The New England Patriots were the resounding favorites to win the AFC East just a week ago. After week 1, they are the only team in the division without a win, after leading 20-10 at the half. Let’s do a blind taste test of the quarterback numbers for week 1.
- 82.1% completions, 7.9 yards per attempt, sacked 2x
- 72.7% completions, 7.9 yards per attempt, sacked 1x
- 56.3% completions, 5.6 yards per attempt, sacked 1x
- 51.8% completions, 4.4 yards per attempt, sacked 4x
The top two numbers belong to the much-maligned second-year quarterbacks Geno Smith and E.J. Manuel. Yes, that’s right, two New York-based quarterbacks did complete over 70% of their passes, and neither are Eli. The third line in the above list is Tannehill. Hardly a line that jumps out at you, but the bottom one, well, that’s Tom Brady in week 1.
Of the 28 starting quarterbacks so far in week 1, Brady ranks 28th in completion percentage and yards per attempt. Last year, Brady struggled when his supporting cast was completely turned over, when Gronkowski was out injured, and when Vereen wasn’t in the lineup. Yesterday, while Gronkowski was limited, the receiving group was largely what it will be this year. It was issues with the protection, and Brady’s struggles when not comfortable in the pocket, that led to the second half collapse.
Before this year, the Patriots were 75-5 in games where they held a 10+ point lead at halftime under Belichick. Those losses include the AFC Championship Game against the Colts in January 2007, and the infamous 4th and 2 game, both against Peyton Manning. All five of those other losses were close affairs that came down to the end of the game; yesterday, New England got outscored 23-0 in the second half.
The key play came early in the second half, after Miami had already added a field goal to cut it to 20-13. Cameron Wake blew around the corner, hit Brady, and forced a fumble. It looked like everyone else was in slow motion.
Later in the quarter, after a holding call set them back, the Patriots faced a second and long. This sack, though, is concerning because it was a simple four man rush, no complicated blitz pickups and no stunts, yet three of the four rushers met at Brady as linemen were left chasing. It was emblematic of the problems the Patriots had on Sunday in protecting Brady as the game went on.
The “biggest” pass play of the second half was called back in another pivotal moment, correctly, for an offensive pass interference on Brandon LaFell. Some of these OPI calls are plausibly deniable; on this one, LaFell creamed the slot defensive back before the pass is caught, negating the drive into Miami territory in the fourth quarter.
Of course, the fact that would have been the biggest pass play of the entire half is telling. Brady did not complete a single pass in the second half where the receiver was more than 5 yards downfield. For the game, he completed only 8 of 29 passes where the receiver was more than 5 yards past the line of scrimmage, and only 3 of 20 on throws more than 10 yards downfield.
Brady started 15 of 21, culminating in the Gronkowski touchdown to get a 17-7 lead. Most of those throws were short/intermediate throws, though he did hit his only long pass of the game, a 44 yard downfield throw to Julian Edelman. After that Gronkowski touchdown, Brady completed only 14 of 35 passes and was sacked four times.
Here’s a breakdown of Brady’s day, by where the target was:
The offensive line did not provide a clean pocket, the receivers did not create a whole lot of yards after catch on the short throws beyond what was readily available, and quite frankly, Brady wasn’t very good on throws downfield, even when he had an opportunity. There was much talk this summer about whether Brady was still one of the top quarterbacks in the game. What is clear is that he needs protection to maximize his short game. All quarterbacks struggle with pressure in their face, but compare what Kaepernick did yesterday in the face of pressure right at him on some fantastic downfield throws.
The trade of Logan Mankins sent shockwaves. It’s week 1, though. Things happen. The way it happened, though, better get fixed quickly, or you can expect more Brady struggles if he doesn’t have time in the pocket.
No Lead is Safe (and no Cover is either)
The New England-Miami game wasn’t the only one that saw a team jump to a double digit lead, only for it to evaporate. Over half of the early games saw a team relinquish a double digit lead, whether they ultimately won or lost.
- New Orleans had a 20-10 lead, before trailing 24-20, and ultimately losing a shootout in overtime;
- Jacksonville had a 17-0 halftime lead and were outscored 34-0 in the second half;
- Pittsburgh led 27-3, and Cleveland, on the road, came all the way back to tie it, before Pittsburgh got the winning field goal to end the game.
- Cincinnati had a 15-0 lead on the road, before Steve Smith caught a bomb to give Baltimore a 16-15 lead, only for A.J. Green to match it and put Cincinnati back in the lead for good;
- Buffalo jumped to a 17-7 lead, Chicago came back to tie it, then Buffalo won in overtime when Fred Jackson demolished Chris Conte.
It’s the new, exciting NFL, where the passing rules mean teams can come back, and where the teams leading have to risk passing to control the ball, and potentially expose themselves to turnovers. It’s a game of runs, and we almost saw another one last night as the Colts nearly came all the way back as well, coming up just short after falling behind by 24 on the road.
Of the comebacks, Jacksonville giving up the lead to Philadelphia was the least surprising, considering the Eagles were a double digit favorite coming in. However, consider this. Going back to 1980, there were 25 previous games where a double digit dog led at halftime by at least two touchdowns. While 6 of them ended up losing, Jacksonville was the first one to also not cover the spread.
The lingering clouds of concern for Kansas City grew into major storms on opening day. The team already had major issues along the offensive line, and was without Dwayne Bowe. The Chiefs cut Ryan Succop in favor of younger and cheaper Cairo Santos. Succop emerged in Tennessee and immediately made fans second-guess the decision, as Santos missed an early attempt and Succop went 4 for 4.
The bigger long-term issue in Kansas City, though, is the Achilles injury to Derrick Johnson. Johnson has been an unsung Pro Bowl performer for years, one of the few constants from the dreadful end of the Pioli era to today. He will be out for the year, and Kansas City now has to regroup. The offense looked dreadful–up until now Alex Smith had always been good at avoiding interceptions, and he threw 3 yesterday, only the second time that has happened for Smith since the start of the 2010 season. Jamaal Charles got 11 touches, and a long run of 6. Oh, and the Chiefs play the Broncos, at Miami, New England, and San Francisco over the next month.
The St. Louis Rams, meanwhile, got blown out at home as well, as the Missouri teams were outscored 60-16 on opening weekend. The Rams are trying to deal with the loss of Sam Bradford, but chalk this one up–at least the blowout aspect of it–to some misfortune, as well as the Vikings being a better team and one that should be competitive all year long. The total yards in the game were 318 to 346, hardly a breakdown that would normally suggest a 28 point home loss. Shaun Hill got injured right before his interception at the end of the first half, pressing Austin Davis into action.
There was one big highlight play–Cordarelle Patterson’s electric touchdown run. That play showed far more than speed. Patterson repeatedly saw lanes that did not seem to be there and set potential tacklers up before cutting back on them.
Other than that big play, St. Louis did a good job containing Adrian Peterson, and the margin got away in the second half after a roughing the punter penalty extended a drive, and Davis threw an 81-yard pick six in the fourth quarter.
America’s Team, or BS?
The Dallas Cowboys got run over yesterday by the 49ers with early turnovers. The fact that America’s team had the stadium overrun by 49ers fans, reminiscent of when Nebraska played on the road in the Tom Osborne era, didn’t help. Jerry is apparently color blind.