Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

04 Dec 2010

ESPN: 2010 Pats Offense Rivals 2007

This week's Monday Night Football feature for ESPN Insider goes in depth on how this year's Patriots offense compares to the record-setting offense of 2007... and why this year's offense is likely to avoid the late-season fade of three years ago.

Posted by: Doug Farrar on 04 Dec 2010

10 comments, Last at 07 Dec 2010, 3:49pm by Marcumzilla


by JonFrum (not verified) :: Sat, 12/04/2010 - 7:41pm

Football coaches are naturally - and pathologically - conservative. For the first half of 2007, when the Patriots were in their balls-to-the-wall offense, defensive coordinators just kept to their standard sets and watched themselves get horsewhipped. Finally, it started dawning on then that they had to do something different to deal with the Patriots' offense, and you started seeing defenses going after Brady and playing the pass. If anything, it was the Patriots' failure to respond in kind that lead to their Super Bowl defeat.

by Dunbar :: Sat, 12/04/2010 - 8:53pm

You don't really make it clear why the Pats' offensive production is so much more sustainable this year than it was in 2007. Because there's more of a running game? Because the offense is more focused on consistent gains than explosive plays? I assume those are your reasons, but I would have liked to see some numbers to back them up.

by Boo-urns (not verified) :: Mon, 12/06/2010 - 12:58pm

Umm, I thought it was pretty clearly stated. The 07 version relied on a few plays that, while not gadget plays per se, were plays that could be well defensed by opposing teams with the right personnel: Randy Moss deep bombs, Wes Welker bubble screens. The 2010 version is more balanced, harder to game plan against, and relies on the entire playbook for its success.

"The 2007 Patriots saw their season end in a surprise Super Bowl loss, but the route back to reality started well before that. The early part of that season featured a virtually unrepeatable pattern of shotgun spreads, deep routes to Moss, receiver screens to Wes Welker and limited access to any sort of running game. Though it was portable (the Pats actually had a higher offensive DVOA on the road than at home that season), it wasn't sustainable.

Through 12 weeks of the 2010 season, the Patriots' offense has been defined by two-tight end sets, shorter passes overall with more yards after catch, better goal-line running and more sustainable offensive playcalling."

Whether or not you agree with those statements, that's the claim, and it seems pretty clear. Also something to contemplate: because the Pats aren't running up the score this year (that seems like a McDaniels trait), it's possible they're saving more offensive wrinkles for crunch time.

by Jeff Fogle :: Sat, 12/04/2010 - 11:21pm

"Because there's more of a running game? Because the offense is more focused on consistent gains than explosive plays?"


*Because they'll be able to dodge the bad weather games at Baltimore (very strong winds leading to an 18-38-1-236 performance for Brady--listed at 17 mph at pro-football reference) and at home vs. the NYJ (wind chill in the teens with 24 mph wins and precipitation leading to 14-27-1-134 for Brady)?

*Because they won't coast through a second half against somebody like 1-13 Miami after scoring 28 points on 300 yards in the first half (of a 28-7 win)?

New England "fading" still had 34 points on 421 yards and 7.7 ypp vs. Pittsburgh, and 38 points on 390 yards and 5.7 ypp vs. the NYG in the season finale.

The authors can say New England is "likely to avoid" bad weather games or a flat second half if they've clinched what they need to clinch? All five remaining games are up north (home vs. NYJ, at Chicago, home vs. GB, at Buffalo, home vs. Miami).

Some of the perceived late season fade was due to conditions that didn't favor their passing offense. Certainly a portion of the playoff fade can be attributed to Brady's injury too (plus high winds and win chill of 18 in the game vs. SD--Brady was 26-28-262 in 40 degrees vs. Jax in the first round).

by RickD :: Sun, 12/05/2010 - 2:40am

Today's ESPN gripe: Aaron has written an Insider column (which I cannot read, since I'm not an insider) with the headline "How Jets can beat the Patriots".

On the front page for their NFL coverage, the link to this article is
"FBO: Why Jets will beat Patriots"

So which is it?

Aaron, I would suggest that you talk to your colleagues at ESPN and get them to stop linking to your columns with extremely deceptive language. "How Jets can beat the Patriots" is quite different from "Why Jets will beat the Patriots". Indeed, the former headline suggests that the Jets should be underdogs, while the latter dismisses the possibility that the Patriots have any chance of winning.


by Aaron Schatz :: Sun, 12/05/2010 - 3:05pm

Duly noted. It's just Numbers Crunching, it gives advice to both teams based on matchups. I'll email them.

by dbostedo :: Mon, 12/06/2010 - 11:44am

"...outscoring their opponents by an average of 40.2 to 16.8 points per game."
"...average margin of victory was 29.4 to 17.8."

It took me a minute to figure out what those mean. I believe what should have been said was the average score was 40.2 to 16.8, right? Giving both number is confusing when put they way it is in the first case, and incorrect in the second case as a "margin of victory" implies a single number.

Sorry to get nit-picky, but I was actually really confused at first. Maybe it's just me.

by Marcumzilla :: Tue, 12/07/2010 - 3:49pm

It got me for a couple seconds as well.

by Jeff Fogle :: Mon, 12/06/2010 - 2:28pm

"The early part of that season featured a virtually unrepeatable pattern of shotgun spreads, deep routes to Moss, receiver screens to Wes Welker and limited access to any sort of running game. Though it was portable (the Pats actually had a higher offensive DVOA on the road than at home that season), it wasn't sustainable."

Sorry, but the part about it not being "sustainable" is borderline insane...if you're talking about play calling. If you're talking about using a pass heavy offense when the weather turns...or keeping your QB healthy, then I'd buy it. Play calling?

Brady had a great first five weeks of the season, where he threw 16 TD passes with only two interceptions. Then he IMPROVED after everyone had 5 weeks worth of film on the offense.

Games 6, 7, 8 for Brady
31-46-0-388 at Dallas (5 TD passes)
21-25-0-354 at Miami (6 TD passes)
29-38-0-354 vs. Washington (3 TD passes)

Unsustainable? Some others:
31-39-0-373 in Game 10 at Buffalo
32-46-0-399 in Game 13 vs. Pittsburgh
32-42-0-356 in Game 16 at NYG

How can you post those numbers in games 10-13-16 with a play-calling approach that's unsustainable?

It is a tough approach to use in bad weather though:
18-38-1-257 in high winds at Baltimore
14-27-1-140 in extremely high winds, wind chill of 16, with precipitation at home against the NYJ (which is probably why NE's DVOA was better on the road than at home for the year...it certainly had a huge percentage difference in the impact at least...do you guys just treat every game like it's played in a dome? Do you think the Pats poor passing line here was a result of unsustainable play calling, or 25-mile an hour North winds and a wind chill of 16 degrees with a wet ball? Two weeks before Brady would go 32-42-0-356 in unseasonably warm 49 degree temps at the Meadowlands vs NYG).

In the playoffs:
26-28-0-262 in comfortable 44 degree weather with a healthy Brady

22-33-3-209 in 29 degree weather with 15 mph winds and a wind chill of 18 in the game Brady suffered his ankle sprain and played well below norms in terms of yardage and interceptions

29-48-0-266 with the bad ankle vs. a strong pass rush in the SB...high number of incomplete passes and low scoring production, though he did manage to lead an 80-yard TD drive in the fourth quarter to give the Pats a lead that would have held up more often than not.

Does the evidence suggest an unsustainability of play calling? Or, AN EXTREME SUSTAINABILITY OF PLAY CALLING IN ADEQUATE SCORING CONDITIONS WITH A HEALTHY QUARTERBACK that was vulnerable to horrible weather or a quarterback injury? How could it have been unsustainable play calling if the passing lines were 32-42-0-356 and 26-28-0-262 in games 16 and 17?

Brady would get injured in the opening minutes of the '08 season...and the world changed enough by 2009 in terms of complimentary personnel (including coaches) and aging that it wasn't possible to recreate the high volume magic of 2007.

Would you guys PLEASE consider adding in notations on weather and injuries to the DVOA process? Or incorporate the use of medians so outliers caused by weather/injuries don't muck up the data and cause misreads?

What's the 11-game only comparison between '07 and '10? What's the median DVOA performance for both teams through 11 games (easy with an odd number)? What are the performances in the "middle three" games of 5-6-7 on the ledger?

by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 12/06/2010 - 6:48pm

The problem is that by DVOA, the 2010 Patriots are as good as the 2007 Patriots AFTER they faded. The last 8 games for the 2007 Pats were by DVOA in line with other great teams, and not absurd (like the first 8 games). So, after fading back to what any other great offense was, they still ended up with the DVOA that the Pats have now.