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The goal for every team is improve, not only over the course of one season, but from one season to the next.
“If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse,” is the popular saying.
Taking a big-picture look, it’s hard to deny that the Patriots took a step back from 2011. They watched Super Bowl XLVII instead of playing in it. They went 12-4 instead of 13-3.
But after taking a step back to look at the 2012 season in its totality, the conclusion here is that, indeed, New England did get better. Sometimes that doesn’t always show up in the end, for various reasons.
The Patriots led the league in point differential — they scored 226 points more than their opponents (Broncos were next at 192) — after finishing second to Green Bay (201) at 171 points. They led the league with 557 points scored, and even improved, marginally, going from 15th with 342 points allowed, to ninth and 331 points.
In terms of yards, the Patriots’ offense led the league thanks to a dramatic uptick from the rush: They went from 20th in yards per game to seventh, and from 24th to 17 in yards per carry. Defensively, the Patriots improved their league standing across the board: total yards (31st to 25th), rushing yards per game (17th to ninth), rushing yards per carry (24th to sixth), passing yards allowed (31st to 29th), and passing yards per game (30th to 28th).
And it wasn’t just on a stat sheet where the Patriots showed improvement — it was there on film.
Going back through our positional ratings throughout the season and comparing them with 2011, the Patriots showed a noticeable dropoff at only one position, receivers/tight ends. That group went from a 3.7 average rating (out of 5) in 2011, which was tied with the defensive line for tops on the team, to 3.0. And that can almost directly be attributed to tight end Rob Gronkowski not being 100 percent to start the season, and then basically missing the final eight games, including the playoffs. Not only was there a dramatic dropoff not having him as a pass catcher, he left a huge hole with his blocking.
Outside of the defensive line (3.7 to 3.6), the rest of the positions all executed at a higher level this season, with the linebackers (up .52), secondary (.43), and special teams (.41) leading the way.
The end results might not show it, but the Patriots were on the uptick this season. Now it’s up to them to sustain it.
Here are the average positional ratings from the 18 games. A few things to keep in mind: These are not about talent or in comparison to the rest of the league. These ratings reflect only the overall execution at each position over the course of the season on a game-to-game basis, on a zero to 5 scale. Only 10 perfect ratings were given out during the season, which is double last season. Turnovers on offense are graded harshly, as are big plays allowed on defense.
Quarterbacks (3.9 out of 5)
Tom Brady was once again terrific, and better than a year ago, when his average was 3.6. Brady endured a bout of inaccuracy in 2011 because of an elbow injury, but he had no such problems this season. Brady earned a rating of 4.0 or better in 12 games, which was an improvement over nine in 2011. Brady’s statistics overall dipped a bit, which likely has to do with two factors: a bit of a transition to returning offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, and tight ends Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez playing nearly half the snaps they did in 2011 because of injury.
Brady’s completion percentage of 63.0 ranked 10th in the league and was his lowest since 2006 (61.8). Brady was at 65.6, fourth in the league, in 2011. Brady’s passer rating slipped from 105.6 (third) to 98.7 (sixth). His yards per attempt went from 8.57 (second) to 7.58 (eighth). Brady again was fourth in the league in touchdown passes (34) but his interceptions declined from 12 to 8. Brady led the NFL with a 1.3 interception rate. He was sacked 27 times in the regular season (32 in 2011). Brady was blitzed 173 times, according to Stats LLC, sixth-most in the league, and his passer rating vs. the blitz of 117.6 was third in the league.
Running backs (3.7 out of 5)
Improved from 3.34 in 2011. This group was a big point of emphasis last offseason because the Patriots needed to get more explosive, and they delivered in a big way, going from 29 explosive runs (10 yards or more) from running backs to 53. Stevan Ridley led the way with 30 (BenJarvus Green-Ellis had 12 in ’11), followed by Brandon Bolden (11), Shane Vereen (7), and Danny Woodhead (5).
The running backs also improved their pass blocking. This year’s group allowed 10.5 quarterback pressures (one sack) compared with 14.5 (3.5 sacks) between Green-Ellis and Woodhead last season. Continued...