In each of the past three games, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers offense have done something they have only done once since Week 5: thrown a touchdown pass to a tight end. Donald Lee accounts for two of those touchdowns, and we just saw Tom Crabtree score his first NFL touchdown in Sunday’s NFC Wild Card game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
All of the touchdown passes came from near the goal line, and both of the scoring tight ends had fewer than 10 total yards of production in each game.
After the final regulation game against the Chicago Bears, frequent commenter “Ron LC” made an interesting note about Mike McCarthy’s use of the tight end this season. He wrote: “Lee’s TD last week has identified an area where MM seems to have given up. The TE as a key player in getting the 1st down and controlling the ball.”
In response to this, I decided to do some research to see if it was an accurate assessment. What I found was interesting, but not totally surprising.
The following chart and graphs present the data I uncovered (click on the chart for full resolution):
TARG% = TE Targets / Total Pass Attempts
YDS% = TE Yards / Total Pass Yards
TD% = TE Touchdowns / Total Passing Touchdowns
First Down TE% = TE First Downs / Passing First Downs
LOSING FINLEY HURT PRODUCTION . . .
Without even realizing it, I made one big assumption before even starting to collect the data: the injury to Jermichael Finley in Week 5 against the Washington Redskins was responsible for the decrease in production from the tight ends.
And I was right.
If you will notice in the chart, I separated the data into three sections. The first section encompasses the four weeks in which Finley was healthy and active. Though limited in sample size, this gives us a baseline to work with when analyzing the rest of the season.
The second section is only one game – the one in which Finley was injured. I separated this from the others, because I felt it was unique to the situation. Finley practically didn’t play at all in that game, since he was injured early and was never targeted. But Mike McCarthy had still made the game plans with him in mind, which means he still intended to utilize the tight end a significant amount. In fact, rookie Andrew Quarless pretty much replaced Finley in that game, as he accounted for 4 receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown.