Recently, as part of an annual tradition between SB Nation team blogs and Football Outsiders, we at Acme Packing Company had the opportunity to ask the folks at FO a few questions about the Green Bay Packers and their outlook for the 2017 season. We were lucky enough to have FO Assistant Editor Vincent Verhei answer our questions, and he provided an interesting look at a few of the Packers’ free agent acquisitions as well as several other questions that were on our minds.
Today, we address the first of those questions, which focuses on the changes on the Packers’ offensive line. The response was...surprising, to say the least.
APC: What kind of downgrade can the Packers expect along the offensive line with Jahri Evans likely sliding into right guard for T.J. Lang and JC Tretter no longer available as a multi-position backup?
According to Sports Info Solutions charting, Lang ranked 17th out of 35 right guards in rate of snaps per blown block, and 60th out of 108 offensive linemen. So, right in the middle of the pack. Evans ranked third and 10th in the same categories. And New Orleans' run blocking numbers were much better than Green Bay's. So Evans could actually be an upgrade, if he can play as well at age 34 as he has throughout his career. But that's the biggest issue -- players that age tend to decline rapidly. Let's also remember that last year, Evans was cut by the Saints, and then cut by the Seahawks, before re-signing in New Orleans just before the season started. In hindsight, both teams made mistakes, especially Seattle. But it shows you that both teams at least suspected that Evans' tank might be empty.
This response is a bit stunning on its face — Lang made his first Pro Bowl last year and was generally regarded as one of the top guards in the NFL. However, based on these numbers, he actually was middle-of-the-pack in terms of the frequency with which he missed blocks, compared to Evans who was actually in elite territory.
An important distinction, however, is that Lang was put almost exclusively in one-on-one blocking situations last season, whereas Evans was given help regularly. That difference is not represented in the stats, accounting for at least part of the disparity between Lang and Evans. That may need to be the case this season as well, and would be a critical point of context for the difference there.
To be sure, Lang was still regarded as having pass blocking skills that were far superior to his run-blocking, so Evans’ arrival may indeed be a boost for the Packers’ interior running game. Whether he can maintain his high level of play and how much help he needs will be the big questions, but there is reason to hope that the Packers will see minimal dropoff from Lang, and a glimmer of hope that the team could actually see improvement from the line play.
Another notable item here is that the stat Verhei mentions could be a reason the Packers were willing to let Lang walk instead of match the massive contract he received from the Lions. If Ted Thompson saw these average numbers as a sign of decline from Lang, it is much easier to justify not paying him elite money.
Stay tuned for more from our Q&A throughout the week, and be sure to check out the 2017 Football Outsiders Almanac, available here.