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Mid-Season Review: Green Bay Packers

After further review, the Green Bay Packers are one of the best teams in the NFL.
After further review, the Green Bay Packers are one of the best teams in the NFL.

It's not exactly mid-season, but the Green Bay Packers are coming off their bye week with nine games played and seven left to go. It feels like mid-season to me, and it's time to look back at how they've played so far. From Football Outsiders: the Packers 2010 DVOA rankings through week 10 and their final rankings from 2009.

Year Offense Defense Special Teams
2010 7 5 30
2009 5 2 32

After all their injuries through an up-and-down season, they're almost the same team they were a year ago. Though they're much better at avoiding penalties this year. Despite some current hand-wringing, this is looking like another 11-5 team that should make the playoffs. Hopefully that record will be good enough because there doesn't seem to be an obvious area to improve (except special teams, but they've made it pretty clear they're keeping special teams coach Shawn Slocum).

Let's look at the differences which aren't likely to surprise anyone.

First, let's look at the offense. 2010 stats and 2009 stats again from Football Outsiders:

Year Pass Offense Run Offense
2010 5 10
2009 9 2

Unsurprisingly, the running attack was a lot better last season with RB Ryan Grant. Give credit to RB Brandon Jackson, who's once again doing all the things he did great last season as a receiver and blocker, but he isn't replacing what Grant did on the ground. Unless rookie RB James Starks turns into Grant v.2.0 (I'm not holding my breath) expect the running attack to fall further in the rankings as the weather turns nastier. I wish Grant was healthy and the running attack was better, but there's nothing to be done about it now and they're running the football pretty well considering.

It might be unexpected that the passing attack is ranked higher this season, but at Football Outsiders they factor in sacks. QB Aaron Rodgers was sacked 41 times in his first 9 games of 2009, and only 17 times through 9 in 2010. His completion percentage is down, and his INTs are up, but those sacks were a huge drag on the pass offense. They'd be better with TE Jermichael Finley, but just a reminder, this is still a potent passing attack.

Second, the defense. 2010 stats and 2009 stats from Football Outsiders:

Year Pass Defense Run Defense
2010 1 21
2009 4 5

As pointed out in this Fan Post, the defense is forcing a lot of INTs, sacks, and scored 4 TDs. While CB Charles Woodson and FS Nick Collins are great once again, the play of CB Sam Shields and SS Charlie Peprah has been amazing (considering what was expected from both coming into the season). And CB Tramon Williams has become a shut down corner. They can't get better than No. 1.

The run defense is getting an unfair ranking here. A lot of the damage done this year has been from scrambling quarterbacks. RB Adrian Peterson had a big game, but due to injuries, the Packers only had three healthy defensive lineman against the Vikings. The next week when DE Cullen Jenkins returned and NT Howard Green was added to the roster, they stuffed RB LaDainian Tomlinson and only allowed a big run to their punter (which wasn't a successful play anyway) and (another) quarterback scramble.

There isn't much to be done about the quarterback scramble because the pass defense is usually playing man coverage, which opens up a lot of running room if he can get past the initial rush. It doesn't make sense to change an overall great defensive scheme for this small problem. Plus the ranking should improve as the weather turns colder, and it becomes harder to run in general. With the return of DE Ryan Pickett to full health, maybe as soon as next Sunday, the run defense looks as good as ever going into the final 7 games.

Last, and least, are the special teams. They aren't worst in the NFL anymore! The good news is that the awful games (Bears and Redskins) are now weeks away, and they've been mostly mediocre this season. And they have the potential to improve because P Tim Masthay keeps getting better and maybe Shields can become a dangerous return man.