Category Archives: 2011 NFL Draft

28

January

The Statistical Reason Why The Packers Defense Has Declined

 

While doing research on my last article, I noticed one very interesting fact: Dominant 3-4 defenses tended to have a star 5-technique defense end.  The 3 best 3-4 defenses in terms of Advanced NFL Stats’ dEPA (defensive expected points added) in the NFL right now are San Francisco, Arizona and Houston and each team boasts impact 5-technique defensive linemen like Justin Smith, Calais Campbell and JJ Watt, each of which is among the top five 5-technique defensive linemen according to ProFootballFocus.  This got me to thinking: everyone knows that the quarterback effects offensive success more than any other position on the field (hence why Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning can keep winning games without good offensive lines and running backs), but is there a position on a 3-4 defense that is most important to defensive success?

Traditionally, the hallmarks of a good 3-4 defense has been it’s nose tackle and outside linebackers; indeed in 2009 when Green Bay switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense, general manager Ted Thompson drafted nose tackle BJ Raji with the 9th overall pick and then traded up back into the 1st round for outside linebacker Clay Matthews III.  The argument has always been made that a dominant nose tackle that can eat up multiple blockers and outside linebackers who are athletic enough to rush the passer are the keys to a dominant 3-4 defense.  You could argue that Green Bay seems have both positions covered, both Clay Matthews III and BJ Raji are both dominant players but while that seemed to have translated to success in 2009 and 2010, it didn’t seem to matter much in 2011 and 2012.

What I’ve done is a correlation analysis using ProFootballFocus’ player grades and comparing them to overall defensive efficiency measured in dEPA.  I’ve flipped the signs for dEPA to just to avoid making it an inverse correlation.  I’ve included both Pearson’s r and chi2, I’m not really much of a statistics guy so I have no idea what the difference is between them, but if you happen to know more about this, leave a comment and I can adjust my analysis if needed.  Overall, the way to read these figures is that a value of 0 means there is no correlation at all while a value of 1 means that there is perfect correlation.  So for this case, the higher the number the more “valuable” that position is to defensive efficiency.  I’ve also included a positive control by correlating dEPA vs. dDVOA (from Football outsiders) and they are 91% correlated, which basically means this analysis holds for both metrics.  Finally, I’ve included a negative control by looking at the correlation between how well the offensive center plays versus how well the defense does; presumably how well the center plays has no relationship to how well the defense plays.

8

November

Packing the Stats: Randall Cobb and Other Movers of the Chain Gang

Packing the StatsGreen Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy wasn’t kidding when he called second-round pick Randall Cobb “very talented,” “multidimensional,” and “a matchup player” after the 2011 NFL Draft. We didn’t see a whole lot outside of kick returns last year, but this season has really seen Cobb explode on the offense. From his role in the slot to his special place in the “Cobra” formation, he has been a dynamic force that tilts the field.

We could talk about his best-in-league 131.0 wide receiver rating from ProFootballFocus.com. We could also look at his 45 receptions (tied for 13th in the league) or six receiving touchdowns (tied for 7th). But what I really want to focus on in this issue is a measure of production not often looked at: first down conversions.

What I have charted below is the number of conversions made by each individual player on the offense through the first nine weeks of 2012. From there, I’ve broken that number down into passes, runs, conversions by down, and touchdowns. (Note that a touchdown is considered part of the total number of conversions. Also note that the trick special teams plays are not included, since they are not produced by the offense.)

Let’s take a look at the numbers before we go any further:

 

Conversions by Player, 2012, Wks. 1-9

 

As is always the case, we can glean a few different things from this information. What I want to focus on first, however, is the fact that Cobb, Nelson, and Jones are the biggest “movers of the chain gang.” They’ve accounted for a combined 85 conversions, which is slightly more than half of the entire offense’s total.

We can also note that both Randall Cobb and James Jones are at their best on second and third downs. Jordy Nelson, on the other hand, seems to be equally productive across downs. Furthermore, these three players have accounted for 19 of the Packers’ 27 touchdowns, with Jones currently holding the lead at 8 touchdowns.

But let’s dig a little deeper. The Packers’ receiving corps has been hit by some unfortunate injuries to Greg Jennings (groin/abdomen), Jordy Nelson (hamstring/ankle), and even Jermichael Finley (shoulder). This means that straight-up numbers don’t mean a whole lot without a little more context.

11

September

Meet the Packers Newest Running Back: Randall Cobb

Randall Cobb

Could we see Packers KR/WR Randall Cobb on the reverse in 2012?

Despite losing to the 49ers last weekend, several things jumped out at me about the Packers; their offense can be as powerful as it was last year but look like they are going to need some time to get “tuned up”, the defense isn’t as bad as it was last year, but it’s still the weakness of the team, and the Packers might have finally figured out their problems at running back.  Their solution: second year man Randall Cobb.

The Packers have taken a page from the Minnesota Vikings and have positioned Cobb in a very similar manner as Percy Harvin, another player who perhaps doesn’t have the traditional skill set of a wide receiver but makes up for it in diversity of ability.

During week 7 of the 2010 season, the Vikings and Harvin fooled the Packers with a deceptively simple formation, with a twist:

 

The Vikings start in a 311 formation (3 WR, 1TE, 1RB) on 1st and 10 with Randy Moss at the bottom of the screen split wide, Harvin in the slot next to Moss and Bernard Berrian at the top of the screen split wide.  Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe is inline outside the right tackle while fullback/tight end Jeff Dugan lines up offset on the strong set (much like where a fullback would be in the I-formation).  The Packers, seeing 4 receivers and a fullback in a position to block naturally suspect the pass and counter with their nickel package, with Tramon Williams lining up against Moss and Sam Shields lining up against Berrian.  Charles Woodson lines up in the slot and naturally is covering Harvin, who again is also in the slot.

 

Now here’s where the trickery comes in, right before the snap Favre motions Harvin from the slot to Farve’s right and then proceeds to execute a draw play.  The Packers defensive linemen and linebackers abandon their run gap assignments as they play the pass and are completely caught off guard by the draw. Harvin stutters at the line, which only causes more confusion with the Packers pass rush as they don’t immediately see that its a run play.

 

29

August

Thomas Hobbes: My Initial Packers 53-man Roster Prediction

Well here we go again, last year I was completely off and I don’t expect to be much different this year.  I have however thought a lot about the rationale for creating a NFL roster and I came up with these ideas a couple weeks ago, which I’ll try to use as my baseline rules.

Offense – 24 players

Quarterback (2): Aaron Rodgers, Graham Harrell

Rodgers is obviously a lock and I almost think it’s too late for a backup quarterback switch.  I know some people have been speculating that the Browns will drop the price for Colt McCoy and Thompson will trade for him, but my assumption is that the Brown’s asking price is way too high at the moment (since as far as I can tell no team has been in serious talks with the Browns), and chances are good Thompson will get outbid by some other team if the price does indeed drop into a competitive offer, so I suspect McCoy goes somewhere else and Harrell remains the backup quarterback.

Running Back (5): James Starks, John Kuhn, Cedric Benson, Alex Green, Brandon Saine

I’ve put Starks still as the lead runner, as I think Benson needs more than one good outing to take the pole position in my opinion; but really that might be a moot point if Starks can’t get on the field.  I think Brandon Saine’s spot really depends on the health and performance of Alex Green; if the Packers believe that Green is healthy and productive enough after his ACL injury that he can manage the 3rd down back role by himself (with help from Kuhn), then Saine might be expendable, but personally I think was quietly becoming a very decent pass blocker, which the Packers highly covet.  Kuhn rounds out the group as the sole fullback.

Tight Ends (4): Jermichael Finley, Tom Crabtree, DJ Williams, Ryan Taylor

Nothing really interesting with the tight ends, Finley obviously leads the group, with Crabtree, Williams and Taylor all sort of in a mix for the backup position.  Each has their own strengths, Crabtree and Taylor can operate as a fullback and Williams is capable of playing the “move” tight end or H-back, and all three contribute on special teams.  It will be interesting to see what they do when Andrew Quarless returns (if he does at all, as they may choose to just shut him down for the entire year), my suspicions would be that they add Quarless back by stealing a spot from another position.

21

August

Packers Film Study: Can Alex Green Pass Protect?

Alex Green Packers vs. Browns

Alex Green

When Alex Green was drafted by the Packers, I have to admit, I knew little about him. My draft research at that time was focused on the Packers’ positions of primary need; outside linebacker and offensive tackle. So when the Packers selected Green in the third round, two things popped into my head.

First, if ted Thompson used a third round pick on a running back, he must really like the kid.

Second, I better go find tape and see what this kid is all about.

Soon after, I fell in love… you know, from a rabid Packer fan’s perspective. Here was a big back (220lbs.) with excellent leg drive that could make tacklers miss, had a good burst and was a weapon as a receiver out of the backfield. I also did a quick check of the official NFL Scouting report on Green, which suggested he may be one of the more underrated ball carriers in the nation. Here are some excerpts from that report:

Green is an excellent downhill runner, a pounder who runs with a low pad level and shows good leg drive and short area burst past the line of scrimmage.

The thing that you notice on film is his ability to generate in-stride quickness when adjusting and changing direction. He has that short area burst, along with the ability to take a side to avoid low blocks.

He is a pure power runner with above average downhill ability. He does a good job of lowering his shoulder and driving through initial tackles.

He does a good job of looking the ball in with his hands and can gain yardage after the catch.

As a third down back, he is capable of getting to the flares, arrows and comebacks, as his route regimen is not limited like most college backs.

Green is a good cut blocker and is alert to blitzes and stunts, showing the ability to face up, but he needs to sustain his blocks longer.

That last line floored me when I went back to that report. It’s so on the money with what I’ve seen from Green, you might think it was written this week. Lets take a look at a few videos to show you what I mean:

 

11

August

Alex Green: Quiet in Return, Benson in Town, but Opportunity Awaits

Packers RB Alex Green

Packers RB Alex Green

Packers running back Alex Green was quiet in his return to the field, but he passed his most important test–he stayed healthy in his first game nine months removed from ACL surgery.

While Green only managed a meager three yards and three carries against the Chargers, starter James Starks performed even worse. The first preseason game of the 2012 season put an exclamation point on Starks’s inconsistent start to training camp. After dropping a pass that surely would have resulted in a first down on the team’s first drive, Starks lost a fumble deep in the Packers’ own territory.

And with Thursday’s news that the Packers are close to signing veteran running back Cedric Benson, it’s clear that the team is worried about the current state of the position.

The Packers’ current trio of running backs is inexperienced to say the least. Starks, Green and Brandon Saine have just 28 games of experience and 759 career rushing yards between the three of them. Benson, 29, has surpassed 1,000 in each of the past three seasons.

If Benson, in fact, signs with the Packers–which he hasn’t yet–his spot on the team would not be guaranteed. It’s unlikely that the Packers would keep more than three running backs, especially because fullback John Kuhn is a capable ball carrier. Kuhn, Starks and Green each has a secure roster spot, so unless the Packers were able to stash Brandon Saine on the Practice Squad, the team would face a tough decision between the veteran Benson, or the young Saine.

Regardless of who wins the job as the Packers’ “feature back,” head coach Mike McCarthy has clearly shown that he’s not afraid to employ a pass-heavy offense–understandably so, with league MVP Aaron Rodgers under center. And assuming the team continues it’s pass-oriented ways in 2012, the running back most capable of making an impact as a receiver is Green.

Hawaii’s spread attack inflated Green’s gaudy 8.2-yards-per-carry average as a senior, but headed into the 2011 NFL Draft, he was viewed as one of the top receiving running backs in the entire class. And because the Packers use a pass-when-you-can-run-when-you-have-to offense with McCarthy and Rodgers in control, Green may surprise some people in 2012.

9

August

Packers-Chargers Preview: All Eyes on Alex Green

Packers RB Alex Green

Packers RB Alex Green

When the Packers traveled to Minnesota last season, running back Alex Green was in line for an expanded role with the team.

However, Green suffered a torn ACL early in the game, thus putting an abrupt end to his big day, and closing the book on his rookie season after just four games.

But by all accounts, Green’s offseason rehab has gone extremely well. The second-year running back has been on the field since the beginning of training camp after undergoing knee surgery in the middle of November.

Green sat out of practice on Tuesday, but he’s expected to play in Thursday night’s preseason opener in San Diego. And if Green does indeed play against the Chargers, it will be interesting to see how he–and his knee–responds to full speed game contact.

The Packers have shown no interest in bringing back unrestricted free agent Ryan Grant, so in all likelihood, they’ll enter 2012 with Green and Brandon Saine behind starter James Starks.

And although Starks is certainly a terrific athlete, he’s been largely inconsistent throughout training camp. Starks flashes limitless potential, then follows it up with a dropped pass or missed block. And throughout his first two seasons, Starks has missed a full season of work due to injury, appearing in just 16 of a possible 32 games.

In all likelihood, Green will have an opportunity to be the Packers’ primary ball carrier at some point this season given Starks’s struggles to stay healthy.

When the Packers selected Green in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft, NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock raved about Green and expected an immediate impact as a rookie:

“The rich just get richer. Alex Green, I love … What (Green) is, is a downhill back … But what he does as well as any running back in this year’s draft–and people don’t know this–is catch the football. Alex Green is going to be an impact player this year for the Green Bay Packers.”

Obviously, a torn ACL prevented Green from making much of an impact in his first season, but 2012 will be a huge opportunity for him. As a senior at Hawaii, Green was one of the most explosive running backs in college football, averaging a gaudy 8.2 yards per carry playing in Hawaii’s spread offensive attack.