The Green Bay Packers had their worst season in recent memory in 2018, and somehow they did so while having a full season of Aaron Rodgers under center. This weekend, we’ll look at the overall numbers for the team on offense, defense, and special teams in an effort to try to identify the critical pathways to turning the team’s record around in 2019.
Today, we’ll start with the offense.
Overall, the Packers still managed to finish in the top half of NFL offenses in points and yards, ranking 14th and 12th respectively. They turned the football over just 15 times, second-fewest in the league.
Third downs were an obvious problem, however. The Packers converted just 36.8% of their third downs, ranking 23rd in the NFL. They did finish above-average in converting touchdowns in the red zone at a 61.7% rate, but they had just 47 attempts, ranking them 21st in that area.
As a result of a combination of factors, the Packers finished the 2018 with the third-most pass attempts of any NFL team, throwing the ball 640 times. Aaron Rodgers finished sixth in the NFL in passing yards with 4,442, but he was a startlingly low 21st in touchdown percentage at just 4.2% of attempts. Rodgers did lead the NFL in interception rate, throwing just two picks all year for a rate of 0.3%.
However, where Rodgers once excelled — yards per attempt — he finished just 17th this year at 7.4. That was Eli Manning-Mitchell Trubisky territory, not in the realm of the better quarterbacks in the NFL. Likewise, Rodgers’ completion percentage was 26th out of 33 qualifying players at just 62.3%.
Another critical component of the passing game is that the offense took 53 sacks, tying for the third-most in the NFL. Many of those were due to Rodgers holding the football too long or taking a sack instead of forcing a football into coverage. However, the frequency at which he was sacked on third downs was painful to watch.
While the Packers threw the third-most of any NFL team, they finished dead last in the NFL in rushing attempts, running the ball just 333 times all season. However, the argument can be made that the team should have run the ball more, since the Packers finished second in the entire NFL in yards per carry at 5.0.
Aaron Jones 133-728-8 (5.5 YPC)
Jamaal Williams 122-464-3 (3.8 YPC)
Aaron Rodgers 43-269-2 (6.3 YPC)
Ty Montgomery 26-105-1 (4.0 YPC)
Football Outsiders’ DVOA is generally becoming accepted as the best single measurement of a unit’s effectiveness. It stands for “Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), and FO’s brief description states as follows:
“(The system) breaks down every single NFL play and compares a team’s performance to a league baseline based on situation in order to determine value over average.”
Remember that positive numbers favor the offense and negative numbers favor the defense, and that this measure is an attempt to measure success on a per-play basis.
Despite the Packers’ struggles on offense, the unit still managed a seventh-place rating overall in offensive DVOA (+11.0%). The rushing offense was third in the NFL at +12.4%, while the passing offense came in just 12th at +18.0%.
One thing to remember about DVOA is that it tends to reward big plays. The Packers did hit on plenty of explosive passing plays this season, with Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Davante Adams accounting for most of them. However, it was the shorter conversions that stalled out the offense often, which helps to account for the discrepancy between a 12th-place DVOA ranking and Rodgers’ mediocre rate stats.
Despite the issues with his receivers as described below, Aaron Rodgers’ DVOA was still positive, as he finished 13th among passers with 200 or more attempts at +8.2%. His DYAR also ranked higher, in ninth place at 821. However, that was less than half of the top-ranked QB, Patrick Mahomes, who had 2,039.
By comparison, Aaron Rodgers had 1,564 DYAR in 2014 when he won the MVP, and his career high was 2,059 back in 2011.
By DVOA, Aaron Jones was the sixth-best running back on a per-play basis this season (+16.9%) among players with 100-plus rushing attempts and he was the 11th-best among runners with 20 or more attempts. He also finished tenth in the NFL in DYAR (145), a measure of total productivity, and sixth in success rate (55%).
Jamaal Williams, on the other hand, was 22nd in DVOA (+1.7%), 25th in DYAR (51) and 32nd in success rate (45%).
Davante Adams’ great counting stats didn’t really translate to DVOA, as he finished just 30th at +6.1%. His DYAR was much better at 246, good for 16th, with the difference due in part to his high volume of targets. The other two qualifying wideouts (50 or more targets) were Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who was 63rd in DVOA out of 84 qualifiers at -11.1%, and Randall Cobb, who finished 78th at -22.1%.
Among all Packers receivers with at least 10 targets, Geronimo Allison led the way in DVOA with +16.8%.
49 tight ends qualified at that position with 25 targets or more, including two Packers: Lance Kendricks and Jimmy Graham. Both were negative in DVOA, with Kendricks sitting at -0.1% (25th place) and Graham at -6.6% (30th).
The Packers hit on some big plays this season, which helped their ranks in yardage and some of their DVOA rankings, but where they failed was in consistently reaching the red zone and on converting third downs.
The running game was generally effective, but it was seemingly used far too often — though this was a practical result of the Packers being behind in many of their games. In the modern NFL, teams take the lead by passing and hold the lead with the run game. Considering that the Packers lost nine games and had to mount significant late comebacks in three of their victories (against the Bears, 49ers, and Jets), the game situations dictated that they could not use the running game as much as they might have liked.
Fixing the third-down issues (including convincing Rodgers to get rid of the football more quickly on those downs) should be the biggest priority for whatever coaches are in charge of this offense in 2019. That will help ensure that the team can sustain drives better, get the ball into the red zone more frequently, and ultimately score more points. That in turn gives the team a lead more often, which allows a heavier dose of the running game.
Stay tuned for a look at the defense on Sunday.