27

June

Packing the Stats Follow-Up: Tracking Greg Jennings’ Targets

Last 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 Finley, who posted significantly more receiving yards and catches. However, after looking at the number of targets each receiver was getting in the first four weeks, we came to the conclusion that there was little evidence to support this claim.

Many of you responded positively to this presentation of data, and a couple of you – PackersRS and KS_Packer in particular – wanted to see more. Specifically, how did Greg Jennings’ targets change, if at all, during the remainder of the season after Finley was gone?

It was an interesting question, the results of which would definitely bolster our investigation into this quandary.

Let’s jump right in. Below is the raw data I collected in regards to who was targeted by Aaron Rodgers last season. As I did before, the most targets for a specific week are highlighted in green, and the most receptions are highlighted in yellow. Also, the totals for each position group are presented at the bottom of each chart to give an overall indication of how the ball was distributed.

In the interest of readability, I have broken up the data so that each chart represents four games, and they cover the regular season all the way through the Super Bowl run. You can click on each to get a higher resolution:

 

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NOTES ON GREG JENNINGS

Before we get into some other observations, let’s consider our original question: how did Greg Jennings’ targets change after Week 5? To answer this, let’s first extract his specific statistics and get rid of the extraneous information:

For each category, I highlighted both the highest (green) and lowest (red) numbers. Some extra statistical information (mean, median, and standard deviation) is also included for those categories they would help to explain the most.

The number of targets Jennings received in a single game range from five to twelve, with the average being 7.8. Meanwhile, his percentage of targets in relation to all of Rodgers’ passes range from 11.1% to 35.7%, with a season average of 23.5%. He also managed to haul in 61.5% of the passes thrown his way.

Initially, we see that three of the games in which Jennings got only five targets came during the first five weeks of the season. In addition to this, his lowest target percentage came in Game 5, when the Packers faced the Washington Redskins. This not only helps to explain his frustration, but it would seem to lend credence to the idea that he was losing out on targets and opportunities.

But let’s look beyond these numbers a little bit.

Week 5 was a critical point in the season. Not only was Jermichael Finley lost to injury in the early minutes of the game, but it was also the first full game missed by both Mark Tauscher and Nick Barnett. Rookie Bryan Bulaga was making his first NFL start ever, and at a position he had never played before (right tackle). On top of all this, Ryan Grant had been gone since Week 1, and Chad Clifton was having a horrible game against Brian Orakpo.

In short, it was a bad time for the offense. They had yet to get their ground game running since losing Grant (in Weeks 2-4, John Kuhn had more yards than Brandon Jackson), their offensive line was struggling, and their star tight end was suddenly gone from the party.

Not only would this limit the options of the offense, it would allow the opposing defenses to key in more on the passing game. And since Jennings was the biggest threat, you can bet that’s whom they focused on the most.

Greg Jennings had every reason to be frustrated, but the source of that frustration was clearly manifold.

Looking at the rest of the season, it’s obvious that Jennings was a lot more productive. He finished with seven games of 100+ yards, and he did see a few more balls thrown his way. Jennings totaled 1,568 yards for the season, much more than his initial weeks would project.

Did losing Finley help Jennings with his production, then? That’s what it would seem, and I do think there is some truth to the argument. But let’s look at one more piece of the puzzle.

Below is a graph showing the percentage of targets for Jennings from each game, as well as the percentage of targets for all the wide receivers combined:

In the first five weeks, there is a clear dip in the number of targets to the wide receivers. After that, it shoots back up and levels off a little bit.

That’s not the most striking observation, though.

Notice how the contours of both lines are extremely similar. This indicates that, for the most part, Greg Jennings’ targets had a strong correlation to the targets by the wide receivers overall. (The only weeks where this doesn’t seem to hold true are Game 4 vs. Detroit, the NFC Championship Game, and the Super Bowl.)

This leads me to infer that if Jermichael Finley was “stealing targets,” he was doing so for ALL of the wide receivers, not just Greg Jennings. It supports my previous conclusion that Finley is just one more excellent receiver added to the mix.

And as I wrote before, it “is simply the case of only having one ball to pass around to a whole lot of talent.”

 

THE RISE OF THE RUNNING BACKS

I want to present you with one more set of information extrapolated from the data above. Below is a chart and graph representing the target percentages as grouped by position:

 

At the beginning of January this year, I wrote an article that charted the production of the tight ends after Jermichael Finley was injured (“Packing the Stats: Packers Tight Ends Forgotten with Finley Gone”). The data ended up showing that the tight ends did see a significant drop in numbers with Finley out of the picture, but also that Finley was somewhat of an anomaly to begin with.

When I compiled the rest of the targets data this week, I observed something rather interesting that seems to go hand-in-hand with both our current conversation and the one about the tight ends. Looking at the chart and graph above, you’ll notice that after Week 5, the running backs began to get more targets in the passing game than the tight ends.

In fact, Week 8 was the last game in which the tight ends would get more targets.

And it’s not just a matter of the tight ends losing production and dipping beneath the running backs. No, the backs’ target percentage actually rose during that period to a slightly higher level than it was at before.

Perhaps, then, we could make the argument that Jermichael Finley had as much of an impact on the running backs as he did on the wide receivers. Again, this supports the argument that he is simply one more cog in the machine when he’s healthy and doesn’t take attention away from any particular player or group.

 

FURTHER OBSERVATIONS

I certainly hope you’ve enjoyed reading this analysis as much as I’ve enjoyed putting it together. The data has revealed some rather interesting trends and valuable information. During the next season, I will continue to track these statistics (and more!) to analyze and present when worthwhile.

If you have any other observations that I didn’t mention or simply might have missed, feel free to comment on them below.

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

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14 Responses to “Packing the Stats Follow-Up: Tracking Greg Jennings’ Targets”

  1. Ed Schoenfeld says:

    Outstanding article. Thanks for doing the work.

    Part of the increase in RB targets, though, probably has to do with how they needed to use Kuhn and Jackson for best effect — both of those guys do better with dump-off and screen passes than straight runs (granted Kuhn was good when they needed a yard or two, just not someone you would want as your main option on 1st and 2nd down.)

    You notice a general downward trend for RB target % once Starks provides a more realistic run option during the playoffs. Interestingly, the WC game where Starks had his best running performance is also a peak for RB target %. Looks like the Philly D worked pretty good against our mid to deep passing game, but the RBs ere able to make up for it (which they didn’t do really well against Washington, for instance).

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    • PackersRS says:

      Very good point.
      But there’s one thing, though. Grant went down in week 1. It doesn’t explain why it took so long for MM to adjust, and why it’s a coincidence that it occured exactly when Finley went down.

      My take is that, yes, you are right, that the lack of a decent running game and the type of backs we had influenced their targets.

      But before Finley went down, HE (aka the TEs) was being used as the checkdown receiver. MM and Rodgers didn’t HAVE to adjust. But after he went down, they did.

      And Chad, once again, amazing work man!
      I really thought that it would be the case of increased targets for Jennings, which did happen, but not in the fashion I antecipated.

      So, in the end, what really happened was the simplest answer. Jennings simply stepped up. He was having a mediocre cacth % early on, and it got much better in the later part of the season.

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      • Chad Toporski Chad Toporski says:

        Yeah, I think that is the conclusion. For some reason, Jennings was simply catching more of his targets after those first weeks.

        I’d really love to have the game tape to see the reasons for that low percentage, though. You can’t really tell with just the stats what was going on there.

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        • PackersRS says:

          I can’t provide you with any coaches’ tape, but if you want the broadcast tape of all games, I can give you a link to a site that contains almost every football game ever broadcasted in it’s entirety.

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          • Chad Toporski Chad Toporski says:

            That would be outstanding. Shoot me an e-mail at: toporskic [at] gmail [dot] com

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            • PackersRS says:

              I actually sent you the link, but they closed registration… On top of that they disabled my account…

              Was an awesome site…

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    • Chad Toporski Chad Toporski says:

      Thanks for the comment and for taking the time to read.

      I tend to agree more with PackersRS’s interpretation of the running back situation. It could have taken McCarthy a few weeks to change how he was using the backs, but Week 5 did seem to be a fairly clear turning point. Coincidence? Perhaps, but I personally don’t think so.

      I think it will be fun to follow these trends next season, though, to see how/if they change.

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  2. BinKee says:

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

    Poorly-rated. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 12

    • PackersRS says:

      Don’t feed the troll. Just give him a thumbs down so the idiocy he just said doesn’t show.

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  3. Denzel Shareef says:

    I’m an avid Packer fan as most are on this site….but I don’t think that Jennings was angry about not getting the ball but more so the opportunities. I understand that you’re incorporating target but that does not include catchable balls. I do remember Aaron Rodgers being “off” to start the season, as his interceptions would tell you so. I believe Aaron did try to spread the ball around, however him and Greg were not clicking until the Miami game.

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    • Chad Toporski Chad Toporski says:

      I agree with just about everything you’ve said. I don’t think Jennings was angry, but he was frustrated. Unfortunately, I think some fans and members of the media misplaced the source of that frustration. Discovering that source was the intent of my two articles on the matter.

      Second, in the first article, I did note that being able to see the game film would help in understanding why Jennings was missing some of those catches. For all the information statistics can provide, they never tell the whole story. So I definitely think there could have been a disconnect between Jennings and Rodgers.

      Thanks for the comment!

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  4. Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

    I don’t think there is any doubt you’ve dispelled the notion that Finley’s presence affected Greg Jennings directly. Finley’s presence impacted all of the WRs, tight ends and running backs. And rightfully so – when you have such a weapon, you better damn use it. Nice work again, Chad!

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  5. Tarynfor12 Tarynfor 12 says:

    Again this follow-up makes me feel guilty for assuming what many felt to be true with Finley.But,when you replay the first 4 games with more open eyes,it becomes easy to see why Jennings felt what he did but was miscontrued by many.
    Rodgers had thrown behind him,low,into traffic and while Finley was getting a 4-6,4-6,9-9,4-5 receptions,Finleys size and type of passes is overlooked by we the fans and while we expect Jennings to catch mostly all,he was still dictating the tougher coverage on deeper throws whereas Finley is a higher/better completion on the shorter because of size.
    What isn’t accounted for is during those 4 weeks,how many plays targeted for Jennings were snuffed due to OL play and Rodgers holding the ball too long at times still.While that isn’t to say Jennings receptions would have risen drastically but,1,2 or 3 for big gains over those weeks,this issue would never have come to any light at all.

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