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The Dagger

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The Patriots found a bite for their toothless offense late against the Jets- where has that been and how they can keep it?

Jim Rogash

Gutted. Heartless. Impotent.

Lots of feelings surround the Patriots limp to victory on Sunday- and if the win column didn't just trickle upwards and place the Patriots in sole possession of the AFC East lead, a 2-0 division record, and a 4-1 conference record, you would have thought the Patriots lost the game.

As fans, we were forced to watch the Patriots try to give away another win; they had succeeded against Arizona, Baltimore, and Seattle, while they tried their damndest against Denver.

While they did not have the lead in the fourth quarter against the Cardinals, after failing to produce all game, they picked up some momentum in the fourth- and decided to settle for a long range field goal instead of move up for an easier attempt.

Against the Ravens, they squandered a 9 point lead, gaining a net of 9 yards not from penalties in the final half of the fourth quarter (last 7:30).

Facing Peyton Manning and the Broncos, they were potentially a Willis McGahee drop and fumble away from being in danger as the offense put up a net of 73 yards and 2 fumbles in the entire fourth quarter.

When they went to Seattle, they had a 13 point lead with 9:21 left in the game- the rest of the game, the offense combined for 35 yards on 14 plays as the lead slipped away.

Then came the Jets on Sunday when the Patriots had another 10 point lead in the fourth. After the Jets drew out a seven minute drive for a touchdown, the Patriots had the ball with 5:33 left to either put the game away with a TD, or make it more difficult for the Jets by scoring a field goal.

Offensive Pass Interference. Incompletion. Ridley for four. Incompletion. Punt and the Jets get the ball on their 35 yard line, needing only 30 yards to be in field goal position. Kick off. Forced fumble by former Patriot Lex Hilliard. Field goal.

Now the Patriots are down by three.

Finally vintage Tom Brady makes an appearance and he drives 54 yards in 97 seconds and the Patriots even the score with the third 43 yard field goal in as many drives.

Where the heck has that guy been?!

We've been reading that Tom Brady has been the 5th worst quarterback since 2009 when the Patriots -need- a score in the fourth. But that can't possibly be true, right? Everyone knows the ESPN QBR system is a little screwy, right? ...right?

But Brady's my guy, he's my quarterback man, and you don't talk about my quarterback like that. I decided to look back over the past few seasons to see if I could disprove ESPN. Well, I'm here to tell you: They're pretty much correct.

Let's look at the last half of the fourth quarter, the final 7:30 of the game, when it is a one score game. Those are "dagger" situations. The Patriots have the chance to bring the team back from the bring and potentially drive a dagger into the heart of the opposing team's chances for victory.

In those situations, the Patriots have the league's 5th least effective offense since 2009. 5th. Worst.

Team - Yards/Play

Miami Dolphins - 3.85

Cleveland Browns - 4.10

Seattle Seahawks - 4.26

St. Louis Rams - 4.28

New England Patriots - 4.31

New York Jets - 4.32

Buffalo Bills - 4.36

That is some horrid company to be associated with on numbers spanning since 2009. The Patriots have been unable to move the ball with the game on the line and they need to be better. 28th in the league is inexcusable, especially for the Patriots vaunted offense.

But that can't all be on Brady, right? That represents offensive failure and not purely Brady failure. And with that, I agree. But let's see how Brady ranks during that stretch of game time.

Comparing Quarterback Numbers (50+ attempts):

27th out of 36 qualifying Passer Ratings (Exactly 25th percentile, bottom quarter of the league)

27 Tom Brady 70.2

28 Cam Newton 67

29 Colt McCoy 63.5

30 Ryan Fitzpatrick 60.3

31 Andy Dalton 59.8

32 Mark Sanchez 57.4

33 Donovan McNabb 53.2

34 Jake Delhomme 46.1 3

5 Kevin Kolb 45.7

36 Chad Henne 31.4

31st out of 36 qualifying Yards/Attempt

27 John Skelton 6.3

28 Ryan Fitzpatrick 6.3

29 Sam Bradford 6.2

30 Jake Delhomme 5.9

31 Tom Brady 5.5

32 Mark Sanchez 5.2

33 Donovan McNabb 5.2

34 Kevin Kolb 5.2

35 Chad Henne 5.2

36 Colt McCoy 5.1

28th out of 36 qualifying Completion Percentages

27 John Skelton 52.50%

28 Tom Brady 52.20%

29 Andy Dalton 52.10%

30 Colt McCoy 51.70%

31 Donovan McNabb 51.00%

32 Tim Tebow 50.00%

33 Cam Newton 50.00%

34 Kevin Kolb 50.00%

35 Mark Sanchez 46.80%

36 Chad Henne 45.50%

Averaging the three stats:

27 John Skelton

28 Cam Newton

29 Ryan Fitzpatrick

30 Jake Delhomme

31 Tom Brady

32 Colt McCoy

33 Donovan McNabb

34 Kevin Kolb

35 Mark Sanchez

36 Chad Henne

Oh. That's not good. Those are players at the top of the "wouldn't even know where to stab with the dagger" list. In some of the most crucial stats for a quarterback, Brady ranks in the bottom 10 in the entire league- and that's dragging his names with players out of the league and those who were part time starters. But seriously, that's some ugly company.

Looking at most of the "franchise quarterbacks" during that time span (100+ attempts), Brady ranked in the bottom five of the 19 qualifiers of each stat, featuring the same five suspects: Brady, Fitzpatrick, Sanchez, McNabb, Henne.

Coincidentally, that list contains the four AFC East starters for the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Not a good sign for the division.

So what's going on with Tom? Why has he been so ineffective with the game on the line? I have one theory...

Patriots Offense Prior His 2008 Injury:

Top yards/play

Carolina Panthers 6.77

Pittsburgh Steelers 6.37

Kansas City Chiefs 6.35

New York Giants 6.30

Minnesota Vikings 6.20

New England Patriots 5.98

Oh, that's not a good sign for now. Don't overreact purely to the swing of over a 1.6 yards/play as the league average has decreased .56 yards/play, but note the decline with the perspective of the 22 seed drop in the rankings.

Repeat: The Patriots were the 6th most effective offensive with the game on the line prior to 2008. Now they're the 5th worst.

But everyone who supports the Patriots know that yards can be overrated if you don't convert them into points, right? Prior to the injury, the Patriots offense posted an average point/play of 0.442, good for 6th in the league. That number includes field goals.

Since 2009? The production has declined to 17th in the league at 0.345. That drop represents a 22% decrease in offensive efficiency. Even factoring in that the league average has decreased 0.062 points/play (which sort of counters popular interpretation of offenses ruling the roost), the offense has clearly slipped.

And looking at just Brady (Pre-Inj to Post-Inj):

Average yards/attempt: 7.1 to 5.5

Passer Rating: 80.9 to 70.2

Completion Rate: 56.1% to 52.2%

So what's going on? Why is Tom Brady experiencing an undeniable drop across the board? He's fallen from clutch association with Peyton Manning and Eli Manning and is now in the land of Sanchez and Henne. Something must've happened, and I don't think it's the injury.

I'm thinking Wes Welker.

Not that it's his fault. Welker is an elite player and the offense clearly functions much better with him on the field. It's just that his skill set and Brady's desire to focus on his safety blankets severely limits the team in crunch time as teams know they can focus on purely stopping Welker.

Since 2009, Brady has thrown 30% of his passes in crunch situations to Welker, nearly twice the amount of his next favorite target Rob Gronkowski.

Biggest difference? Welker is catching 56.8% of the passes in his direction for a rate of 5.52 yards/attempt.

Gronkowski is catching 69.6% of his passes for 9.65 yards/attempt.

You know what's even more concerning? Welker has the third highest average amongst Patriots receivers with 10+ targets (#1 is Danny Woodhead with 109 yards on 10 attempts). Welker's ahead of Deion Branch (52 yards on 11 attempts) and Aaron Hernandez (49 yards on 10 attempts).

It seems as if the Patriots are drawing up plays to be short in the first place and that's not a good sign. Sure, a lot of them are check downs, but if Hernandez, Mr. Open Field, is not even getting the ball in his direction, there may be a little case of tunnel vision on Brady's end- and it's a known fact that he locks on his favorites in crunch time.

Prior to 2008? Out of the 10 receivers with 10+ attempts in their direction, only one player averaged under 6.22 yards/attempt.

Troy Brown (6.22), Kevin Faulk (8.27), Deion Branch (6.96), David Patten (7.04), Daniel Graham (8.32), Reche Caldwell (13.6), Ben Watson (7.44), David Givens (6.26), Randy Moss (6.85)...

Wes Welker, 4.92 YPA.

And it has to be the passing game. The rushing game is taking 39% of snaps post-injury, compared to 42% pre-injury, and their yards/attempt has shot up from 3.99 yards/carry to a fantastic 4.67 yards/carry.

Maybe it might not be a bad thing to take the ball out of Brady's hands with the game on the line.

But whether it's the play calling that has to be adjusted, the players who need to start producing, or maybe even the defense that has to start stepping up, one thing's for certain:

The Patriots need to find a way to sharpen their dagger.