Stats are a great way to take a fun look at a game, and the weekly New England Patriots “Stats Breakdown” piece strives to take a look at interesting and noteworthy stats that can help shed light on certain aspects of the game. All stats are from Pro Football Reference, Advanced NFL Stats, and ESPN, unless otherwise noted.
1. Tom Brady completed just 5 out of 14 passes when aiming to the short left side of the field, and the big culprit for those low numbers was (surprise, surprise) “X” receiver and UDFA rookie Kenbrell Thompkins. Half of Brady’s targets to this region went to Thompkins, who caught just one pass. Take out Thompkins’s numbers, and Brady had a respectable 4-7 line on those throws. Thompkins did catch one long pass for 20 yards (his best catch of the day), so that did partially make up for things.
2. E.J. Manuel showed plenty of poise and had an encouraging, accurate day, but it’s very easy to overrate what Manuel did. He averaged just 8.3 yards per completed pass, and that just shows how vanilla the Bills made things for him. He didn’t have to make many difficult throws downfield, and the Patriots kept things sewn up very well on pass defense.
3. Behold the impact of Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola on underneath throws in the middle of the field. When hitting up that region of the gridiron, Tom Brady was a superb 10-14 (incidentally, that was Amendola’s exact line as a receiver in receptions and targets). Amendola and Edelman both had 52 yards on those throws, with Edelman catching both TDs on those kinds of passes. Overall, both players were 8-9 on those throws (Edelman was 3-3 and Amendola 5-6).
5. Per Advanced NFL Stats, Julian Edelman led the team by having 70% of his plays counted as “successful”. On defense, Rob Ninkovich and Jerod Mayo led the way with success counts of eight, but Mayo also earned himself a negative grade from PFF. Tackles aren’t everything, and Mayo’s performance showed it. While I thought PFF was too harsh on Mayo, they do make some good points, and it looked like a classic performance from back when Mayo was justly called an overrated player (he easily shed that tag last season with an elite 2012 campaign).
6. I was trying to look for Devin McCourty‘s coverage numbers on PFF, but apparently the Buffalo Bills never threw the ball in his direction. Smart choice, because McCourty is always a threat to pick the ball off, especially against a rookie quarterback. As usual, McCourty looked like a star out there, and it’d be almost batty to not view him as a very good safety in this league. In fact, McCourty is clearly an All-Pro caliber talent in my view.
7. Nate Solder is one of the best run blocking tackles in the NFL, and the numbers from Sunday’s game help back up some of that. When running it to the left side, the New England Patriots had 97 yards on 12 carries compared to just six yards on four carries on the right side. The Patriots were clearly better on weak-side runs, and part of that might just be that the Bills run defense was better on the right side. Another thing? Michael Hoomanawanui had an awful game as a blocker, which is not par for the course for him.
8. Just how good is Rob Ninkovich against the run (well, it wasn’t just him responsible this, but I would honestly say he was the main reason)? The Bills averaged just 3.4 yards per carry when running it to the right side, and Ninkovich was responsible for four tackles in the middle of the field and three tackles on the right side in an excellent, eight-tackle game. While Ninko was once again ineffective as a pass rusher, he more than made up for it with his impeccable run defense.
9. Steve Gregory made five tackles in run defense, and it seems like the New England Patriots may have found a permanent solution at safety; just play McCourty deep and finally use a traditional in-the-box SS to take advantage of Gregory’s strengths (making plays) and hide his weaknesses (pass coverage).
10. Are you ready for how mind-blowingly inefficient Kenbrell Thompkins was? I still think he’ll have a good season, but he averaged just three yards per target. Three. Yes, three. If you took out his stat line, Tom Brady would have completed 65.8% of his passes for 246 yards and a full yard more per attempt. Brady did indeed have a solid game (great velocity on his throws with good accuracy), but Thompkins and the interior pass protection from Wendell and Dan Connolly (Jeff Howe credited him with allowing both sacks) hurt his stat line.