One of the biggest topics of discussions the last couple of weeks has centered around Rob Gronkowski, who many seem to believe is behind statistically from where he was at this time in 2017.
Through six games, the veteran tight end has amassed 26 receptions for 405 yards along with a touchdown, exactly the same number he had in 2017 after catching 26 passes for 401 yards through six games last season. However, he had four touchdowns at this point last year compared to one, but that still only puts him with 3 fewer. That isn’t exactly an insurmountable number to make up now that Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon are in the mix.
2018 Patriots Receiving Totals (Thru 6 Games)
2017 Patriots Receiving Totals (Thru 6 Games):
One thing reporters seem to be questioning Gronkowski on is whether or not his perceived lack of production is something he’s concerned with in terms of reaching his contract incentives, which he’s continued to downplay. Back in August, Adam Schefter reported that the veteran tight end can earn a maximum of $3.3 million by achieving three of four incentives. He’ll receive $1.1 million for 70 or more catches, $1.1 million for 80% playing time, $1.1 million for nine or more touchdown catches and $1.1 million for 1,085 receiving yards. Each of those bonuses would be in addition to his $8 million base salary.
At this point, he’s essentially on pace to hit his receiving yards incentive (he’s on pace for 1080 yards) and close on his receptions incentive (he’s on pace for 69). While he only has one touchdown, reaching the total of 9 isn’t exactly impossible. It wouldn’t be that unusual to see him put together 3 or 4 games where he scores at least 2 touchdowns, especially now that things have started opening up with Edelman and Gordon’s presence shifting away some of the extra attention he’s been receiving through the first four games while Edelman was suspended.
Gronkowski’s red zone targets has also been something the media has focused on, primarily because thus far he’s had just one target and no receptions. That’s unusual for a player who has normally been unstoppable in scoring territory, especially knowing how much of a weapon he is down there.
However, even that stat isn’t that far off. While he had 9 targets last year through six games, Gronk actually had just three receptions in the red zone, two of which were touchdowns. Again, not exactly a number that Gronkowski can’t make up if he’s able to continue improving moving forward.
2018 Patriots Red Zone Receiving Totals:
2017 Patriots Red Zone Receiving Totals:
Gronkowski was asked about that earlier this week, but brushed it off and admitted that if he’s able to start getting open, he’ll get his opportunities.
“It is what it is,” Gronkowski told the media Wednesday. “First off, I’ve got to get open. I’ve got to get out there and run better routes and then I’ll start seeing more targets. Whatever play is called, we’re scoring points, we’re scoring down there. Whatever I have to do to help out the team, even if the ball’s not going my way, I’ve just got to do it and just keep grinding.”
“If I keep playing ball, keep doing what I need to do, keep playing better, I might start receiving the targets. That’s what it comes down to so just got to get better and get open.”
Given the numbers he’s already accumulated, it’s pretty good for a player many believe is struggling. If this is Gronkowski struggling, it should be a fun rest of the year if he really kicks things into gear over the next 10 games.
Some interesting numbers after five weeks for the Patriots offense, with a different take on some stats after comparing some totals at this point last season.
Here’s a little good news, bad news after looking things over:
Bad News: Rob Gronkowski doesn’t have a red zone reception so far through five games on just one target. Good News: Gronkowski had just one red zone reception (a touchdown) in 2017 on six targets at this point, so he’s not far off from where he was last season in that regard.
Bad News: The Patriots have 443 fewer total receiving yards so far than they had at this time last year. Good News: They have more red zone receiving yards (114yds) than they had at this point last season (107yds).
Bad News: The Patriots have fewer receiving first downs (63) than they had at this point last season (79). Good News: They actually have one more receiving touchdown (12) than they had at this point last season (11).
Gronk currently leads the Patriots in receiving yards. (USA TODAY Images)
Bad News: The Patriots have just two receivers with 200+ yards receiving, with only Gronkowski eclipsing the 300+ plateau. Last season at this point, the Patriots had five receivers with 200+ yards, including two who were over 300. Gronkowski (318yds) and former Patriots wideout Brandin Cooks (379) were the two with those totals. Good News: This season the Patriots have 11 receivers with double-digit yardage totals compared to 10 last season. Not exactly a huge positive, but a positive nonetheless.
Bad News: The Patriots have just two receiving plays of 30+ yards so far this season compared to eight at this point last season. Good News: None…that isn’t good. However, both of those plays occurred in each of the last two games (Patterson’s 55-yd TD against the Dolphins, and Josh Gordon’s terrific 34-yd touchdown Thursday night against Indy) so hopefully, it’s a sign of things to come.
Good News: Tom Brady has thrown for more second-half touchdowns (5) than he had at this point last season (3). Bad News: Four of his six interceptions so far this season have all come in the second half. He hadn’t thrown any in the second half at this point in 2017.
Good News: For the most part, the Patriots offense has done a good job of staying out of long-yardage situations on offense, especially on 3rd down. At this point last season they had already faced 3rd-and-10 seven times compared to just four this season, along with having been up against 3rd-and-over-10 yards twelve times compared to just eight this season. Bad News: They’re 0-for-4 converting on those 3rd-and-10 attempts while converting just 2-of-8 on 3rd-and-over-10. Again, obviously, not great news but that should also hopefully improve moving forward.
Bad News: Through four games, Tom Brady was just 15-of-30 (50%) for 143-yards with 1 TD and 2 INTs in the first quarter, compared to 33-of-49 (67%) for 433-yards and 4 TDs last season. Good News: After the Colts game, where he was 12-of-13 for 105-yards and 1 TD, Brady’s first quarter completion percentage jumped to 63% with his totals now sitting at 27-of-43 for 248yds, 2TDs, 2INTs. Players who helped raise that stat last Thursday night include James White (4/4 38yds), Julian Edelman (3/4 28yds), Corradelle Patterson (2/2 11yds, 1TD) and Rob Gronkowski (1/1 19yds). This improvement has been key as the Patriots have scored 10 of their current season total of 19 first-quarter points over the last two games.
Good News: Dwayne Allen actually has a reception through five games, which is certainly better than the 0-for-6 total he carried through the same number of games last season. Bad News: That one catch went for a 4-yard loss.
– Sony Michel is ahead of last year’s leader at this point, Mike Gillislee, with Michel carrying the football 67 times for 294-yards along with 2 touchdowns while averaging 4.4 yards-per-carry. That’s better than Gillislee’s 69 rushes for 246 yards, which was an average of 3.6 yards. However, Gillislee also led all rushers at the time with four touchdowns.
– At this point last season, Chris Hogan had 23 receptions for 288 yards and a team-leading 5 touchdowns. So far this year Hogan has just 11 receptions for 143-yards and 2 touchdowns, just one reception ahead of newcomer Corradelle Patterson (10 catches, 10yds, and 2TDs). With Gordon and Edelman potentially taking the focus off of him, Hogan’s production should hopefully improve.
– One final related stat for Hogan, he had five red zone receptions at this point last season, with four touchdowns after being targeted nine times. He’s been targeted just once thus far in 2018, which was a 7-yard touchdown.
– It’s hard to believe that James White didn’t have a touchdown reception at this point last season, but so far in 2018 he already has a team-best 4 touchdowns. He also leads the team in receptions so far with 32 receptions for 270-yards. He also led the team at this point last year with 29-catches for 230 yards, ahead of Hogan (23) and Amendola (23), followed by Gronkowski (20) and Cooks (18), who rounded out the top 5 in that category.
– Tom Brady has 8 red zone touchdowns so far, which is actually one better than the 7 he had at this point last season. White (4), Phillip Dorsett (2), Hogan (1) and Patterson (1) are the ones who get the credit for that total. Last season it was Hogan (4), Danny Amendola (1), Rex Burkhead (1) and Rob Gronkowski (1) who each accounted for that total.
You can always set your watch to certain things in the NFL, especially early in the season. There will be massive overreactions to early season wins and losses. The Patriots will struggle early and every show this side of Mars will ask, “Is this the year, everything falls apart in NE?” Some surprise team will arise creating some talk and the Chiefs offense under Andy Reid will get off to a blistering start.
Reid always has his offense much more prepared for the start of the season than opposing defenses in the NFL and the Chiefs are one team you don’t want to face in the early going, (see New England, Week 1, 2017).
Last year the Chiefs roared out to a 5-0 start and were averaging 33 points per game. But once the NFL defensive coordinators caught up, Kansas City would only score 30 points in two more games the rest of the way.
But… that was with Alex Smith. Smith, it should be noted, was smart, moved well in the pocket and rarely made mistakes with the football. But his weakness was his arm strength. Patrick Mahomes, on the other hand, does all of those things well too but has an absolute cannon for an arm. Bill Belichick said on Monday, that if Mahomes is on his own 20, then you have to defend your goal line because he can throw it that far. The only thing he lacks right now is the experience.
Kansas City is off to an even better start this year under Mahomes as their offense, while fun to watch, has to be a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators to scheme up ways to slow down or stop them.
Eventually, the defenses will begin catching up, as they get more tape on this year’s version of Reid’s offense. They’ll get a better insight in how to slow them down and they’ll find things that Mahomes doesn’t do well. They can’t keep up this kind of scoring pace week after week. We saw this first-hand with the Patriots in 2007. By the end of the season, although they kept winning, opponents had figured out a way to slow the Patriots and Brady down. Will this be the week for KC after Bill Belichick and the Patriots have 10 days to prepare? Meh….I’m not so sure about that.
But it does require some dumpster diving into the film vault and watching that nightmarish night the Patriots defense had last year on opening night. It helps to have no game on Sunday with extra film time to spare. Because the Chiefs run much of the same concepts …only better.
Reid is an incredible innovator. He has blended a wonderful marriage of the Bill Walsh West Coast offense that he was raised on, and the college spread. Much of what Reid and the Chiefs do is pure college spread. The outside zone RPOs (Run/Pass Option the dirty word no one in NE wants to hear), bubble screens, touch passes, diamond formation options, etc.
While it isn’t quite the college spread…it is close.
How to Defend the Spread:
The old stand-by in college was to have the defense play in a nickel (4-2-5) and be aggressive by attacking the formation. One half of the equation is still correct and the other, not so much. Modern spread offenses in colleges have learned how to beat the nickel and Reid’s offense just eviscerates it.
Opponents have run a version of the nickel this year against KC, as the second most common defense against them, in an attempt to slow down their speed. And the Chiefs have been successful on nearly 60 percent of their plays.
Opponents have to be aggressive, as we saw Denver attempt to do for much of Monday night, but have to be willing to allow the occasional big play. The Patriots traditionally have eschewed that technique. And worse from a Pats perspective, this KC offense stresses the play of the opposing linebackers. And if there is a weakness on the Patriots defense, it is the depth and speed at linebacker and that is exactly what the KC offense attacks.
Where the aggressiveness negated Miami’s speed last week, the flip side of that was that the Dolphins are not good at running the football. Kansas City is much better at it, although they haven’t done it extremely well yet, they gave New England fits with their running game a year ago. They run to the right extremely well as we’ve seen here in Week 1 a year ago.
Their run-pass option will freeze the linebackers and allow their tight ends (Kelce, Harris) to get behind the second level and have a lot of free space to move. They then isolated Hunt on DE Cassius Marsh where Smith hit him in stride for a long TD, that was not Marsh’s fault, but a superior job by Smith and Reid for taking advantage of a mismatch.
They confuse the opposition with a lot of different looks and using different players. The run the Jet sweep with two different players out of two very different formations and they can, (Week 1 vs LA Chargers) make a defense look silly running it in for what appeared to be an uncontested touchdown.
The beauty of Reid’s offense is that while it appears very complex and confusing to the opposing defense, it is very easy for his players to execute. And he gets everyone involved. Between the 20-yard lines, the passing game relies mainly on Tyreek Hill, Sammie Watkins, and Kelce. Once they get into the red zone, they get everyone involved, which is the opposite of what most teams do.
Opponents have tried to run the nickel, as we listed above without effect, and the most prevalent defense facing the Chiefs this season has been a 3-3-5, which they’ve also shredded to where their play calls are almost 70 percent effective against it. The Patriots tried the big nickel with Jordan Richards last year and he reacted too slowly for a screen pass for Hunt who slid across the formation and had an easy touchdown.
What works? The old-fashioned 4-3 Cover 1 and the 3-4. But, as we’ve seen in the past, a QB that can run, the Patriots preach to contain and gradually squeeze the pocket and that player ends up with a ton of time to throw the ball. If that is the way they approach Sunday night, then look for KC to score in the upper 30s at least.
Against a spread type of offense, having players that are in a nickel and who aren’t going very aggressive towards the QB is a bad mix. Mahomes can gun the ball into very tight spaces and the only way to combat this is to be aggressive and try to mix up your coverages.
Last year, they ran a bunch formation to the right and the rub by the WRs left Hill wide open on a drag route across the middle for a huge gain. Then a busted coverage allowed Hill to run all alone down the sideline for a 75-yard touchdown. The communication in the secondary will have to be much better than this.
This will be a huge matchup to watch this week to see how Bill Belichick decides to attack the KC offense and how each side adjusts once the game begins. The Patriots may opt for a smaller, faster front with a big man (Shelton, Guy) anchored at the nose, but run the risk of being run on with Hunt.
No one has been able to slow down the Chiefs offense yet, and the Patriots defense doesn’t seem to match up well against what KC does best. But we’ll see what Belichick can come up with. He’s had 10 days to prepare for them, so not looking prepared for what they do isn’t an option this week.
“Buckle your seatbelts, it is going to be a bumpy night.”
Through the first three games of the 2018 season, most of the discussion has centered around the struggles of Tom Brady and the passing game and the problems they’ve faced during the team’s 1-2 start.
With Julian Edelman sidelined and the team adjusting to the loss of Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola, the hope was that Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson would be enough to get them through but it hasn’t quite worked out the way they probably hoped. If the results don’t speak for themselves, a look at how they started last season is enough to remind us that they’re obviously playing nowhere close to what they’re capable of.
Compared to the first three games of last season, there’s a drastic difference in passing yards for Brady and the offense. So far here in 2018 Brady’s currently thrown for 644-yards compared to 1092-yards during the first three contests of 2017. The number of attempts is similar, with Brady having attempted 100 passes this season compared to 110 at this point last year. The completions are also similar, with Brady completing 64 passes compared to 71 at this point in 2017. But the yards per catch rate is much lower, with receivers averaging 10.1 yards per reception compared to 15.4.
But the biggest thing that stands out is the drastic difference when it comes to the contrasting numbers put up by last year’s group. At this point last season the Patriots had five players in triple digits in receiving yards, including two who had already eclipsed the 200-yard mark. This year, they have three with triple-digit yards, but none have broken 200-yards.
Receiving Totals Through Three Games (2018 on the left, 2017 on the right):
One other big difference is the number of receiving first downs, which so far in 2018 has seen them move the chains just 32 times compared to 46 at this point last year.
What’s interesting is the fact that despite the report by Rob Gronkowski’s brother, Chris, that the tight end is frustrated over the inability for his fellow receivers to get open, his number of receptions aren’t that far off from where he was at this time last season. Gronkowski had 16 receptions for 238 yards at this point in 2017 compared to just 13 receptions for 189 yards his season, so he’s only three catches off of last year’s pace.
But looking at the two receiving charts by distance from each of the past two seasons, the most glaring thing that stands out is that at this point last year the team had 6 six pass plays of over 30 yards. This year, so far, they have zero.
2017 Receiving Plays By Distance:
2018 Receiving Plays By Distance:
To take it a step further, at this point last season the team had 20 receiving plays of 20+ yards. This year, they have just 7.
Needless to say with 13 games still left to play and Edelman coming back after this week, along with the addition of Josh Gordon, hopefully, things will improve. But so far, the numbers are certainly eye-opening and it’s clear this team is still trying to find themselves after a surprisingly slow start.
Tom Brady went from having an MVP caliber season to an un-Brady-like finish where the Patriots weren’t quite moving with the same precision in the passing game as he was prior to an apparent Achilles injury he suffered against Oakland.
Over the final six games, Brady and the Patriots struggled on third down, including a game down in Miami where New England finished without a third down conversion for the first time in 26-years. Some started predicting Brady’s demise, but instead, the numbers essentially show that Brady simply wasn’t himself while dealing with the injury.
Tom Brady 3rd Down Passing Before the Achilles Injury (First 10 Games): 62/96 (65%) 778yds 7TDs
Final 6 Games (after the injury): 19/44 (43%) 241yds 2TDs 6INTs
Over the first 10 games, Brady finished 62-of-96 (65%) for 778-yards and 7 touchdowns prior to his injury. After the injury, he finished 19-of-144 (43%) for 241-yards, 2 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions.
The final two games of this season still weren’t easy, with Brady completing just 5-of-13 (38%) on third down over that span, including one touchdown and an interception. However, Brady was 3-of-8 Sunday against the Bills, which saw Rob Gronkowski essentially taken away as the Patriots’ game plan kept him in as a blocker and skews those totals.
If it wasn’t bad enough Brady got hurt, he had to deal with his own injury while dealing with ones from his own team that factored into those numbers. With Gronkowski out of the passing game Sunday, also missing was James White, Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead, who joined Chris Hogan on the inactive list. Hogan spent seven of the final eight games on the sideline, appearing in just the game in Miami while Rob Gronkowski was suspended. Hogan played 55-of-61 snaps (90%) in that game, but still wasn’t himself after he finished catching just one of the five passes he was targeted on.
Meanwhile, Mike Gillislee missed the same span, with the former Bills running back playing in the second to last game of the year against Buffalo. Also gone was Marcus Cannon, who went down after the Chargers game and was on the inactive list for the next five weeks before eventually ending up on injured reserve.
Other than Cannon, each of those other players are hopefully expected to be healthy by the time the Patriots play their first postseason game, and Brady feels like that should certainly help their offense.
“I mean, if those guys are able to get out there and play, I think anytime you get good players healthy, it helps a lot,” Brady said after Sunday’s win. “So, there’s a lot of guys, like Brandin Cooks, Danny [Amendola] – they played a lot of football this year and have been out there for a lot of snaps – Dion Lewis has. So, if guys can kind of take some snaps off, I think throughout the week of practice and the games, I think that really pays off.”
“So, you’d like to be able to use everybody, and we have a good roster, especially on offense, and a lot of good skill players. I think it’s got to be more than just two or three guys doing it. If we can get five or six guys healthy and everyone plays a role, then that’s going to be great for offense.”
With a bye up next and plenty of time to get healthier before their first playoff game, hopefully, we’ll see Brady and his supporting cast back and at full-strength when they take the field again one week from Saturday.
Jimmy Garoppolo may have only managed two regular season starts during his tenure in New England, but he certainly made the most of them.
Overall, Garoppolo completed 42-of-59 (71%) for 496 yards and 4 touchdowns in his two starts last season, with his run ending after he suffered a shoulder injury against the Dolphins in Week 2 that knocked him out of the line-up and ended his tenure as a starter.
One of the numbers that stands out is the fact that Garoppolo was 14-of-17 (82%) on third down last season, with 13 passing first downs, including 2 touchdowns.
Week 1 Notable Numbers Against Arizona: Garoppolo’s opening season win over the Cardinals last season saw him complete 73% of his passes after he completed 24-of-33 for 264 yards and a touchdown. He was also 8-of-10 (80%) for 107yds on third down, but the interesting part of this stat is the fact he completed passes to six different receivers with 7 passing first downs.
J. White – 3/3 (100%) 12yds, 2 First Downs
J.Edelman – 1/1 (100%) 11yds, 1 First Down
D.Amendola – 1/2 (50%) 32yds, 1 First Down
C.Hogan – 1/1 (100%) 19yds, 1 First Down
M.Mitchell – 1/2 (50%) 28yds, 1 First Down
M.Bennett – 1/1 (100%) 5yds, 1 First Down
Another interesting note from this game is the fact that he finished the contest with a win, but never attempted a pass down in the red zone.
Week 2 Notable Numbers against Miami: Against the Dolphins, Garoppolo opened the game completing his first eight passes, finishing 18-of-26 (69%) for 232 yards and 3 touchdowns before his injury in the second quarter while completing passes to eight different receivers.
Over that span, he was also a perfect 3-of-3 in the red zone and completed 6-of-7 (86%) for 88yds and two touchdowns on third down.
Garoppolo only had one other game in 2016 where he had a pass attempt, which came in a blowout win for New England in Week 16. He finished just 1-of-2 in that game for 6 yards.
Two games obviously doesn’t make an NFL career but it was enough for him to secure enough confidence for a team like the 49ers to want to bring him in. Now the hope for Garoppolo will be for him to avoid the pitfalls previous Patriots quarterbacks have fallen into as starters with other teams, with past players Matt Cassell, Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett among names who failed to have any long-term success with each of their respective teams.
Losing Julian Edelman was obviously a difficult blow to begin the season and his loss isn’t the only thing having an effect on Brady’s totals down inside the red zone this season.
So far through seven games, Brady’s completed 22-of-38 inside the 20 with 10 touchdowns. His 58% completion percentage is 11% lower than he finished with in 2016, having completed 43-of-62 (69%) with 20 touchdowns and one interception during last year’s regular season.
As it stands right now, Chris Hogan has been the player who Brady’s connected with for a touchdown the most thus far in the red zone, having thrown four touchdowns out of their five completions. But they haven’t had much luck connecting consistently, with Brady having hit on just 5 of the 10 times he’s targeted him.
Rob Gronkowski comes in at number two, having scored two touchdowns out of the three completions Brady’s made with him this season. But he’s another player who Brady’s struggled getting the ball to, with the tight end catching just 3 passes out of 9 targets.
2017 Regular Season Red Zone Receiving Totals:
The players he’s had the best success with so far this season in terms of completion percentage have been Danny Amendola (5-of-5) and James White (5-of-7), but each of those two players has just one touchdown each, with White catching his first of the season against the Flacons.
One of the craziest stats that sticks out is the fact that Brandon Cooks has just one target down in the red area all season, which finally came during the team’s win over Atlanta on Sunday. He scored a touchdown on the play, which was highlighted by the fact Rob Gronkowski destroyed everything in his path while allowing Cooks to trail behind him en-route to the end zone.
It’s a huge change from last season, and while Edelman’s loss was a big one, it goes without saying that Malcolm Mitchell’s absence is significant as well. Brady connected with Mitchell on 9-of-12 targets in the red zone last season, with the rookie scoring 3 touchdowns. He’s currently sidelined with a knee injury, which is too bad given how much promise he showed last season.
2016 Regular Season Receiving Totals With Brady at QB:
From there, Martellus Bennett was the other big weapon for Brady last season, with the veteran tight end catching 8-of-9 targets from the veteran quarterback with five touchdowns. Brady also had more success with Hogan last season after hitting 6-of-8 along with a touchdown, as well as James White, who caught 4-of-7 last season in scoring territory from Brady – all touchdowns.
That’s what happens when you’ve got a group of talented players who are all dangerous with the football, it makes it impossible for opponents to shut everyone down and it generally leaves someone open. Unfortunately, this season, with no compliment to Gronkowski at tight end and Edelman missing from the line-up, the Patriots have had their fair share of difficulty getting any consistency.
So far this season, they’ve scored 21 touchdowns but they’ve had to attempt 17 field goals, with Stephen Gostkowski hitting all but one of them so far this season. That’s a far cry from the ratio they had last season where they scored 51 touchdowns and attempted just 32 field goals during the regular season.
After finishing 2-of-5 in the red zone Sunday night against Atlanta, Brady talked about their struggles again on Wednesday and he knows they’ve got to figure out a way to start punching it in instead of kicking field goals.
“Well they’re important plays,” said Brady on Wednesday. “I wish we would be four of four but just missed a third down play there on kind of the scramble play and then had a third-and-1 at the one [yard line] and didn’t get in. It’s a small margin of error but I think we realize that. It’s a tight space.”
“There’s a lot of tight throws. It’s just something we’ve got to do a better job of. Those extra four points obviously are very critical and we’d love to convert more of them but we just haven’t done as well as we’re capable.”
Rob Gronkowski’s groin injury will likely be one of the biggest topics of discussion for this week, but if he’s not on the field this Sunday against the Texans, Tom Brady and the offense may find themselves back in the situation they were in during week one.
Stuck in neutral.
Week one’s loss to Kansas City saw New England’s third down numbers as a big problem, with Brady completing just 5-of-11 throwing the football.
However, on Sunday against the Saints, it was a completely different story. Brady completed 6-of-7 for 107 yards and 2 touchdowns
But the biggest thing that sticks out is the fact that Brady is perfect when targeting Rob Gronkowski on third down this season, completing 5-of-5 passes for 109 yards and five first downs, including a touchdown.
Gronkowski was targeted 14 times in 2016 on third down with 9 catches prior to his injury last season, with all of those receptions good for a first down, including one touchdown. So of the last 14 passes Brady has completed to Gronkowski on third down, every one of them has moved the chains or lead to two Gronk spikes.
That’s an astounding number.
Newcomer Brandin Cooks has yet to get on the same page with Brady when it counts thus far, with Brady 0-of-3 targeting Cooks on third down.
From there, it’s James White (2/3 13yds – 1 First Down), Chris Hogan (2/3 19yds – 1 First Down [a TD]) and Danny Amendola (2/3 27yds – 1 First Down) who have moved the chains. Jacob Hollister was targeted once on third down Sunday, which fell incomplete.
As a result, Gronkowski’s potential absence, especially given their current situation with all the receiver injuries, leave the Patriots in a tough spot heading into this week. According to reports on Monday, the veteran’s injury isn’t believed to be serious. But if he’s not available, how they’ll be able to overcome his absence will unfortunately be a something to watch for this week.
To no one’s surprise, Bill Belichick had little to say about Gronkowski’s status during his conference call on Monday,
“I don’t have any updates,” said Belichick. “We’ll put the injury report out on Wednesday like we always do and follow the procedures that are outlined by the league.”
Sunday’s American Football Conference Championship Game pits the two teams that have ruled the AFC this millennium. Including next month’s game in Houston, either the Steelers or Patriots will have represented the AFC in the Super Bowl ten times since 2001.
In the 1994 season Bobby Ross and Stan Humphries ended the Buffalo Bills’ reign of four straight AFC championships, with their San Diego Chargers blown out by San Francisco in the 49ers’ last Super Bowl victory. Since then the Pats (7) and Steelers (4) have combined for eleven conference championships, laying waste to the NFL’s vision of parity and every team taking a turn as the best in the league.
The Patriots have had sixteen consecutive winning seasons; Pittsburgh has had only one losing season since 2000, back in 2003. New England has won ten or more games 15 times since 2001, including 14 straight times. The Steelers have eleven double-digit winning years in that time span, including the last three in a row. The Patriots have won four Super Bowls this century to Pittsburgh’s two. Any and every Steeler fan will quickly respond to that fact by pointing out that the Black and Gold still lead the Patriots by the count of six Vince Lombardi Trophies to four overall – even though in most cases they are not old enough to remember four of those victories.
The Basics: Who, What, When, Where and Why
Who: 13-5 Pittsburgh Steelers (#3 seed, AFC North champs) at 15-2 New England Patriots (#1 seed, AFC East champs)
What: 2016-17 American Football Conference Championship Game
When: Sunday January 22 at 6:40 pm ET on CBS
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough MA
Why: Winner represents the AFC in Super Bowl 51 at Houston on February 5
Weather, Odds and More
Weather: Cloudy with 30% chance of light rain in the late afternoon. Chance of precipitation increases to 70% later in the evening. Winds from the northeast at about 15 mph. Game time temperature of about 33° F.
Keep in mind that this is New England, so the forecast could very well change between now and kickoff.
Coaches: Mike Tomlin is in his tenth year as head coach of the Steelers, having taken over for Bill Cowher in 2007. He has a 103-57 (.644) regular season record, finishing no worse than 8-8 in 2012 and 2013. Tomlin’s teams have made the playoffs seven out of ten times, compiling an 8-5 (.615) post-season record. Under Tomlin the Steelers lost in the wild card game three times and the division round once. Tomlin is 2-0 in the AFCCG and 1-1 in the Super Bowl.
Bill Belichick has compiled a 261-125 overall record in 22 seasons as an NFL head coach. In 17 years with the Patriots Belichick has amassed a 237-115 (.673) regular season record and 24-10 (.706) post season record. Under his guidance the Patriots have won four Super Bowls, six conference championships and fourteen division titles. This will be a post-merger record sixth consecutive time the Patriots have advanced to the AFCCG, and eleventh time they have done so under the Hoodie’s watch. The Pats are 5-5 in those games but only 1-3 in their last four conference championships.
Odds: This game opened up with the Patriots a six-point favorite, and that line has remained relatively steady thus far. Most outlets publish the over/under at 50½, with a handful of venues still listing the total at the original 51 points. New England has covered better than any other team in league this year, going 14-3 against the spread. The Pats 7-2 home ATS record is also the best in the NFL. After last week’s game at Kansas City Pittsburgh is 10-7 ATS, 6-3 on the road. Both clubs went over six times and under ten times in the 2016 season.
There is also this full game for your viewing pleasure. The NFL is very proactive about keeping these gems out of the public’s hands, so be forewarned; I don’t think it will be available for very long.
Here is a look at how the two teams compare statistically; the numbers reflect an average per game (or per play), rather than aggregate totals. Per-game and per-play stats are used rather than gross totals because that makes the rankings more meaningful, and because they provide a better context in regards to what to expect in any given game.
Numbers in green indicate a top-ten ranking while underlined green is top-five; red indicates a bottom-ten ranking and underlined red is bottom-five. Please note that the information below includes post-season games, so it will likely differ from official stats found elsewhere which are only for the regular season.
Pittsburgh is a well balanced team with legitimate championship aspirations. On offense the Steelers have explosive quick-strike weapons as well as the capability of methodically controlling the ball to drive the length of the field.
New England Patriot Offense versus Pittsburgh Steeler Defense
Scoring per Game: Patriots 27.9 (4th); Steelers 19.7 (8th)
Points per Play: Patriots .423 (4th); Steelers .320 (9th)
Touchdowns per Game: Patriots 3.2 (4th); Steelers 2.2 (8th)
Red Zone Touchdowns per Game: Patriots 2.4 (4th); Steelers (12th)
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage: Patriots 64.1 (8th); Steelers 47.5 (5th)
Yardage per Game: Patriots 386 (4th); Steelers 334 (9th)
First Downs per Game: Patriots 21.8 (7th); Steelers 19.3 (10th)
Yards per Play: Patriots 5.8 (7th); Steelers 5.4 (13th)
Yards per Drive: Patriots 6.66 (1st); Steelers 32.2 (15th)
Points per Drive: Patriots 2.53 (5th); Steelers 1.87 (11th)
Efficiency: Total Weighted DVOA: Patriots 34.0% (1st); Steelers 20.0% (3rd)
Team Efficiency: Offense DVOA: Patriots 21.1% (2nd); Steelers 11.1% (8th)
Team Efficiency: Defense DVOA: Patriots -1.5% (16th); Steelers -4.7% (11th)
Special Teams DVOA: Patriots 2.7% (7th); Steelers 0.0% (16th)
If you are still reading at this point, congratulations. Apologies for the lack of brevity. Pittsburgh has a very good team and deserves to be in this championship game. That being said the Patriots are just a bit better in all phases. Between the better coaches, better quarterback, and home field advantage the Pats should win. Enjoy the game, it should be a classic.
For the fourth straight season the Patriots will play in prime time in the divisional playoff round. There is a simple reason for this. With the exception of Pittsburgh, no team that played in the first round is remotely close to the Patriots in terms of excitement and entertainment. The Patriots have had sixteen consecutive winning seasons and fourteen straight years with double digit win totals. It is no wonder that fans of the 31 other teams hate the Patriots, witnessing a stretch of success that is unparalleled in the salary cap/free agency era. That type of productivity and success is the perfect recipe to make the Patriots villains for every other NFL owner and their fans.
The Basics: Who What, When and Where
Who: 9-7 Houston Texans (#4 seed, AFC South champs) at 14-2 New England Patriots (#1 seed, AFC East champs).
Weather: Cloudy afternoon skies with a high of about 33° F; winds from the north at 10-15 mph. Chance of snow is predicted to zoom from zero during the day to 60% at night, accumulating one to three inches. Low of 23° with light and variable winds of about 5 mph.
Keep in mind that this is New England, so the forecast could very well change between now and kickoff.
Coaches: Dorchester native Bill O’Brien is in his third year as an NFL head coach. His Texan teams have finished 9-7 in each of those three regular seasons, and he is now 1-1 in the playoffs. BoB was with the Patriots from 2007-11, serving as the offensive coordinator in his final year with the Pats. After that O’Brien spent two years as head coach at Penn State, resurrecting the Nittany Lions from sanctions following the aftermath of the Joe Paterno-Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Bill Belichick is now in his 22nd year as an NFL head coach, with a 237-115 (.673) regular season record. BB also has 14 playoff appearances, including the last seven in a row. Belichick is 23-10 in the playoffs (22-9, .710 with the Patriots) with four Lombardi trophies and six conference championships. The Hoodie also has two Super Bowl rings as defensive coordinator for the Giants.
Odds: In the early advanced look-ahead lines published prior to the wild card games the Patriots were listed as 13½ point favorites over Houston. After Sunday’s games the Patriots have initially been listed as 16-point favorites against the Texans. The MGM Mirage is listing the Pats as 17-point favorites, while some other venues are at 15½. For now the over/under is at a total of 45 points.
Head-to-Head Series Record: The Patriots lead the all-time series 7-1. That record includes the lone playoff game between the two teams, a 41-28 victory following the 2012 season. The Patriots have defeated Houston twice since O’Brien became the Houston head coach. Late in 2015 the Pats won at Houston 27-6. The New England defense sacked Brian Hoyer five times, limiting Houston to just seven first downs and 189 yards of offense. Earlier this season the Patriots easily prevailed 27-0 at Gillette Stadium, with LeGarrette Blount rushing for 105 yards and two touchdowns.
Team Stats and Rankings
Here is a look at how the two teams compare statistically; the numbers reflect an average per game (or per play), rather than aggregate totals. Per-game and per-play stats are used rather than gross totals because that makes the rankings more meaningful, and because they provide a better context in regards to what to expect in any given game. Numbers in green indicate a top-ten ranking while underlined green is top-five; red indicates a bottom-ten ranking and underlined red is bottom-five.
As you can see Houston does possess a formidable defense, but the Texan offense makes this game a mismatch on paper. Fortunately for Houston fans games are won and lost on the field and not on stat sheets. Hat tip to Jim Armstrong of Football Outsiders for many of their advanced statistics, including drive stats and DVOA.
New England Patriots Offense versus Houston Texans Defense
Scoring per Game: Patriots 27.1 (3rd); Texans 20.5 (11th)
Yardage per Game: Patriots 386 (4th); Texans 301 (1st)
First Downs per Game: Patriots 21.9 (5th); Texans 17.0 (1st)
Yards per Play: Patriots 5.9 (6th); Texans 4.9 (3rd)
Yards per Drive: Patriots 35.5 (7th); Texans 26.7 (2nd)
Points per Drive: Patriots 2.53 (5th); Texans 1.67 (5th)
Efficiency: Total Weighted DVOA: Patriots 34.1% (1st); Texans -17.7% (29th)
Team Efficiency: Offense DVOA: Patriots 21.1% (2nd); Texans -21.4% (30th)
Team Efficiency: Defense DVOA: Patriots -1.5% (16th); Texans -6.9% (7th)
Special Teams DVOA: Patriots 2.7% (7th); Texans -7.0% (32nd)
If you are still reading at this point, congratulations. Apologies for the lack of brevity, but pick and choose what stats are meaningful to you for this game. It will not be a surprise if Houston gives the New England offense fits early on. Keep in mind some of that is due to the Patriots seeing how the Texans react to different formations and play calls before you hit the panic button. The Patriots will methodically do what they need to do to win, while also minimizing opportunities for Houston to come away with an upset victory. Houston has had issues this season with their special teams coverage. That could set the Patriots up with a short field and a quick score. Once the Pats take a lead this Texan team is in trouble. Their offense does not have the talent to keep up with the Patriots.