EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 12, 2011

Bill Burt: Some Patriots number crunching for 2011

Bill Burt

Everybody loves numbers.

They make the sports world go 'round these days.

Well, here are some numbers to decipher while chomping on your Cheerios this morning.

All of them relate to your New England Patriots, which open tonight in Miami (7 p.m. on ESPN).

If most of these come through, on the plus side for the Patriots, then this season will be super. I guarantee it.

Anyway, there are 10 of them:

Less than 1,300 for Ingram

That's less than 1,300 yards for Mark Ingram.

What do the stats of the rookie New Orleans Saints running back have to do with anything the Patriots?

The Patriots had the 28th pick overall and had an alleged need for a go-to running back — we're talking "breakaway" running back. Rather than take the top running back on most NFL "Draft Boards," the Patriots chose to take a chance or two second-tier backs in Shane Vereen (Cal) and Stevan Ridley (LSU) in the second and third rounds respectively.

If Ingram is the real deal, like the Saints think he is, and he rushes for 1,300-plus yards, the Patriots may pay for drafting from the clearance rack. Most of the best Patriots teams this past decade, including the Super Bowl winners in 2001, 2003 and 2004 had go-to backs. If Ridley or Vereen fill that role, no problem.

Anyway, anything near 1,300 yards means he is going to be very, very good.

40-plus sacks on "D"

The number is 40. When the Patriots have sacked the opposing quarterback 40 more times since the turn of the century, they have made the Super Bowl.

While it would be nicer if that number was closer to 50.

The bottom line is that this Patriots team appears to be built toward the mid-40s or even 50 with the addition of Albert Haynesworth and Shaun Ellis on the defensive line.

6 drops or less for Welker

Guess which wide receiver led the NFL in dropped passes last year? Our very own sure-handed Wes Welker. He dropped an NFL-high 14 balls in which he had two hands touch the ball. That's not only too many from your Pro Bowl slot receiver, it's more than twice as the Patriots can handle.

If Welker, who appears to be near 100 percent recovered from last season's disappointment, has another 100-catch, 1,000-yard season with fewer drops, the Patriots offense improves exponentially, particularly in January.

10 interceptions for Brady

I say Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has to throw 10 interceptions in 2011, six more than he threw during last year's MVP regular season.

Am I crazy? I want more interceptions?

No and yes.

Ten interceptions is nothing to worry about. What it tells me is Brady is taking more chances with the Patriots offense and throwing the ball down the field a little more than we saw last year.

3 interceptions for Mayo

Patriots middle linebacker Jerod Mayo is considered a borderline star in the NFL. He is usually near the top of the league in tackles. Who cares? There are a few stats he had better add/improve upon on his resume: forced fumbles and interceptions. In fact, if he has three of each in 2011, the Patriots defense will probably be as good as many people expect it to be.

It won't be easy. Mayo has only three forced fumbles in his career, one per season. And he has never intercepted a pass, which is amazing considering he plays every down.

His counterpart on the Baltimore Ravens, Ray Lewis, has forced six fumbles and hauled in six interceptions over Mayo's career here in Foxboro.

It's time to force more turnovers.

35 percent stops on 3rd down

This number isn't as vital as some of the others, but it needs big improvement over last season. The Patriots third-down defense wasn't just bad in 2010. It was the worst in the NFL with teams having a 47.1 percent success rate.

Championship contenders don't have to be the best on this list (Pittsburgh was third overall at 33.5 percent and Green Bay was ninth overall at 36.2 percent), but they can't be the worst like the Patriots were and win in January. It usually means a "soft" defense and we know what happens to soft defenses.

In fact, all of the Super Bowl winners over the last decade were below 40 percent.

7 mid-range receptions for Chad

Chad Ochocinco has some work to do in 2011. He not only has to catch lots of passes, probably in the 60 to 70 area, but he most especially has to catch more than his fair share down the field.

It says here that he must, and I mean "must," catch at least seven passes for 20 yards or more.

It sounds easy. But it won't be. After catching 10 passes over 20 yards in 2007, since then he has snared only seven of them over his last three seasons with Cincinnati.

Ochocinco needs to be that guy, extending defenses and using his speed.

5 long bombs for Brady

Remember that one the biggest criticisms for Tom Brady early in his career, that he couldn't throw the long ball?

Well, over the last two seasons he has hit on only three of 23 attempts at 40 yards or more. That's deplorable.

In fact, Brady struggled completing passes for 20 yards or more last season, hitting on only 14 of 36 passes and none over 40 yards.

If Brady can complete anywhere near five passes in this category — 40 yards plus — the Patriots short, control offense will be lethal, particularly Wes Welker.

5 division wins for Pats

The one area the Patriots have been consistent is in their division. In each Super Bowl trip since the 2001 season, the Patriots have not only won their division but had the best record in the division.

In 2011, it appears it will be a two-horse race with the Pats and Jets. The Patriots must win five of their six division games, allowing them a split with the Jets.

0 losses in January for Pats

No not the regular season, but in January. The Patriots have been winless in the postseason in 2009 and 2010, both debilitating losses to the Ravens and Jets.

This is the simplest answer to advancing to the Super Bowl. Don't lose in January.

Basically, play your best football when it matters most. It's been a while since we could say that around here.

Even the 2007 undefeated team, limped into January and didn't dominate the way it did September through most of November.