Category Archives: Cullen Jenkins

5

June

What Is Mike Neal Doing At Outside Linebacker?

Admittedly, the Packers can’t claim to have much depth at outside linebacker at the moment; of course they have one of the best in Clay Matthews III, another 1st round selection they are high on and hope to see marked improvement in Nick Perry and a undrafted free agent looking to make a big jump in year 2 in Dezman Moses.  But that’s pretty much it in terms of actual experience; the Packers did draft Nate Palmer, a projected outside linebacker in the 6th round from Illinois State (much to the chagrin of commenters apparently) but they also did lose Frank Zombo to Kansas City and interestingly Erik Walden to the Colts for a 4-year $16 million contract (this is after the Packers signed Walden last year to a veteran minimum contract worth $700,000).  There has been some speculation that either Brad Jones or Jamari Lattimore, both who joined the Packers as outside linebackers but where converted to inside linebacker last year, could again make the transition back to the outside.

However, one dark horse candidate making headlines in OTAs was Mike Neal.  Just from initial impressions, you have to wonder what the Packers are doing.  2012 1st round pick Nick Perry was a little bit of a “square peg” weighing in a 271 pounds at the draft, but Neal outweighs Perry by a good 25 pounds.  Add to that Neal’s inexperience in playing from a two-point stance, and the multitude of extra responsibilities outside linebackers have (most notably dropping back into coverage) and Mike Neal is probably the last guy you’d think could have a shot at playing outside linebacker. Ironically most 3-4 outside linebackers in the NFL are converted 4-3 defense ends, but this is the only occasion I can think of where a college 4-3 DT has been asked to transition to 3-4 outside linebacker.

Yes the Packers are tinkerers during the offseason; they love to mix and match offensive linemen and you’ll see players line up all over the place, but at least in my opinion, most of these were just small experiments to see how players would react to a new position; after all if getting the most out of a player is the main goal of a coaching staff, it would make sense to see how much positional versatility or even positional potential each player has.  Again, I would argue that if Neal had been a complete disaster the moment he lined up at linebacker (and I don’t think that should be a fault on him), the Packers probably would have pulled the plug on that idea in a hurry.  However, it does seem like the Packers like what they have seen and are willing to expand the experiment further.

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.

7

May

Green Bay Packers 2012 NFL Draft: The Reasons Behind the Picks Part I

NFL Draft Logo Image

2012 NFL Draft

So now that the NFL draft is officially over, tons of fans will converge on Packers web sites to air their grievances about not drafting a particular player or reaching for another.  They will hand out grades to teams and players alike; argue with other fans about what should have happened, and how the analysts have no idea what they are talking about.

I frankly am uninterested in such things; you’re typically not going to find out how good a draft class or a player is for 3-5 years and a player’s success has a lot to do with the team and the environment they get drafted in.

Nevertheless, every team drafts a player with a role in mind, and in this article I hope to analyze what role I think each player was drafted for; I am not concerning myself with what I think will likely happen, I have not placed a grade or an analysis of each player’s potential for a reason.  I’ve also included who I think the rookies will be replacing, keep in mind I don’t necessarily think that a rookie will take a veteran’s spot (for instance I have Casey Hayward replacing Charles Woodson) only what type of role that rookie is like to take.

Nick Perry – Projected Outside Linebacker – Round 1, Pick 28 (#28 overall) – Replaces Erik Walden

Rationale: With no pass rushers taken until #15 (Bruce Irvin to Seattle), Ted Thompson probably just sat on his hands and waited for players to drop to him.  From a schematic standpoint I think Perry offers a good foil for fellow Trojan Clay Matthews III; Perry showed impressive strength (which is supposed to translate to explosion) at the combine with 38.5 inch vertical (tied for 2nd among defensive linemen and linebackers) and 35 bench reps (tied for 6th among defensive linemen and linebackers, though really he’s tied for 1st when you exclude defensive tackles) and while that didn’t translate to much of a power game on the field (though it could be argued when you are as fast around the edge as Perry is you’d probably neglect the power game as well), rookies typically get much “functionally” stronger with NFL weight rooms and trainers so Perry could be very good at setting the edge in the future.

17

February

Could Packers Trade Up in 2012 NFL Draft to Pick a Pass Rusher?

Ted Thompson Packers

Packers GM Ted Thompson traded back into the first round to take Clay Matthews in 2009.

The day was April 25, the Saturday of the 2009 NFL draft, and Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson had a franchise-altering decision staring him in the face.

As he sat in the Packers’ war room, having already acquired nose tackle B.J. Raji from Boston College with the ninth overall pick, there was a name he couldn’t shake and a need he knew he needed to fill.

The name was Clay Matthews, and the need was 3-4 outside linebacker.

Matthews, a wavy-haired overachiever with Hall of Fame bloodlines, remained available as the first round came to a close. A walk-on at USC who didn’t play full-time until his senior year, Matthews was an ideal pass rushing outside linebacker for his new defense. And Thompson knew that if there were two positions most important to making the Packers’ new 3-4 defense under defensive coordinator Dom Capers work, it was nose tackle and outside linebacker. Raji was the answer inside, Matthews could be the same on the edge.

In his hand was a weapon he rarely held, and uncharacteristically, Thompson pulled the trigger.

A man notorious for trading back in the draft to stockpile picks, Thompson sent a second and two third-round picks to the New England Patriots for the No. 26 pick in the first round and a later fifth rounder.

Shortly after, Roger Goodell announced Matthews as the Packers’ pick, and the rest, as they say, was history. Matthews turned into a superstar, registering back-to-back 10-sack seasons while helping lead the Packers to a Super Bowl win over the Pittsburgh Steelers just less than 22 months later. Along with sticking with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, Thompson’s decision to move up and get Matthews remains a defining moment in his building of a championship puzzle.

Fastforward to this April, and you could argue Thompson is in a similar state of need that he found himself in 2009.

Just a year after reaching the NFL’s peak, Thompson’s defense shattered in 2011. Better yet, it collapsed after under the weight of Thompson’s failure to find a starting-quality outside linebacker opposite Clay Matthews and his decision not to re-sign highly productive but aging defensive end Cullen Jenkins, who bolted to the Philadelphia Eagles but was entirely open to returning to the Packers. Green Bay won 15 games during the regular season despite giving up more passing yards than any other team in NFL history, then threw away their opportunity to repeat as Super Bowl champions with an undisciplined effort on both sides of the football.

14

February

Green Bay Packers: Poor Tackling Among CBs Hurt Defense in 2011

Receivers often gained yards after the catch against the Packers because of poor tackling.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look back on the Green Bay Packers 2011 season and identify the obvious reasons for their defensive collapse.

Cullen Jenkins was sorely missed at right defensive end, little to no production was received from outside linebacker opposite Clay Matthews and Nick Collins’ season-ending neck injury handicapped the back end.

But one factor that gets overlooked is just how poor the tackling was for the Packers defense, especially in the secondary.

Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus effectively laid out just how bad it was for the Packers secondary in 2011.

According to the site, which reviews and grades every single play for every single player, the Packers trio of cornerbacks—Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields—was the worst tackling cornerback trio in the NFL.

And believe it not, the numbers weren’t even close.

Woodson missed 15 tackles on 87 attempts, Williams missed 16 on 80 attempts and Shields missed 10 on 40 attempts. Altogether, the three missed 41 tackles in 2011—a number that ranks them significantly above any other cornerback trio in the NFL.

The Philadelphia Eagles were the first team that came to mind in comparison, but their trio of Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie only missed 27 tackles last season.

All three of the Packers cornerbacks ranked in the bottom 20 of tackling efficiency, too.

Woodson has always been a player that missed his fair share of tackles, mostly because his fearlessness of playing near the line of scrimmage. Still, his 16 came at a higher rate than the 14 he had in 2010 in 20 games and the nine he missed during his Defensive Player of the Year season in 2009.

Williams allowed 68 catches in 2011, so his opportunities for missed tackles were obviously increased. During 2010, a year in which Williams established himself as a top-flight cover corner, he missed just nine. A shoulder injury suffered in Week 1 against the New Orleans Saints certainly had an impact on how physical Williams was both in coverage and as a tackler.

6

February

Green Bay Packers Offseason: Another Veteran Purge Could Be Coming

Packers WR Donald Driver

Packers WR Donald Driver might be a cut Ted Thompson makes this offseason. (Photo: Getty images)

It didn’t take long into Ted Thompson’s reign as Green Bay Packers GM for the unwavering 52-year-old to firmly establish that football moves under his direction would be made without the cling of emotion, void of any sentimental feelings that could effect a given decision one way or the other.

Among Thompson’s first moves as GM in 2005 were the releasing of guard Mike Wahle and safety Darren Sharper and declining to re-sign guard Marco Rivera, three players that were stalwarts for Packers teams that had won consecutive NFC North titles from 2002-04. Despite their undisputed contributions, each was shown the door both because of age and Thompson’s need to manage the Packers’ out of control salary cap.

Wahle was 28 years old and had played in 103 straight games when Thompson released him, but the move saved over $11 million in cap space. Axing Sharper, a 29-year-old All-Pro safety, saved another $4.3 million. Rivera went on to sign a five-year, $20 million contract with the Cowboys after Thompson let him walk at the age of 32.

All three of the moves were spurred by the Packers’ cap situation as he entered the job. No matter how unpopular, each needed to be made to get Thompson back into his salary cap comfort zone.

And while a drastic makeover like 2005 hasn’t been seen since, similar decisions to the ones Thompson made in that offseason have. In the end, making those tough decisions are a big reason why the Packers’ salary cap has never again reached 2005 levels.

Over subsequent years, Thompson released veterans Na’il Diggs (80 career starts, saved $2.9 million) and Bubba Franks (Three-time Pro Bowler, saved over $4 million), traded away an unretired Brett Favre, and let Ahman Green (the Packers franchise leader in rushing yards) and Aaron Kampman (owner of 54 career sacks in Green Bay) walk in free agency.

In 2010, Thompson released cornerback Al Harris, who started seven straight seasons for the Packers but was 36 years old and struggling to come back from a catastrophic knee injury in ’09.

Starting to sound like a broken record?  There was still more roster reshaping to do even after Thompson’s 2010-11 Packers reached the top of the NFL mountain.

28

January

Jarius Wynn: 2011 Green Bay Packers Evaluation and Report Card

Jarius Wynn

Jarius Wynn

1) Introduction: For a couple games early in the season, it looked like Jarius Wynn had a shot at becoming the next no-name player to become a name player on the Packers roster. Unfortunately, Wynn fizzled out and got stuck in no-name playerville, a city populated by several Packers defensive linemen.

2) Profile:

Jarius Jessereel Wynn

Position: DE
Height: 6-3
Weight: 285 lbs.
AGE: 22

Career Stats:

3) Expectations coming into the season: Pass rusher. Nobody expected Wynn to morph into Reggie White, but as a smallish DE, the Packers needed him to use his quickness to get after the QB. He got after it for a while, but couldn’t sustain his early-season success.

4) Player’s highlights/low-lights: Wynn had two sacks against the Bears in week three and three sacks through the first three games. Some of us were saying, “Cullen Jenkins who?” Unfortunately, Wynn never recorded another sack and the rest of the season was mostly a low-light.

5) Player’s contribution to the overall team success: He helped out a lot the first month of the season. But once the QB pressures dried up, he was a liability against the run.

6) Player’s contributions in the playoffs: Like the rest of the defensive line, Wynn didn’t contribute much in the playoffs.

Season Report Card:

(D) Level of expectations met during the season
(D+) Contributions to team’s overall success.
(F) Contributions to team during the playoffs

Overall Grade: D

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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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