While we as Packer fans collectively bask in the glow of a preseason gone right, after the recent exclamation point in the desert, it is time to toss out the red flag and take a look. The commentary on the team has drastically changed, from expectations of struggling with our defensive transition and a revamped offensive line, to a powerhouse poised to make a run. Its good, the players believe, the fans believe. That is good energy. Rarely does a team go far that isn’t one of the 20 or so that believe that everything is in place this year to make a run.

I want to focus on the defensive transition. I have to do my due diligence. I am not a bottom line guy. The bottom line isn’t sustainable without the fundamentals. I have argued many times, though the bottom line said we were 6-10 last year, the metrics showed a much, much better team. So this comes as no surprise that we are doing well thus far. The bottom line is great this preseason. The starters have given up a total of only 10 points in about 4 quarters of play. Not bad. Is that bottom line sustainable?

One fact that our starters should be lauded for is the fact that a yellow hankie has not yet flown with them on the field. Our starting defense has not been flagged. This is a hallmark of a Dom Capers coached defense. Historically his defenses have had some of the lowest penalty rates in the league.

Lots of things lead to points, flukey things, things out of a team’s control, which is the main reason that I think scoring overall isn’t that great of a metric on its own, only when verified with other metrics is it to be believed, good or bad. The next best metric to me is 3rd down conversion %. Are offenses moving the chains? Different defensive styles affect this metric a little, a Jim Bates style defense, with an emphasis on perfection in coverage, will have a very good 3rd down %. And aggressive blitz heavy team will be a little worse wont be quite as good, but the effect isn’t that dramatic. Elite defenses typically give up no more than 35% of third down tries against them. Poor defenses give up more than 45% of the 3rd down tries against them. For our starters thus far, this number is a little scary. They are giving up 62% of the 3rd down tries against them. The worst in the league last year was 47%. That is fundamentally very, very bad. Our defense cannot get off the field on 3rd down.

I feel the metrics to watch most closely for pass defense is YPA, Completion %, and TD:Int. Thus far our starters are giving up 7.3 yards per passing attempt. In 2008 that would have ranked 23rd in the NFL, with the best, the Steelers, only averaging 5.4 YPA. It is notable that they haven’t given up any passes longer than 30 yards however, a positive sign. Our opponents are completing 64.3% of their passes agaisnt us. The NFL average is around 60%, elite squads give up 55% or less, bottom dwellers give up 65% or more. By TD:Int our starters are excellent, having given up zero TD’s and intercepting 2 passes. They have given up 2 passes greater than 20 yards thus far. Overall our pass defense is struggling, but they are coming up with big plays and not allowing scoring. But it is not difficult to complete a pass against our defense.

I wish that I had better news when it comes to our run defense metrics, but if anything, they are worse. Our starters have given up 5.1 YPC on the ground thus far, and have given up 3 explosive runs, 1 of which became a TD. An elite squad averages 3.5 YPC or better, at 5.1 YPC GB would have been dead last in the NFL in 2008. The Steelers gave up only 4 explosive runs all season. The good news however is that the interior of our run defense has been very solid. The bulk of the yards and all of the explosive plays have been gained by backs running outside of the tackles, indicating that the issue is more of a linebacker/secondary issue than a line issue. Thus far our line has been stout.

Our defense is causing pressure and making big plays though. Our starters thus far have amassed 4 sacks, which averages out to a sack on 12.5% of pass attempts. With an average full season of passing attempts that rate would lead to 63 sacks, which would have beaten the NFL best Cowboys by 4 sacks last year. Our starters have also gotten 6 turnovers between fumbles and interceptions, a rate of a turnover each 9.8% of plays. That is 3x the rate of last years NFL leading team.

Overall our starters have given up 5 explosive (20+ yd) plays, a rate of on each 8.2% of snaps, which would work out to 82 over a full season in an average season, more than any team gave up last season. They have forced 3 three and outs in 12 drives, and are averaging 5.1 plays per drive. The longest drive agaisnt our starters was 10 plays. The longest play they have given up is 29 yards.

The metrics of our defensive performance of our starters thus far have not been good. It is unwise to have unreasonably high expectations. The scoreboard has been good, the bottom line shows remarkable efficiency, however that is built on a backbone of an unsustainable rate of sacks and turnovers, overlying poor overall fundamentals.

There is reason for hope however. There has been no defensive game planning and very little tape watching. It seems that Dom, instead of doing what they do best, is trying to let everybody have the chance to practice each of their different tasks in a game (such as Aaron Kampman dropping into coverage for most of the snaps). Plus many of our starters have been out or were only partially present. It also was the guys first few snaps at playing the new system against opponents in a game.

Logically thinking it would be unreasonable to expect a dominating performance at this early stage, and it has not been, but due to the scores and playmaking many fans and pundits do believe that it has been a dominant performance. While it is good to be hopeful, it is not good to have unreasonable expectations. This group will struggle some early before it finds its way. Fortunately however Green Bay’s offense has been more than upholding its end of the bargain. The offense, unlike the defense, has been very dominant.

Overall things are looking up however. Take a chug off the Kool Aid jug and forget this dose of reality ever happened. I will be joining you. It is hard not to feel on cloud nine right now as a Packer fan. The team looks astonishingly good..

Carry on…


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