My colleague, NFC East lead writer Brad Gagnon, put it best: "The reality is that [stats] rarely tell the whole story, but I also find that they almost always tell part of the story."
Ultimately, the "whole story" will only be written when the season is over, when we have an idea of how these stats look in the end; but for now, let's just take a look at the stats that had an impact on Sunday's game between the Arizona Cardinals and New England Patriots.
That was New England's success rate on third down against the Cardinals.
The Patriots classically have been one of the NFL's best offenses at moving the sticks on third down; they ranked fifth in the NFL in conversion percentage (45.88 percent) in 2011 and second (48.22 percent) in 2010.
What happened on those third downs? Here are some nuggets to chew on:
- The Patriots had 15 third-down situations, passed the ball nine times and ran it six times.
- They picked up the first down on two of their six runs. One of the third-down runs was on 3rd-and-32. Four of the other third-down runs were with between one and three yards to go; the Patriots picked up a total of one yard on those runs and converted two of them (one was a four-yard loss). Danny Woodhead lost nine yards on a 3rd-and-6 in the third quarter.
- Brady was 3-for-8 on third down, with incompletions to Brandon Lloyd (two), Wes Welker (two) and Rob Gronkowski (one), and was sacked once (final drive of the first half).
The Patriots offense was thrown out of whack when tight end Aaron Hernandez left the game with an injury, and it seems the Patriots will have to adjust to life without him. His absence was felt on third downs, as Brady was short one of his favorite targets.
This matters because the Patriots are typically one of the better third-down offenses, and although the defense is playing much better, the offense has to respond and sustain drives.
In fact, this was his fifth-lowest passer rating in any game since 2010.
Surprising, then, that the Patriots had a chance to win late. Interesting to note, but trivial at best, is the fact that the Patriots won or had a chance to win late in each of those games except the 2010 regular-season loss to the Jets.
This matters because Brady is the engine that makes the offense go. History tells us that if things aren't clicking for No. 12, the offense is probably not moving the ball well, and the Patriots' chances to win are drastically reduced.
1-for-5, 4 Yards
That's the stat line on passes from Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb to wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
The Patriots came into this game knowing they would have to shut down Fitzgerald, and that's precisely what they did from the opening snap.
Defensively, the Patriots got exactly what they wanted out of the game plan. They were forcing the Cardinals to sustain drives, something they weren't able to do. Ten of the Cardinals' 13 drives lasted five plays or less. Only two of the three drives that exceeded five plays even resulted in points, the other drive ending in a fumble.
Mistakes on offense and special teams set up two scoring drives for the Cardinals that picked up 10 points and totaled four yards in seven plays.
To the Cardinals' credit, their other scoring drive was a methodical nine-play drive that marched 70 yards for the touchdown. Usually, though, if the Patriots defense only gives up one of those drives, that's enough for a win.
Not this time.
Any idea that the Patriots offense would have to match the level of play from the defense may have seemed far-fetched as recently as nine months ago. The defense seems to have hit stride, but now it's up to the offense to sustain drives and keep up with the good work the defense is doing.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.