The New England Patriots had a successful 2017 season winning 13 games, finishing first in the AFC East, earning the number one seed in the AFC, and successfully winning the AFC Championship game to go to the Super Bowl. Despite losing to Philadelphia 41-33, the Patriots still were more successful than 30 other NFL franchises in 2017.
Although losing the Super Bowl, the offense was almost without blame as they scored 33 points against a Philadelphia Eagles defense which ranked fourth in the NFL in points allowed (295 points) and also fourth in yards allowed (4,904 yards).
Despite allowing just two teams to total more than 400 yards of offense and shutting down two top-ten offenses in the playoffs (Minnesota and Atlanta combined for just 17 points), New England piled up 613 yards of offense against Philadelphia while falling just short of back-to-back Super Bowl victories for the second time in franchise history.
With the NFL Combine right started and free agency and the official start of the 2018 league year a few weeks away (March 14, 2018, at 4:00 p.m. Eastern time), there is still time to look back at 2017. Therefore we will look back at the New England Patriots through the numbers in a two-part series looking first at the offense and followed-up shortly after by a look at the defense.
The New England offense was its usual dominant self in the 2017 regular season. The Patriots finished second in the NFL with 458 points scored and first with 6,307 total yards (all statistics from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted). That was status quo for the Patriots as they have been an offensive juggernaut this entire decade:
The offense finished third (441 points) and fourth (6,180 yards) in 2016.
In 2015 the New England offense was third in points (465) and sixth in yards (5,991).
In 2014 they finished fourth in points (468) and 11th in yards (5,848).
They were third (444 points) and seventh (6,152 yards) in 2013.
In 2012 they finished first in both categories piling up 557 points and 6,846 yards.
The Patriots were third in points with 513 and second in yards with 6,848 in 2011.
In 2010 the Patriots piled up 518 points (first in the NFL) and 5,820 yards (eighth in the league).
Even the disappointing 2009 team (10-6 record and lost to Baltimore in the Wild Card round) was sixth in points scored (427) and third in yards (6,357).
The Patriots finished tied with Philadelphia for first in the NFL with 48 offensive touchdown drives in 2017 (per Patriots.com). They were efficient and effective on offense finishing first in the NFL in average-number of plays per drive (6.38 plays), average number of yards per drive (36.1 yards) and average-number of points per drive (2.61 points). Think about that–the Patriots almost averaged a field goal for every drive they had the entire season.
Another part of their efficiency was scoring in the red zone. The Patriots scored 42 times on 70 red zone attempts for a 60% conversion rate which ranked them fifth overall. See the chart below for more on their third and fourth down efficiency as well as red zone.
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Not turning the ball over is a trait of the Tom Brady offense and it was more of the same in 2017. New England had just 12 turnovers in 16 regular season games. They had just two turnovers in their three playoff games, but one was the strip-sack fumble lost with 2:16 to play in Super Bowl 52 by Philadelphia edge rusher Brandon Graham. What made it so unexpected was that the New England quarterback had just three fumbles lost the entire season and none in the postseason to that point.
ADVANCED TEAM STATISTICS:
The advanced statistics back-up the potency of the offense as FootballOutsiders.com ranked the New England offense first in the NFL in DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average). DVOA measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every single play to a league average based on situation and opponent.
FootballOutsiders.com also had the Patriots ranking first in Weighted Offense rank (by a wide margin. They were also first in passing offense and surprisingly third in rushing offense. By whatever metric, this is a strong offense.
The Patriots make a point to maximize their scoring opportunities during the game by trying to get as many possessions as possible. They scored in the final minute of the first half in an astonishing 11 of 16 games in 2017 (per Patriots.com).
PASSING ATTACK BY THE NUMBERS:
For the regular season, the Patriots’ offense rode the right arm of 40-year old quarterback Tom Brady. Selected as the MVP of the league, Brady led New England to 13 wins passing for 4,577 yards and 32 touchdowns. He completed 66.3% of his passes and only threw eight interceptions for 102.8 quarterback rating.
Brady led the league in pass attempts (581), was second in completions (385) and led the league in passing yards. His completion percentage ranked fifth while he was third in touchdown passes.
This was as Brady continued his resurgence with downfield passing. The addition of Brandin Cooks and Phillip Dorsett gave New England speed receivers on the boundaries in 2017. That vertical approach showed as he finished with an average depth of target of 9.5 yards (per PFF) which was sixth in the NFL and also sixth in deep passing adjusted completion percentage. His passing rating with ProFootballFocus.com dwarfed all other quarterbacks as he was the only quarterback to have a passing grade over 90.0 as led the way with a 94.6 PFF passing grade.
PASS CATCHING STATISTICS:
This was all while missing his top receiving target since 2013, Julian Edelman, who missed the season with a non-contact knee injury suffered in the preseason. Without Edelman, veteran Danny Amendola stepped into the slot receiver position hauling in 61 passes for 659 yards.
New England also had a healthy tight end Rob Gronkowski back in the fold in 2017. After missing half of 2016 due to a back injury, the All-Pro tight end played 14 games missing just one game due to injury and one game due to suspension. He led the team with 69 receptions for 1,084 yards (tenth in the NFL), 15.7 yards per reception and eight touchdowns (tied for eighth in the NFL). Of his 69 receptions, 57 resulted in a first down (82.6%), easily the best in the NFL.
At wide receiver, New England imported two new speedsters outside the numbers: they sent their 2017 first-round draft pick to New Orleans for Brandin Cooks and after the preseason acquired Phillip Dorsett from the Indianapolis Colts for quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Cooks had 65 catches for 1,082 yards (11th in the NFL), 16.6 yards per reception (seventh in the NFL) and seven touchdowns. Dorsett only had 12 receptions for 194 yards but he was valuable playing 377 snaps at wide receiver.
Part of the reason for the need for Dorsett was due to their impressive 2016 fourth-round draft pick, Malcolm Mitchell, who missed the entire season with a knee injury. In addition, Chris Hogan–who led the league with 17.9 yards per reception in 2016–missed eight of the last nine games with a shoulder injury.
RECEIVING RUNNING BACKS:
The Patriots leaned on their running backs to contribute in the passing game as usual in 2017. Dion Lewis had 32 receptions for 214 yards and three touchdowns while Rex Burkhead added 30 catches for 254 yards and three touchdowns in just ten games after being limited by injuries. White was ninth in the NFL in total passing targets for a running back (not playing the last two games) with 72 (per FantasyPros.com).
Of course, it was Super Bowl 51 hero James White who did the most damage out of the backfield. White–who had 60 receptions for 551 yards in 2016–followed up with 56 catches for 429 yards despite missing two games with an ankle injury at the end of the regular season. He added another three touchdowns giving New England nine receiving touchdowns by their running backs in 2017
The Patriots did not miss a beat in the passing game despite losing two of their top wide receivers for the entire season (Edelman and Mitchell) and another missing half the season (Hogan). They integrated a pair of new receivers with varying success (Cooks and Dorsett). They also received a big boost from their running backs in the passing game.
GROUND GAME BY THE NUMBERS:
The running backs also contributed to the Patriots’ rushing attack. As a team, they ran the ball for 1,889 yards (tenth in the NFL) and 16 touchdowns (sixth in the NFL). Despite not having a 1,000-yard rusher as they did in 2016, the ground game this year was actually more effective than that season.
In 2016 New England rushed for 1,872 yards (seventh in the NFL) but averaged just 3.9 yards per attempt. Going by yards per attempt, this was the 25th ranked rushing offense in the league. In 2017 the Patriots average 4.2 yards per rush, good for 12th in the league.
FOUR-HEADED RUSHING ATTACK:
The Patriots began the season with restricted free agency pick-up Mike Gillislee as the lead back. Gillislee gained 45, 69, 31, 49, 52, 44, 31 and 34 yards in the first eight weeks of the season. He finished with 383 yards rushing and five touchdowns but averaged just 3.7 yards per rush.
In the first five weeks of the season, he played at least 25% of the snaps in each game. Over the next three games, a healthy Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead began to eat into his playing time and he failed to play 20% of the snaps. He was inactive until week 16 against Buffalo where h played 21% of the snaps and rushing for 28 yards until he left injured.
Rex Burkhead had an uneven season in his first year in New England after being signed away from Cincinnati as a free agent. He rushed for 264 yards and five touchdowns and had 254 yards receiving but injuries derailed his progress and gave Dion Lewis the opportunity to step into the lead back role in the second half of the season.
Lewis was strong down the stretch leading running backs with 405 snaps on offense (35%), He also led the team with 180 attempts, 896 yards rushing, a 5.0 yards per attempt average and six rushing touchdowns. Lewis was the only running back to top 100 yards on the ground going for 112 yards against Miami in week 12 and 129 yards against Buffalo in week 16. He also rushed for 92 yards in week 13 against Buffalo and added another 93 yards in week 17 against the Jets.
James White was the fourth running back in yards gaining 171 yards on 43 carries (4.0 average). White primarily played on passing downs and therefore had limited opportunities running the ball. White was on the field for 383 snaps (34%).
Playing on passing downs and from behind, he actually led the Patriots in rushing in their 41-33 loss to the Eagles in Super Bowl 52 with 45 yards on just seven attempts and had rushing touchdowns in all three playoff games to up his total of eight playoffs touchdowns (five rushing and three receiving) in just eight games.
ADVANCED RUSHING STATISTICS:
FootballOutsiders.com and their advanced statistics loved the New England running back in 2017. They ranked Dion Lewis as number one in the entire league in DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement). DYAR gives the value of the performance on plays where this RB carried/caught the ball compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage.
He also was ranked first in the league in YAR (Yards Above Replacement). Similar to DYAR, YAR is not adjusted based on opponent. Lewis was ranked second in the NFL in their DVOA (or Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) metric. DVOA represents value, per play, over an average running back in the same game situations. The more positive the DVOA rating, the better the player’s performance.
Surprisingly, FootballOutsiders.com also liked Gillislee as he finished with a positive DYAR and YAR (but a negative DVOA). Another statistic at the site called Success Rate represents the player’s consistency, measured by successful running plays (the definition of success being different based on down and distance) divided by total running plays.
Gillislee ranked first in the entire NFL in Success Rate. His lower DVOA and high success rate meant Gillislee generally got the yards needed but did not often get more.
Burkhead ranked highly in DYAR and DVOA but did not have enough opportunity due to injuries to rank. He did much better in the pass receiving ratings ranking in the top ten for running backs receiving DYAR and seventh in DVOA despite his limited playing time due to injuries. Burkhead was first in the league for running backs in Catch Rate (percentage of passes completed to him as a receiver) with 91%.
Lewis ranked 12th in running back receiving DYAR and ninth in DVOA. White was 14th in DYAR and 19th in DVOA.
OFFENSIVE LINE SUCCESS:
The New England offensive line also received much love from FootballOutsiders.com.
They ranked first in Adjusted Line Yards. It is a complicated statistic, but basically the Adjusted Line Yards formula takes all running back carries and assigns responsibility to the offensive line based on the following percentages: Losses: 120% value; 0-4 Yards: 100% value; 5-10 Yards: 50% value; 11+ Yards: 0% value.
These numbers are then adjusted based on down, distance, situation, opponent, and the difference in rushing average between shotgun compared to standard formations. Finally, FootballOutsiders.com normalizes the numbers so that the league average for Adjusted Line yards-per-carry is the same as the league average for all running backs yards-per-carry.
Overall it was a highly successful season for New England on offense and the numbers bear it out. Regular statistics or advanced statistics, this was a potent rushing and passing offense for the Patriots in 2017.
–Hal Bent is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Spots Media. He covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @halbent01