Leafing Through Pages: Analysis of Sports and Other Topics

01/22/2010

Flash Back to the TV Shows and Cartoons of the 90’s Kids

Filed under: Uncategorized — David Hunter @ 5:24 PM
Tags: , , ,

Here’s a list of relevant shows to those who are part of Generation Y or were kids/teens growing up through the 1990’s. Note that I also included 1989 as an initial year partly because I was 4 but also because it would’ve made Gen Y’ers around anywhere from 1 to 12 years old.

101 Dalmatians (1997-1998)
Aaahh!!! Real Monsters (1994-1997)
Adventures of the Gummi Bears (1989-1991)
Aladdin (1994-1995)
All That (1994-1997)
Allegra’s Window (1994-1996)
Animaniacs (1993-1995)
Are You Afraid of the Dark (1990-1993)
Arthur (1996-1998)
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes: The Animated Series (1990-1992, 1996)
Barney & Friends (1992-1994)
Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995)
Beetlejuice (1989-1991)
Beverly Hills 90210 (1990-1999)
Big Bad Beetleborgs (1996-1998)
Bobby’s World (1990-1997)
Bonkers (1993-1995)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-1999)
Captain Planet and the Planeteers (1990-1992)
Casper (1996-1998)
CatDog (1998-1999)
Chip ‘n Dales Rescue Rangers (1989-1990)
Clarissa Explains It All (1991-1994)
Darkwing Duck (1991-1995)
Dawson’s Creek (1998-1999)
Doug (1991-1994)
DuckTales (1988-1990)
Earthworm Jim (1995-1996)
Eerie, Indiana (1991-1992)
ER (1994-1999)
Eureeka’s Castle (1989-1996)
Family DoubleDare (1990-1993)
Family Matters (1989-1997)
Figure It Out (1997-1999)
Freakazoid! (1995-1997)
Friends (1994-1999)
Full House (1989-1995)
Gargoyles (1994-1997)
Get the Picture (1991)
Goof Troop (1992-1993)
Goosebumps (1995-1998)
Growing Pains (1989-1992)
Gullah Gullah Island (1994-1997)
Hey Arnold (1996-1999)
Hey Dude (1989-1991)
KaBlam! (1996-1999)
Kenan and Kel (1996-1999)
Legends of the Hidden Temple (1993-1995)
Marsupilami (1992)
Melrose Place (1992-1999)
Mighty Ducks (1996-1997)
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (1993-1995)
Mister Roger’s Neighborhood (1988-1996)
My Brother and Me (1994-1995)
Nick Arcade (1992-1993)
Nickelodeon GUTS (1992-1995)
Oh Yeah! Cartoons (1998-1999)
Party of Five (1994-1999)
Pinky and the Brain (1995-1998)
Quack Pack (1996-1997)
Reading Rainbow (1988-1994)
Road Rovers (1996-1997)
Rocko’s Modern Life (1993-1996)
Rugrats (1991-1997)
Salute Your Shorts (1991-1992)
Saved By the Bell (1989-1993)
Seinfeld (1989-1998)
Spider-Man: The Animated Series (1994-1998)
Step by Step (1991-1997)
Super Dave: Daredevil for Hire (1992-1993)
Superman: The Animated Series (1996-1999)
Swamp Thing (1991)
TaleSpin (1990-1991)
Taz-Mania (1991-1993)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989-1996)
The Angry Beavers (1997-1999)
The Adventures of Pete & Pete (1993-1996)
The Cosby Show (1989-1992)
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996)
The Little Mermaid (1992-1994)
The Magic School Bus (1994-1997)
The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo (1996-1998)
The Nanny (1993-1999)
The Ren and Stimpy Show (1991-1996)
The Secret World of Alex Mack (1994-1998)
The Schookums and Meat Funny Cartoon Show (1993-1995)
The Simpsons (1989-1999)
The Terrible Thunderlizards (1993-1997)
The Tick (1994-1996)
The Wild Thornberrys (1998-1999)
The Wonder Years (1989-1996)
The X-Files (1993-1999)
Thomas and Friends (1991-1995) *Thomas the Tank Engine*
Timon and Pumbaa (1995-1998)
Tiny Toony Adventures (1990-1992)
Tom & Jerry Kids (1990-1993)
What Would You Do (1991-1993)
Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego? (1994-1996)
Wild and Crazy Kids (1990-1992)
X-Men: The Animated Series (1992-1997)

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01/18/2010

Troy Aikman Game Manager During the Cowboys’ Super Bowl Runs

Many fans love to point out that Troy Aikman was a game manager QB for the Dallas Cowboys throughout the 1990’s, especially during their Super Bowl runs from 1992 through 1995 when the team largely relied on RB Emmitt Smith and a great defense. Let’s parse through his game logs though to see if we can get a more accurate picture, including his postseason performances.

1992 NFL Season
Troy would throw for a career high 23 TD during this season on 473 pass attempts in total, along with 3445 yards.

– Troy would throw for more than 230 yards in 9 games during the season, and have 3 other games where he would throw for 216, 214, and 214 yards.
– Troy would throw for at least 2 TD in 8 games during the season, winning all of them except a 20-17 loss to Washington in Week 14
– Troy had 4 games where he threw for less than 200 yards but struggled in 3 of them, despite Dallas going 4-0 as a team. He would throw 3 TD vs. 5 INT in those 4 games, with Week 16 culminating in a 10 of 20 for 78 yards performance at home against Chicago.

Against Philadelphia in the playoffs, Troy would go 15 of 25 for 200 yards and 2 TD. He would also run for 13 yards. Against San Francisco, he would go 24 of 34 for 322 yards with 2 TD. His 2nd TD would ice the game for Dallas, giving them the 30-20 win. In the route of Buffalo in the Super Bowl, Troy would go 22 of 30 for 273 yards and 4 TD, while running for 28 more yards. He would throw 2 TD passes that would extend the Cowboys lead from 14-10 to 28-10.

1993 NFL Season
Troy would throw for only 15 TD but on 392 attempts and still throw for 3100 yards during the regular season.

– Troy would start the year off by throwing for 267, 297, 281, 317, 245, and 243 yards before recording just 2 games over 200 yards in the latter half of the season. During the early stretch, the Cowboys would start off with a 4-2 record and Troy would have 5 TD against 2 INT.
– Against San Francisco, Troy’s TD pass would push the Cowboys to a 23-17 lead before a FG would ice the game.

The playoffs would again reflect Troy’s role during the season. Against Green Bay, he would go 28 of 37 for 302 yards with 3 TD and 2 INT. His 3 TD would push the Cowboys from being down 3-0 up to a 24-3 lead in the 3rd quarter. Against San Francisco, Troy played caretaker and was 14 of 18 for 177 yards with 2 TD. His 2 TD, however, would essentially ice the game as they gave Dallas a 28-7 lead at halftime. In the Super Bowl against Buffalo, Troy would go 19 of 27 for 207 yards with 1 INT and largely let Emmitt Smith wear down the Bills.

1994 NFL Season
Troy would throw just 361 passes for 2676 yards and 13 TD against 12 INT while seeing his role fluctuate for the second straight season.

– Troy again started the season off hot, with 4 of his first 5 games throwing for over 200 yards. The Cowboys would go 4-1 over that stretch while Troy would have 6 TD vs. 3 INT. Troy would finish the season with 7 games over 200 yards.
– Troy got sparse attempts in 3 different games that largely hurt his overall season totals. He had 5 attempts against Arizona (with 1 TD), 13 attempts against Washington, and 11 attempts against the Giants at the end of the season. Take those games out and Troy would have 12 TD in only 11 full games.
– Troy again wouldn’t put up stats but his TD passes would occur at critical times. Against Philadelphia, 2 straight TD passes would push the Cowboys lead from 7-7 to 21-7 at the start of the 4th quarter.

In the playoffs, Troy would be leaned on heavily. Against Green Bay, he would go 23 of 30 for 337 yards with 2 TD against 1 INT. His 2nd TD pass would largely ice the game, pushing the Cowboys lead to 28-9 entering the 4th quarter. In a famous game against San Francisco, Troy would struggle throughout going 30 of 53 for 380 yards with 2 TD but also throw 3 INT. His final TD would pull the lead to 38-28, the final score.

1995 NFL Season
Under Barry Switzer, Troy’s reigns would be freed once again and he would respond by throwing for 3304 yards and 16 TD on 432 pass attempts.

– Troy would have 10 games over 200 yards and 5 games with more than 245 yards passing.
– Once again, Troy would have his usual hot start before settling down in the second half. In 6 games, not including his injured appearance against Washington, he would throw for over 200 yards in every game except a 196 performance at home against Denver. He would throw 7 TD against just 1 INT in that stretch. He would throw for 228, 196, 246, 251, 316, and 222 yards in that run.
– Troy would have 2 games where he amassed 9 total pass attempts. Take those out and he has a more impressive 16 TD in only 14 games, throwing for 2 TD in 5 of them.
– Troy’s TD passes would again force teams to play catch up, allowing the Cowboys to grind the game out. Against Denver, his 2nd TD pushed the lead to 21-7 in the 3rd quarter. Against Green Bay, his 2nd TD would push the lead to 24-3 in the 3rd quarter. Against Atlanta on the road, his 2 straight TD passes would bring the Cowboys back from 10-7 up to a 21-10 lead in the 3rd quarter. His 2nd TD pass against Kansas City would push the lead to 21-6 in the 3rd quarter.

Once again, in the playoffs Troy would show his efficiency and passing ability. Against Philadelphia, he was 17 of 24 for 253 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT. His lone TD pass would really ice the game, giving the Cowboys a 30-3 lead in the 4th quarter. Against Green Bay, he would go 21 of 33 for 255 yards and 2 TD. Despite being down 27-24, he’d help Dallas on 2 TD drives culminating in an Emmitt Smith 5 yard TD run and a 16 yard TD run. In the Super Bowl against Pittsburgh, he again played caretaker going 15 of 23 for 209 yards and 1 TD. His lone TD pass would give the Cowboys an early 10-0 lead in the 1st quarter.

From 1992 through 1995 did Troy play game manager? Somewhat but a large percent of the games were usually blowouts by the 3rd quarter, allowing the Dallas Cowboys to grind the ball out with Emmitt Smith. Troy’s “game managing” came in the form of icing games and putting the proverbial dagger through an opponent’s heart with a key TD pass that would allow the Cowboys the space to start grinding games to a close.

Troy also displayed evidence that he was somewhat limited in the second half of seasons, particularly starting in 1992 when the Cowboys would make their first Super Bowl appearance. If he had been given the keys off his hot start during an entire season, I’m fairly certain that Troy could have thrown for 3,500+ yards and 25 TD. Troy would throw for 23 TD on 473 attempts in 1992 and 19 TD on 518 attempts in 1997. Compare those attempt totals to guys like Brett Favre – 471 and 513 with 18 TD and 35 TD in those seasons or Steve Young – 402 and 356 attempts with 25 TD and 19 TD.

Troy’s garnered the game manager label much like Tom Brady earlier in his career and Ben Roethlisberger earlier in his career. He’d put up the yardage numbers but wasn’t asked to throw a lot of his TD passes at the goal line and thus was not getting 20 or more TD passes a season. Troy’s numbers in most of his playoff outings and SB appearances prove that he could throw for yardage and TDs when he was asked to but more often than not, he wasn’t leaned on because Dallas did have Emmitt Smith on those teams.

01/13/2010

The First Passing Game in the National Football League

Filed under: Pro Football — David Hunter @ 6:21 PM
Tags: , ,

Many people when they think of origins of the passing game in the NFL will point to the Baltimore Colts and strong armed Johnny Unitas in the late 1950’s or the 1970’s air attack of the Super Bowl winning Pittsburgh Steelers. They may still point even later and mention the offensive explosion coming out of San Diego in the early 1980’s or San Francisco’s offense under Bill Walsh in the mid 1980’s. What’s really interesting is that the NFL was experiencing a revolution of the forward pass as early as the 1930’s and specifically, the mid to late 1930’s. The brains behind this revolution? Not Don Coryell. Not Bill Walsh. Curly Lambeau, former star running back, kicker, and quarterback for the Green Bay Packers who served as head coach for the team.

The 1936 Green Bay Packers may not look that impressive on paper. They threw 17 TD and 19 INT and barely completed passes for 1,629 yards. The important key is that despite running the ball 490 times, they threw the ball a whopping 255 times for that era. That comes out to an average of 21 passes per game, which were 3 more than the second team and 4 more than the third place team. Their slinger was Arnie Herber who teamed up with both Bob Monnett and Joe Laws who combined for 301 receiving yards and 2 touchdown catches.

Sounds impressive but it was a very small league back then with only 9 teams in existance. Nevermind that Green Bay completed a whopping 108 passes, while the second best team only completed 81. Let’s continue up the ladder towards recent history, shall we?

The forward pass was still a gimmicky tool of fancy play that was nice to use here and there but didn’t really make a team go. After all, the point was to run the ball and supplement it with the pass. If you were really risky, you’d throw the ball maybe 22 times a game, if that. Enter the 1940 Philadelphia Eagles who completely turned such a concept on its ear while probably forcing the old school fans to scream bloody murder. They didn’t have any success, finishing the year out with a 1-10 record but they averaged 33 pass attempts a game with well known former college star Davey O’Brien coming from TCU. There’s a reason they named the QB of the Year award after him at the NCAA level and here he threw for 1290 yards while completing an incredible 45% of his passes. Unfortunately he’d only throw 5 touchdowns compared to 17 interceptions. But he’d help make a star out of Don Looney who would catch 58 passes for 707 yards and score 4 touchdowns. In 1940!

Well, neither of those teams were having that much success but that would all change in 1942 when the Green Bay Packers would not only average 30 pass attempts a game but have unprecented success through the air, en route to Don Hutson winning the Joe F. Carr MVP Trophy. Green Bay would not only throw for 2407 yards, an average of 219 per game, but also throw 28 touchdowns against only 18 interceptions. Their best performance would come against the Chicago Cardinals where they would throw for 423 yards and 6 TD on only 27 attempts. Hutson and Andy Uram caught all 6 TD on just 9 catches between them. Green Bay proved behind the arm of the extremely underrated Cecil Isbell that the forward pass could not only be a staple of an NFL offense but that it could vertically stretch the field and be extremely deadly in the right hands.

The 1947 season is where the first truly prolific passing offense came about thanks to the Washington Redskins and 33 year old quarterback Sammy Baugh who would throw 354 times for 2938 yards and 25 touchdowns against 15 interceptions himself. The team in total averaged a mind blowing 278 yards per game through the air with 4 games surpassing 340 yards during the season. Unfortunately, success was fleeting as the team finished with a 4-8 record despite the player’s success.

The next time somebody asks when the passing game took off in the NFL, now you can answer with Curly Lambeau, the 1940 Philadelphia Eagles and Davey O’Brien, the early Packers with the Cecil Isbell/Don Hutson combination, or Slingin’ Sammy Baugh in 1947.

01/12/2010

American Football League Offense vs. National Football League Offense

Many fans and media members agree that the American Football League was far more wide open, far more aerial focused, and more exciting in general than the NFL during their head to head period from 1960 through 1969. The question becomes, just how true was it that the AFL was more offensively focused, especially in the passing game, compared to the NFL?

Let’s first take a general look at comparing the average pass and rush attempts of both leagues by year. It’d stand to reason that in general, the AFL should have more pass attempts and the NFL should have more rush attempts given the idea that the NFL was just a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust league.

1960: NFL averaged 26 pass attempts and 33 rush attempts per game. AFL averaged 33 pass attempts and 30 rush attempts per game.
1961: NFL averaged 27 pass attempts and 31 rush attempts per game. AFL averaged 32 pass attempts and 29 rush attempts per game.
1962: NFL averaged 27 pass attempts and 31 rush attempts per game. AFL averaged 31 pass attempts and 29 rush attempts per game.
1963: NFL averaged 28 pass attempts and 31 rush attempts per game. AFL averaged 32 pass attempts and 27 rush attempts per game.
1964: NFL averaged 28 pass attempts and 31 rush attempts per game. AFL averaged 34 pass attempts and 28 rush attempts per game.
1965: NFL averaged 28 pass attempts and 31 rush attempts per game. AFL averaged 33 pass attempts and 29 rush attempts per game.
1966: NFL averaged 29 pass attempts and 31 rush attempts per game. AFL averaged 32 pass attempts and 29 rush attempts per game.
1967: NFL averaged 29 pass attempts and 31 rush attempts per game. AFL averaged 31 pass attempts and 29 rush attempts per game.
1968: NFL averaged 27 pass attempts and 32 rush attempts per game. AFL averaged 29 pass attempts and 32 rush attempts per game.
1969: NFL averaged 28 pass attempts and 31 rush attempts per game. AFL averaged 29 pass attempts and 30 rush attempts per game.

It’s interesting to note that the NFL would consistently run the ball every season, however, the passing attempts steadily climbed to settle down around 28 to 29 pass attempts a game. The AFL was certainly more prone to passing the ball, quite often 32-33 times a game, but by the end of the 1960’s and just before the merger of the 1970 season, they started mirroring the NFL more closely.

Everybody knows that the AFL would have more passing attempts. After all, they had quarterbacks like George Blanda, Len Dawson, and Joe Namath. So a large thought behind the AFL was that they were more prone to throwing the ball downfield vertically. This should be reflected in having a higher yard per completion per season as a 50 yard heave would outdo 5 passes of 10 yards each.

1960: NFL had a 14.4 and AFL had a 13.6
1961: NFL had a 14.3 and AFL had a 14.3
1962: NFL had a 14.7 and AFL had a 14.3
1963: NFL had a 14.6 and AFL had a 14.6
1964: NFL had a 13.9 and AFL had a 14.4
1965: NFL had a 14.5 and AFL had a 14.1
1966: NFL had a 13.4 and AFL had a 14.7
1967: NFL had a 13.6 and AFL had a 14.1
1968: NFL had a 13.6 and AFL had a 14.6
1969: NFL had a 13.3 and AFL had a 14.0

A most curious thing. The NFL actually led or was tying with the AFL in terms of yards per pass completion up until 1966, when the NFL suddenly dropped almost a full yard per completion while the AFL continued to remain above 14 yards. The Atlanta Falcons came into the league in 1966 and had a YPC of just 11.52. The New Orleans Saints came into the league in 1967 and had a YPC of just 10.96 as a team. Certainly both totals would’ve helped bring down the league average.

We know that the NFL and AFL squared off in 4 Super Bowls and would split them 2-2 before merging their leagues together in time for the 1970 NFL season. Let’s take a look at the combined pass attempts of each league in their championship game, and the pass attempts of the two teams in the Super Bowl to see if one league really did air it out more, even in the biggest game of the season. Note that I am including sacks here but did not in the league wide averages.

1960: Philadelphia and Green Bay combined for 56. Houston and Los Angeles Chargers combined for 76.
1961: Green Bay and New York Giants combined for 50. Houston and San Diego combined for 79.
1962: Green Bay and New York Giants combined for 64. Dallas Texans and Houston combined for 66.
1963: Chicago and Green Bay combined for 60. San Diego and Boston combined for 71.
1964: Cleveland and Baltimore combined for 41. Buffalo and San Diego combined for 60.
1965: Green Bay and Cleveland combined for 41. Buffalo and San Diego combined for 52.
1966: Green Bay and Dallas combined for 66. Kansas City and Buffalo combined for 64. SB – Green Bay threw 27, Kansas City threw 38.
1967: Green Bay and Dallas combined for 59. Oakland and Houston combined for 65. SB – Green Bay threw 28, Oakland threw 37.
1968: Baltimore and Cleveland combined for 61. New York Jets and Oakland combined for 100. SB – New York Jets threw 31, Baltimore threw 41.
1969: Minnesota and Cleveland combined for 49. Kansas City and Oakland combined for 67. SB – Kansas City threw 20, Minnesota threw 31.

It’s really interesting to note that the Super Bowls that the AFL won, they were much more restrained passing wise whereas they forced their NFL counterparts to throw to catch up. Much like the Green Bay Packers had forced Kansas City and Oakland to do in their Super Bowl victories. Even in the playoff games though, the AFL was superior in terms of leaning on the aerial game. That combination of 79 pass attempts is mind boggling.

Given the fact that the AFL was largely attempting more passes per game, let’s take a look and compare the average passing yards per game of both leagues.

1960: NFL averaged 171 yards. AFL averaged 198 yards.
1961: NFL averaged 181 yards. AFL averaged 195 yards.
1962: NFL averaged 194 yards. AFL averaged 190 yards.
1963: NFL averaged 186 yards. AFL averaged 199 yards.
1964: NFL averaged 174 yards. AFL averaged 212 yards.
1965: NFL averaged 184 yards. AFL averaged 189 yards.
1966: NFL averaged 178 yards. AFL averaged 197 yards.
1967: NFL averaged 180 yards. AFL averaged 183 yards.
1968: NFL averaged 169 yards. AFL averaged 178 yards.
1969: NFL averaged 178 yards. AFL averaged 180 yards.

Here we see the benefit of throwing the ball more per game on average as the AFL was resoundingly getting more yards per game than the NFL with a peak occurring during the 1963 and 1964 seasons. Worth noting is that average of 212 yards would not be matched by the NFL until 1989 when they averaged 211 yards per game passing. It wasn’t until the rule changes in 1979 and the 1981 season that the NFL began to hit 200 yards a game routinely. The AFL was clearly well ahead of its time emphasizing the passing game and aerial attack as a focal point of the offense. To really put that 212 yard average in perspective, the 2008 season of the NFL averaged 211 yards per game passing.

Through most any measure, the AFL was clearly living up to its label of being a wide open, aerial focused passing league especially in comparison to the NFL. While the NFL wasn’t completely three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust, that attitude was a stigma attached to the NFL when looking at the increased pass attempts and more importantly, the increased passing yardage of the AFL.

It would be like seeing the Arena Football League playing outdoors on 100 yard fields mimicking the NFL exactly except they would be throwing the ball 70% of the time in today’s era.

How the 2001 New England Patriots Won the Super Bowl

Many people know the story of the emergence of Tom Brady as a second year QB coming in to replace the injured Drew Bledsoe after the hit by Mo Lewis while New England played the New York Jets. They also know all about the heroic kicks from Vinatieri and the eventual upset of the favored St. Louis Rams in the 2001 Super Bowl that garnered Brady an MVP award.

What many people don’t realize is just how dramatic the turnaround was on the entire team and that it wasn’t just Tom Brady who helped revolutionize this team into arguably the team of the decade in the 2000’s.

2000 New England Patriots

What went wrong? Well for starters, the team was incredibly unbalanced in terms of play selection on offense. Despite being a team that has largely favored the pass in every single season through 2009, the team was incredibly pass happy in 2000 with 565 pass attempts and 48 more if you add sacks to that total. The Patriots threw the ball 57% of the time throughout the season, again higher if you include sacks in pass attempts.

As a result of those pass attempts, Drew Bledsoe did not protect the ball well enough with 13 interceptions and 9 fumbles on the season. Although that was bad, even worse was his inability to throw the ball away or simply check down and avoid the critical sack. Bledsoe was sacked 45 times on 531 pass attempts for an average of 1 sack every 11 pass attempts, a woeful number to be certain. On the other hand, he threw 17 touchdown passes but again, that was a fairly low total for such a number of pass attempts.

The offensive line was not able to block at all for the running game and the running game suffered, resulting in more pass attempts than necessary since that was the only other option. The Patriots used a familiar method with two main running backs in Kevin Faulk and J.R. Redmond receiving the lions’ share of the carries. Together, they combined for 289 carries but only amassed 976 yards for a yard per carry of 3.38 and scored 5 touchdowns. Their longest run of the entire season was a mere 20 yards.

With poor quarterback play and running game, surely the receivers were decent, right? Not necessarily. Terry Glenn and Troy Brown combined for 162 catches for 1,907 yards good for a yard per catch of 11.77 and they scored 10 touchdowns. Unfortunately the Patriots had no depth and thus Kevin Faulk was relied upon as the third receiving option and had 51 catches for 465 yards but only 1 touchdown. The three tight ends were largely invincible, combining for 51 catches and only 458 yards.

One bright spot was the punt return game with Troy Brown, who averaged 12.9 yards per punt return on just 39 returns and scored 1 touchdown. Kevin Faulk only averaged 21.5 yards per kick return on 38 returns, a number that would have to be improved upon the next season.

Another bright spot was the kicking game of Adam Vinatieri and punter Lee Johnson, who averaged a very good 42.7 yards per punt and only had 1 punt blocked on 89 attempts. Adam Vinatieri showed he could kick for distance as he made 7 of his 8 field goal tries between 40 and 49 yards, as well as his incredible accuracy as he made 27 of his 33 total field goals for a success rate of 81.8%.

The defense showed flashes of potential but like the wide receiver position, simply did not have enough depth. The team totaled 29 sacks with Greg Spires and Willie McGinest combining for 12 of them, almost 50% of the team total. The defense also struggled to make the big play on turnovers as they had 10 interceptions, 14 forced fumbles, and 12 fumble recoveries.

Along with their troubles on turnovers, the defense could not stop the passing game as they ranked 21st in yards allowed and 17th in touchdowns allowed. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they couldn’t get off the field either. They ranked a good 6th in yard per carry but ranked 21st in total rushing yards allowed. The defense let teams pass and run on them at will and it proved too much.

2001 New England Patriots

Well, all of that was horribly wrong in 2000 so what happened so good that turned around the team in a single season and resulted in a memorable Super Bowl upset?

The play selection was much more balanced as the offense had a perfect 50% balanced between pass plays and run plays called not including sacks as part of pass plays. Part of this was that Tom Brady was so young in terms of experience and part of it was that they had an actual feature back.

Tom Brady himself, despite being 24 years old, was remarkably efficient where Drew Bledsoe had not been although issues from the 2000 season still remained. Brady was unable to avoid being sacked and was sacked 41 times in only 413 attempts or 1 sack for every 10 pass attempts, a step down from Drew Bledsoe. He also threw 12 interceptions, just 1 fewer than Bledsoe in far fewer pass attempts. The one big advantage Tom had? His ability to make touchdown throws. He threw 18 touchdowns, 1 more than Bledsoe the year prior despite throwing 118 fewer pass attempts on the season.

The Patriots also had a running game thanks to the acquisition of Antowain Smith, which allowed Kevin Faulk to be utilized in his more familiar 3rd down role where his ability to block and catch the ball were more beneficiary. Smith had 287 carries, just 2 fewer than the combo in 2000, but ran for 1,157 yards good for a 4.03 yard per carry and 12 touchdowns. The improvement along the offensive line also carried over to Faulk who ran for 169 yards and averaged 4.12 yards per carry.

Unfortunately the lack of depth at the receiver position again appeared in 2001. Troy Brown largely carried the entire receiving group on his back despite the addition of David Patten who would give the Patriots 51 catches for 749 yards and 4 touchdowns. The running backs and fullback again played the role of third receiver, combining for 87 catches and just 679 yards. Once again, the tight ends were rarely used with Jermaine Wiggins and Rod Rutledge combining for 19 catches and 168 yards.

Once again, the return game was up and down. Troy Brown was extremely impressive as the punt returner averaging 14.2 yards per return on just 29 punts and scoring 2 touchdowns. Kevin Faulk on 33 returns actually regressed down to just 20.1 yards per return on kickoffs though.

Adam Vinatieri and Ken Walter, who replaced Lee Johnson after 5 games, were both solid. Vinatieri made 24 of 30 field goals although his accuracy from 40-49 yards dropped making just 7 of 12 kicks. Walter averaged 40.1 yards per punt on 49 attempts but it also was a drop off from Johnson who had a 43.5 average on just 24.

The biggest difference was the aggressiveness and depth on defense, however. The team had 39 sacks, 10 more than the previous season. Bobby Hamilton, Willie McGinest, and Anthony Pleasant combined for 19 sacks, just 10 shy of the total throughout the 2000 season. The defense also had 22 interceptions, an improvement of 12 largely thanks to the addition of Otis Smith who had 5, half of last year’s total. The team also forced 12 fumbles and recovered 13.

The defense showed gradual improvement although like in other areas of the team, there were still some flaws that carried over. They were 24th in passing yards allowed and 19th in rushing yards allowed. The big key, however, was that they ranked 6th in pass touchdowns allowed and 4th in rushing touchdowns allowed. The Patriots scored 36 offensive touchdowns but allowed their opponent to only score 22. Compare that to 2000 where the offense scored 27 but allowed their opponents to score 35. The 2001 Patriots defense managed almost a complete inverse of that.

Also the Patriots were extremely good down the stretch. Aside from winning 9 straight including the Super Bowl, the defense allowed an average of just 13.78 points per game. They did not allow an opponent to score more than 17 points and had a 4 game stretch where they allowed their opponent to score 13 points or fewer. They also won the turnover battle down that stretch with a +17 by having 8 turnovers themselves and 25 takeaways from their opponents.

Although Tom Brady was a small improvement over Drew Bledsoe in some areas, the turnaround of the 2001 New England Patriots should largely rest on the shoulders of the improvement at offensive line, the addition of a running back who could solely handle the workload, and the opportunistic defense that locked down in the red zone and capitalized on the turnovers they got.

Yes, the Patriots did get extremely lucky with the correctly called Tuck Rule in the Oakland game but blame Oakland for not remembering they had to actually play defense in overtime and that they still had a good chance to win that game.

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