Analysis: Packers (4-4) After 8 Games

Obviously the 1st half of the season ended badly with a loss to what was previously the last team without a win. Ex-Packer DT Gilbert Brown took some shots at Mike McCarthy this week, and former S LeRoy Butler says it's time for Mike to "turn the play calling over to Joe Philbin." Really? Philbin might be a heck of a guy, but he's primarily been an offensive line coach since 1986 and became a 1st time offensive coordinator in 2007. After watching the offensive line struggle this season, it's not exactly clear whether Philbin is doing a very good job himself. 

Here's how they measure up statistically after the first 8 games compared to the rest of the league, rankings from NFL.com:

Team Run Offense Pass Offense Run Defense Pass Defense
Packers 10 9 9 8

 

They're top 10 in every major statistical category. I would expect a winning record with those stats. For as bad as the offensive line has been this season, it sure hasn't stopped the offense from being productive. I'm not defending them, just pointing out that we can't just say the 4-4 record is all the offensive line's fault. There's something else going on here. More after the jump.

Let's compare them to three other teams, the unbeaten Colts and Saints, and the Cowboys. I think everyone would consider those three teams better than the Packers. Again rankings from NFL.com:

Team Run Offense Pass Offense Run Defense Pass Defense
Saints 5 4 19 16
Colts 29 1 14 9
Cowboys 8 6 12 20

 

According to Football Outsiders: all 3 teams have an offense in the top 5 (the Packers are at No. 8); the defenses of the Colts (No. 6 overall) and Saints (No. 4) are playing great (the Packers are No. 5), while the Cowboys are struggling with the No. 20 defense. The No. 29 run offense from the Colts sticks out like a sore thumb, but obviously their No. 1 pass offense is more than compensating for it. The official rankings don't take into consideration that the Saints lead the NFL in INTs, but their run defense really isn't very good anyway you look at it. And the official stats don't notice that the Colts have only allowed 4 TD passes this season.

My point is that the Packers seem to measure up well against 3 teams that have combined for 2 losses in their first 24 games.

Though one area I haven't addressed is special teams. The Packers are dead last by a comfortable margin, according to Football Outsiders. The 3 worst special teams games of the season have been against the Bengals, Vikings (at Lambeau), and Buccaneers; all losses. An easy answer might be it's the special teams fault, but good special teams play doesn't necessarily equal a winning football team. Currently the Browns have the best special teams unit in the NFL, while some winning teams like the Saints (No. 26), Broncos (No. 27), and Steelers (No. 30) aren't getting much from their special teams either.

But something else jumped out in those 4 losses this season: passing TDs allowed. The Packers have allowed 16 passing TDs this season, tied for 4th worst in the NFL. 12 of those have been given up in the 4 losses, and it has worked out exactly to 3 TDs in each game. The common theme in those 12 TD passes was the absence of the pass rush. 

Another problem is that 10 of those 12 TD passes were for 15 yards or less. In theory it might be easier to cover in the red zone, where there is less field to cover, but that hasn't been the case this season.

Against the Bengals: TD passes of 5, 5, and 13 yards. If you watch the highlight of each TD pass on NFL.com, you'll see QB Carson Palmer dropping back with no pressure in his face as he steps up in the pocket and throws. On the final 2 TD passes, you'll also notice S Aaron Rouse standing around after the play, looking confused. Which is probably one reason why he was released a couple days later.

Against the Vikings (in Minneapolis): The first TD pass from the 1 yard line was asking for trouble (Favre ran one way then turned to throw across the field for the TD) but they got away with it. The 2nd one was a strike to WR Sidney Rice for 14 yards, and similar to the TD passes by Palmer, Favre dropped back in the pocket and then stepped up to throw with little pressure on him. The final TD was a 31 yard pass to Berrian on which S Derrick Martin played the wrong coverage, and he hasn't been seen playing defense since.

Against the Vikings (at Lambeau): The 12 yard TD pass to TE Visanthe Shiancoe had no pass rush again. The 51 yard TD pass was a fluke play where 3 Packers collided as they jumped for the ball, and Favre got away with throwing into triple coverage. The final 2 yard TD pass was a quick pass out into the right flat which the OLB couldn't get to.

Against the Buccaneers: A 6 yard TD pass that was a quick pass out into the right flat which the OLB couldn't get to. That play is something teams will try and exploit again since it worked in consecutive weeks. A 7 yard TD pass during which the Packers finally got some pass rush! DE Johnny Jolly broke free and collapsed the pocket, but LB Clay Matthews tried to go inside, so there was nobody outside to the left when QB Josh Freeman scrambled to throw a high arching pass to TE Kellen Winslow that only he could catch. On the final 7 yard TD pass, CB Jarrett Bush was fooled on a double move by a rookie WR into the right corner of the end zone. He could have gotten it if he hadn't been fooled, but Bush has been underwhelming us with his coverage skills for the past 3 seasons.

Some of those TD passes couldn't have been avoided. But on most of them, the QB had too much time to throw. The special teams and the offensive line have been bad this season, and the team would be a lot better if those units could get themselves turned around. But where they're losing games is on TD passes allowed in the red zone. What they really need is a pass rush, especially up the middle (paging Cullen Jenkins and B.J. Raji), to turn the opponent's red zone opportunities into FGs or stops.

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