21

June

Packing the Stats: Did Jermichael Finley Steal Attention From Greg Jennings?

*** Packing the Stats ***

As a new Collective Bargaining Agreement looms hopeful in the future, the return of Jermichael Finley to the Green Bay Packers offense has become an exciting topic of conversation. During the Week 5 game against the Washington Redskins, Finley suffered a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee, permanently sidelining him for the remainder of the 2010 season.

Now, after surgery and months of rehabilitation, the match-up nightmare tight end is set to return stronger than ever in 2011. (Even most of our readers agree he’ll be the “Comeback Player of the Year.”)

But some people have wondered: what is going to happen to Greg Jennings’ production with Finley back in the mix?

After not having a 100+ yard game until Week 6 (and after letting his frustrations be known publicly), Jennings seemed like he was being overlooked by offensive play-caller Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers in favor of Finley. Even the fans started wondering why, over the first four games, Jennings only had 12 receptions for 161 yards.

Meanwhile, in that span of time, Finley had 21 receptions for 301 yards.

You can see where the criticism stems from. You’ve got the best receiver on the team apparently playing second fiddle to the best tight end on the team. Not only did Finley gain, on average, 35 more yards per game, he also had two games with 100+ receiving yards. Jennings had none.

 

JENNINGS FINLEY
WK OPP REC YDS REC YDS
1 @PHI 5 82 4 47
2 BUF 3 36 4 103
3 @CHI 2 18 9 115
4 DET 2 25 4 36
TOTAL: 12 161 21 301

 

Do these numbers tell the whole story, though?

I, for one, was skeptical.

Receptions and yards are a nice indicator of how good a receiver is. After all, a player with high stats in these areas is someone who can get open and make plays for the offense. They are the primary measurement of elite receivers.

However, any good Fantasy Football team manager will know that catches and receiving yards aren’t the whole story.

In the world of Fantasy Football, you’ve got different types of receivers to choose from. Some are high risk, high reward players (boom or bust), while others are consistent producers who rarely put up the big numbers but can always be counted on.

In 2010, Roddy White and Calvin Johnson put up a similar number of fantasy points, and both ended up as Top 5 receivers. Johnson, though, was more of a boom or bust player. He had some high peaks, but he also had some low valleys and even a few goose eggs. White, on the other hand, was more of your consistent producer, always netting around the same number of points and just a couple times hitting an extreme low or high.

So what does this mean for us?

Well, it means that you can’t judge a player’s role on the offense simply by using yard totals and receptions as gauges. We have to find other statistical categories with which to measure these players.

One of those categories is “targets.”

Fantasy football is all about playing the odds, and when a receiver has a high number of targets, it means that they have a higher chance of producing. Pretty simple, really.

Similarly, it’s hard to quantify a receiver’s involvement in the offense without looking at the number of times they are thrown to. Because while Finley may have had more receptions and yards than Jennings in the first four games of 2010, they each had exactly the same number of targets (26).

Let’s break it down. Take a look at the table below:

 

Click on the image to enlarge.

 

You’ll notice that I separated the players by position. We have the wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs each grouped together. Then, at the bottom, I combined each group’s production to give you an idea of how the ball was distributed.

Finally, I highlighted two things for each game. First, the player(s) with the most targets for that week is in green. Second, the player(s) with the most receptions are highlighted in yellow. As you’ll notice, these two distinctions don’t always line up with the same player.

What I immediately observed – and perhaps what you did, too – is that each week saw a different player targeted the most. (The only slight exception is Jennings, who had the most targets twice, but who tied with Finley in Week 4.)

This observation brings to light something that has been missed in the discussion of Finley taking attention away from Jennings:

There are more than just those two players on the offense.

Sometimes we get tunnel vision when arguing a point or discussing an issue. In this case, we were so focused on Jennings’ lack of production and Finley’s big numbers that we failed to take into account the rest of the team. I mentioned above that both Jennings and Finley each had 26 targets over the first four games. But did you notice that Donald Driver also had 26 targets? He also had as many receptions (21) as Finley. Where has he been in the discussion?

The fact that Jennings publicly vented some frustration in the Redskins game most likely helped create this tunnel vision, as did Finley’s early departure from the active roster. All in the same week, no less!

But when you look at the whole picture, you’ll notice that, on average, the tight ends were targeted just 24.6% of the time over those first four games. Is it so hard to believe that one out of every four throws in a West Coast Offense goes towards a tight end?

This hardly appears as if McCarthy or even Rodgers were ignoring Greg Jennings.

Now, before we wrap this up, there are two more items that need to be considered in this discussion. The first of these is how (un)productive Jennings was with his targets.

Of the 26 attempts made by Rodgers to get him the ball, Jennings was only able to haul in 12 of those passes. That’s a success rate of 46.2%. Conversely, Finley caught 21 of his 26 targets, for a rate of 80.8%.

That’s a big difference, and it explains why, at face value, Finley seemed to be more involved in the offense.

I don’t have the game film or the statistics to see why Jennings missed so many of those passes (bad throws, drops, defended, etc.), but the fact remains that he was still targeted as many times as Finley was.

For our final consideration, we have to take into account the teams Green Bay faced in those four weeks. The prime example to use here is Week 3, when the Packers faced off with the Chicago Bears.

As is common knowledge, Lovie Smith and the Bears employ the Tampa 2 strategy in their defense. They try to take away the long passes and force the opposing offense to be patient, settling for short gains and longer drives. Not only does it limit the explosiveness of an offense, it also increases the chances of making costly mistakes, as they have to sustain their drive over a longer period.

For this week, it’s easy to see why Finley and Driver were such productive parts of the Packers’ offense, and why Jennings had one of his worst games of the year. Beating the Tampa 2 means utilizing shorter passes and attacking the seams, which is suited perfectly for tight ends, especially one of Finley’s caliber.

While Jennings did have six targets against the Bears, their defense played to take him out of the game.

Similarly, Green Bay faced the Buffalo Bills, who had the third ranked passing defense in the league last year. And when they played the Lions in Week 4, there were a lot more concerns with the offense than who they were throwing to.

With all of this information now out in the open, it’s become pretty clear that there’s not a lot of supporting evidence for those who think Jermichael Finley directed attention away from Greg Jennings.

Sure, the Week 1 throw from Rodgers to Finley in triple coverage made it seem like he was trying too hard to get him the ball. And yes, Finley is a beast of a player that any coach would want to see be involved heavily in his offense.

But when we look beyond the flashy stats to the ones with a little more meaning, and when we take into consideration some of the other factors and players involved, there’s not a direct causation between Jenning’s lack of production and Finley’s big numbers for those four games.

When Finley returns to the team, there’s a good chance Jennings and the other receivers won’t have the numbers they did last year. That, however, is simply the case of only having one ball to pass around to a whole lot of talent.

It’s not about playing favorites.

——————

Chad Toporski, a Wisconsin native and current Pittsburgh resident, is a writer for AllGreenBayPackers.com. You can follow Chad on twitter at @ChadToporski

——————

32 Responses to “Packing the Stats: Did Jermichael Finley Steal Attention From Greg Jennings?”

  1. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

    Poorly-rated. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 14

    • Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

      How can you call a post that comes to this conclusion “divisive?”

      “With all of this information now out in the open, it’s become pretty clear that there’s not a lot of supporting evidence for those who think Jermichael Finley directed attention away from Greg Jennings.”

      It’s actually the complete opposite of divisive. Perhaps if you had spent more than 3 seconds…

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

    • Tarynfor12 Tarynfor 12 says:

      It does matter and a lot more than you and others may think.
      Jennings opened a can of worms and like many I thought Finley was over targeted and that was hurting the offense.Evidence as with this article shows from a stat point of view it wasn’t what many thought but without seeing film as to the reason(s)for Jennings failing,one would assume as we did with the Finley assumption,he “simply didn’t get it done”.
      Hopefully,Jennings has taken the time to reflect as we should and re-evaluate his words and get back to the task without having still a feeling of slight.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

    • Chad Toporski Chad Toporski says:

      Thanks for the support, Al and Taryn. I don’t really understand why people make these kinds of comments.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  2. FireMMNow says:

    Very good article and break down.

    As you stated, it is tough to draw a complete conclusion without seeing game film. It would also be interesting to see how many times Finley was the first option on plays called and how many times Jennings was the first option on plays called.

    Even if Finley did not steal opportunities from Jennings it is pretty obvious that the offense really took off when MM made a concerted effort in the second half of the season to get Jennings involved early and often. Finley is the type of player that creates enough mismatches where he should not need a high number of plays called to get him involved. When things break down Rodgers is always going to look to him anyway.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • Chad Toporski Chad Toporski says:

      I think you made a good point about the offense coming together more in the second half. The only problem they encountered was when they faced defenses with a dominating front line. Having a TE like Finley on the field would have done wonders for their productivity in those situations.

      One thing I didn’t note in the article was that Jennings had 3 TD’s to Finley’s 1 in the first four games. I thought that was rather interesting considering the threat Finley is in the endzone. (Of course, Finley might have added a TD in the Bears game if it weren’t for the holding penalty.)

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. Mojo says:

    I do visualize a scene playing-out a number of times this upcoming year. That is, where either Finley or Jennings throws up his arms in a demonstrative way (highlighting to the fans how open they were), after what appears to be Rodgers forcing a ball to another receiver. I’m afraid both receivers have a little bit of Diva in them.

    Even though Chad points out Finley was not necessarily over targeted last year, it won’t matter to Jennings, who became the unquestioned alpha-receiver. Hopefully, McCarthy will recognize and squelch this potential team distraction before it aligns portions of the team into different camps. I believe this is one of the things McCarthy was thinking about years ago, when he boldly proclaimed one of the teams greatest concerns will be how to handles success.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • PackersRS says:

      It is almost impossible to be an elite receiver in the NFL and not have any “diva” in you. The only guy I can think of that fits the criteria is Driver, and one can make a case that Driver was never an “elite” receiver, rather a very good receiver for a very long period of time.

      Compared to the other elite receivers in the league, both guys don’t come as cocky. Jennings moreso than Finley.

      (BTW, I’m treating both as receivers, because that’s their primary role. Finley compared to other TEs sounds like a prick sometimes)

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      • Mojo says:

        Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson come to mind as two non-diva elite receivers.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

        • PackersRS says:

          Very true, very true.

          Yet, Fitz is on the press lobbying for a new QB. While he is right, is that a team attitude, throwing management and teammates under the bus?

          It’s the nature of receivers, it’s the one on one, you have to be aggressive to win, and that leads to a big head sometimes.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. Tarynfor12 Tarynfor 12 says:

    Many a time MM has stated that there are no position #s assigned to players.He may actually need to reiterate that philosophy early in camp…if and when.
    I would begin by reminding them that they are all #1 simply by playing as a #1 when needed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  5. Ron LC says:

    Chad, Interesting food for thought. I’m a firm believer that MM follows the “game dictates the plan” philosophy. The opposing defense has more to do with the game stats than any preferred receiver.

    GB is fortunate to have a number of options available on every play. Any problem comes only after a losing streak and fragile egos are rubbed raw.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. PackersRS says:

    This might very well be the best article of the offseason. It was a hot topic, and you analized it and debunked the myth that Finley interferes with Jennings completely, Chad.

    Seriously. Best article of the offseason. Kudos, man!

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

    • Chad Toporski Chad Toporski says:

      Thanks, man! Greatly appreciate the accolades.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • AK_Packer says:

      The only thing that could have improved an excellent article was if you had run it for the rest of the season. I’m kind of shooting from the hip here, but I’m sure the numbers dropped initially for the TEs after JF went down, but while they didn’t get back to JF completion %s (JF has great hands) targets went back to the TEs as time past. GJ just started making use of his opportunities. Lets face it Quarless, Lee, Crabtree, and Havner combined don’t make one JF, so there stats wouldn’t look so impressive.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. PackersRS says:

    BTW, to make it even better, you could do a chart showing how the targets happened AFTER Finley went down, Chad.

    That way it would show for a fact if Finley in the lineup prevented Jennings from blossoming or not.

    I say that because there’s a possibility that Jennings saw his targets increase dramatically, and, with the extra “reps”, got better production. Think of a RB who needs to have 20+ touches to really produce.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  8. Chris K says:

    Yeah man, you been throwing some good stuff out in these articles lately man!– good stuff and topic/s
    keep it up

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  9. john says:

    i like the idea of looking at targets for the rest of the season.
    another thing to think about is how each player is used. how far away from the line were the players targets? jennings is more of a deep threat and the way the o-line was playing early in the year its possible that rodgers never had time to set his feet and deliver an on time or accurate throw. remember rodgers stats picked up later in the year as well. as big as finley is, he can get to more off target throws than jennings.
    also if the teams top pass rusher was on the side jennings was on then rodgers wouldnt be able to step into those throws where finley is 5 inches taller than jennings and can jump higher so the ball could be lofted more to him as well.
    i guess what im really trying to say is there are probably a thousand different reasons jennings stats didnt match finleys but this article shows it wasnt because MM was ignoring him with play calling.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • PackersRS says:

      Pro Football focus has both an article about snaps lined up at the slot and for deep threats (showing ammount of receptions and targets above 25 yards or so, counted play-by-play, so a quick slant for 25 yards doesn’t count.)

      Check their old posts in their website. Both articles were posted in the period after the draft and last week, but I don’t remember when exactly…

      http://www.profootballfocus.com

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. Oppy says:

    Great stuff. I love it when people slash through the BS and get down to facts.

    It tends to ruffle a lot of feathers, in many cases. And I love it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  11. [...] Jermichael Finley stole passes from Greg Jennings is examined by Chad Toporski at [...]

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. numby says:

    Nice article Chad. It’s nice to see an “objective” statistical look at an issue rather than every sports announcer running off at the mouth.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  13. To say that ANY player “steals” anything from another player is ridiculous at best. I love all of you 1st Armchair coaches. If that were the case, then you should start complaining about Jordy Nelsons’ play during the Super Bowl. He stole almost ALL the passes from Greg Jennings. But wait. That’s because he was double covered all game. But wait again…Had Jermichael Finley been playing in the Super Bowl, maybe…just maybe…Jennings would have been left in one-on-one more. Stop creating drama. I know it sells, but come on…are you REALLY trying to pit one Packer player against another? Over “touches”? Really?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

    • Chad Toporski Chad Toporski says:

      Are you trying to make yourself look ignorant? Because it’s working.

      Read the entire article first before you make comments like these. You’re only hurting yourself by not doing so.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  14. I read the whole article…and thanks for the label. It makes you look even smarter. Negative connotations towards dissenting views…How media-type of you. Thank you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

    • Chad Toporski Chad Toporski says:

      If you read the article, then please point out where I came to the conclusion that players were stealing catches from others, as you said I did.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  15. C.D. Angeli says:

    It’s a pity trolls still exist in the Packer fan base. Perhaps the jsonline comment section would appeal to Dale a bit more.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  16. [...] week we took a look at some statistics to help us answer the question, “Did Jermichael Finley Steal Attention From Greg Jennings?” During the first four games of the season, it seemed as if Jennings was losing productivity to [...]

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0