I thought I’d look into the importance of field position today…
During the regular season, the Patriots started 28 drives (16% of their total) inside their opponent’s 50-yard-line, the 3rd highest percentage in the league. They put up an average of 4.32 points on those drives, 4th highest:
Bears – 5.3 Steelers – 5.0 Packers – 4.5 Patriots – 4.3
Seattle had 27 such drives, tied for 4th most, but managed only 3.3 points per drive, ranked 23rd.
So how has the New England offense done on these “short field” drives recently? Well, including the playoffs, they’ve scored 8 touchdowns, 2 field goals, and 2 punts on their last 12 drives starting inside opponent territory, an average of 5.2 points. And to be fair, one of those punts came late in the 4th quarter with the game in hand last Sunday.
Seahawks’ opponents started only 12 drives in Seattle territory during the regular season, tied with the 49ers for 2nd fewest in the league (Lions, 10). However, they put up an average of 4.8 points on those drives, the 2nd highest average points allowed in the league. Only the Lions, at 5.5, allowed a higher average. There are obviously small sample size alerts here.
Seattle famously allowed three short field opportunities to the Packers last week (starting at the 19, 23, and 33) and allowed only a FG each time. During the season, Seattle had allowed 4 touchdowns and 2 FGs when opponents’ began drives at or inside the Seahawks’ 33-yard-line. The Packers had scored touchdowns on 5 of their 6 such opportunities this season.
On offense, Seattle did not start a drive inside Green Bay’s 50 last week, although the one time they started AT the 50 (following the successful onsides kick) they scored a touchdown. If you count that, they have now scored a touchdown on ALL SIX of their short field opportunities since the beginning of December.
Patriots’ opponents scored each of the first 10 times that they started drives in New England territory (6 touchdowns; 4 FGs), averaging 5.4 points on those drives. However, they allowed a total of only 3 points on two such drives over their last two regular season games and haven’t allowed a short field opportunity in the postseason yet.
How does Seattle’s opponents fare when forced to start drives at or inside their own 20-yard-line? Not very well. If you ignore the oh-by-the-way touchdown scored by the Panthers late in the 4th quarter when down by three touchdowns, the Seahawks have allowed exactly 3 total points on the last 28 such possessions dating back to December 14. The only FG coming by the Packers early in the 4th quarter last week.
By contrast, when the Patriots have forced opponents to start at or inside their own 20, they’ve allowed 4 touchdowns and a FG in their last 28 tries (31 points… still stout). Here are the leading defenses during the regular season in average points per drive on drives started at or inside the 20:
At 1.50, the Patriots ranked 16th, right smack in the middle of the league.
That’s all for now. More coming as the Super Bowl draws closer!
Thanks for Pro Football Reference for their outstanding statistical resources!
Got comments or suggestions? Give me a shout on Twitter: @Nuggetpalooza.