Congratulations to the New England Patriots! They led the league in first half scoring differential. And not just barely. They had a different +63 points greater than the 2nd place New Orleans Saints. It seemed so frequent last season that the team would come into the game guns blazing and try and bury their opponents early- and it usually worked. The Patriots usually had their opponents so far behind that no matter how they tried to claw back into the game, the Patriots' bend-don't-break defense would hold them off.
Unfortunately, after the Patriots had built up large leads at the half, they usually gave it away. The team ranked 24th in Third Quarter differential and 17th in Second Half differential. That's huge for a team that was the best in the league in the first half. This means that opposing teams would come out after the half and score, usually at will, against the Patriots. They would claw back into the game and make the games nerve wracking for fans everywhere.
After briefly scanning the box scores, it looks like the Patriots let opposing teams claw their way into in the game 8 or so times after the half. That's far too many times for a team trying to crush the spirits of opposing teams. Clearly, opposing teams are figuring out how to beat the Patriots defense and stop the Patriots offense.
So what happened in most of these games? It's pretty simple. Find out after the Jump!
On defense, the Patriots would play prevent. They had a lead and they banked on milking the clock and slowing opposing offenses into scoring only a few times. They would try to not give up the big play, but were okay with allowing teams to get a field goal if it stopped a touchdown. However, this style of defense banks on the offense matching the opposing team in terms of points. They did not.
The offense came out of the half slinging. Everyone here's complained at some point or another about how the team abandoned the run after the half. The real difference is that teams figured out how the Patriots offense worked. I advise you to look at the split statistics provided at ESPN. Looking at the numbers of Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor, I can figure out the following:
- The Patriots run on first down. They rarely run on second down. They definitely won't run on third down. They'll probably run on fourth down (hint: It will go to Sammy Morris).
- Maroney becomes less productive as the game progresses (1Q: 5.2 y/c, 2Q: 3.3 y/c, 3Q: 3.5 y/c, 4Q: 3.0 y/c) and is not a workhorse back.
- Once Tom Brady has thrown 10 passes, Maroney is really the only back who will run the ball- and since he gets worn down as the game progresses, this is horrible offensive scheming.
- Seriously, once Brady had thrown 10 passes, Maroney ran 67 more times. Faulk, Morris and Taylor combined for 23 carries.
- That also means that the Patriots lead backs only ran the ball 90 times after Brady had thrown 10 times. Brady hits that number, on average, in the middle of the 2nd quarter. That means 77.0% of the Patriots running attempts came before Brady had thrown 10 times. Which means early in the game. And not after the half.
- Most of the late game running plays were hand-offs from Hoyer.
- Morris and Maroney's yard/carry dropped by over a full yard from the first half to the second half.
Just looking at how the team abandoned the running game can show why the Patriots dropped so many leads over the season. Passing wins football games, but running the ball is how you run the clock. Hopefully Bill O'Brien has learned how to run an offense this off-season.
So how do I think the team will win next season? I'm glad you asked.
1) Keep doing what it was doing in the first half. Be balanced. Run the ball AND pass the ball (what?!).
2) In the second half, don't play prevent defense. It's nice to expect the offense to score in the second half, but it's not a guarantee. Don't let the opposing team claw back into the game. Maintain aggression.
3) Be balanced in the second half. It's nice to try and bury the other team, but that's high risk. Why not drain the clock and score on a grinding drive? That's a bigger stake in the heart, in my opinion.
4) Give Maroney some freakin' help. Morris and Taylor were both injured for large portions of the season, so the offense had to rely on Maroney. He has proven that he's a great compliment back, but not a feature back. Look back to all of those time you thought Maroney had turned the corner- they're all most likely plays in the first quarter. Look for Taylor and Morris to get more of the early carries so Maroney can shine in the second half- just like he did in his rookie season.
5) Don't suck in the 2nd half. Simple enough? The team seemed to have mastered the art of snowballing- when one thing went wrong, the whole house of cards collapsed. Let's see this team hold itself together when tides turn. Adjust at the half to give new things to opposing defenses. They know you're passing. So change it up. Please?
What do you think the Patriots need to do in order to have better second halves next season?