Patriots

Patriots

FOXBORO -- Which is it? Do numbers never lie? Or are stats for losers? 

Sometimes, depending on the digits you're consuming, both can be true. 

There's an interesting little statistical oddity that exists at the moment involving the Patriots defense. It has to do with their pass-rush, specifically. 

As a team, they're 30th in the NFL in sacks with seven. Not what they're looking for. Yet they've also generated quarterback pressures on 35.2 percent of opponent dropbacks, according to ESPN, which is second-best in football behind only the Rams. 

So the Patriots are impacting quarterbacks at a wicked clip. They're just not tackling them. That's what the numbers would suggest.

"I think we're confident in ourselves," Kyle Van Noy said. "Many people just look at sacks because that's just what they look at. But that's not the whole story. And that's why when players get mad at media that just throw stats and have never played the game itself, they don't see those hidden situations."

Van Noy's point was clear: Pressures matter. Sacks, hits, hurries. They all accomplish a goal, even if they're not viewed by the general football-watching public as having equal value.  

Pressures impact the timing of throws. Pressures force quarterbacks into bad decisions. Pressures include quarterback hits, like Adrian Clayborn's on Andrew Luck last Thursday, which resulted in a Patrick Chung interception. The Patriots are third in the NFL in yards allowed per pass attempt (6.6) and 10th in quarterback rating allowed (88.2) in part because of the pressure they've created.

 

Clayborn leads the team in total pressures with 16, though he doesn't have a sack on the season. Trey Flowers is second on the team in pressures -- despite missing almost two full games because of a concussion -- with three sacks, one hit and 10 hurries, according to Pro Football Focus.

"You want to affect him," Flowers said. "If it's pressure, does he feel it at his feet? Does he overthrow it? Does he throw an interception? Throw it too fast and throw an interception? An interception is better than a sack. Obviously you want to get the sack. You want to get there. You want to make a big play. But if you can affect him consistently, that's good as well."

Patriots pass-rushers will have a unique challenge on their hands when Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs visit Gillette Stadium Sunday night. Mahomes has a quarterback rating of 121.1 from inside the pocket, according to ESPN, which is third in the league. 

Outside the pocket, Mahomes drops out of the top-10 in terms of quarterback rating, but those plays -- where he can improvise and allow his athletic targets more time to uncover -- have helped make the Chiefs one of the most dynamic offenses in football. They're fifth in the league in explosive plays (runs of 15 yards or more, passes of 20 yards or more), and no team has tried as many throws of 20 yards or more down the field than Kansas City, according to ESPN. 

Lethal inside the pocket. A game-changer outside the pocket. What should the Patriots do with Mahomes? 

They'll do their best to keep him in the pocket while making him uncomfortable. That means pass-rushers will attempt to stay in their rush lanes and not allow Mahomes an escape route when things get crowded back there. 

If there is an escape route, the Patriots might want to make sure it's to Mahomes' left. If Van Noy, or whoever is on the Chiefs' right edge, can be firm on that side, Mahomes could be forced into some difficult scramble-drill throws. 

The one broken-play throw he's completed to left side of the field through five weeks was the one he hit left-handed against the Broncos in Week 4, according to PFF's Steve Palazzolo. 

Regardless of where the pressures come from or when, even if they don't result in sacks, Patriots players say they'll be fine with whatever they can generate if it helps snuff out drives. 

Right now Bill Belichick's club ranks 26th in third-down defense, allowing 44.6 percent of those plays to be converted. Though they've racked up pressures, they haven't timed them very well. 

"If it's third down and it's incomplete, that's a win," said Adam Butler when asked about pressures versus sacks. "All that matters is that we're getting off the field on third down."

"The sacks will come," Flowers said. "The sacks will be there. Just gotta keep coming at them." 

 

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