that went for a touchdown, the running backs only totalled 80 yards in that game).
The Patriots have 19 interceptions in 8 games and the passer rating when throwing at them is 40.6. You don’t want to be throwing often against this secondary. We’ve seen a significant increase in the Patriots calling cover 0 blitzes. They trust their CB’s to cover man to man, and can send everyone else when they want to. This creates turnovers by rushing the QB into throwing the ball early before the receivers have time to get open. It’s not supernatural, despite what Sam Darnold may think.
The rush defence isn’t quite as stout as last year, though. If you can run the ball to keep those pass rushers away from the QB, while not turning the ball over, then you’re not playing the game Bill Belichick wants you to play. Turnovers and dominating time of possession are helping the Patriots, a quick look at their offensive stats reveal they are middle of the pack, in terms of 3rd down conversion, and are only converting 50% of red zone possession into touchdowns. So, having shorter fields, and getting more possessions are a key part of why they are leading the league with 31.2 points per game.
If you look at the Cleveland game, if it wasn’t for those 3 early turnovers that game would be a nail biter. The Bills also did a good job of stifling the Patriots by playing good defence and running the ball. They actually beat the Patriots on time of possession and total yards. 16 points is comfortably a season low for the Patriots but forcing 4 turnovers, to kill Bills drives, meant that was all they needed to come away with a win.
This sets up an interesting match-up against the Ravens, who are setting the standard with 204 rushing yards per game. The defence is also hoping for a bounce from the acquisition of Marcus Peters. Baltimore haven’t been great at pass defence. If they give Tom Brady the ball, he can attack this defence. If the legs of Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram can generate time-consuming drives that lead to points, this could be the week the 0 goes for the Patriots. That’s the recipe for beating New England, keep Brady off the field and keep the ball away from the ball-hawking secondary.
Bill Belichick is known for taking away the thing you do best. This might be a tougher adjustment than usual though. If Lamar Jackson wasn’t a mobile QB, you could stack the box and completely sell out on stopping Mark Ingram and dare him to throw the ball into the teeth of this defence. But when you have perhaps the best athlete that we’ve seen at QB since Michael Vick, then it’s much less straightforward to close down all the running lanes.
I can’t wait for this match up.