They Aren’t Who We Thought They Were

Mike McCarthy

The last commentary related post that I made, I mentioned that the team had struggles. All teams do. The next step for this team was to figure out how to win despite those weaknesses, accent the positive and try to hide the negatives.  So are the Packers?

I think that we are seeing that occur, this teams identity is being forged, however I’m not so sure that many people recognize this style of football. It is such a departure from the way the team won in years past. The team used to have the quick, low sack passing attack of Brett, power running of Green, moderately high to high defensive sack numbers, yet at the same time fielding a defensive sieve. That is not the 2009 Packers.

The 2009 Packers are very good at stopping the run. Currently they are ranked in the top 5 in rushing by YPC. The Packers haven’t finished a season ranked in the top 5 by that metric since 1996. Only once since the 1990’s has the team even finished in the top 10 (2007). They are also top 5 in rushing TD’s given up (2nd) and 20+ runs (4th), and are tied with the Broncos at #1 with 20 yds being the longest run they’ve given up. They’ve also faced #1, #2, and #3 on the current list of runners by yards (Benson, AD, Jackson). Benson is the only back that we have faced that has performed better than his season average by YPC against the Packers.

Though it has been a growing trend under McCarthy, good pass defense is another hallmark of this unit. They are top 5 in nearly every category, completion %, YPA, Ints, QB rating. The only categories that they aren’t elite in are TD’s given up and big plays, where they are middle of the road. And sacks. Sacking the QB has been a GB strong point for many, many years; a few abberation years here and there are mixed in with many top 10 years. This year they are below average, however it doesn’t seem to be affecting the performance of the pass defense much at all.

On offense, Aaron Rodgers is exceptionally efficient once the ball leaves his hands. A 9.3 YPA and 5.5:1 TD:Int ratio is not good. It is a cruel passing assassin. A 9.0+ YPA passer, over a full season, is a very, very rare thing. It is a feat accomplished twice this decade and 25 times in the history of the NFL (Warner in 2000, Manning in 2004). Twice in GB history has this feat been accomplished (Dickey in 1983, Starr in 1966), Favre’s career best was 7.8 YPA. A 2:1 TD:Int ratio is good. 3:1 is great, only Kyle Orton and his 9:1 ratio beats Aaron this season. While there is no compiled all-time list (that I am aware of), QB rating captures the ratio (in addition to YPA). Aaron’s current rating of 110.8 would rank #6 all time for a single season.

In an earlier post I pointed out some oddities about Aaron’s game this year, namely that the numbers bear out that he is eating sacks. He’s getting hit at an above average rate, but oddly leads the league in QB hits per combined pressure, and is dead last in sacks per combined pressure. He isn’t chucking it up and taking a hit. He’s taking the sack and protecting the ball. His turnovers per pass attempt is in the top 3 in the league. What he is getting out of this? He leads the NFL in 20 yd+ plays per passing attempt. He leads the NFL in 40 yd+ passing plays per passing attempt. Aaron strikes fast and makes big plays. And he is protecting the ball. He gets hit a lot, and this is bad, however he isn’t David Carr frazzled. David Carr never had close to the production that Aaron is currently putting up. Aaron seems to be doing his best Big Ben imitation.

This team still has stuggles, but we know now who they are. They have a strong defense across the board that keeps playing better and better. They have a quick strike big play offense that can put points on the board fast. Thus far they don’t grind out drives well, nor are they great in the red zone. They have things that they’ll “have to clean up”, but they are close. Running the ball and QB protection are the final two keys to this puzzle.

Each week recently Ryan Grant has had successively bigger and bigger games. Through McCarthy’s tenure, if there is two things that we have learned about running, it is that it doesn’t favor certain opponents, and gets stronger as the year goes on. If the team isn’t running well, they aren’t going to go ram it down the throat of a poor run defending team. If anything, they struggle in those games even more. If running seems like a pointless endeavor before hand, often those are some of the best games. Also it seems each year that there is a “click” game, where all of a sudden running becomes a viable play calling option. Yesterday could very well have been that day this year.

TJ Lang had a good outling at LT, Chad Clifton is returning from injury, the right side has 6 games next to each other, and Barbre is beginning to become invisible. Aaron is throwing the ball a little faster, or running. The QB protection issues are starting to sort themselves out. While it is surely too early to proclaim this team beyond the issues of early in the season, the team seems to have hit rock bottom and has improved somewhat in that area.

They aren’t who we throught they were, but when you look at it, this team does some things very, very good. Good enough to win a lot of games, and their other issues, each successive week are getting a little better.


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