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Thursday Morning 3rd and Long: 2010 vs. 2011 and Playoff Hodge Podge

I'm sure it's pretty obvious to anyone that's been reading my articles throughout the course of the season that I'm somewhat of a stat geek. What can I say? Numbers appeal to me, and I've always been this way.

So I'm somewhat disappointed to report that after putting together some figures on Wednesday night, my hunch was not completely supported. I'm not going to say that this investigation was a complete failure, but I'll put it this way- the ugly and page-consuming charts that I've been publishing throughout this season aren't even worth putting to the page.

What I was trying to prove was that while the 2010 Patriots were a front-running group, the 2011 team played much better in the second half. Basically, I was trying to convince myself that there was some statistical proof that this year's team is better than last's.

I guess that I just wanted to see some facts or figures that would remove this pit from my stomach- the pit caused by two consecutive first round playoff losses.

I say that this examination wasn't a complete failure because it did show that the offensive and defensive point differential this year is a drastic tale of two halves. I'm not sure that is a surprise to anyone, but I'm quite sure that the last few games have had an outlying impact on the 1st quarter splits. Before I go into any furthur detail, check out what I found:

2010 Offensive/ Defensive Splits by quarter

1st Q

2nd Q

3rd Q

4th Q






1st Half Season





2nd Half Season





2011 Offensive/ Defensive Splits by quarter

1st Q

2nd Q

3rd Q

4th Q






1st Half Season





2nd Half Season





A few observations from these numbers:

-When looking at the 2010 totals, it is bizarre how close the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd quarter differentials are- averaging a steady 3 point per quarter per game advantage until the fourth, where the Patriots had only a 1 point advantage on average.

- When looking at the 2nd half of 2010, the 8-0 streak to conclude the regular is highlighted by a drastic increase in the differential in every quarter. In that streak, the first and third quarters were definitely the best for the Pats.

- When examining this year, we have to take the -23 differential in the 1st quarters of the second half of the season with a grain of salt- 21 of these points came in a 3 quarter domination of Buffalo to conclude the season.

- The first half of the 2011 season when the Patriots went 5-3 was clearly marked by front running behavior. New England was +37 in the first two quarters and +1 in the last two over that span.

- However, the second half of 2011 illuminates the comeback quality of this year's team. Despite having such a poor showing in the first quarter, the team was able to rebound with nearly a 6 point per game advantage in the second quarter, and then doubled that advantage in the third. The fourth quarter was mostly a wash between the two seasons, with the offense outscoring opponents by about a point on average.

My final observation, which I am going to take as my favorite: any fan of the 2008 Celtics will tell you that they were absolutely a second half team, especially the third quarters. The C's would keep the game close, and then blow it open in the third quarter. This spoke to their ability to make adjustments, and set the tempo coming out of the break.

This year's Patriots are no different. The first halves of games have been tight, but New England has used the third quarter as the defining period of the game. This was not true in the first half of the season, when this team was finding their identity. However, when the Patriots began to hit their stride (in route to a 8-0 streak to end the season), they came out and completely dominated the third quarters of games- averaging nearly 12 points more than their opponents through that stretch.

I think that this stat truly shows the ability of the Patriots to make adjustments at halftime. I hope that this quality carries over into the "tournament," as Bill Belichick is apt to put it.

Playoff Hodge Podge

On Josh McDaniels: From reading the comments on here for the last few days, I can tell that I'm not the only person who doesn't understand the media scrutiny regarding bringing the Patriots' former OC back as an offensive assistant for the playoffs, and into next year. I know that the Denver columnists were trying to stir the pot with their articles, but how is there any competitive advantage to be gained by bringing in the offensive coordinator from one of the least successful teams this season?

Josh has missed a lot over the last three years, including the transformation of New England's offense in the post-Randy Moss era to a completely tight-end-centric gameplan. Heck, I'm not sure I can even remember a time when Josh was the OC that the team used trip-tight end sets on a regular basis. Bill O'Brien and the Hooded One have completely retooled the offensive strategy, despite the fact that the elite offense remains.

Is the move strange? I, for one, didn't really believe that Belichick would bring Josh back- nevermind before embarking on a postseason run. Even when sports radio was expounding on the concept, I thought nothing more of it than filler material, food for thought. If BOB had not taken the head coaching position at Penn State, I doubt this move would have happened. But as Josh, Bill, and Bill have a good rapport, it makes sense to bring in an experienced coach with a good knowledge of the inner workings of the Patriots to help support the infrastructure while O'Brien is pulling double duty- however, this move is nothing more than that. It's not some elaborate scheme for Hoodie to beat Tebow, because in all likelihood Bill thought he was going to be designing a gameplan for the Steelers this week.

I really don't see a reason for the league to change any of their rules going forward to prevent a situation like this, because it's something so rare, and a situation that can have so many different factors coming into play that it's impossible to regulate. Since McDaniels didn't coach against the Patriots this season, he has likely watched less than an entire game of New England's all season. Now, in the span of a week, he's going to have to sit through 16 regular season and 4 preseason games before being able to contribute any positive ideas. Does anyone envy that?

Offensive Line: With Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer back, I think it's fair to say that the Patriots' offensive line is at full strength. Personally, I'm intrigued to see what combination of starters New England rolls out this weekend. Matt Light will obviously take his normal duty at left tackle, but I don't see a situation where Vollmer is going to start over the rookie Nate Solder, especially given his time off.

I could be completely wrong, but after seeing the quality of Solder's play against Denver in the first meeting this season I'd be very surprised to see Vollmer take his place. If the Patriots choose to go to their heavy sets, Vollmer will probably then enter the game to occupy the right tackle position, pushing Nate outside to the heavy tight end as he's so often been this season. I expect that Sebastian will be the flex tackle over Marcus Cannon because of his experience in big games.

Despite the criticism on the defense (especially in the last two years), the Patriots' three straight playoff losses have largely been a result of the offensive line allowing pressure to get to Tom Brady. Hopefully, this year's line which includes two new beefy tackles will be able to contain Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, who came out feisty against the Steelers and gave Ben Roethlisberger hell. For New England to be successful through the playoffs, the offensive line is going to need to dictate the game. Let's hope they can.

Base Defense: Greg wrote an article on Wednesday regarding which front he believed the Patriots would come out in. After seeing the success of the Patriots using a heavy 3-4 package against the Broncos in the first meeting, I'd be inclined to think that we're going to see more of the same. Against the Dolphins and Bills, Belichick seemed to be toying with different combinations in his sub packages, eventually settling on Molden/Arrington/Moore/McCourty/Chung for most of the last game of the season. I really liked this package, especially the play of Sterling Moore at cornerback.

However, I think the Patriots are probably going to play base defense most of the game against the Broncos, hoping to contain Tebow within the pocket. With Eric Decker going down with an injury, Denver's explosive passing game has been substantially weakened. They were never going to be a team that would go 5-wide and stretch the defense, so having 5 defensive backs on the field will probably be limited to 3rd and long situations or if the Patriots take a large lead and want to settle back into a soft cover-2 zone.

With that in mind, I think that the Patriots are going to come out in the same heavy 3-4 package that showed tremendous success over the last three quarters against the Broncos. Since Denver isn't going to come out in a hurry-up package, the Patriots will be able to rotate their lineman in and out relatively regularly to keep them fresh- which is a huge factor considering how physical the Broncos' offensive line is. A team doesn't have the most successful rushing offense in the league with a poor offensive line- that much is for sure.


I haven't been one for predicting this season, but I think I'm going to step outside my comfort zone on this one and go from 0 to 60. To be honest, I don't see this game even being close. I'm going with a final outcome of 38-16 in the Patriots favor. It's time.