Category Archives: 2011 Regular Season

8

August

Packers Training Camp Rewind: RB Brandon Saine

Packers RB Brandon Saine

I could have easily titled this post “Brandon Saine: The New Brandon Jackson?” or “Brandon Saine Could Be Packers Third Down Back,” because that’s exactly what he’s shaping up to be. Though, in all fairness, I actually think he could be better than Jackson used to be.

Saine was picked up by the Green Bay Packers in 2011 as an undrafted rookie out of Ohio State. Though he was released in the final cuts, the Packers signed him to the practice squad, where he stayed until being promoted to the active roster halfway through the season. His first significant appearance came in the Thanksgiving Day showdown against the Detroit Lions, and Saine would later go on to see some significant playing time against the New York Giants and the Lions rematch.

According to ProFootballFocus.com, these are some of the stats for Saine in the seven games he appeared in:

Snaps 78
Run 19
Pass 38
Run Block 12
Pass Block 9
Run Attempts 19
Run Yards 72
Yds. / Attempt 3.8
Pass Targets 11
Receptions 10
Catch % 90.9%
Receiving Yards 69
Yds. / Reception 6.9
Yards After Catch 78
YAC / Reception 7.8
Touchdowns 0
QB Sacks 1
QB Hits 0
QB Hurries 0

 

When I went back to watch some of the game film from last year, I focused on Saine’s two prominent appearances: Week 13 vs. Giants and Week 17 vs. Lions. The thing to jump out at me first was his ability to pick up the blitz.

While there wasn’t a large sample size to work with in regards to pass protection, you have to enjoy seeing him crack the extra pass rusher like he did there. He meets the linebacker dead on, with good timing, and stays low to maintain leverage.

Side Note: The single sack allowed by Saine last season was in the Divisional Round of the playoffs against New York. It came in the fourth quarter against a fast edge rush by OLB Michael Boley that just so happened to get the better of James Starks earlier in the game on the same move and also for a sack. Not an excuse, but it is noteworthy.

25

July

Packers Training Camp Rewind: LB Robert Francois

Robert Francois

ILB Robert Francois, #49, celebrates an interception against the Detroit Lions.

As we head into our first days of the Green Bay Packers training camp, I decided to spotlight a few back-up players from last year’s team who could be contenders to make the roster again. My first selection is Robert Francois, an inside linebacker who made some bright flashes as a temporary starter when he managed two athletic interceptions in coverage.

During the Thanksgiving Day game against the Detroit Lions, injuries to both Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk thrust back-ups Robert Francois and D.J. Smith into action. (Incidentally, the coaches had to communicate to players via hand signals in the second half, as both Bishop and Hawk were the only two players designated to wear speakers in their helmets.) Francois went on to start the next two games: Week 13 against the New York Giants, and Week 14 against the Oakland Raiders.

According to ProFootballFocus.com, these are some of the stats for Francois in those three games:

Snaps 166
Thrown At 15
Receptions 10
Catch % 66.7%
Yards 96
Average Yards 9.6
Yards After Catch 42
Longest 17
Touchdowns 0
Interceptions 2
Passes Defensed 1
QB Sack 0
QB Hit 0
QB Hurry 0
Tackles 14
Assists 2
Missed Tackles 4
Stops 5

 

After watching just about every snap that Francois played, his strengths and weaknesses became pretty clear. In fact, Francois was just about manhandled during his first series against the Lions in Week 12. His first five plays saw him get sealed off from the run, allowing two receptions in man coverage, and provide a poorly executed blitz. All that, of course, was made up for on the sixth snap, when he deftly intercepted a Matthew Stafford pass over the middle of the field.

In his subsequent starts against the Giants and Raiders, however, Francois showed a significant increase in his level of play. He exhibited more patience, better timing on blitzes, and improved run support. Where he often got sealed off and controlled by blockers against Detroit, he did a better job against New York and Oakland of squaring up with the run and not over-pursuing, allowing himself to get free of blockers more easily. Francois’s lateral agility/quickness leaves something to be desired, though, and it’s part of the reason for this missed tackle of Brandon Jacobs:

2

July

Packers Starters Most Likely to Lose Their Spots

Most of the offseason chatter about Packers starters getting benched has centered on A.J. Hawk being replaced by D.J. Smith. That very well might happen, but what about other starters that could find themselves on the bench once the season starts?

Erik Walden
According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Walden totaled just three sacks, 14 QB hits and 22 QB hurries in 15 starts. From week 12 through the playoff loss, Walden had zero sacks, four hits and six hurries (he also got arrested). His (-20.5) overall rating by PFF was the worst among 3-4 OLBs by almost 10 points.

Packers fans don’t need fancy stats and analytics to know that Walden was bad. If he was simply average, and provided at least a little pressure on the QB down the stretch, who knows how last season might have ended? Rookie Nick Perry likely will take over here.

Jarius Wynn/C.J. Wilson
These two combined to start six games, so it’s a stretch to call them starters. Howard Green also started five times, so we’ll consider Wynn/Wilson/Green a sort of three-headed monster that started most games somewhere on the defensive line. With Green gone, there’s only two heads of the monster left, and I’m not sure that either head will start this season.

Wilson seems like a good athlete, which gives me some hope that he could eventually turn into a serviceable player. A permanent starter? The jury is out.

The Packers need more defensive lineman that cause chaos. It’s a common misconception that the only role of a 3-4 defensive lineman is to “occupy blockers.” That’s true to a point, but the lineman needs to do something that actually occupies the blocker. Simply being a large body with a pulse that walks upright isn’t enough.

Jerel Worthy caused chaos at Michigan St. He occupied blockers, and he also beat the hell out of the blockers he occupied. If he can do that in the NFL, he’ll be starting over Wilson and Wynn in no time.

Marshall Newhouse
Thanks to Chad Clifton’s injury, Newhouse started 13 games at left tackle. He’s got the inside track to begin as the starter this season unless Derek Sherrod recovers from his leg injury and plays out of his mind in training camp. I don’t see Newhouse losing his spot.

13

June

Did Too Much Toughness Backfire on Tramon Williams Last Season?

Maybe being so tough backfired on Tramon Williams last season.

If you haven’t read Tyler Dunne’s story on Packers CB Tramon Williams and his injured shoulder in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, take a few minutes and check it out.

Williams sounds like a tough guy, doesn’t he? Sounds like the type of guy that would fit in just as well in the Vince Lombardi era as he does in the Mike McCarthy era. From Dunne’s story:

 

 “His shoulder was torn, strained, bruised – and worst of all – Williams suffered nerve damage. That nerve damage zapped Williams’ aggressiveness and his play suffered.”

 

You can’t question Williams’ toughness, but is too much toughness a bad thing?

After a breakout season in 2010 earned him a new contract, Williams was terrible in 2011. The lack of a pass rush and overall ineptitude of the defense didn’t help, but there’s no sugar-coating the fact that Williams got torched way too often.

It sounds like Williams’ injured shoulder changed how he played and probably was to blame for at least a few of those torchings.

The injury also meant that Williams couldn’t press cover. When teammates were in the area of the ballcarrier, Williams avoided contact as much as possible, letting other players make tackles (or miss them). He also stayed away from pile-ups.

Now Williams is saying that the shoulder still bothers him and he might not be back to 100 percent before training camp.

Yikes.

As I write this, I’m sitting on my deck, enjoying a glass of water after my bike ride home from work (I’m also avoiding grocery shopping until my wife gets mad and orders me to go). In other words, I am in no position to judge whether an NFL cornerback is fit to play or not.

But the question has to be asked: What was gained by having an injured Williams take the field over and over again? Was a one-armed Williams really a better option than a healthy Davon House, Jarrett Bush or Pat Lee?

Yes, House is unproven and Bush and Lee make us wince whenever they run on the field, but Williams was in their shoes at one point, too. At the very least, Williams should have sat out the regular season finale where he was abused by Calvin Johnson and “was in visible pain in the locker room” after the game.

1

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.

22

May

Packers Coaches Campen, Slocum Out of the Fire?

James Campen

Is James Campen finally off the hook in the eyes of Packers fans?

There’s been something missing this offseason, and I’ve finally figured out what it is: the annual tirade of Packers fans against special teams coach Shawn Slocum and offensive line coach James Campen. What once was a common occurrence has quietly but certainly escaped from our foremost thoughts. They have only been mentioned in mere passing in recent news stories, and even the most rabid of fans have barely even whispered their names.

All of this, evidently, must be a good thing.

Just about 11 months ago, our own Zach Kruse wrote a post detailing five areas in which the Packers could improve in 2011, despite having won a Super Bowl title the previous year. Three of those areas were Kick and Punt Returning, Kick and Punt Coverage, and Pass Protection. In revisiting those now, we’ve seen some noteworthy improvements.

In first looking at Special Teams, the addition of Randall Cobb as a punt and kick returner was huge. Not only did he win the NFL Honors Play of the Year for his 108-yard kickoff return against the New Orleans Saints, but he made a significant mark on the statistics sheets. In yards per punt return, Cobb ranked third in the NFL (13.4), and he ranked seventh in yards per kickoff return (27.6).

While a lot of this is due to the athletic talent and vision that Cobb possesses, these plays would not have been possible without the blocking of the special teams units. And for that, we have to give credit to Slocum. If we are going to blame him for the failures, then it would only be right to praise him for the successes.

In fact, if you go by the advanced statistical measurements of Football Outsiders (FO), the Packers special teams unit ranked 8th in DVOA (3.5%) across the league in 2011. Last year they ranked 26th (1.6%).

Now how about that offensive line?

Well, to look at it statistically, they actually slid back a little bit. Their 41 sacks allowed last year numbered three more than the year of their Super Bowl run, and according to FO, their Adjusted Sack Rate rose from 7.2% to 7.4%. But if this is the case, why haven’t we heard the rallying cry against Campen lately?

16

May

It’s Sam Shields’ Turn to “Improve From Within”

Sam Shields - Green Bay Packers defensive back

Sam Shields sends the Packers to the Super Bowl.

Think back to the beginning of the 2010 season for a minute. The Packers defense was coming off an embarrassing playoff loss to the Arizona Cardinals and the secondary faced many of the same questions that the pass rush faces today.

But instead of answering those questions in the draft, Ted Thompson’s solution was to plug in an undrafted rookie free agent that few people had heard of and actually had more experience as a wide receiver than a defensive back. Sam Shields came into camp with the reputation as a speedster, and that’s about it. Besides his ability to run really fast, nobody knew much else about him.

“This is how you’re going to fix the secondary, Ted?” Packers fans asked.

“Yup,” Thompson replied before taking another sip from his bottled water and turning away.

“Improving from within” was a talking point that Thompson and Mike McCarthy hammered home through training camp and the preseason. By 2010, most reasonable Packers fans understood that Thompson was rarely going to sign a free agent or make a trade that grabbed headlines.

But Sam Shields? Really? The Packers were supposed to be a Super Bowl caliber team and Thompson’s answer to the team’s main weakness was an undrafted converted receiver? This decision really put the “In Ted we Trust” mantra to the test.

Well, we know how it worked out. Shields had an excellent rookie season and sealed the Packers trip to the Super Bowl with a game-clinching interception in the NFC championship. Shields was so good, the Packers cut fan favorite Al Harris halfway through the season.

The Packers improved from within, alright. But it was Shields — an unknown outsider — who kickstarted some of that improvement.

The following season didn’t go so well for Shields, or the entire Packers defense. There were too many games where the defense looked outmatched like they were against Warner and the Cardinals. But instead of taking the improve from within approach again, Thompson used almost all of his draft picks on defense. He even signed a few free agents.

That doesn’t mean improving from within doesn’t apply to this group. Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy, Casey Heyward and the others are nice additions, but they’re not going to rescue this defense by themselves. Several players are going to have to get better, or improve from within. Shields tops the list.