One of the things that I think gives this blog a unique perspective is the long-term stats that I focus on. This time of year, when the 2015 Patriots’ regular season is in the books, I love seeing how this team stacked up against the rest of Belichick’s teams.
Despite an incredible amount of injuries this season, the Patriots didn’t drop off a whole heck of a lot from last year’s Super Bowl team. They certainly had an easier regular season schedule, but despite all the key departures of last offseason plenty of guys stepped up and that bodes extremely well for the direction of the franchise.
Let’s start with the DVOA of the offense, defense and special teams.
As you can see, this year’s team and last year’s we almost identical as far as the efficiency is concerned. One major place the Pats had significant improvement on the defensive side of the ball was:
It shouldn’t be surprising that the season Belichick finally got a legit third defensive end (Jabaal Sheard) and had a pure interior rusher (Dominique Easley) for most of the season, that the third down numbers were top 10.
Here’s a closer look at how the Pats did against individual receivers:
We can’t really say these rankings reflect directly on Butler or Ryan as they weren’t always on specific threats.
The real concern I have, and it’s reflected here, is at the slot corner position where Leonard Johnson had a huge target on his back the last two games. This also follows how teams generally beat the Belichick philosophy of taking away what you do best. That results in guys like David Tyree or Chris Matthews (SB49) having big games. That could be where the playoff games are won or lost if Johnson (or Justin Coleman) isn’t up to the challenge.
Finally we look at the “Bend Don’t Break” chart:
Lots of interesting stuff happening here, starting with the Yards-per-Drive taking a major step forward, while Turnovers-per-Drive dropped to their worst rate in a decade.
The Patriots have had fewer interceptions the last five years in a row since 2010: 25-23-20-17-16-12. Yet the defense has gotten better in each of those years generally. What gives? Why would getting less turnovers and specifically interceptions be the sign of a better defense?
I relate it to the shift away from zone defense to more man coverage. The Pats D of the early ‘10s didn’t have much talent, so instead they played conservative zone defense, waiting to break on poorly thrown balls or deliver big downhill hits that forced fumbles.
Now, the secondary is in man coverage, so instead of sitting back and waiting to pounce, they’re running around tracking their receivers. It’s a lot easier to drop into zone then break on the pass than it is to be running stride-for-stride with a receiver, turn around, find the ball and pick it off.
All of this points to positive trends with the Patriots defense and I give the front seven a lot of credit. They’re as deep and talented now as they were during the first three Super Bowls, and good news, everyone of importance comes back next year.