I had the opportunity to interview Bill Barnwell of Football Outsiders about his chapter in their 2010 Football Outsiders Almanac (now available through Amazon.com) about the Green Bay Packers. Yes, this is in part a plug for their book, but I've been reading it every year they've ever published it, and I've never read a better primer for the football season.
I'll post Part 2 of 2 later today.
Acme Packing Company: Mike McCarthy has mentioned the need to improve the red zone offense. While they did decline in your stats from 2008 to 2009, it isn't a big drop to 8th overall. Is there any specific problem with their red zone offense that you think they need to address?
Bill Barnwell: I don't think so. For a team that was fifth in overall offensive DVOA to be eighth in red zone DVOA isn't anything out of the ordinary. Coaches need something for already-good offenses to work on and so they end up saying something like that in the offseason.
The one thing I would say is that, last year, the Packers' only real threat in the red zone was Jermichael Finley; no one else really had a good year inside the 20.
APC: It looks like the Packers really improved on yards after the catch in 2009 vs. 2008. The running backs were much better on running back screens too. Did you notice something that the team did better to improve those stats?
BB: Hmm. I think it was just the sheer amount of explosive players in the lineup. Greg Jennings was tops in the league in YAC in 2007, then fell off to 4.2 YAC per catch (28th) in 2008, but was back in fifth with 6.8 YAC per catch in 2009. James Jones was seventh, at 6.1. The biggest difference, though, was Jermichael Finley (5.3 yards after catch, 18th amongst tight ends) replacing Donald Lee (2.8 yards after catch, 37th amongst tight ends in 2008).
APC: You mentioned the secret to their pass defense in 2009 was the short passing game. While he rarely generated a pass rush, Johnny Jolly did a good job at knocking down pass attempts and he recorded 10 pass defenses in 2009. Can you tell how much (if any) his absence might have on the pass defense?
BB: I think it's more of a knockdown effect with the depth than anything else. We were already aware that Jolly was probable moving into a reserve role, but his absence means that the primary reserve end will be rookie Mike Neal and the injury-riddled Justin Harrell. I don't think you can really count on them to be effective contributors as rookies (although we also can't say that they won't be effective). It's more uncertainty than I'd like if I was Ted Thompson, and I'm surprised they didn't make a move for a veteran like Vonnie Holliday during the offseason.
APC: You're no fan of the new contracts for Clifton or Tauscher (while I was supportive because I thought the other options worse). They're both overpaid for 2010, but do you see any reason why they couldn't repeat their performances from the 2nd half of 2009?
BB: Well, I agree that they were better than the alternatives. My issue isn't with signing them, necessarily, it's creating a situation where re-signing them was a necessity. The issue with Clifton and Tauscher is always going to be health; they were (relatively) healthy during the second half and played well, but expecting them to play 16 games is always a scary proposition.