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The Talented Mr. Finley: Looking at how the Packers perform with and without Jermichael on the field

Jermichael Finley isn't living up to expectations. Is the team any worse off with him on the bench? The statistics from the Packers' first six games suggest that they might be.


Few players on the Green Bay Packers' roster have been as frustrating and as hit-or-miss as Jermichael Finley. He came into the NFL as a late 3rd round pick as draft experts questioned his ability to translate his athleticism into football production, his maturity, and his draft selection in general. During his first season, he did his best to prove those draft experts right with a very quiet rookie season.

In his second year, Finley exploded onto the scene with a very memorable 62-yard touchdown in the Metrodome against the Brett Favre-lead Vikings. He ended the season with solid numbers, plus a 159-yard receiving performance in the playoffs that filled Packers fans' heads with hope about his potential. Finley got off to the best start of his career in his 3rd NFL season, but suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 5. Coincidentally or not, the Packers went on to win the Super Bowl that season.

Last year, with fans excited about his potential based on the previous two seasons, he had a year that could best be summed up as "meh". Finley had some monster games (3 TDs vs Chicago), as well as some games where one would question whether he was on the field (in eight of 17 games, he had less than 50 yards receiving). The only consistent thing about Finley's career has been his inconsistency.

This past off-season, Finley was a free agent and was somewhat controversially a top target for the Packers to re-sign. He was able to get a little extra money out of the Packers by claiming he was just as much of a receiver as he was a tight end. The result would be a two-year, $15 million contract, and he now has two seasons to prove that he is the player that he says he is.

Through six games in 2012, it is safe to say that he failed to live up to his contract, as well as fan expectations. This season he has 210 yards, one touchdown, a Dick Clark countdown to the ball drop with each pass his way, and with a bevy of young, promising tight ends breathing down his neck, Finley needs to step his game up.

These numbers may not tell the whole story, however. It is no secret that Finley is an athletic freak that teams would be hard-pressed to ignore when on the field. He is too fast for most linebackers to cover and too big for most defensive backs. His simple presence on the field should take pressure off of the Packers' other talented receivers, allowing them to make plays and keep the offense going, and that could be enough for Finley to earn his paycheck.

Below are stats for passing plays, rushing plays, and offensive touchdowns with and without Finley through six games on the season. After re-watching each play for the Packers this season, it can be difficult to determine which player is which from standard angles, but my numbers seem to agree with the snap counts on Pro Football Focus. If there are any differences, they probably came from me not including plays on which there were penalties, while PFF may count those plays.

Table 1: Rushing Stats (not including Rodgers) Through 6 Games.

Total Rushing Yards 460 % of total plays that are runs with Finley 27%
Total Rushing Attempts 119 % of total plays that are runs without Finley 43%
Rush Attempts with Finley 63 % of rush attempts with Finley 53%
Rush Attempts without Finley 56 % of rush yards with Finley 53%
Rush Yards with Finley 243 Rush YPC with Finley 3.86
Rush Yards without Finley 217 Rush YPC without Finley 3.88

Table 1 shows that when Finley is taken out of games, the Packers are 16 percent more likely to run the ball. However, interestingly enough, at 3.9 yards per carry, the Packers run the ball at the exact same success rate with Finley in the game as they do without him.

While this is good to know, it is not a huge deal because Finley is not on this team because of his run blocking abilities. He is on this team because of the mismatches his size and athleticism can cause in the passing game. The passing stats with and without Finley can be seen below, in Table 2.

Table 2: Passing Stats through 6 Games

Total Passing Yards 1658 % of total snaps Finley has played 64%
Passing Yards with Finley 1151 % of dropbacks played has played 69%
Passing without Finley 507 % of pass yards with Finley 69%
Total Pass Attempts 229 % of pass attempts with Finley 69%
Pass Attmepts with Finley 158 % of sacks with Finley 68%
Pass Attempts without Finley 68 % of INT with Finley 60%
Yards/Pass with Finley 7.28
Sacks with Finley 15 Yards/Pass without Finley 7.46
Sacks without Finley 7 Att/INT with Finley 52.67
Att/INT without Finley 34
INT with Finley 3 Att/Sack with Finley 10.53
INT without Finley 2 Att/Sack without Finley 9.71

It's not surprising to see that the Packers have more passing yards, more sacks allowed, and more interceptions with Finley in the game, since he has played on 69 percent of all QB dropbacks on the season. The surprise comes in seeing that 69 percent of all pass yards and 69 percent of all pass attempts have come with Finley on the field. This means that, at 7.28 yards per attempt with Finley on the field and 7.46 yards per attempt without Finley on the field, there is no difference in the passing game with or without Finley on the field. In fact, there is a slight decline in yards per attempt with Finley on the field. This goes against the conventional wisdom, that despite the lackluster individual stats from Finley this year, he should theoretically be taking coverage off of his teammates when he is out there and allowing the offense to be better as a whole.

The similarities are rather impressive in all the stats listed in Table 2. Percentage of passing yards, yards per attempt, and attempts per sack were almost all exactly equal with Finley on the field and without Finley on the field. The only stat that is significantly different is attempts per sack, which go way down without Finley. It's an odd stat because one would think the Packers are more inclined to keep a tight end in to block if that tight end is not Finley.

The rushing stats and passing stats with and without Finley are interesting enough, but the money stats might be the ones in regard to touchdowns with and without Finley on the field. He has good size and is a red zone target that should demand double teams. Couple this with how often McCarthy puts Finley in on plays in the red zone, and one would think Finley would dominate this group of stats. However, that does not appear to be the case, as shown in Table 3.

Table 3: Touchdowns with and without Finley

Total TD 17 % of TDs with Finley 0.59
TD with Finley 10 Plays/TD with Finley 23.6
TD without FInley 7 Plays/TD without Finley 18.71

Just like the other two tables, the stats here are the opposite of conventional wisdom. Even though he seemingly plays on most redzone snaps and has played on 63 percent of all snaps this season, Finley has only been on the field for 58.8 percent of all offensive touchdowns. The team scores at a more efficient pace without Finley on the field, notching a touchdown five plays quicker on average without him. Simply being out on the field for an equal percentage of offensive touchdowns to plays should not be considered a success for Finley, given his redzone use. The Packers need to have a higher percentage of success scoring with Finley on the field to justify his salary. An important reason why Finley has been on the field for only 58.8 percent of offensive touchdowns, despite being on the field for 63 percent of plays and most redzone snaps, is how often Finley has failed to catch passes his way in the endzone this season.

It should be noted that the Packers have changed the way they have used Finley each game. For example, against the 49ers, they primarily lined him up as a tight end and had him run short 5-yard routes. Against Chicago, they lined him up as tight end, but had him consistently running 10-20 yard routes. Against Houston, he primarily lined up as a wide receiver.

The Packers change where Finley lines up to exploit mismatches and keep teams guessing, but perhaps a bit of consistency in his utilization would help him. On tape, he looks most effective when he is lined up as a tight end, running 10-20 yard routes, where he can use his athleticism to get himself open.

Coming into the season, Finley was seen as one of the primary weapons on this Packer offense, but roughly 20 percent of the way through his two-year contract, Finley has dramatically under-performed. His two deputies, Tom Crabtree and D.J. Williams, are making just under $1 million combined this season, while Finley will make $15 million over the next two. Looking at the team's numbers with and without Finley on the field, it's obvious that Finley has made no difference in the running game, and there hasn't been a drop-off in passing or play-per-touchdown averages when he's on the bench.

It is safe to say that Finley has been nothing better than average this season. To put it another way, if he was an MLB player, his WAR would be zero. Between his stats on the season and frustration caused by his recent drops, it's reasonable to say that he is not only playing below expectations, but below the level Packers fans expect from their backups. He has the potential to be an elite player, but he's yet to maximize it. If he fails to do that over the next 12 games, it might be time to move on from Finley and focus their money on other players who need new contracts.