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Wednesday Walkthroughs: What stat best explains the Packers’ 2019 success?

APC writers share their thoughts on the numbers that best illustrate the Packers’ success.

Green Bay Packers vs Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

Numbers are everywhere in sports today. You can’t go five minutes without someone pulling out a brand new number that explains everything about...something. It’s not always clear.

But there are some good stats out there! Here are few we think explain the Green Bay Packers’ success this season.

Evan “Tex” Western - Passer rating differential

Although passer rating is itself a somewhat flawed statistic, I have been a proponent of passer rating differential as a measure of evaluating a team’s performance for years. It has been an excellent barometer of the Packers’ overall team success in the Aaron Rodgers era, through all of the team’s ups and downs -- Dom Capers and Mike McCarthy famously focused on this number, which has a pretty good correlation to the team’s winning percentage.

Let’s take a look at the PRD, as I’ll call it from now on, in each year since Rodgers took over as the starting quarterback:

Passer Rating Differential

Year PRD Record Notes
Year PRD Record Notes
2008 21.4 6-10 Lost 7 games by 4 points or less; overall point differential +39
2009 33.0 11-5
2010 31.7 10-6 Super Bowl XLV; no loss by more than 4 points
2011 42.0 15-1 Rodgers MVP #1; D ranked 32nd in pass yards but #1 in INTs with 31
2012 31.5 11-5
2013 -4.2 8-7-1 Rodgers collarbone break #1
2014 27.9 12-4 Rodgers MVP #2
2015 12.6 10-6 Nelson tore ACL, Adams/Cobb hurt most of the year
2016 6.4 10-6 Packers' offense was terrible pre-"Run the Table"
2017 -20.1 7-9 Rodgers collarbone break #2
2018 -7.2 6-9-1 Mike Pettine year 1, Mike McCarthy fired after 12 games
2019 19.8 7-1 Matt LaFleur hired

The correlation between PRD and winning percentage is significant - it has an R-squared value of 0.463 for this entire time period, but when you take out the 2008 season because of the strange close-game results, it jumps way up to 0.661. In other words, when the Packers do well in PRD, they win a lot of games - it’s as simple as that.

This year they sit at +19.8, and they are closing in on their first season since 2014 with a value over +20. Not coincidentally, that year was the last time the Packers won more than 10 games, a number they should eclipse easily in the second half of 2019, given the 7-1 start.

Paul Noonan - Offensive Efficiency

Under LaFleur, the passing game and running game are intended to work together to become more than the sum of their parts, by pushing defenses into uncomfortable formations, and personnel groups. That’s how you get Aaron Jones singled up against a slow linebacker for an easy first down over, and over, and over. If LaFleur’s system is working, we would not necessarily expect balance in terms of the run/pass split, like ol’ coach Mike used to talk about. What we would expect is that regardless of what the Packers run, it will have a strategic advantage, and the results will be efficient.

What we see is exactly that. The Packers are 4th in passing DVOA and 5th in rushing DVOA. There are very few wasted plays on offense, and they are taking advantage of exactly what the defense is giving them. We really could not have wished for anything more.

Matub - Individuals With a Sack

I was going to write about Passer Rating Differential, but Tex beat me to it. Writing about PRD in Walkthroughs is part of my brand; however, with the topic already discussed I’d like to bring up a stat I just invented called “Individuals With a Sack (IWS)”. (Haha, Phrasing, I know.)

Last year, the best pass rusher on the Packers was actually Mike Pettine himself. How is that possible? Well, at the end of the season the person with the most sacks was Kyler Fackrell with 10.5 and FIFTEEN individuals had at least 1 sack. This shows that the pass rush relied heavily on exotic blitzing schemes that created free rushers.

At this point in the season, Za’Darius and Preston Smith are the runaway sack leaders with 8 and 7 respectively. No one else has more than 1.5 with only 6 IWS appearing on the stat sheet. The defense can finally rely on personnel over scheme to provide a pass rush.

It’s like Aaron said in Week 1: We got a defense

Kris Burke - Wins and losses

Keep it simple, stupid.

We can all wax poetic about this stat and that stat but the bottom line is the Green Bay Packers are 7-1 and once again look like the elite team they were from 2010-2016. You can dig deep into whatever statistic you want to find out what the team is doing in circumstances and why, but at the end of the day it’s the standings that determine how good you really are.

This isn’t to dismiss analytics or their importance. Numbers are very useful finding the trends behind the trends and coaches are using them more than ever to gain an upper hand on the opponent. That said, a number is just a number without context and when you marry numbers to videotape, that is the complete picture.

The picture for the Packers is as pretty as could be so far and all signs indicate Green Bay is in great shape to make the postseason for the first time in three years.

Jon Meerdink - Running back receptions

Like Kris, I also think there’s a simple stat that explains a lot about the Packers: catches by running backs. Last year, Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams combined for 53 receptions. Through eight games this year, they’ve already collected 53, including a few in Sunday’s win over the Chiefs that resulted in big plays for the Packers.

Matt LaFleur said he wanted to get backs involved in the passing game and he’s done exactly that. There’s been no handwringing over snaps, reps, or who’s earned the right to get more involved in the offense. He’s just gone out and done what he said he would do, and it’s paying off.