With New England’s blowout victory over the Houston Texans, the Patriots will host the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game for the 2nd consecutive season.
The Patriots, 12-4 in the Regular Season, entered the Playoffs on a 9-1 run. Their lone loss during that stretch being the mid-December home loss to San Francisco.
1) New England led the NFL in Total Offense (4th in Passing, 7th in Rushing), but were just 25th overall in Total Defense (29th against the Pass, 9th against the Run).
2) The Patriots were tied with the Ravens at 15th overall in defensive sacks (37). Brady was sacked just 27 times, tied for 5th fewest allowed in the league. (LG Logan Mankins was a 2nd team All-Pro, with some saying he received that accolade more on name vs. performance.)
3) 2nd year RB Stevan Ridley had a big year, rushing for 1,263 yards, and 12 TD’s. Ridley averaged 4.4 yards per carry. He was a non-factor in the passing game, having just 6 receptions. Fellow RB Shane Vereen is another 2nd year player, who emerged some this year. Vereen, who scored the Patriots first TD today, had 62 carries, and 8 receptions for he season. In the game today, they split Vereen wide as WR several times. Vereen’s 3rd TD of the game, put NE up 38-13 early in the 4th.
4) Dealing with hip and forearm injuries, TE Rob Gronkowski missed Weeks 12 through 16, returning to action last week. At Baltimore in September, Gronkowski was limited to two catches for 21 yards. Early in the Patriots game today against the Texans, Gronkowski was forced to leave. Without Gronkowski opposite of him, Aaron Hernandez was targeted an average of 10 times during Weeks 12 through 16. In Week 17, Hernandez was targeted 8 times.
5) The Patriots offense led the league in 3rd down conversion at 49%.
6) Brandon Lloyd was a solid possession receiver this year, finishing ’12 with 74 catches (12.3 yards per catch), totaling 911 yards. He averaged just 2.6 yards after the catch. Opposite of Lloyd is Wes Welker, who finished with over 100 catches for the 5th time in 6 years. On Welker’s 118 receptions he averaged 11.5 ypc, and a strong 6.1 of yac. Today, Welker had several catches down the field, including a 47 yard grab down the sideline over Jackson.
7) Rookie Chandler Jones had 5 sacks in his first 6 games. He finished the year with 6 sacks (several weeks missed with an ankle injury). Playing in each of the last 4 weeks, he had 0 in those games. Rob Ninkovich had 8 sacks coming from the other end. He had a 3rd Quarter sack today vs. Houston.
8) MLB Brandon Spikes is a run-stopper, running free with Wilfork eating space out in-front of him. Rookie OLB Dont’a Hightower had 4 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, and 2 fumble recoveries during the year. He is the Patriots best play-maker in their Front 7. It is my understanding that Spikes, and Mayo are considered to have trouble in pass defense against TE’s.
9) CB Aqib Talib is back from his hip injury. At 6’1, 205 the former 1st round pick has a lot of size. The other starting CB is 2012 7th rounder Alfonzo Dennard. Kyle Arrington plays the slot. With Talib at CB, McCourty was able to stay at Safety, where Football Outsiders* states he thrived.
9a)*Also in that Football Outsiders article was this note: “One of the other changes the Patriots made around midseason was an increase in blitzes. In their first eight games, the Patriots blitzed on 16.6 percent of pass plays, and sent a big blitz (six or more) only 2.5 percent of the time. Since Week 10, the Patriots have blitzed on 32.0 percent of pass plays, sending a big blitz 7.9 percent of the time.”
10) Will there be some talking between the teams leading up to Sunday? Earlier this month, Brady said, “I always enjoy beating the Ravens. So, yeah, anytime can beat those guys. They got us once this year.” Not really bulletin-board material, but there is no love loss between these teams (other than Belichick’s admiration for Ed Reed). This Conference Title rematch is a rarity. As Ryan Remp of the Reading Eagle stated today, “In the 1986 AFC title game, Denver beat Cleveland 23-20 in overtime to reach Super Bowl XXI. A year later, Denver again defeated Cleveland for the AFC crown and made a second consecutive Super Bowl appearance. Since those back-to-back conference championship game meetings 25 years ago, no teams have played an AFC title game rematch in consecutive seasons. The infrequency of title rematches also has held true in the NFC. Aside from Dallas and San Francisco playing for the conference title in ’70 and ’71, then meeting again from ’92-94, there have been no championship game rematches in NFC history.”
Some Prior Reading:
BSL’s recap of the Ravens win over New England earlier this season can be found here.
BSL’s September review of the Patriots roster can be found here.
BSL’s recap of last year’s AFC Championship Game can be found here.