In a workmanlike Week 1 victory at Tennessee, the Patriots looked like a more balanced and disciplined team than 2011's edition. A younger, tougher defense was able to win the turnover battle, keep the Titans’ quarterbacks uncomfortable all day and completely stymie Chris Johnson.
The Patriots’ offensive attack, meanwhile, benefited from its twin tight end terrors and a newly rediscovered playmaking ability in the rushing game. Second-year back Stevan Ridley was the breakout star of the day, while Wes Welker saw his playing time and targets diminished significantly.
Here are some interesting numbers to keep in mind looking forward to a Week 2 date with Arizona.
Defense by the Numbers
25.7: The average age of a starter on the Patriots defense.
The youth movement is on in Foxborough, with the team starting two rookies but only one player (Vince Wilfork) age 30 or older.
4: The number of yards gained by former 2,000-yard back Chris Johnson over 11 rushes against a much-improved Patriots front seven.
Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love—whose names don’t have to show up on the stat sheet to impact the game—controlled the line of scrimmage all day, occupying multiple blockers to allow linebackers and safeties to shoot in for the tackle.
65/65 and 58/65: The snap counts for Jerod Mayo and Chandler Jones, respectively.
Mayo’s presence on the field for every play demonstrates his value as a signal-caller in the middle of the defense as well as his coverage acumen. He’s the only ‘backer to stay on the field in the dime package.
Jones, originally considered something of a project pick, has already contributed in the pass rush with a strip-sack and several QB hurries Sunday. His ability to stay on the field for all three downs is a valuable commodity.
Offense by the Numbers
35-31: The number of designed running plays compared to passing plays.
The Patriots offense looked more balanced against Tennessee than at any point in 2011, with the ability to use the run as a weapon and not a clock management tool. The improved ground game forced the Titans to keep a minimum of seven men in the box at all times, opening up downfield passing lanes for Tom Brady.
125: Stevan Ridley’s rushing total over 21 attempts.
That’s an average of 5.9 yards per carry, good for fourth-best (minimum 10 carries) in Week 1. The LSU product racked up yards after contact and showed excellent balance. If Ridley is for real—and by all indications he is—some of the load should be off of Brady and Co.’s shoulders this year.
64: The percentage of offensive snaps with Wes Welker on the field. That’s compared to 89.2 percent last year (via ESPN’s Mike Reiss).
Is Welker on track for a diminished role this year after failing to reach a long-term deal with the Patriots this offseason? Or could something specific to the Week 1 game plan have kept Welker off the field? In comments to WEEI’s Dennis and Callahan show on Monday, Brady seemed to suggest that Welker will remain a big part of the offense, saying “Nobody works harder than Wes. What he commits on a daily basis is so impressive, and talk about a leader for the team.” Take that as you will.
It’s a good thing the team signed both receivers to extensions before this season, because with another season of historic numbers under their belt, the pair might have commanded even more money next year.
The beautiful thing about having both big bodies is that it forces safeties to make a decision about who to help cover. That makes it pretty easy for Brady to throw to the single-covered beneficiary. Gronk and Hernandez are also both excellent blockers, meaning the Patriots won’t have to make many personnel changes to run effectively this year.