Stat check: Patriots fumble stats are telling

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Stat check: Patriots fumble stats are telling

The Patriots stack up statistically against the rest of the league about like you'd expect. They are all over the board -- excellent offensively; poor defensively.

One team stat jumps off the page, though, and it explains why the Patriots are dangerous going forward, where the strength of their defense is, how well Tom Brady is playing and -- more ominously -- how fortunate they are to be 4-3.

The stat is turnover differential. The Patriots are plus-11 in turnover differential. They've come up with 18 turnovers. The fumbles are what's astounding. New England's recovered 11 so far. And the fumble forced by Vince Wilfork in the first half Sunday didn't go down as a recovery although it caused a safety.

The Cardinals and Falcons are next in the NFL in fumble recoveries and they are at seven apiece.

Chandler Jones, Brandon Spikes and Rob Ninkovich have forcedrecovered three each. Jerod Mayo has the other one among the front-seven.

That kind of play at the front of the defense is what's allowing the Patriots to dodge bullets. So too is the care that Brady is taking with the ball. The Seattle game looms large because it was a winnable game and Brady had two big picks and a grounding that cost a field goal in a one-point loss. But nobody throws it more than Brady in the NFL and no quarterback turns it over by interception less frequently.

When you think of the timing of the big fumble recoveries -- late against the Broncos with Denver looking to close within three; Sunday in overtime, even the late one against the Cardinals when Arizona was trying to kill clock -- you see how dogged the Patriots front-seven has been.

The back end, of course, is a disaster statistically against the pass. They are 29th in terms of passing yards allowed (290 per game). Only the Saints, Bucs and Redskins are worse (303, 325 and 328 respectively). And the notion that the Patriots allow a lot of yards because they've been ahead by a bunch? Not real valid.

The top pass defenses in terms of yards allowed are the Niners, Steelers, Texans, Cowboys and Cardinals. All are decent teams and that are allowing 200 yards or fewer through the air.

The Patriots are 23rd in yards per game allowed, 24th in yards per play, eighth in rushing yards per game allowed, third in yards per attempt, 29th passing yards and 26th in net passing yards per play. They are also 25th in the league when it comes to getting off the field on third down.

Offensively, the Patriots are first in the NFL in yards per game, fifth in rushing yards per game, fifth in net passing yards, first in percentage intercepted per pass, first in first downs per game, third in third down efficiency, last in gross punting average, 31st in net punting and first in points.

As always, some stats need context and the punting stats are one. Zoltan Mesko certainly has had his share of regrettable punts but he is not the "worst" punter in the league as the net and gross averages would indicate. The Patriots' offensive potency means he has fewer opportunities to air it out from his own end than most punters. Evidence of this is that Mesko leads the AFC and is third in the NFL with 17 punts dropped inside the 20. Sunday, for example, four Mesko punts came from the Patriots 45 or further meaning a boomed punt would be an automatic touchback.

Other individual stats: Wes Welker leads the NFL in receiving yards with 688. He's second in YAC with 323 (Percy Harvin, 427). He leads the NFL in receptions with 54.

Welker is tied for third in targets with 74 (Larry Fitzgerald). Welker's 11 catches that result in third down conversions is one off the lead. Welker leads the NFL with 17 third-down receptions.

Brandon Lloyd is eighth in targets with 65. Lloyd's caught 35 of the passes his way.

Jerod Mayo leads the NFL with 71 tackles.

Devin McCourty is two off the NFL lead in passes defensed with nine.

Brady's completing 59.7 percent of his 4th quarter passes (40-67), His fourth quarter rating is 91.6 which is 12th.

Stevan Ridley leads the NFL with 43 first downs.

Finally, Stephen Gostkowski is second in the NFL in scoring among kickers (71 points) and is second in the NFL with 25 kickoffs than go for touchbacks.

Curran's Sunday 4-pack: So, what HAS Tom Brady been up to?

Curran's Sunday 4-pack: So, what HAS Tom Brady been up to?

Six days – four quarters of football – remain in Tom Brady’s four-game suspension.
 
The fact is the Patriots are 3-0 and have gotten a long – and enjoyable – look at their quarterback depth behind Brady. Brady, meanwhile, has gotten a chance to shave one-quarter off the season-long wear-and-tear he takes.
 
But highlighting silver linings and pointing out there’s not much sand left in the suspension hourglass is no real consolation. Said one team source Thursday night, “It’s never going to go away.”

MORE PATRIOTS

 
What’s Brady been up to? Mixing family time and working out. He’s routinely spent four hours a day training, I’m told, presumably with his body coach Alex Guerrero at TB12 Sports Performance at Patriot Place. Also, aside from his Sunday session with Wes Welker, Brady’s been throwing to young college players at undisclosed locations, eschewing the opportunity to bring in some of the “name” former players who’ve reached out and offered their services.
 
Spotted in Italy with wife Gisele Bundchen last week, Brady’s also been back home in San Mateo visiting with his family.
 
Speaking to two people close to him, I was told he succeeded in making peace with the time off and avoiding the creep of too much bitterness. I was also told he’s unbelievably motivated to return at a high level and wants his transition back to be seamless in terms of performance and conditioning. That last part is, of course, to be expected. But it will be interesting to see how Brady does perform out of the gates after a month’s forced exile.
 
NINKOVICH RETURNS, TOO

The lesser of the two suspended prodigal sons set to return next week – Rob Ninkovich – is no doubt going to benefit physically from the quarter-season vacation as well. And the defensive ends who’ve performed well in his absence – Jabaal Sheard and especially Chris Long – will do well to have Ninkovich back in the mix. Mention should also be made of Trey Flowers who has shown up in opponent’s backfields on a weekly basis. It depends on what your personal cup of tea might be, but through three games, Long seems to me a much better defensive fit for this team than Chandler Jones. Jones was the more explosive pass-rusher but Long’s ability in the running game, and his play-in, play-out impact in applying pressure on the tackle in front of him makes it seem so far as if he’s an upgrade.
 
NEW DEALS AHEAD?
 
Still no word on which Patriot may be in line for a new deal since the team restructured Devin McCourty and freed up some cap space.

Donta Hightower, Malcolm Butler and Jamie Collins have been seen as the most likely targets for extensions and a redo of Hightower at this point would whittle down his $7M cap number and possibly allow another extension to be executed for either Collins or Butler, as our Phil Perry pointed out.  Jabaal Sheard, meanwhile, is the Patriot who flies under the radar when extension talk starts. He may be every bit as important to the success of the Patriots defense as the other three.
 
REX WRECKS
 
The Bills are 0-2, the natives are beyond restless in Buffalo and the Cardinals are in Western New York on Sunday. The Bills are expected to play without wide receiver Sammy Watkins and are a team staring into the esophagus of 0-3 with a visit to the Patriots coming next week. Have a gander at the Bills Mailbag in the Buffalo News.  Seems like years since Rex was all giddy about the paint job on his new truck. It was less than 19 months ago.