Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

22 Sep 2008

Any Given Sunday: Dolphins over Patriots

by Ned Macey

This week's AGS focuses primarily on the Miami offense against the New England defense. Ronnie Brown was the star of Miami's 38-13 win, the most shocking event of this weekend. However, few noticed the enormous elephant in the room that is Matt Cassel's horrendous performance. Of course, two solid games and one abysmal game hardly is enough evidence to anoint him either game-manager extraordinaire or season-ruining incompetent.

The key for Cassel, and the Patriots offense, is to develop some sort of downfield threat. Last season, Brady averaged 6.4 deep passes (more than 15 yards in the air) per game. His average pass traveled 8.6 yards. To date, Cassel is averaging 2.3 deep passes per game, and his passes are averaging 5.8 yards. The inability to threaten opposing defenses deep can completely undermine the offensive system and require perfect precision from a quarterback who is not yet ready to play at that level.

Last year, opponents dedicated two players to stopping Randy Moss deep. As a result, Wes Welker caught 112 passes, and the Patriots were the best rushing offense in football on a per-play basis. Without the deep threat, everything is packed in closer to the line of scrimmage. The underneath routes are no longer available, and teams can bring a safety into the box to slow the run.

So far, Moss has been a non-factor. Welker is averaging one fewer catch per game and one fewer yard per catch. The three tailbacks are averaging only 3.7 yards per carry. The point where this went from problematic to absurd was the Patriots' first drive of the second quarter. From first-and-10 on the Dolphins' 25-yard line, Cassel completed three straight passes, two to wide receivers, and gained a total of eight yards. All told, 16 of his 19 completions netted fewer than 10 yards. Until Cassel proves he can stretch the field vertically, he will find it almost impossible to succeed by stretching it horizontally.

Posted by: Ned Macey on 22 Sep 2008

26 comments, Last at 24 Sep 2008, 2:16pm by Raffy


by Rob Seidenwurm (not verified) :: Tue, 09/23/2008 - 11:55am

I agree... all the media kept saying about this game was "It isn't Matt Cassel's fault that the defense allowed 38 points." Maybe, but Brady wins this game, and I hate the Pats. Yes the linebackers are slow, but they were slow last year, and Sparano exploited it. How the Pats really think they can make the playoffs this year with Cassel at QB is crazy.

by Embarressed NE fan (not verified) :: Tue, 09/23/2008 - 12:00pm

How about all of the fans leaving their $200 seats with almost 15 full minutes to play? Maybe if they lowered the prices in a section or two, some real fans will come and actually, I don't know, stand up and clap when the pats are on defense.

Our fans are all spoiled yuppy garbage, I'm more upset with them than I am with the team right now. Every team's gonna lose, especially one with some newbie QB and a defense which is playing like they just rolled out of bed and took the field in their jim-jams.

by Botswana Meat Commission FC (not verified) :: Tue, 09/23/2008 - 12:40pm

That is awful. Even more egregious: Tennesse fans (Vols, not Titans) were pouring out of the stadium in the 3rd quarter against Florida. I know your team is losing, but the game was't COMPLETELY lost yet. People who leave games early should be sent to purgatory for a good long time.

by Lee (not verified) :: Tue, 09/23/2008 - 1:09pm

Patriots fans are bandwagon fans, period. Before 2001, the team had the lowest attendance in the league. I can't speak to the socioeconomic demographics of Patriots fans, but I think your correlation between the price of seats people buy and the quality of fan is dubious.

by RickD :: Tue, 09/23/2008 - 1:51pm

"Patriots fans are badnwagon fans, period. Before 2001, the team had the lowest attendance in the league".

Maybe that's because the stadium was so small? Foxboro Stadium was filled to 98% capacity throughout the Bledsoe era.

(from http://football.ballparks.com/NFL/NewEnglandPatriots/newindex.htm)

Season Total Capacity Change
1993 362,964 75% 17.7%
1994 472,718 98% 30.2%
1995 466,743 97% -1.3%
1996 468,301 97% 0.3%
1997 477,431 99% 1.9%
1998 475,828 99% 0%
1999 461,624 96% -2.99%
2000 463,722 96.1% 0.5%

And yes, since moving to Gilette Stadium, their attendance has gone up about 80k/year. That's because it's a bigger stadium.

But hey, why let facts get in the way of a cool dig at Pats' fans. Because nothing is cooler on the Internet than insulting Pats' fans.

by jebmak :: Tue, 09/23/2008 - 12:11pm

How did Jake Long look?

by big 0 (not verified) :: Tue, 09/23/2008 - 12:12pm

Is this for real?

AGS has gone down the drain.

by Joseph :: Tue, 09/23/2008 - 12:47pm

Personally, I believe that it's a space issue with ESPN. Mr. Macey, I like the part you wrote here better than what you wrote on ESPN.
Dear FO, could it be worked under your contract with ESPN that you print a longer, detailed article here; and, put an appetizing part on ESPN, linking back here with the rest of the article? The S. Satele part was good, but what about the rest? It reads like meringue and crust without the pie in the middle.

by ammek :: Tue, 09/23/2008 - 1:06pm

I thought this was much better than the last two - Ned and FO deserve thanks for taking our reaction into account. It's still not as deep or as eye-opening as before, and I'll never understand why Ned is restricted to a few hundred words of intelligent football analysis while the likes of Easterbrook and King are given eternity to fill with observations about cheerleaders and airport facilities. But that's the way it goes, apparently.

by Wait, what? (not verified) :: Tue, 09/23/2008 - 1:33pm

Perhaps if AGS were renamed "Wednesday Morning Quarterback," Ned would be allowed to ramble incoherently about bullshit too. Unfortunately, he would no longer be allowed to write anything insightful or reasonable in that column, so maybe it's for the best.

(Yes, my contempt for all columns titled "(day of week) Morning Quarterback" borders on irrationality.)

by panthersnbraves :: Wed, 09/24/2008 - 1:39pm

Bravo! Bravo! Could not agree more.

by drobviousso :: Tue, 09/23/2008 - 2:40pm

Agreed on all counts.

by widderslainte :: Tue, 09/23/2008 - 3:30pm

Yeah, I think Aaron mentioned something about that last week. Which is a crappy excuse if it's coming from ESPN. They can load video highlights on every page, but their poor servers can handle a few more paragraphs of text?

by Kellerman :: Tue, 09/23/2008 - 5:11pm

This was a very weird lead-in posted for this article. It's as though one must read both the ESPN article and the lead-in to get the whole article. ESPN part talks only about the defense and then the lead-in just picks right up where that left off and talks about the quarterbacking. What's up? Does Macey write a "whole" article for ESPN that gets chopped in half every week?

by Telamon :: Tue, 09/23/2008 - 10:30pm

Aaron previously explained the intro here as a way of fleshing out the article past what ESPN's word limit allows. Also, the reason for the word limit is obviously about some notion of "readability" (gag) rather than a bandwidth issue. Remember, as long as the bulk of the article has nothing to do with sports (i.e. is written by Simmons or Easterbrook) it can be as long the author wants.

by mawbrew (not verified) :: Tue, 09/23/2008 - 1:17pm

This is the first time I've visited the FO site since the format change. Does this page look strange to everybody else (everything furtheer down the page seems shifted to the left- some of it off the screen completely) or is it just my machine?

by FourteenDays :: Tue, 09/23/2008 - 1:46pm

That sounds like you're using IE6. Yes, the new site design is incompatible with IE6 -- you'll need to upgrade to your choice of IE7, Firefox, or some other modern browser.

by scott (not verified) :: Tue, 09/23/2008 - 1:29pm

a few quick points on the Pats' home crowd:

-Premium pricing has priced out many of the long-time Pats fans

-Pats fans were never very exemplary; hell, the team almost moved to St Louis in the 90's, not to mention the flirtation w/Hartford. (By the way, the collective IQ of Pats fans are about 20 pints lower than of Sox fans).

-the transportation & parking situation around the stadium are absolutely horrendous; I can't blame people for leaving early to beat the traffic. If you stay until game's end, you're almost guaranteed a 2+ hour wait in your choice of overpriced parking lot before you can leave.

by RickD :: Tue, 09/23/2008 - 1:41pm

"It isn't Cassel's fault that the Patriots gave up 38 points". Well, the turnovers didn't help much.

People are talking a lot about Ronnie Brown, but aside from the freak 62-yard run, he had 51 yards on 17 carries (3 yards/carry). Ricky Williams also had a good game, but a good deal of his yardage was late in the game, after the Pats gave up. I think the real problem was the passing game.

The Dolphins had an insane 11 yards/attempt. They moved the ball so well in the passing game that they went long stretches without having to face third down. Indeed, they had 23 first downs and only 9 third downs.

If the Pats want to blame the failure on their inability to adjust to the Dolphins' gimmick offense, there may be something to that. But BB doesn't take that out. It was just a bad defensive game. They got zero sacks and zero turnovers.

You can say "Brady would have won this game", but I don't think Brady on the field would have helped the D at all. There were times last season when the defense looked mediocre, and that came up again Sunday.

by dryheat (not verified) :: Tue, 09/23/2008 - 2:16pm

Brady's primary contribution to the game would have been to extend some drives and keep the Patriots defense (and by extension Ronnie Brown) off the field. 14 first downs is not good. I don't know how many more points the Patriots would have scored, but I'm guessing the Dolphins would have scored fewer.

by johonny (not verified) :: Tue, 09/23/2008 - 4:24pm

Cassel appeared to develop deer in the head light eyes after the first quarter of the Miami game. I think teams are going to try to hit him early and often from now on.

This offseason I wondered if Welker shouldn't be sold high by the Patriots. He seems to have enough skill to be used down field but they never seem to use him that way. The team is very one dimensional in it's offensive attack plan. They out skilled teams last year early but later in the year, teams seem to key in on the 1 dimensional roles of their offensive players. Teams might have trouble covering Welker, but they also know he isn't likely to beat them deep. This allows teams to at least easily know the Patriot receivers rolls. It's amazing the Patriots didn't get more creative this offseason, but then maybe they were planning on it before the Brady injury.

by Tim F. (not verified) :: Tue, 09/23/2008 - 5:06pm

Few noticed Cassell's bad play... Really? Great analysis.

by Boston Dan :: Tue, 09/23/2008 - 5:25pm


by Jimmy :: Tue, 09/23/2008 - 9:25pm

The Ned Macey bashing is getting a little old (my word that happened quickly). Ned has been writing articles we all enjoyed reading for years, with hardly a complaint in sight.

The problem clearly lies with ESPN, instead of moaning on this website, send a complaint to ESPN they probably have control of the contract.

If you want more analysis, post some of your own and debate the finer points of the game with each other.

Hopefully ESPN will see the light in the end and free Ned.

by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 09/24/2008 - 8:20am

Free the FO One!

by Raffy (not verified) :: Wed, 09/24/2008 - 2:16pm

Time to petition ESPN to "FREE NED MACEY!" Maybe a march on Bristol, CT? ;-)