Patriots Take The Air Out Of The Ball, So To Speak
We found out yesterday the explosive truth about these two teams in terms of creating and limiting big plays. Today, it is time to debunk another misnomer. Running teams, like the Seahawks, are generally known for controlling the clock while passing teams like the Patriots tend to be quicker to strike. That is not altogether true in the case of this New England offense. They are built to possess the ball for long periods of time, but they do it in a very different way than the Seahawks.
New England finished the year with 38 drives of 10 players or more, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com. That was the second-most in the league after the New Orleans Saints. Seattle ranked 19th in that category. The script is really flipped when you consider this and the information about explosive plays. The running team relies on quick strike big plays, while the passing team prefers to matriculate the ball down the field.
When the Patriots do get moving on one of these drives, they tend to finish them. Thirty-three of their thirty-eight drives of 10 plays or more result in points. They had no turnovers. The drives where they did not score were either missed field goals or getting stopped on fourth down. Seattle, on the other hand, turned the ball over on 12% of their long drives, third-most in the league.
A ball control offense like the Patriots is heavily reliant on two things: converting third downs, and a defense that keeps the other offense from converting their third downs. The few games this year where the Patriots have struggled included a similar pattern. New England tended to be 40% or below on their third down conversions and their opponent was often above 50% on their conversions.
The Patriots were 2-4 this year when their opponent outperformed them on 3rd down
The two times the Patriots won when their opponent had a better third down percentage was against the Jets and the first game against the Bills. The Jets lose by two points when they failed a two-point conversion at the end of the game and the Bills were within one score until the end of the game.
Brady wants the ball in his hands. Even surrendering one conversion to their offense often results in points. A league-leading 66% of Patriot drives that are five plays or longer end in points. Seattle is a respectable 7th in that category (57%).
The tough part for the Patriots is that the Seahawks allowed the second-fewest drives of five plays or longer. New England’s defense ranked 20th in that category.
Both teams are experts at possessing the ball when it matters most. Seattle leads the NFL in time of possession in the second half (56%), while the Patriots are not far behind at fourth (53%). The Patriots score the third most points in the second half, while the Seahawks score the eighth-most. And it should be no surprise that Seattle allows the fewest second-half points. The Patriots, though, are a very respectable fifth in that category.
Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick may be different on the surface, but both men know the importance of finishing. Unless one team goes crazy in the first half, there is a very good chance that most of the story will be written after halftime.
Each side will attempt to grind out the clock and slowly suffocate their opponent. New England is better equipped to do it on offense, but the Seahawks are better at getting teams off the field on defense. When the confetti starts flying, chances are that whichever team won the battle of third downs will see their colors floating through the air.