August 21, 2014

The Old Gray Mare, She Ain’t What She Used To Be

logoby Britt Schramm
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“Statistics are no substitute for judgment” – Henry Clay, American Statesman

“He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lampposts-for support rather than for illumination.” – Andrew Lang, Scottish Poet and Collector of Folk/Fairy Tales

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” – Mark Twain, American author (attributing original quote to Benjamin Disraeli)

If I can paraphrase badly the sentiment of the three wise men quoted above, statistics can be very misleading in the wrong hands.  To that end, here’s an interesting comparison provided by NFL.com concerning the former and current starting QB for your AFC East Co-Leaders from Foxboro after seven games under their respective belts.

Hey, those numbers look pretty friggin comparable, I’d say.  As you can see, Cassel is completing at a better percentage and for more passing yards than his predecessor; probably a result of having Moss and Welker (not a slight against the ’01 edition of Patten and Brown).  Other numbers show that Matt probably still holds onto the ball way too long based not only on the fact that the number of sacks is twice as many as Brady’s but a sometime by-product of a collapsing pocket is increased rushing attempts, which is over twice of what Brady has.

To justify all of the work to get these individual stats, I think that it is necessary to delve a little deeper into these numbers to find out how statistically alike these two So Cal QBs are.

In comparable opponents (even if that is possible), Cassel was 2-2 (beating the Jets and Denver but losing to Miami and San Diego) while Brady was not real terrific going 1-3 with beating the Bolts by three points (although there should be an asterisk on the Jets game since he entered so late). 

Brady saved his worse games for those losses putting up Passer Ratings of 62.9, 58.7, and 57.1 in each loss.  Helping that cause was four pics and six sacks against only two TDs.  Again, the seven years (and the first SB win) between this season and that one helps lessen the impact of those numbers.

Cassel also had sub-70 QB Ratings in his two losses with two INTs, eight sacks and only 1 TD.  However, Cassel has something that Brady never had – a HOF player on the sidelines that everyone (especially the media) will naturally compare his game performance up against.  And don’t forget about the ever-present fan expectation of winning every game.  Think about that type of big-game pressure when you’re turning in your monthly TPS reports to Lumbergh.

Obviously, there are more tough games to be played in this season; especially in the next five weeks as the combined record of those opponents is .571.  The major advantage to the Pats in these next five is that only one more game outside of this week’s game will be on the road.  Really, if I told you back in August that the Pats would actually be 5-2 with a QB not named Brady, I’m not sure that I would be able to type anything from my straight jacket.

So, when someone mentions that Cassel is doing his best Brady imitation, you’ll know that it may sound highly blasphemous but in the proper context, it is not so profane.

This Week – Indianapolis Colts (3-4; Against AFC East 0-0)

Trick, No Treat for Colts Fans

What are the odds that the sole undefeated team would be out of the AFC South Division and that team would not be the one led by Archie’s middle child?  And who would have bet that if not for a couple of choking dogs, those same Colts would only have one win this far into the season? 

Peyton has dropped significantly since last season.  In fact, at his current rate, this will be his worse season since his rookie season.  His QB rating is sub 80, he has only thrown for one more TD than INT and his passing yards (padded by being behind for much of the games this season) will be his second lowest output.

And the running game is just woeful.  The Colts are ranked LAST in the run with 73.4 yards per game.  Of course, they haven’t had a full-strength Joseph Addai but I can think of at least one other team that has lost their first two RBs and is still running the ball decently.  It’s true that the Colts view the running game as a way to distract opponents from their aerial assault but letting teams like the Lions and Arizona beat you on the ground is just pathetic.

On the defensive side of the ball, Dungy’s Cover 2 scheme is holding up nicely keeping teams at 178 yards per game which ranks 2nd in the NFL without the use of mighty mite safety Bob Sanders for most of the season.  Although, really, he’s used more to stop the run, which Indy is still having major issues in preventing.  So far, Indy is 26th in the league against the run (144.1 yards per game) which has led to a 33:19 time of possession for Indy’s opponents which is 28th in the NFL.  Truly, I think that the wall that the Colts ran into this year has dropped on-top of them, both figuratively and literally.

So, what do the Pats need to do to beat one of their toughest rivals? 

If you’re looking for a comparable game, peruse the Colts game against Jacksonville.  The Jags held the ball for over 41 minutes, had two backs go for over 100 yards rushing while limiting the Colts ground game to only 19 rushing attempts and forcing Manning into throwing 2 pics.  Here’s what my game plan would be:

On Offense, treat this game similar to the Denver game – use the run on the left and middle part of the field to setup short passes.  Make the return of Bob Sanders a rough one.  If Jordan is available, use the three-headed running attack and pound the ball in the Colts’ pie hole.  Work the short pass on the outside and find the seams in the Cover 2 by using the slot receiver.  Hog the ball and use the clock.  Force the Colts to gamble on D and make them pay with the play action.

On Defense, do the unthinkable.  Make Manning beat you by taking away the running game.  Addai may be coming back but he will be spelled by Dominic Rhodes who has been averaging about 72 yards on 21 carries.  By forcing the Colts to be a pass-first team, it places a ton of pressure on the struggling QB which will make him force some bad throws; hopefully, ones that will be picked off.

Next week brings the Buffalo Bills to the Razor.  The Bills are enjoying an upswing the likes of they haven’t experienced since Guns N’ Roses was an actual real band instead of a solo act.  Be here next week to see how the Pats should prepare for this AFC East clash.

Comments

  1. Good plan, plus with Neal back and with a couple of weeks playing time, maybe we can run to the right as well.

  2. I always enjoy when a column goes out an proves the thesis statement that it aims to disprove. Good offensive game plan with Sammy Morris available, not so much with 3rd stringers. Ellis had 16 yards againts the 29th ranked run defense last week, so I hope that wasn’t who you were alluding to having a decent running game with their 3rd string RB. Colts are small on defense but they’re also faster and more aggressive than Denver. Collins’ decisionmaking is light years ahead of Cassell’s with a rush in his face, and Indy is able to generate pressure with just their front 4.

    Even if he doesn’t get huge yardage, Addai running the stretch play over Rhodes forces teams to pay more attention and opens up the play action. If Wayne is too banged up to play, maybe it lets the defense focus on Clark more but the Patriots have their own host of issues among the DBs right now.

    Add in a road game and Monday night to the motivational angles and this is a bad spot for the Pats.

  3. I don’t think putting it on Manning’s shoulders to win it is a good defensive strategy. The pass rush was great last week, but for much of the season, it’s been absent. Playing to take away the run, coupled with no pass rush, and Manning could thrive.

    I think they should play the Super Bowl XX and XXXVI game plans: shorten the game and minimize possessions. Treat Manning as the threat and dare them to run. Addai’s coming back from injury and their line this year hasn’t been what it once was. I’m not convinced they can execute the stretch play as effectively.

    The offensive game plan might be a little tougher because the Colts defense is just a bad matchup for the Pats’ offense. If possible, though, follow the same strategy of keeping the clock moving. Maybe Jordan running behind Mankins or Neal is good enough for four or five yards/carry against Indy’s smallish line. We’re fortunate this time around not to have stutter-step Maroney taking up carries against this fast D.

    Marlin Jackson’s out for the year, so that means Welker could thrive.

    It might take a lot of patience. Tennessee ran the ball 29 times Monday night for just 90 yards and 3.1 ypc. But they held the ball for 35 minutes, limiting Indy’s chances and tiring their defense.

  4. I’m with Britt on pounding away at the interior of their defense, with an emphasis on the left side of the Pats line. Quick hitters especially – I’d rather see the backs getting the ball as close to the line of scrimmage as possible. Anything slower/deeper and I fear it helps the Colts more than it hurts them, with their ability to run to the ball.

    Let Cassel be Cassel. Short drops and throws to the perimeter. Make them run side to side. If they are dropping him seven steps back, even with Thomas and Watson in to block, that’s an invite for more sacks. If they’re going downfield, just make it quick with fade type things up the sideline.

    Defending Manning and the Colts offense – I don’t think the Pats necessarily have to place an emphasis on stopping the run. I think the front seven can keep that in check with out any undue effort. Few occasions come to mind where the Colts have beaten the Pats with the run.

    At the same time, dropping five and six db’s into a passive coverage with minimal rush and keeping everything in front of them so that Manning doesn’t beat them quickly just guarantees that he will beat them slowly instead. They have to go after him like they did Cutler.

    Approaching this game with trepidation is the worst thing they could do. It’s not 2006 anymore for either of these teams.

  5. “It’s not 2006 anymore for either of these teams.”

    Speaking of which, NFL Network replayed the 2006 AFC Championship last night. Damned Reche Caldwell and his two wide-open drops.

  6. Wow, you go to one ITIL 2-hour bore-a-thon and another 2.5 hour move mplanning meeting and this is what happens.

    Mark, thanks for reading. Here are my thoughts on your response.

    You are right – BGE only gained 16 yds on 9 carries but he was not the feature back for the game. that would be Kevin Faulk who did rack up 60 yds in only 13 carries (a 4.6 average). I’ll take that type of average any Sunday.

    As for the defensive front four creating pressure, I’m not sure we’re watching the same team. The Colts, as a team are tied for 28th in the league with 10 sacks, tied for 18th in the NFL with 5 INTs and are 30th in passes defensed. It doesn’t seem like a ton of pressure going on there.

    And while Addai is still questionable for Sunday Night’s game, the possibility of reinjuring his hamstring is not one that is easily discounted; especially when you consider that speed is a major facet of his game. One wrong step in that same stretch game may send him to the bench.

    Lastly, if this game was going to be played last year, the RCA Dome would be a big tiem advantage but Lucas Oil Stadium is no RCA Dome, my friend.

  7. Mr. Snapp, thanks for coming by my poor excuse for a column. I know that I sound like a ravin’ loon by saying that the Pats should make Manning beat them; especially coming after last February. But hear me out.

    Lik Scott wonderfully said, this is not 2006. The last two games, Peyton has a 60.1 QB Rating. That not just bad – it’s downright bench-worthy. Factor in that he is only making 6.6 yards per attempt this season (Cassel is at 6.8 per attempt) and that his season completion percentage is a smidge over 61% and it’s not looking good for this old Volunteer.

    At this point, I would rather make Peyton show me that this is just rust rather than a decline of his skills before I would change my plans.

  8. Good catch on Faulk, but keep in mind that 1 interception separates the 12th ranked defense and the 23rd ranked defense.

    And Scott, even if he might kill you slowly by working to keep the gains in front of the defense, it’s not the same group on the line for the Colts. Lots of false starts and procedure penalties combined with the offficials deciding to call holding on Indy again goes a long way to ending drives.

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