There can be only one explanation for how the New England Patriots were able to seemingly score at will against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, cruising to a 45-7 victory over the hapless Rams. The explanation for the offensive explosion is none other than that before the game, the Patriots offensive players gathered around to pore over the article I wrote last week detailing how they were currently well behind the pace the offense set last season. After reading the superb statistical analysis in the aforementioned article, the Patriots offense then had all the motivation it needed to put together a performance of which even the 2011 Patriots offense could be proud.
The masterful performance included exploits of which have been noticeably largely absent from the Patriots offense this season, one of which was the fact that the Patriots scored on seven of the eight possessions they had before the team mercifully called off the dogs and gave the starters a rest for the last eleven minutes and 23 seconds of the fourth quarter.
While the offensive starters were in the game, they were pretty much unstoppable, both passing and running the ball, as reflected by the 7.5 yards per play the offense gained over their first eight possessions. It is a poorly kept football secret that when an offense gains huge chunks of yardage, it makes it incredibly easy for that team to score. The way the Patriots offense played on Sunday is one reason it is such a poorly kept secret.
As often occurs when it comes to great success from the Patriots’ passing game, the success of the passing offense stemmed from the accuracy of quarterback Tom Brady and his chemistry with tight end Rob Gronkowski.
For the game, Brady completed 23 of his 35 pass attempts, or 65.7 percent of his attempts, and threw for 304 yards and four touchdowns. Due to his stellar passing efficiency, he ended the game having gained 8.7 yards per pass attempt and 11.0 adjusted yards per pass attempt in what was his best outing of the season. According to Advanced NFL Stats, Brady was also responsible for contributing a win probability of 0.47 as he deserves a meaningful amount of credit for why the Patriots were able to win so easily.
Of course, Brady had to pass it to someone so he does not deserve all of the credit for the way in which the Patriots’ passing attack completely overwhelmed a Rams defense that entered the game ranked ninth in passing DVOA (-5.9 percent). An equal portion of the credit for the success of the Patriots’ passing offense has to go to Gronkowski, who was far and away the most valuable receiver for the Patriots on Sunday. Gronkowski contributed a win probability of 0.28, with the second-most valuable receiver clocking in at a win probability added of 0.08, as he caught eight of the 13 passes for which he was targeted and gained 146 receiving yards. For good measure, he also caught two touchdowns.
Not content with being a one-dimensional offense on Sunday, the Patriots also had great success against the Rams when they ran the ball, especially when they handed the ball off to Stevan Ridley, which they did on 15 of their 28 rushing attempts. On Sunday, Ridley did what Ridley does: he ran the ball hard and efficiently, gaining 127 yards on 15 carries for 8.5 yards per carry. The only problem with being as consistently productive as Ridley has been this season is that even his best rushing performances no longer receive the credit they deserve. Such is life when you establish such a high standard; everyone comes to expect you to maintain it and reserves their opinions on your ability for the times when you are unable to do so.
Although the offense deservedly will receive much of the credit for the victory on Sunday, the final score would not have been nearly so impressive without the defense shutting down the Rams offense, especially on third down where the Rams only converted three of their ten third down opportunities.
The Patriots defense was able to keep Rams quarterback Sam Bradford in check for most of the game. Bradford finished the game, having completed 74.2 percent of his 31 pass attempts, but since he only threw for a total of 205 passing yards with one touchdown and one interception, he had very little value behind his stellar completion percentage. In fact, Bradford’s passes only netted him 6.6 yards per pass attempt and 5.8 adjusted yards per pass attempt. Since he was also sacked twice for a loss of 25 yards, his total number of passing plays really only gained 5.8 net yards per pass attempt and 5.5 adjusted net yards per pass attempt.
Even those paltry numbers are a little misleading because most of the value that Bradford was able to post in the game came off of one 50-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Chris Givens. Take that away and Bradford is left with a much less inspiring passing line of 5.2 yards per pass attempt, 3.7 adjusted yards per pass attempt, 4.1 net yards per pass attempt, and 2.7 adjusted net yards per pass attempt. Now one can easily understand why the Rams only scored on that one long passing play.
If the Patriots want to demonstrate to the NFL that they are a Super Bowl-caliber team, it will take more performances like this where they absolutely stomp on an opponent. Perhaps reading more of my articles on them will provide the motivation necessary for them to do exactly that.