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June

2011 Packers 15-1 Record Didn’t Match The Team’s GPA

 

Packers Report Card
The 2011 Packers GPA didn’t match their 15-1 record.

I know the draft is over and OTAs are in full swing, but I need to revisit last season for a minute. If we judged the 2011 Packers the same way professors judge college students, what would be the Packers final grade point average?

Let’s go to the report card.

Offense: A
Aaron Rodgers was the MVP and the Packers scored whenever they needed to. This would have been an A+ if not for the sputtering performance in the playoff loss to the Giants.

Special Teams: B+
Mason Crosby had a career season and Randall Cobb took a couple kicks back for touchdowns. There were also very few moments where special teams coverage made me want to put my wife up in a hotel for the evening so I could destroy the house and go on a drunken rampage.

Defense: D-
No pass rush. Poor tackling. Giving up a ton of big plays. The only thing that prevented an F were forcing turnovers and doing a somewhat decent job of keeping teams out of the end zone at the end of drives (at least early in the season).

Grade Point Average: 2.67

Conclusion
An ‘A,’ a ‘B-plus,’ and a ‘D-minus.’ That doesn’t look so bad. Yes, the poor grade on defense stands out, but it’s not hard to envision a team with an ‘A’ offense and a ‘B-plus’ special teams going 15-1. The D-minus on defense really drags down the GPA, though. If I had told you that the 2011 Packers would have a GPA of 2.67, would you have guessed that they would finish 15-1?

Probably not.

Maybe if I have some time later this summer, I’ll run similar studies for the most dominant regular-season teams of the past 10 years and see where their GPAs end up. For now, I did a quick study of the last team to finish 15-1 in the NFC North: The 1998 Minnesota Vikings with a young Randy Moss, rejuvenated Randall Cunningham and an active defense led by the chicken-chasing John Randle.

I gave the ’98 Vikes an ‘A’ on offense, a ‘B-minus’ on defense and an ‘A-minus’ on special teams. That’s a 3.47 GPA.

Now, back to last season’s Packers. Let’s break down the team in specific position groups and see how the overall GPA changes.

Quarterbacks: A
No explanation necessary.

Running Backs: C-
James Starks battled injuries, Ryan Grant had a few moments and Alex Green blew out his knee. The Packers don’t need dominant running backs, but this group was nothing to write home about.

Wide Receivers: A
Jordy Nelson let everyone know that he’s officially arrived and Greg Jennings was his typical efficient self before a late-season injury. With James Jones, Donald Driver and Randall Cobb either meeting or slightly exceeding expectations, this is another ‘A’ category for the Packers.

Tight Ends: C
Jermichael Finley kept dropping the ball and never got rolling. Andrew Quarless blew out his knee and Tom Crabtree never became a dominant blocker. Teams did gameplan around Finley, however, so a ‘C’ might be a little harsh, but I’m sticking with it. We have high standards at ALLGBP.com University. No grade inflation here.

Offensive Line: B-
Marshall Newhouse wasn’t terrible filling in at left tackle, but he had plenty of moments where he looked like a young player who wasn’t quite ready to start. Josh Sitton was hurt during the first part of the season and didn’t get going until later, but overall, the line was solid. Of course, having a QB like Rodgers does a lot to cover up flaws at left tackle and injuries to your standout right guard.

Defensive Line: F
Forget about losing Cullen Jenkins, I was more disappointed with B.J. Raji’s regression. Nobody on the d-line had a good season besides Ryan Pickett, and he’s a one-dimensional player. U-G-L-Y.

Linebackers: D
Clay Matthews was much better than his sack total indicates, but A.J. Hawk and the rotating cast opposite of Matthews fell off a cliff. Desmond Bishop battled a few injuries, but was otherwise decent; however, it wasn’t enough to rescue this group from a below-average grade.

Secondary: D
The Packers set a record for passing yards allowed, but finished ninth in the league in passer rating allowed thanks to an NFL-best 31 interceptions. The turnovers were nice, and shouldn’t be discounted, but this secondary stunk. Opponents completed 73 passes of 20 yards or more, 11 WRs had 100-yard games and the Packers finished 26th in third-down defense.

Special Teams: B+
See above.

Grade Point Average: 2.18

Conclusion
Would your mom put your report card on the refrigerator if you had a 2.18 GPA? Probably not. (Well, my mom would. She’s the best mom in the world and would be proud of me for spelling my name correctly on the majority of my assignments.) Once you get past the position groups on offense, that report card gets ugly in a hurry and the GPA takes a nosedive.

Now, let’s grade the ’98 Vikings position groups: QB: A; RB: A-; WR: A; TE: C-; OL: B; DL: B; LB: C+; DB: C; ST: A-. GPA: 2.96.

When I started this post, I originally wanted it to be a quick 300-word rant about whether the Packers mediocrity in several position groups in 2011 gave me hope for the upcoming season, or made me more depressed that my favorite team wasted an MVP season from its quarterback and an amazing run of games from the entire offense. I wanted to decide what my level of confidence should be for the upcoming season: High because the offense will roll again and the defense can only get better, or low because the offense will inevitably regress and the defense is beyond repair.

Somehow, this post took on a life of its own and turned into some sort of 1,200-word study involving report cards, GPAs and the 1998 Minnesota Vikings.

When I was finished, I re-read the post and was able to answer the question I originally set out to answer: I’m confident that with minor improvements on defense, this team will again be dominant in 2012. The offense is young, features several players that still have room to grow, and only a few players on the decline. Ted Thompson focused on defense in the draft, and even if the defense doesn’t take a major leap forward, it has to at least improve a little bit. It can’t get much worse, right?

I also reached another conclusion, one that seems obvious but sometimes gets taken for granted: When you have an elite quarterback, anything is possible. In today’s NFL, an elite QB makes up for a terrible defense, a shaky offensive line and average running backs.

This post wasn’t meant to start a ’98 Vikings vs. ’11 Packers argument, but there is a big difference between the two teams. While both squads had elite quarterbacks, only one had a franchise quarterback. Cunningham never recaptured the magic he created in 1998. Rodgers has been playing at a high level for the Packers since 2008 and doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon.

As long as Rodgers takes the field for the Packers, Green Bay moms will have the chance to proudly several report cards, regardless of what the final GPA is. Maybe there will be a few more Super Bowl trophies to display, too.

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Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam's writing on the Packers here.

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14 Responses to “2011 Packers 15-1 Record Didn’t Match The Team’s GPA”

  1. Oppy says:

    Man, John Randle was an absolute beast. Remember his crazy eyes peering out past the face paint and burning through his facemask? Only guy I’ve ever seen who had a more intimidating, intense gaze when lining up was a certain Mr. Singletary.

    I don’t think they make guys like that anymore.

    Nice piece, and I think you’re right, the offense will be strong and the D can only improve. Good things to come.

    Just read an article recently where a group of scouts and the like voted on the “2015 power rankings”, basically, how well they felt each franchise would fare over the next three seasons based on a number of weighted factors from QB to coaches to front office to drafting.. Packers were #1, interesting take, check it out

    http://espn.go.com/blog/nfcnorth/post/_/id/42348/packers-atop-2015-nfl-power-rankings

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  2. James david Marsh says:

    I expect the offense to be even better this year in total points scored. What needs to happen is for a couple of people to step up on the defensive front seven so that GB is not a “a one trick pony” in Clay Mathews. GB needs to win back the passer rating differential and another super bowl will be theirs.

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  3. Ron LC says:

    Well done Adam! You demonstrated so well that even with an over-powering Offense the key to winning the big prize is the Defense. Why Capers could do nothing to correst this problem over 16 games plus 1 is a mystery to me. Something bad happened to the discipline of that unit. Even a slight improvement could have put the Packers back in the SB.

    So, TT, MM and Capers have had an uninterupted off-season to correct the dismal D performance. There is good reason to feel confident going into 2012. TT did his part with the draft and FA. Now it is up to MM to oversee Capers as he attempts to bring a disciplined aggressive approach back to the D that was so sorely missing last year.

    Go Pack!

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    • Oppy says:

      This article did nothing to demonstrate that defense is the key to winning the big prize.

      What is did demonstrate was that another 15-1 team had basically the same offense and special teams prowess as the 2011 Packers, but with a stellar defense to go along with it, and they too failed to win a Superbowl.

      The only point I can take from his article- without applying my own bias- is that Adam believes that a 15-1 record with such lack of balance is an anomaly. I took this article to be about balance between three phases of a football team, rather than which of the three phases is the “key to winning the prize”.

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      • CSS says:

        Does anybody believe the Patriots had more than one phase out of three? They were only a few well executed offensive plays away from the Lombardi with no discernible talent at the running back position, no physically dominant wide-out (great high-low game at the TE position), a woefully talented defense and nothing special about their special teams.

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        • Adam Czech says:

          Obviously, it would be great to have all three phrases of a team be good or great. But in the era of free agency, that’s rarely going to happen.

          The modern-day formula appears to be finding a great QB, putting explosive talent around him, and hoping you catch lightning in a bottle on defense come playoff time.

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  4. PackersRS says:

    It’s hard to debate with the grades but yet the Packers went 15-1, and it wasn’t exactly an easy schedule.

    It goes to show just how important QB play is in today’s NFL, that it can make up for a lot of deficiencies.

    If said grades were weighted, maybe the true value would be more accurate, but then we have to enter the debate of the importance of every position and every unit…

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  5. Mojo says:

    No Adam, you’re premise is all wrong here. My mom is the best in the world.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  6. John Rehor John Rehor says:

    Tough but very fair grade Adam. I saw the 2.18 and was going to argue, but it’s hard to argue with truth.

    Of course the fact the 98 Vikings scored better makes my stomach hurt, but again, can’t argue with truth.

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  7. toolkien says:

    ***win back the passer rating differential and another super bowl will be theirs.***

    Win BACK the passer rating differential? The Packers had a 122 passer rating on offense (1st), and an 81 passer rating on defense (9th), for a 40+ differential. Only four other times in the last 20 years has a team had a 40+ differential – ’94 49ers (won Super Bowl), ’96 Packers (won Super Bowl), ’99 Rams (won Super Bowl), ’07 Patriots (lost Super Bowl). Some pretty exclusive company to me.

    The differential the ’11 Packers enjoyed was due in large part to their splendid turnover margin – don’t turn it over on offense (while putting up dazzling stats) and taking it away on D. But the formula is predicated on NOT turning the ball over and letting the O do its thing. With the lead, the D can do its thing. If the O decides that single elimination is the time to turn the ball over 4 times, the formula falls apart.

    So I don’t know how the Packers are supposed to “win back” something they are already in a rarefied group in even with the D operating as it did last year. And to get it back in terms of the playoff washout, it’s the O that can’t turn the ball over 4 times.

    Even if the D gets back to anything close to 2010 form, or even 2009 form, if the O gives the ball away, in single elimination, 4 times, the Packers are going to lose.

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  8. toolkien says:

    Did anyone else notice the three best teams in the league – New England, New Orleans, and Green Bay – ALL had “D” graded defenses? Two were #1 seeds and the other was a #3 seed. It would seem that there is a paradigm shift involved in the NFL. The grades given are as if we’re still in ’96. Yes the Packers gave up a lot of yards, but points are what matter, and turnovers are now much more impactful to points than yards. And the Packers were tied for the league lead on that front.

    Also, in 2010, the Chargers were #1 in both offensive and defensive yards (high and low) AND DIDN’T MAKE THE PLAYOFFS. The Eagles, in 2011, were 4th and 8th in O and D yardage, and they too didn’t make the playoffs. What DID those two teams do in those respective years? They were at the bottom of the barrel in TURNOVER MARGIN.

    So a “D-” defense in 2011? No. But it certainly wasn’t an A. Overall, probably a “C”, which is nothing to crow about, but mediocre is a long way from very bad/terrible as is depicted in these grades.

    A/A+ – Great
    B+/A- – Very Good
    B-/B – Good
    C+ – Fair
    C – Mediocre
    C- – Poor
    D/D+ – Bad
    D- – Very Bad
    F – Terrible

    In ’83, the Packers had a very good to great offense and a truly terrible defense and were 8-8 as you would expect. In 2011, the Packers had great offense and a mediocre defense and went 15-1. And with similar defenses, the Patriots and both went 13-3. I think this is enough evidence of a new paradigm.

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