Packers Game Changing Moves: The Departure of Aaron Kampman

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From Football Outsiders:

Note that "good pass defense" may mean "good pass rush" rather than "good defensive backs."

From Mike McCarthy:

We do wish [Kampman] the best, but this is a part of our business...All of our free agents, yes. Feel good about where we are.  

The biggest move the Green Bay Packers didn't make last March was re-signing DE Aaron Kampman. His absence may lead to a disappointing season for the secondary as they miss the pass rush he provided. On the other hand, McCarthy didn't express disappointment during his first press conference after Kampman's departure to Jacksonville. It's possible Kampman won't return to form because he just turned 30 and is recovering a torn ACL. Maybe McCarthy is right and the Packers are good without Kampman. But it's always hard to turn the page and let a former Pro Bowl player leave before his time is truly up. When is the best time to let an aging veteran go?

My next question is whether they really did miss the pass rush Kampman provided after he was lost for the season. Thanks to the information provided by Pro Football Focus we have some stats to ponder:

Game Number Pass Rush Pass Coverage
1 6.1 2.3
2 -1.0 2.0
3 1.6 1.4
4 -6.3 -4.1
5 -1.0 7.8
6 -1.6 2.5
7 -0.9 -7.3
8 -4.6 2.4
9 12.3 3.2
10 5.5 5.0
11 2.1 8.3
12 0.3 8.4
13 -5.6 10.9
14 6.4 -8.5
15 3.5 3.0
16 3.0 7.3
WC -2.2 -12.9
Average Before Injury 0.5 1.1
Average After Injury 1.1 2.4

The first thing I notice is that the defense is very inconsistent. Their only bad games were the two games against the Vikings, the Steelers game, and the playoff game at the Cardinals. The second thing is that the average pass rush and pass coverage actually improved after Kampman was out for the season. It's not as simple as saying that the team was better off without him. The weather and the opponents played were at least as much of a factor. But it's notable that the defense actually played better without him. That's not a resounding case in support of re-signing Kampman.

Since the veteran purges in 2005 and 2006, GM Ted Thompson has typically kept the aging veterans he felt worth keeping. He wasn't shy at all in retaining LT Chad Clifton and RT Mark Tauscher. Now the plan is to go with 2nd year LB Brad Jones and see how he preforms in Kampman's shoes. It's always easier to go with the player you know, so the Packers have taken a risk in choosing the younger player over the successful veteran. While Jones was a solid player after Kampman's 2009 injury, his 2010 departure this could lead to a game changing offseason because they are left without a strong side pass rusher. However based on the analysis above it appears the Packers may just be fine without him.

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