8

June

Green Bay Packers: Studying the Stats #3 – Field Position

In this third installment of “Studying the Stats”, I’ll be taking a look at how the Green Bay Packers average starting offensive field position came about and how it affected results.

Click here for…

Part 1 – Interceptions

Part 2 – Fast Starts

On average, the Packers starting offensive field position in 2009 was their own 32 yard line. That sounds pretty decent if you’re just thinking possessions off of kickoffs. But included in the mix is offensive possessions off of punts, defensive interceptions and fumble recoveries, missed field goals, blocked kicks and 4-down defensive stops.

In 2009, the Packers’ defense finished second in the league in average yards per game given up. So we can’t point the field position finger at the defensive unit.  Other than how much yardage your defense relinquishes, the next biggest factor in determining your average offensive starting field position is your specials teams return game. Jordy Nelson did an average job with kickoff returns, finishing 17th in the NFL among kickoff returners with at least 10 chances (an average of 25.4 yards per return).

Punt returns, unfortunately, were a whole different ballgame. Nelson was a putrid 36th in the NFL among punt returners with 10 chances or more, with an average of 5.3 yards per return. That’s called a field position nightmare. When Tramon Williams was given a chance at punt returns, he doubled Nelson’s average. But with the Packers’ secondary injuries, Williams became too valuable to risk getting hurt on punt returns, so Nelson took the bulk of the snaps.

Of course, it’s not fair to just blame Jordy Nelson. He was only there because of the injury to Will Blackmon, and there are 10 other players on the field who have to do their jobs, as well. Regardless, the Packers will be thrilled to have Blackmon back returning punts, and that’s a big reason I feel they are moving him to safety, where it will be easier for him to make the team (Probably as Nick Collin’s backup and as an all-purpose DB in the various passing D packages).

The Packers are expected to be looking at a variety of players to return kickoffs, including Blackmon, Sam Shields, James Starks and even Nelson, again.

I’ve previously dealt with the Packers’ punting game disaster, so I won’t repeat it here. Suffice to say that where you give the other team the ball can eventually effect where you get it back.

So how much did the Packer’s field position woes actually affect the offense? Apparently, less than one might have expected. Examining the numbers, the stats show that more than a third of the Packers offensive possessions started inside their own 20 (66 out of 191). Even more interesting, 24 of their 50 offensive touchdowns on the year came on drives of 70 yards or more! Move the bar down to 60 yards or more, and you can add another 10 touchdowns.

So, 34 of 50 Packers touchdowns came on drives of 60 yards or more. Even if you take out the 5 Packers touchdowns on single plays of 60 yards or more, that’s still a lot of long drives resulting in touchdowns, not field goals (only 7 of the Packers’ 27 field goals were on drives of 60 yards or more.) The pattern continued in the Arizona playoff game, where four out of six touchdowns scored were on drives of 60 yards or more.

So, it seems that in 2009, the longer the Packers offense had to go, the better the odds that they would wind up scoring a touchdown. I’m not sure I have a good explanation for this. Perhaps the momentum gained during a longer drive helped carry them into the end zone more often. Perhaps opposing defenses wore down at the end of long drives. Perhaps it was the Packers 63% TD efficiency in the Red Zone. Perhaps it was just an anomaly.

The Packers don’t publish these compiled stats for previous years, so unfortunately, I can’t go back and compare. So I’ll throw this out to the readers – what are your theories on this? Coincidence? Cause and effect? Mike McCarthy magic? Let’s hear from you…

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Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.

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44 Responses to “Green Bay Packers: Studying the Stats #3 – Field Position”

  1. Ron LC says:

    Field position is just one indicator that ST’s are still a big weakness. The returners are only part of the problem. Blcoking especially at the first level was pathetic. The returners never had any daylight to run to.

    Both offense and defense was burdened by poor ST performance last year. This area MUST be improved this year.

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    • Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

      And that after a new special teams coach and supposed emphasis on fundamnentals he was touting. McCarthy has now vowed ST will again be addressed this training camp. Hope they have more success…

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  2. rantie says:

    Interesting stats, JerseyAl! Somewhat surprised that, despite poor starting field position, AR and crew found ways to cash in that often. It does point up the fact that we’ve got to put the “SPECIAL” back into “Special Teams”, though. We were somewhat pedestrian on ST’s. Better field position can only translate into even more scoring, and it would be very nice to see one run back for a change (and without a penalty flag to negate it).

    We need a better effort on developing the wedge on punt returns to allow whomever we’ve got back there time to make “the move”, and also need better focus to knock down some of those dreaded yellow flags. Seems that even when we got off a fairly decent return, penalties would bring them back. That should also be factored into your breakdown of ST’s — penalties.

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    • Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

      I’m going to be looking at penalties in more detail in an upcoming article, which is why I didn’t go into it here. But you are definitely correct about that.

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      • Chazman says:

        They had the Packers’ Super Bowl win on the NFL Network a couple of weeks ago. While watching Desmond Howard run back punts/kicks a thought occurred to me, Desmond Howard would not help this Packers team because the majority of his returns would be called back due to penalty. Blocking is key to ST success but the stupid (for the most part) penalties that occur would be the death knell for any returner.
        Lest we forget, Jordy Nelson did return a kickoff for a touchdown last year but it was called back due to a penalty.

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  3. Tarynfor12 Taryn says:

    Our offense creates two positives and two negatives.Positive 1)Long drives kills the clock 2)tires defenses and coupled with a high scoring percentage are very huge assets.
    However,Negative 1)the inability to get a constant 3rd-1 or 2 stalls way to many possessions deep in our territory 2)our defense gets tired by not having long drives back to back.Way to many 3 and outs.
    Punting from inside your 20 gives good position even with no return and using less talented guys in lieu of the better due to injury and depth hurts even more.
    So our ST’s are put in scenarios that have a high percentage rate of failure to start,whether on the kicking or receiving side.
    Using anyone on returns that only has straight ahead speed is like closing your eyes and hoping the wall moves before you get there. Lateral movement makes a returner dangerous i;e Desmond Howard,Don Bebe. Asking any player to do a ST role and another is begging for disaster.Blocking becomes harder when your guy can only run toward the wall!!!

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    • Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

      But remember, Aaron Rodgers was fabulous on third down conversions. So does that cast the blame for stalled drives back on our good friend, Ryan Grant?

      The Packers haven’t had a dynamic kickoff returner in many years. I don’t know that they have one on the roster night, either.

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  4. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Green Bay Packers, Jersey Al – Packers . Jersey Al – Packers said: New Article: Green Bay Packers: Studying the Stats #3 Field Position http://ht.ly/17F48P [...]

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  5. Tarynfor12 Taryn says:

    Aarons 3rd down is based on his passing(yes or no?)and the other falls on Grant somewhat but also the coaching in expecting him to get it as a lone set back or even with a FB supposedly to open a lane which we don’t have either.Maybe Havner at times in a 3rb set,can block and has good hands and has size,makes an interesting possible in the backfield? Just thinking to myself!

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    • Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

      Yes, reference to Rodgers was strictly with regards to passing. Not sure where you’re going with the rest…

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  6. Michalske says:

    In 2009 Packers drives ended in punts only 35.7% of the time, which ranked 5th in the NFL (per Drive stats from http://www.footballoutsiders.com).

    So I don’t think you can blame “poor field position” on the offense not converting 3rd downs.

    In fact the field position was not actually poor — the average LOS starting a drive (31.4) ranked FOURTH in the NFL.

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    • Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

      Thanks. I looked there, but didn’t take the time to look closely enough. The awesome thing to do, if I had a bunch of free time, would be to separate out field position resulting from turnovers and see what the average offensive field position would look like then.

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    • Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

      Actually, i just found this on Packers.com:

      Packers as a team tied for ninth in the league with an average starting position of the 27.3-yard line after kickoffs.

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  7. Michalske says:

    PS. Football outsiderskeeops these drive stats going back to 1998.

    In 2008, the Packers ranked 11th in % of drives ending in punts (36.9) and 27th in average field position starting drives (28.08 yard line).

    So last season saw considerable improvement in field position, despite the continued troubles on special teams.

    Again the stats are from footballoutsiders.com. These are simple, regular stats that they compile on the result of drives — not subject to the sometimes whacky formulas used for their so-called “advanced” stats.

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  8. Yoop says:

    Special teams are hurt by the Packers being the Youngest team in the NFL year after year. Blackmon is a good punt returner, but these returners can only do so much on there own.
    On kick offs I found it interesting that Nelson was if I remember correctly 11th in the NFL last year.

    Blocking has been a problem and from what I have read in different articles it is being emphasized.
    That’s all that can be done, If we don’t see improvement this season the ST coach should be looked at, last season was a completely different system and just like any other part of the game it takes time.

    Who ever is the punter can help the teams overall stats more than anything else. I’m pulling for the Aussie.

    Some forget or never knew that Lee is a good retuner also.
    I’m excited to see how it all comes out, I do think we will see considerable improvement on Special teams.

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    • Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

      No, as far as kickoff return average, Nelson was 27th overall, 17th if you take out other guys with less than 10 returns.

      They promised ST improvement last year, and it didn’t happen.

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  9. Tarynfor12 Taryn says:

    The previous mentioned stats are all good,but I would venture to guess the higher % of those drives ending in a punt were deep in our territory because of the inability to get 1or2 yds on 3rd,and as well as Rodgers does in passing on 3rd the lack of a 1 or 2 yd headbuster puts us in a disadvantage defensively.
    Why would we even consider Lee for returns?Needing him as much as we do in the secondary,why risk him in a high injury position?

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    • Michalske says:

      Football outsiders also keeps a stat called “Power Success” — runs on 3rd or 4th down thwith 1 or 2 yards to go that resulted in a 1st down or TDs.

      In 2009 the Packers succeeded in that situation 73% of the time, which ranked THIRD in the entire NFL.

      FWIW, in 2008 the Packers succeeded on 3rd or 4th and short 74% of the time, ranking seventh.

      The Packers have not been bad at the ‘Power Success’ statistic since 2007, when they succeeded only 50% of the time and ranked 30th.

      So the Packers fixed the problem you seem to see a couple of years ago.

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      • PackersRS says:

        Okay, but how did that go on the RZ? With a big field, D’s are always shaking on their boots of the possibility of Rodgers killing them. With little field on their back, they can concentrate more on the run…

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  10. PackersRS says:

    I specifically remember us failing to convert TDs when given turnovers close to the opponents’ redzone (making FGs most of the time, though, which would corroborate to the RZ SCORING, and not TD, %), as well as lots of big plays that went for TDS. Don’t know if the stats would back me up, but I think those are the reasons why we scored more when the drives were longer.

    We were an explosive team that couldn’t grind out the though yards.

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  11. Tarynfor12 Taryn says:

    PackerRS,exactly right.The failure to grind 1-3 yds for a TD is the same failure to grind out 1-3 yds for a first in our back yard,a losing stat on both ends of the field.Couple that with a young defense a)the offense didn’t give them more room to be unpredictable,b)it allows the opponent to stay in the game.Having that RB that can get you those 1-3 yrs changes every aspect of the game plan.

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    • PackersRS says:

      Actually, having the OL that can do that is what changes games. Because I don’t remember we struggling as much late in the season, when the OL settled down. And even then, except for Sitton, we only have average to terrible run blockers on our OL…

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  12. Tarynfor12 Taryn says:

    The thing about stats is they don’t tell the whole story.Michaleske puts the stats out which make the Packer run game look unstoppable.But when I look at them,I see a lot of that being done between the 40′s which more likely ended in a punt or a long and missed FG.We certainly didn’t score Td’s at that rate as proven by the # of FG attempts so close to the endzone and the TD’s we should have had to close the game out.As RONlc said I beleive “the dagger”

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    • Michalske says:

      No, I am not saying that the Packers’ O was unstoppable — that’s giving too much weight to any statistic.

      But the impression other posters are giving is that they were pathetic at running in short yardage situations. And that is simply not true.

      The Packer’s problem in Red Zone efficiency is diue to something *other* than short yardage running.

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  13. Michalske says:

    Except that they DID “grind out tough yards” better than 29 other teams.

    So what you are referring to is really a “red zone” problem, not a “running for tough yards” problem. Last I looked, teams were allowed to pass in the red zone, too.

    One common reason for trouble scoring TDs in the Red Zone is that the team is not as good at short yardage, quick release passing. That’s part of the QB skill set that Rodgers is still developing, and specifically committed to addressing after the Tampa Bay game last season. Unfortunately, the publicly available FO stats dont show splits across different parts of a season, so I can’t see if the team did better in the Red Zone after Rodgers focused releasing the ball quicker.

    It would probably help if the guys catching the ball had fewer drops as well, and we had a better combined run/pass threat out of the backfield than either JAckson or Grant present. Maybe Starks is that guy; at least TT thew a draft pick (two if your count the TE, Quarless) at the problem.

    There are some things to dislike (passing, open field running) about Ryan Grant, but following his blocking to get a couple of yards is not one of them. Rather the opposite — he is actually an above average back for grinding out a yard or two, and less good in the open field where success depends on multiple cutbacks: Per FO, GB ranked 26th is ‘second level’ yards (= runs of 5-10 yards) and 17th in ‘open field yards’ (= runs over 10 yards), but overall Grant ranked second in the NFL in adding overall value running the ball (Though that’s from one of FO’s so-called ‘advanced’ statistics — all I take it for is that he is not particularly bad at shorter yardages, which matches what I see when I watch games.)

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  14. Tarynfor12 Taryn says:

    The RED ZONE and and your back at yours is when it’s needed most.The ability to get it even when the opponent is waiting for it.
    Yes, you can pass in both situations but you will have even a higher failure rate as the opponent can deuce -up the REC’s and only have 3 on the line.
    I understand the reason for stats,it makes resumes look good,but if the resume doesn’t have a large # of worth while benefits attached it would be largely no-mans land yardage and fluff. Grants true overall value is a great carrie to fumble ratio,but his 3rd down and TD ratio in the clutch is not really enticing.IMO

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  15. Tarynfor12 Taryn says:

    Jersey AL,would like so say I commend you on the quality and mutual respect your posters have for each other.I really like that they have a nice adjective vocabularly other than the ab-normal I read in some sites.I’m from North Jersey,how about yourself.

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    • Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

      Also from North Jersey. I’m not a fan of sites where people just blast each other with insults back and forth. That’s a waste of my time. I appreciate your reading and commenting!

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  16. Tarynfor12 Taryn says:

    In defense of Aarons lack of the “QUICK RELEASE ” problem in the RED ZONE,we can look at the very problem being discussed.If we can’t run,your REC’s are covered longer and you hold the ball.At least he doesn’t force it and throw INT’s in the RED ZONE.He held the ball because he had too,not so much as he JUST DOES.

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    • PackersRS says:

      The problem of the RZ efficiency relies solely on the line. There’s no better explanation, when you couple the “power sucess” and Rodgers’ best QB rating in the league on third downs.

      That, and the playcalling. I only remember us using screens in the RZ later in the year. And, coincidentally, we started scoring more TDs from there…

      Yes, Rodgers’ slant pass isn’t as good as it should be. But when the D knows it’ll either be a run, which they easily contain, due to the OL’s lack of push, or a quick out or slant, it’s hard to convert.

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  17. Ruppert says:

    Great stuff, Al. We had four 60+ yard TD drives in a road playoff game and still lost…rolaids, please.

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  18. [...] The Stats series from Jersey Al continues on, with Field Position being this issue’s topic. [...]

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  19. Tarynfor12 Taryn says:

    Sorry but,the “power success and Rodgers 3rd down %” is moot as the #’s are mostly between the 30 and 30 yd line.Having a 5 wr set at the goal line doesn’t arouse my hopes of success as it gets crowded in there.
    The problem is they(the defense) don’t need to worry about the run,and we were lucky what 4 times that Havner was around the area.

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  20. PackersRS says:

    Hey, Al. In a non-football subject, I come here to warn you.

    In the upcoming US-England match, be aware that the ref is gonna be heavily biased towards England. Now, why do I say that? Because Carlos Simon is a ref from Brazil, more specifically Rio Grande do Sul (my state), and I’ve followed this lad’s entire career. While he’s conceived as one of the best refs in the world, thruth is his always favours the “favorite team”. In the last WC, he didn’t call a blalant penalty for Ghana, in their game against Italy. I could give 10 more examples, but it’d be too long…

    So, when you sit to watch the game, remember what I said, and be patient. And also grateful, that football has instant replay…

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    • Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

      Actually, I have been reading that he loves to give out cards, especially for fouls that in the EPL are never carded. Intimating that both teams, liking to play a physical style, are likely to rack up some cards. What do you think of that?

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      • PackersRS says:

        No, that’s not true. Though the brasilian refs in general tend to call every single contact as fauls and give lots of cards, the Rio Grande do Sul refs use an European/South American style. They let the game flow.

        Simon likes to have the spotlight on himself. Because of that, he doesn’t “hide behind the cards”.

        His problem is that he’ll have one criteria for the US and another one for England…

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  21. [...] Part 3 – Field Position [...]

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