Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What is Wrong With the Packers?

Far too common a sight for the Packers.
Anymore, it seems like the NFL’s primary mission is to confound its fans. Every year, the league seemingly invents new and radical ways to prove just how wacky and random it truly is. Two years ago, it was the Chiefs winning their division and the Chargers missing the playoffs despite being ranked first in both total offense and total defense. Last year, it was the Eagles fumbling their way out of the playoffs and the 49ers scooping up those fumbles to get themselves in. This year…well, I’m not sure it’s fair to call this year more random than years past, but it certainly isn’t any less. (So basically, more…glad we settled that.)

Granted, we’re only five weeks into the season, so things can still turn towards normalcy, but my goodness some of these early returns are head scratchers. Minnesota and Arizona at the top of their divisions at 4-1? Rams above .500? Saints not above .500…or even close to it? Carson Palmer with fewer INT’s than Rodgers, Ryan, Manning, Manning, Brees, and 24 others? Silly stuff!

This brings me to what is, in my mind, the biggest shocker of the 2012 season, the 2-3 start of the Green Bay Packers. At least with the Saints there is a plausible reason for their struggles. What excuse do the Packers have? This was a 15-1 team last season, a team that won games by an average of nearly two TD’s, a team that, prior to this season, had piled up 21 wins (including a Super Bowl run) in the time it took them to collect the same amount of losses they have this year. And they brought pretty much the same group back! Same quarterback, same head coach, same group of receivers, same everything. Yet, here the Packers are with three losses and staring up at 10 teams in the NFC. Not exactly what they had in mind, I’m assuming.

Naturally, the question now becomes, what is wrong with the Green Bay Packers? What is different about this team that is preventing them from experiencing the same type of success? Are they just struggling? Are they bad? Are they going to bounce back? The answer, of course, is ???????, because nobody can ever truly know what is going to happen in the NFL. The Packers very well might bounce back and win the Super Bowl. Of course, they also might finish with 6 wins and in last place in their division. 

However, while we can’t for sure know what will happen in the future, we can get some clues from the past. Several of Green Bay’s shortcomings are easily diagnosed by both watching the games and objectively analyzing the numbers, and that’s what we’re going to try to do here.

First and foremost, let’s dispel the most common myth of why Green Bay is struggling:

Myth:  Bad defense has finally come back to haunt them

The Packers defense was undeniably bad last season, and it would be hard to argue that their shortcomings in the secondary played a large factor in their eventual playoff ouster. This team simply couldn’t cover guys and couldn’t apply consistent pressure on the QB. Naturally, the bad taste of 2011 suckiness is still fresh in everyone’s mouths, and it’s become an easy target. Thing is, the claim doesn’t really hold up when comparing this year’s defense to last year’s.

PPG Against
22.4 (#19)
22.2 (#14)
YPG Against
411.6 (last)
344.2 (#16)
3rd Down %
42.6% (#26)
36.1% (#14)
Completion % Against
61.2% (#19)
58.5% (#7)
Y/A Against
7.8 (#26)
7.0 (#13)
29 (#27)
18 (#1)
Sack Yardage Lost
192 (#26)
125 (#2)

While nobody is going to confuse this group with the old Steel Curtain defenses, they certainly haven’t been a hopeless mess like they were last year. In fact, they’ve enacted a huge turnaround. They’re allowing far fewer yards, getting off the field at a far better clip, and doing a superb job of pressuring the quarterback. Even in games where the defense has “struggled,” they haven’t been that bad. Take the Indianapolis game for example. The secondary actually did a solid job throughout the game, but what exactly are you supposed to do when Reggie Wayne is running around making silly one handed circus catches all day? Add in the fact that the defense was on the field for 35 minutes thanks to 6 Green Bay three-and-outs and that Indy scored two of their three TD’s from very favorable field position (GB 39 and IND 42)…well, let’s just say the “GREEN BAY’S DEFENSE KILLED THEM” narrative is way overblown.

So, if it’s not the defense, then what is it? (Hint: There’s more than one)


I keep hearing radio people shrug off strength of schedule, and that’s absolutely ridiculous. The quality of opponents is one of the single largest factors for why certain teams “surprise” early and why other teams get off to slow starts. The Broncos are a better team than the Cardinals or Vikings, but have had the misfortune of playing Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Houston, and New England in the early going…and are thus 2-3. I wouldn’t quite compare Green Bay’s schedule to Denver’s, but it certainly hasn’t been a cakewalk.

Thus far, the Packers have played 4-1 San Francisco, 4-1 Chicago, 3-2 Seattle (on the road), 1-4 New Orleans, and 2-2 Indianapolis (on the road). That’s a tough road to hoe, especially for a team that isn’t quite playing its best football. Granted, I’m not hopping on the Indy bandwagon or anything, but the slate in its entirety is fairly tough. Upcoming games against St. Louis, Jacksonville, Arizona (still hate them), and Detroit will certainly be welcome.


Blame Mike McCarthy, blame Dom Capers, blame the loss of Joe Philbin, blame whoever you want for this one. Through five games, the Packers have made more dumb mistakes than Lindsay Lohan and it’s part of why they’ve struggled to win close games. Here are the numbers:

Offensive Penalties
76 (#1)
40 (#29)
Offensive Penalty Yards
591 (#2)
390 (last)
Defensive Penalties
122 (#30)
49 (last)
Defensive Penalty Yards
948 (#24)
421 (last)
Penalty First Downs Given
16 (#2)
13 (#30)

Green Bay was a model of offensive discipline last year, committing the fewest penalties and rarely killing drives. Now, they’re the Raiders, apparently. As a Cowboys fan who has seen the likes of Alex Barron play on my offensive line, I can tell you firsthand how demoralizing key penalties can be. And I’m not even playing!!! Imagine how frustrated Rodgers and others must get when Bulaga jumps early, making a manageable 3rd and 6 into a much tougher 3rd and long. Now imagine that feeling when it’s sunk three or four drives in one game. The Packers must stop shooting themselves in the foot or it’s going to be tough to regain their offensive rhythm.


Green Bay was about average at protecting the QB last season, ranking #21 in sacks allowed and #17 in sack yardage lost. Not good, but not overly destructive. But this year the offensive line underwent some pretty significant changes. The results have been disastrous, to say the least. Rodgers has been sacked a whopping 21 times already (#31) and the Packers have lost 122 yards to sacks (#31). Amazingly enough, this problem appears even worse when you actually watch the games. Against San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, and Indianapolis (didn’t watch the NO game), Rodgers spent either the entire game or a good chunk of the game running for his life. It’s only due to his excellent scrambling abilities that he isn’t a paraplegic right now.

Now, let’s combine the last two points and try to figure out why the Packers went from averaging 405.1 YPG and 35 PPG to averaging 338 YPG and 22.4 PPG. Hmm…what could it be? Wait, could it have anything to do with the fact that they’re suffering an inordinate amount of negative plays, resulting in a plummeting third down conversion rate (48.1% to 39.7%) and numerous stalled drives? Could that be it? Let’s go with, probably.

Bad Luck

Last but certainly not least, the Packers have been a victim of the NFL’s biggest killer; randomness. In 2011, the Packers porous defense was mostly saved by inordinate number of INT’s (31, tops in the league), leading to 468 INT return yards (#1) and some pretty killer field position. But, as I and many others have mentioned on multiple occasions, turnover margin is one of the flukiest things in the NFL. It cannot be relied upon from year to year and the fact that Green Bay rode a +24 margin into this year should have been a red flag. Maybe a small, tiny red flag, but a red flag nonetheless. With that in mind, let me present to you the opposite of the 2011 Packers defense:

Passes Defended
98 (#3)
31 (#4)
31 (#1)
5 (#13)
Interception yards
468 (#1)
38 (#20
Forced Fumbles
14 (#18)
2 (#28)
Fumble Recoveries
7 (#26)
0 (last, only team with 0)
Turnover Margin
+24 (#2)
-1 (#17)

Last year, the Packers got their hands on 98 passes and intercepted nearly a third of them. Not only that, but the amount of return yardage they got from those interceptions was unbelievable. This year, the pass defense is no worse, defending 31 passes in the first five games, except that they’ve intercepted just 16% of them and garnered just 38 INT return yards. That’s a huge downturn in turnovers, field position resulting from turnovers, and resulting confidence/momentum from making those types of big plays.

And, of course, there’s always the matter of the Seattle game. No discussion on Green Bay’s luck, or lack thereof, would be complete without it! Clearly, the Packers got screwed in that game and should have won despite not playing very well.

Whether their “luck” turns or not is yet to be seen. If not, they’ll need to drastically improve their offensive efficiency or else suffer several more tough losses.


The Rex Grossman Zone
Any QB with a QB Rating under 39.6
Present Membership: Weeden (5.1), Cutler (28.2),Tannehill (39.0), Bradford (39.2)

Huge week for the Grossman Zone, as we welcome two new members. Quite frankly, we’ve been waiting for these guys for awhile now. Club wasn’t the same without them.

Matt Cassel (9-15, 92 YDS, 0 TD, 2 INT, 38.1 QB Rating) – So what if Kansas City doesn’t want you! Look on the bright side; you’ve always got a home here.

BADGABMAXULTRA (17-33, 142 YDS, 0 TD, 2 INT, 37.7 QB Rating) – I think we’ll all wondering the same thing…how in the world did it take five weeks for him to make it on this list? So, so bad.


The Vinny Testaverde Zone

Brandon Weeden – 9 INT’s in 202 attempts (4.5%)
Matt Cassel – 9 INT’s in 176 attempts (5.1%)
Ryan Fitzpatrick – 8 INT’s in 151 attempts (5.3%)
Tony Romo – 8 INT’s in 151 attempts (5.3%)
Jay Cutler – 7 INT’s in 156 attempts (4.5%)

Wait, so you’re saying Weeden, Cassel, and Fitzpatrick have been allowed to throw 529 passes already? What sort of strange world are we living in?


Power Rankings

10. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2) – Tough team to project given the injuries and all, but as long as Big Ben is slinging it like he is right now, the Steelers will be a tough out.

9. Denver Broncos (2-3) – Don’t be fooled by the record; this is a good team that has had the misfortune of playing a brutal early schedule while trying to integrate a new QB and an entirely new offense. What is clear is that Manning can still play, and I’d be shocked if they don’t make a strong midseason push.

8. Green Bay Packers (2-3) – As detailed above, their issues are legit and thus it would be foolish to keep them in the top 5. However, talent isn’t one of those issues. They’ll rebound soon enough and remind us all why they won 15 games last year.

7. New York Giants (3-2) – I could have put them above the Falcons and not felt a bit of shame. Biggest issue I have with them? Health. There are injuries all over the place and it remains to be seen if they can adequately deal with them all.

6. Atlanta Falcons (5-0) – Are they a good football team? Absolutely. Are they the best or second best team in the NFL, as ESPN wants to constantly jam down my throat? No way. Not only have they had the benefit of a cupcake early slate, they’ve been the beneficiary of a devastating injury (Robert Griffin) and one of the biggest coaching blunders of all time (Ron Rivera not going for it).

5. Chicago Bears (4-1) – Well, here I am, sucked back into the Bears vortex. Not quite sure how that happened after I got burned early in the year. In the words of Ron Burgundy, I immediately regret this decision.

4. Baltimore Ravens (4-1) – Has there been a less impressive 4-1 start by an obviously good team? Lost to a team that committed 4 turnovers, held on to beat the Browns and Chiefs, benefitted from several horrible calls to beat the Patriots…it really hasn’t been a convincing start. Hence, me dropping them below New England.

3. New England Patriots (3-2) – Any excitement over the Pats recent offensive explosion should be tempered to a degree. Remember, they’ve blown up against Buffalo and Denver, neither of which has the world’s greatest defense…in fact, Buffalo might have the world’s worst. Still, New England seems locked in right now. The line is gelling, the running game has experienced a resurgence, and even the defense has noticeably improved.

2. Houston Texans (5-0) – Maybe they’re the best team in the NFL. Maybe. I just have to see them beat somebody who isn’t the Jets or Dolphins before making that decision.

1. San Francisco 49ers (4-1) – They’ve easily beaten good competition and they’ve thoroughly dominated inferior competition. Not much more you can ask from a team. They have every aspect of the game clicking right now.

1 comment:

  1. So, so, so, so glad you're willing to put the Falcons out of the Top 5, all the while grilling the media for shoving them down our throat.