Commentary

Statistical guide to the Pats' problems

Numbers tell the story of the team's struggles this season

Updated: December 11, 2009, 6:03 PM ET
By Jeremy Lundblad | ESPN Stats & Information

Tom Brady suddenly looks human, Bill Belichick might not be a genius, and the playoffs are no sure thing.

After experiencing back-to-back losses for the first time since 2006, Patriots Nation is officially in panic mode. From Bangor to Barnstable, all of New England is asking the same question: "What's wrong with the Pats?"

Maybe there's no simple answer -- but that shouldn't stop everyone from developing their own theories. So if you are looking for a little data to support your claims, here are some numbers to back up the most common complaints.

Consider this your statistical guide for panicking about the Patriots.

CAN'T HOLD A LEAD

Complaint: "Is no lead safe? The old Patriots would never blow a lead in the fourth quarter."

In four of their five losses, the Patriots held a halftime lead. Three defeats came with a lead going into the fourth quarter. Worst of all, the Patriots have lost twice when leading with less than two minutes to go.

If it seems as if this never used to happen, that's because it didn't.

Quite simply, the Patriots were a sure thing with a lead for the better part of the decade. Before this season, only one team made a second-half comeback against the Patriots dating back to 2002 (the Dolphins in 2004).

The Patriots are 6-4 when leading at halftime this season, with the loss to the Saints the only one in which they actually trailed at the half. In the previous seven seasons combined, the Patriots were 66-1 with a halftime lead.

The odds were even better when they led at the start of the fourth quarter. From 2001 to 2008, the Patriots were 79-1 when leading at the end of three quarters. This season, they are just 6-3.

Three of the Patriots' losses have come in games they led by 10 or more points. By now you know where this is going. From 2002 to 2008, the Patriots were 68-1 when taking a lead of at least 10 points. This year? 6-3.

If there's one trend that signifies the decline of the Patriots, it's their inability to hold a lead. For a franchise that built a dynasty on closing out games, nothing could seem more foreign.

BLAME BRADY

Complaint: "Tom Brady just isn't clutch anymore. He hasn't done anything late in close games."

Blame the defense all you want. Whine about needless fourth-down risks. Question the play calling in the fourth quarter. All those things won't change the simple truth that many Patriots fans don't want to face: Some of this is Tom Brady's fault.

Remember when no deficit seemed too great for the Patriots? Just give Brady a little clock to work with. The Patriots' defense was struggling? Not a problem. Brady will keep running up the score.

This season, that Tom Brady is not showing up when it matters. Late in close games, Brady has been largely ineffective.

In the fourth quarter, when the game is within seven points, Brady has a 58.1 quarterback rating, 28th best among NFL quarterbacks. He is averaging 4.7 yards per attempt in those situations, which ranks 32nd in the NFL. That puts him ahead of only four quarterbacks: one who has been benched (Kerry Collins), a rookie on a bad team (Matthew Stafford), an injured veteran on a bad team (Marc Bulger) and a former insurance salesman (Chris Redman). Peyton Manning -- without whom any Brady comparison is incomplete -- has a 128.7 rating in the fourth quarter of close games.

Ultimately, this is the biggest difference from the Brady of 2007, who led the team to a perfect regular-season record. That year, Brady had a 108.9 passer rating in the fourth quarter of close games. His 9.9 yards per attempt more than double what he is doing this season. In 2007, Brady wouldn't let the Patriots lose.

In the Patriots' five losses this season, Brady is 21-of-44 for 180 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions in the fourth quarter. That's a passer rating of 38.1. Things reached a low point last week when he went 3-for-9 and threw two fourth-quarter interceptions for the first time since 2006. Brady's fourth-quarter passer rating against the Dolphins was 9.3.

To be fair, Randy Moss hasn't exactly helped. In the Patriots' five losses, Moss has totaled four catches for 25 yards in the fourth quarter. His longest reception is 8 yards. Moss' fourth-quarter struggles aren't just limited to losses. Overall, Moss is averaging 8.4 yards per catch in the fourth quarter compared with 17.4 yards per catch in the first three quarters.

WHERE'S THE PASS RUSH?

Complaint: "The Patriots have no pass rush to speak of. Ever since they traded Richard Seymour, no one is consistently pressuring the quarterback."

Through 12 games, the Patriots have managed only 20 sacks, tied with the Rams for 28th in the NFL.

New England is on track for 26.7 sacks this season, which would be its fewest since 1992. Andre Tippett had 7 sacks that year, but the rest of the team managed just 13. The final season before Bill Parcells arrived on the scene, the Patriots finished 2-14. In other words, this might be the worst Patriots pass rush since Dick MacPherson was at the helm.

Adalius Thomas (3 sacks) and Derrick Burgess (2 sacks) -- both just three years removed from double-digit sack seasons -- were counted on to pressure the opposing quarterback. Both have disappointed.

Perhaps the Patriots miss Richard Seymour a bit more than they anticipated. After leading the team with 8 sacks last season, Seymour was sent packing in the preseason. The Patriots haven't been able to replicate his ability to get after the quarterback from the defensive line.

Consider this: Of the Patriots' 20 sacks, only five have come while bringing standard pressure. That is tied for the fewest standard-pressure sacks in the NFL.

In other words, the Patriots continually need to bring extra pass-rushers, leaving them vulnerable on pass defense. Which leads to yet another issue: the secondary.

CAN'T STOP THE PASS

Complaint: "The Patriots' secondary is full of holes. How are they supposed to hold a lead when Chad Henne looks like a Pro Bowler against them?"

Would you believe the Patriots rank 13th in the NFL in pass defense?

It's hard to imagine after watching Chad Henne pick them apart for 335 yards. Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are supposed to do that (and they did), but Henne's previous career best was 241 yards. He was coming off a three-interception performance against the Bills.

So if that No. 13 rank doesn't seem right, that's because it's a bit misleading.

It's true that the Patriots' pass defense has excelled in their seven wins, allowing an average of 170.9 passing yards. Kerry Collins' minus-7 yard performance in Week 6 didn't hurt. But take a look at the opposing quarterbacks in the Patriots' seven wins. Only Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco could possibly be considered above average.

In the Patriots' five losses, they are allowing an average of 305.2 passing yards. Only the Titans (317.9) allow more passing yards per game in their losses this season. Opposing quarterbacks have a 106.3 passer rating in the Patriots' five losses.

If the Patriots do fall behind, don't expect the secondary to get them back in the game. With the lead, opposing quarterbacks have a mind-boggling 141.8 passer rating against the Patriots. The Patriots haven't trailed very often this season, so much of that is credited to Brees. But the fact remains that the Patriots have yet to win a game without a strong performance against the pass.

Jeremy Lundblad is a researcher with ESPN Stats & Information. He provides statistical analysis for ESPNBoston.com.

Jeremy Lundblad

ESPN Stats and Information

SPONSORED HEADLINES

EDITORS' PICKS

ALSO SEE

MORE NFL HEADLINES