FanPost

Challenging Assumptions

Trust. It's not something that many NFL fanbases have the luxury of. For every Packers, Patriots, or Falcons, there are two other franchises that have to deal with management that can't get out of its own way. And it is almost always earned, not just given, through years of competitiveness under a given regime.

That's where the Packers are today; Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy have earned the trust of Packer nation by bringing the Lombardi trophy back to Green Bay. It's at least part of the reason that most on this site have confidence that the Packers will once again make their way back to the Promised Land. Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy have done it before, so they can do it again. After all, Ted Thompson built a roster that survived nine players being placed on IR and many more missing large chunks of the season to reach the divisional playoff round. A roster like that would be the envy of the majority of the league!

But what if we're wrong?

What if it turns out our trust is misplaced? What if one of the core assumptions of the current Packer regime isn't valid? What if Ted Thompson actually hasn't assembled a roster with enough talent to win it all? These are the questions that need to be asked, because to not ask them means that we are not casting a critical eye towards everyone in the organization, and that can only lead to complacency and acceptance of the status quo.

Let's consider what metrics we can use to judge the "talent" of the current Packers' roster. We could look at the standings, but that falls short in that a sample size of 16 allows for lots of strange results (anything from the Colts going 11-5 to Detroit going 4-12 (don't laugh, Detroit went 3-8 in one score games, that is fluky)). We could look at team statistics or efficiency, but it's difficult to separate the level of talent from the effectiveness of scheme, or rather McCarthy's contribution versus Thompson's contribution to team success. So I've opted to go for a slightly more subjective evaluation: All-Pro/Pro-Bowl voting.

For those of you that haven't already gone down to the comments to ridicule me, thank you for your patience while I explain. I know that this is an imperfect method, and I'm not claiming it isn't. Awards season is frequently done on a name recognition basis in addition to, if not in lieu of, performance on the field. You are certainly welcome to challenge anything I write here based on that, and I am more than willing to listen to alternative ways of measuring this, but for now I'll use this as a starting point.

I've used four resources for this post: The NFL Pro Bowl roster, the AP All-Pro roster (1st and 2nd team), John Clayton's All Pro team, and Bucky Brooks' All Pro Team. I don't believe that either Clayton or Brooks have a vote for the AP All-Pro roster, so there is no double counting. The AP roster is the one that I give the most weight to as it is an aggregate of 50 writers, so when tabulating the results I will give the four points for a first teamer and two points for a second teamer. Both Clayton's and Brooks' rosters will receive three points per player. Pro Bowl players will get one point each. That may seem harsh for Pro Bowlers, but there are two reasons for that: there are two Pro Bowl rosters, and the Pro Bowl is the roster most likely to be influenced by name recognition over performance. Note that I am only including players voted into the Pro Bowl on the initial release, no alternates, otherwise I may as well just give each team 53 points and be done with it.

Without further ado, the data:

Team

All Pro 1

All Pro 2

Clayton

Brooks

Pro Bowl

Point Total

San Francisco

6

4

2

5

9

62

Seattle

4

3

3

5

39

Minnesota

2

2

3

4

4

37

Houston

2

1

2

2

9

31

Denver

3

1

2

1

5

28

Baltimore

2

2

1

2

6

27

New England

1

1

1

1

7

19

Cincinnati

1

1

1

1

2

14

Atlanta

1

2

3

13

Green Bay

2

1

3

10

Washington

2

3

7

Indianapolis

2

2

I am very, very troubled by this. The only teams behind the Packers are Washington, who were very reliant on Robert Griffin III being an all-world athlete, and Indianapolis, who rode Andrew Luck to an 11-win season that is by any objective measure a significant over-performance for the team. You may also recognize those teams as the ones with the first two picks in the draft last year (Washington obviously traded to get there, but even so would have drafted sixth). Six of the top eight teams were in the Divisional playoff round. The lone exceptions were Minnesota, and I'm frankly questioning if that would have been the case had Christian Ponder been able to play in the playoffs, and Atlanta who went 7-2 in one score games (again, fluky) and advanced there on a bye.

When the Pro Bowl and AP All-Pro rosters came out, my initial knee-jerk reaction was "Jeez, the Packers really got snubbed," but after I thought about it some more, I wasn't so sure. Going through the roster position by position I came up with maybe seven players that have shown enough to potentially play their way into All-Pro discussion in the future: Rodgers, Sitton, Bulaga, Raji, Matthews, Hayward, and Mathsay. If you wanted to argue for a particular receiver I could maybe go along with eight, but it would likely be a volume argument because the Packers do not currently have a receiver that can take over a game in the mold of a Johnson or a Green. And there is almost no way that you could argue that any of the five that did not make the All-Pro team this year should have made it. Heck, Clay Matthews was a questionable second teamer, mostly due to injuries, which was reflected in the vote totals (he got one vote).

And I think that is a problem. At some point, winning football games is about winning individual matchups, and I am unsure that the Packers have the personnel to do that. Sure, they can get past mediocre teams just by overwhelming them with good players, but once they get to the playoffs they do not get to feast on bad teams anymore. As it stands, I believe the Packers have two players that can win individual matchups: Clay Matthews and Aaron Rodgers. If one of those threats in neutralized, the Packers' chances of winning go way down, because there aren't other players to step up and win those matchups. That was very evident in the 49ers playoff game; Matthews was rendered ineffective, and the effect on the rest of the defense was magnified.

I don't think it's that different of a situation from the Indianapolis Colts of the 2000's. For a large part of the decade, the Colts consisted of Peyton Manning leading a good-to-great receiving corps and an average at best running game on offense and Dwight Freeney leading the defense. Obviously the Colts were constantly competitive and in the playoffs, but only made the Super Bowl twice and won it once. And perhaps not coincidentally in 2006 when the Colts won the Super Bowl, they had Bob Sanders healthy for the whole playoffs, giving them a second All-Pro type player on their defense. Otherwise it was a team mostly led by a quarterback's brilliance and an elite edge rusher. Oh, and then the year that team won the Super Bowl they had an additional All-Pro like player at the safety position. That sounds pretty familiar to me.

Ted Thompson has inarguably put together a very deep roster. It's been evident for at least two of the past three seasons when large amounts of injuries have called upon backups to perform, and they have. Here's a potentially uncomfortable question though: when the backups come in and perform up to the level of the starters they replaced, does that mean the Packers have really good backups, or that the Packers' frontline starters aren't actually that great in the first place? We've been mostly assuming the former, but what if it's the latter?

There is a distinction between having a deep roster and having a talented roster. I'm concerned that we've decided that those are in fact the same thing, and are thus unwilling to examine whether Ted Thompson has put together enough blue-chip talent to win another championship.

Lastly, this isn't a fire Ted Thompson post. This is a post that is trying to get the reader to keep their mind open to the possibility that there is something wrong with the Packers' foundation. One could probably write a similar post about Mike McCarthy or maybe even Aaron Rodgers if you look at the right data. But for continued success of the football team, I don't think there is anything more dangerous than hanging your hat on an assumption that may or may not turn out to reflect reality.

FanPosts are designed to be used to start a conversation on a specific topic, not unlike a front page story. They have a 75-word minimum: If you don't have much to say on a topic, consider using a FanShot.

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