Football Outsiders On The Green Bay Packers

ARLINGTON TX - FEBRUARY 06: James Starks #44 of the Green Bay Packers runs the ball against the Pittsburgh Steelers during Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium on February 6 2011 in Arlington Texas. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The annual Football Outsiders Almanac, the essential guide to the 2011 season, the book that correctly predicted 9 of 12 playoff teams last year, fully updated with post-lockout free agency and trades, is once again available for sale as a pdf document, or as a printed book.

While I find the printed phone book awkward, I prefer having it around to flip through while I'm watching ESPN. And I'm more likely to stumble upon a random page with a book. But I love that the pdf document is almost $10 cheaper (and delivered immediately).

I had the opportunity to ask Mike Tanier a few questions after I read the chapter he wrote on the Green Bay Packers for their 2011 edition.

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Q: James Starks has a respectable regular season DVOA of 6.6%, but that's essentially one regular season game, and he didn't really shine until the playoffs. Did you calculate his performance during the playoffs too?

A: Yes, his DVOA during the playoffs was -1.8%. As much as he is known for shining during the playoffs, he had 25 carries for 66 yards against Atlanta. He was much better in the first week against Philadelphia, which is where the reputation for playoff performance came from. He was pretty good in the Super Bowl too. Of course, the big issue right now is that he has barely participated in the preseason.

Q: Looking at the offensive line stats for 2009 vs. 2010, it looks like the offensive line was worse overall, except in sacks allowed. Does that look like a problem with Bryan Bulaga, or might it help that the Packers are now starting a bigger left guard who could improve their running game to the left side? Could the drop off from Ryan Grant to Brandon Jackson for most of the season must have played a part in it too?

A: Drop-off had a lot to do with it. Jackson brought so little to the table that you cannot blame the offensive line for his 14-for-28 stat lines. Bulaga fared well enough and should develop into his role at right tackle. I am a big Derrick Sherrod fan, but I am told he is struggling in camp, and I don’t think Packers fans can bank on any significant improvement on the offensive line.

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Q: Every year it seems like A.J. Hawk grades out poorly against the run, which I'd think would be the most important role for an inside linebacker, but instead he's gotten a new $30 million contract. But it looks like he and Desmond Bishop (who also got a new contract recently) are pretty good against the pass. Is pass defense really the strength of those two players?

 

A: Bishop is very sound as a man/zone defender. He’s not an elite player, but he’s a system guy. Hawk knows his assignments, hustles, and gets asked to make a lot of clean-up tackles in the Packers system. You know, with Matthews and Woodson running some crazy stunt and other guys dropping into deep zones, someone has to make the tackle on the draw play or crossing route for an eight-yard gain.

 

If Hawk were a great player, that would be a four or five-yard gain, but if he were as bad as his detractors claim, it would be a missed tackle and a 30-yard gain. Hawk got a lot of money this year by being the in-house guy with the good sense to renegotiate early, and while he will never be the superstar the team thought they drafted, they needed someone to be sure of with so many free agents on the roster.

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Q: Nick Collins was ranked low on average yards per pass, and he doesn't come across has highly regarded as I expected. My general impression of him is someone who does a great job as a help defender against the long pass. Or maybe that low average is a result of him playing deeper than most safeties. Do you think he's overrated, or showing some signs of slipping from where he was a couple years ago?

A: He’s another system fit. The Packers can be a hard team to evaluate statistically because so many players have odd roles. Collins spends most games in deep center field, so when he is on camera it usually means that the bomb is in the air and it’s up to him to defuse it. We have him making his average pass tackle 13.9 yards down the field, but that’s his role. Of all positions, I am most leery about safeties when it comes to the "overrated/underrated" discussion, because those of us who know what we are looking at don’t get to see enough of safeties, and the people who don’t know what they are looking at sometimes make snap judgments. It's also probably the hardest position to translate advanced stats for.

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