1

November

Packing the Stats: Balanced Offense Performing with Increased Efficiency

Packing the StatsThere’s no doubt that Green Bay Packers fans have experienced a rough start to the 2013 season. Among losing games to the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals, the Packers have been without a number of key players due to injuries. But, in spite of this, we’re finally starting to see this team come together and work with efficiency.

It hasn’t been an easy transition, though. We’ve been used to a high-flying offense that made big plays down the field and racked up quick points, and it has taken some getting used to a more balanced offensive attack. Yet this newfound balance has paid major dividends.

Here is a look at some basic statistical categories for the Packers offense this season compared to their overall results from the last two years (from TeamRankings.com):

Statistical Category 2013 2012 2011
Points per Game 30.3 27.1 34.1
Yards per Game 438.9 357.2 404.1
Points per Play 0.448 0.419 0.547
Red Zone Scoring % (TD) 50.00% 68.52% 65.22%
Yards per Play 6.5 5.5 6.5
First Downs per Game 23.0 21.2 22.2
First Down per Play 0.340 0.327 0.357
Average Time of Possession 31:57 30:06 30:28
Third Down Conversion % 46.39% 41.00% 48.50%
Rushing Attempts per Game 29.6 26.7 24.6
Rushing Yards per Game 141.4 104.6 100.3
Rushing First Downs per Game 7.6 5.1 5.7
Yards per Rush Attempt 4.8 3.9 4.1
Rushing Play % 43.76% 41.20% 39.43%
Rushing First Down % 32.92% 23.88% 25.66%
Pass Completion % 67.07% 67.14% 67.34%
Passing Yards per Game 297.4 252.6 303.8
Yards per Pass Attempt 8.4 7.2 8.7
Passing First Downs per Game 13.3 13.4 14.4
Passing First Down % 57.76% 63.25% 64.81%
Average Team Passer Rating 108.0 107.1 119.4
Passing Play % 56.24% 58.80% 60.57%
QB Sacked % 6.39% 8.03% 7.01%

 

I think it’s interesting to not only look at the overall improvements from last season (which are striking), but also to look at how this offense has changed from the high-scoring juggernaut of 2011. For example, the overall performance indicators for 2013 are generally better than 2012, but not quite as good as 2011. Categories like Points per Game, Yards per Game, and Points per Play clearly show this. However, notice that the Yards per Play statistic is the same in 2013 as 2011, and the number of First Downs per Game is slightly higher than both years.

16

January

Injuries Took Their Toll on the Packers Linebacker Corps

D.J. Smith Injury 2012

The injury to D.J. Smith was one of many among the Green Bay Packers linebackers.

When the injuries started compounding for the Green Bay Packers this year, fans didn’t seem to flinch. Too fresh in their memories was the story of 2010, when the Packers overcame several key injuries to become Super Bowl champions. “Next man up” became the rally cry for the team, its fans, and the media.

The motto’s resurgence in 2012 showed the confidence of Packers Nation in Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy’s ability to add and develop depth throughout the team. While concerns still brewed in the back of our minds, they were overshadowed by what we’ve come to expect from Green Bay’s second string players.

No more Desmond Bishop? Bring in D.J. Smith. Now Smith goes down? Get Brad Jones in there. Lose Cedric Benson, James Starks, and Brandon Saine? Promote Alex Green and DuJuan Harris, then re-sign Ryan Grant from free agency. Even undrafted rookie Don Barclay surprised us with his ability to take over for Bryan Bulaga and not get Aaron Rodgers killed.

The specific team building philosophy of Thompson and McCarthy have allowed the Green Bay Packers to succeed even when some of their best players end up on injured reserve. Many other teams would struggle to handle such losses, whereas the Packers push through, fill in the holes, and still win their division.

Unfortunately, with all this confidence in the “next man up” mentality, we tend to lose sight of the fact that Green Bay’s offensive, defensive, and special teams units still lose some of their effectiveness from these starters going down.

In 2012, the position group that suffered the most was by far the linebacker corps. If you compare this season’s final roster to last year’s, the differences are striking. Clay Matthews and A.J. Hawk didn’t go anywhere, despite Matthews missing a few games; however, the losses of Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith were huge.

Yes, Brad Jones filled in admirably, but he is not the playmaker that Bishop is. (Nor is Smith.) Desmond Bishop is perhaps the biggest playmaker on the defense outside of Clay Matthews. His tough and ruthless attitude brings a punch that helps to balance out the lack of plays made by Hawk. While the “assignment sure” Hawk has been a perennial disappointment to many fans, he and Bishop complement each other extremely well. Without one, the other suffers.

15

October

Packers News: Saine, Smith done for season, RB White claimed

Packers LB D.J. Smith is out for the season

Packers LB D.J. Smith is out for the season

The Packers dominated the Houston Texans in every facet of the game Sunday night, but the injuries continued to pile up.

Running back Brandon Saine and linebacker D.J. Smith both suffered knee injuries in the Packers’ 42-20 victory. Both players have been placed on injured reserve, and thus, ending their seasons after just six games.

The injury bug has bitten the Packers’ inside linebackers yet again. After losing starter Desmond Bishop in their first preseason game, the Packers have now lost yet another key piece in the middle of their defense. Smith filled Bishop’s shoes in the starting lineup, and now the Packers will likely turn to Brad Jones to fill the starting position.

Jones and Jamari Lattimore both started as outside linebackers before moving inside this offseason. The Packers also drafted Terrell Manning out of North Carolina State, who has yet to make an impact on defense this season. Robert Francois rounds out the Packers’ depth at inside linebacker, after starting two games in 2011.

It’s too early to tell if the Packers will turn to the free agent market and add another linebacker, but the top available players at the position include E.J. Henderson, Gary Guyton and Gary Brackett. But seeing as the Packers still have five inside linebackers on the roster, they’ll likely roll with who they have for the time being.

To fill Saine’s void on the roster, the team has claimed running back Johnny White from Buffalo. White, a former fifth-round pick out of North Carolina, has appeared in 15 career games for the Bills.

With C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson both having been out of the lineup due to injury, White has carried the ball eight times for 34 yards this season. White will back up starter Alex Green and James Starks, and he’ll wear No. 34 with the Packers.

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Follow @MJEversoll

Marques is a Journalism student, serving as the Sports Editor of UW-Green Bay\'s campus newspaper The Fourth Estate and a Packers writer at Jersey Al\'s AllGBP.com. Follow Marques on Twitter @MJEversoll.

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18

September

Packers News: Jermichael Finley’s agent criticizes Rodgers

Jermichael Finley and Aaron Rodgers

Jermichael Finley and Aaron Rodgers

During the Packers’ demolition of the Chicago Bears last Thursday, both Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers and Bears quarterback Jay Cutler were caught on camera screaming at their teammates.

Cutler was seen lashing out at left tackle J’Marcus Webb after repeatedly getting beat by Packers linebacker Clay Matthews. And for the much-maligned quarterback, it was just another link on a long chain of events in which he’s displayed questionable behavior.

Rodgers, on the other hand, yelled at wide receiver James James after a fourth quarter interception. For the Packers quarterback, the on-field verbal abuse of a teammate was a rarity.

National media outlets have since put both situations under the microscope over the past few days.

ESPN’s Tedy Bruschi chimed in on the so-called “controversy” earlier this week. Bruschi suggested that Cutler’s outburst towards a physical mistake was unnecessary:

“Clay Matthews has beaten many offensive tackles who are a lot better than J’Marcus Webb. So when you get on somebody and embarrass somebody on national TV for getting beat physically, it’s almost like you’re kicking a man when he’s down … It was one man against another, and you lose. You kick him when he’s down, it’s not the right thing to do.”

On the other hand, Bruschi had no problem with Rodgers lashing out at Jones following a miscommunication:

“James Jones made a mental error … That’s when you can get in their grill because they made a poor decision. That justifies any type of criticism you can give them on national TV or not.”

The Rodgers-Jones controversy took an unexpected turn when Blake Baratz, the agent for Packers tight end Jermichael Finley, took to Twitter and criticized Rodgers’s leadership.

After mentioning Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady as being great leaders, one of Baratz’s followers asked him why he didn’t mention Rodgers. Baratz replied, “He isn’t a great leader.”

The comments from Baratz were surprising, given that Rodgers’s leadership abilities haven’t been called into question much since taking over as the Packers’ starting quarterback. Despite Baratz insisting that his comments had nothing to do with Finley, his opinion immediately raised questions about the relationship between the outspoken tight end and his quarterback.

Surprisingly, Finley has refrained from  commenting on the situation but did take to Twitter to display his support for Rodgers. Finley tweeted, “”@AaronRodgers12 is our leader, period. … Family can disagree it makes us all stronger.”

15

September

Jerron McMillian making most of increased opportunity

Packers rookie S Jerron McMillian

Packers rookie S Jerron McMillian

There’s no way around it–the Packers’ defense dominated the Chicago Bears on Thursday night.

Tramon Williams caught as many Jay Cutler passes (two) as Brandon Marshall,  the Packers nearly doubled the Bears in total yards, and Clay Matthews had his arms wrapped around Cutler as if he were a certain cast member on Laguna Beach. If not for an ugly miscommunication between Aaron Rodgers and James Jones, the Bears may not have scored more than three points all night.

Just four days prior, Alex Smith and the San Francisco 49ers sliced through Green Bay’s defense for 30 points, spoiling the Packers’ season opener at Lambeau Field. Predictably so, much of Packer Nation reached for the “Panic” button.

But the Packers’ performance on Thursday night couldn’t possibly have been more different. The Packers held the Bears’ talented offense to just 10 points and 168 total yards, while intercepting four of Cutler’s passes and sacking him seven times. Suddenly, the Packers defense doesn’t look all that bad.

Matthews (3.5 sacks) and Williams (two INT) will surely continue to receive the bulk of the credit for Thursday night’s surprisingly dominant display of defense, and rightfully so, but it took a total team effort for the Packers to embarrass the Bears the way they did.

And while there were a handful of “unsung heroes” in Week Two, safety Jerron McMillian may top the list.

The rookie fourth-round pick was constantly around the football–as the play ended, No. 22 was near. As a small-school prospect from Maine, McMillian was viewed as an in-the-box safety coming into the league. And on at least two separate occasions against the Bears, the 5’11″ safety proved that he isn’t afraid of anyone.

With 9:42 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Michael Bush took a handoff  and followed his blockers along the left side of the offensive line. Bears left guard Chris Spencer pulled as a lead blocker and laid his head into McMillian. The rookie invited the contact, put the 312-pound lineman on his backside, and made the tackle for a one-yard loss.

Then, on the second play of the third quarter, the Bears again pulled the play-side guard as a lead blocker, except this time, it was 305-pound right guard Lance Louis. The result, however, was more of the same. McMillian maintained low pad level and moved Louis backward, allowing D.J. Smith and A.J. Hawk to bring down Forte after a short gain.

10

September

Packers make room for LB Walden, cut CB Ross

Packers LB Erik Walden

Packers LB Erik Walden

As the Packers turn the page on Erik Walden’s one-game suspension, they’ve cut cornerback Brandian Ross to clear room for the 27 year-old linebacker.

Ross was inactive for Sunday’s game against the 49ers, but the Packers will likely try and keep him around to the practice squad. Teams have 24 hours to put in a claim for Ross before he’s eligible for the Packers to bring him back.

Walden will provide depth to the outside linebacker position behind starters Clay Matthews and Nick Perry. Matthews was one of just a few bright spots on Sunday, racking up 2.5 sacks–nearly half of last season’s total of six.

Ross was a surprise inclusion on the 53-man roster, so it makes sense that he’s been released to free up a roster spot for Walden.

While it remains highly unlikely that Walden will solve all of the Packers problems defensively, his return will be a welcome addition to the team craving a win over the Chicago Bears on Thursday. The best game of Walden’s career came against the Bears in the regular season finale of the 2010 season, recording 12 total tackles and sacking Jay Cutler three times.

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Follow @MJEversoll

Marques is a Journalism student, serving as the Sports Editor of UW-Green Bay\'s campus newspaper The Fourth Estate and a Packers writer at Jersey Al\'s AllGBP.com. Follow Marques on Twitter @MJEversoll.

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4

July

Reality Check: What Can the Green Bay Packers Expect From Randall Cobb?

What type of season can we expect from Randall Cobb in 2012?

While Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson may be the core of the Green Bay Packers’ offense, Randall Cobb is without a doubt the most exciting player to enter Green Bay in a long time.  In fact, Cobb’s reputation as an elite playmaker was seen during the first game of his career when he returned a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown midway through the third quarter against the New Orleans Saints.

Even though Cobb only posted 25 receptions for 375 yards and one touchdown, there is still plenty to get excited about heading into the 2012 season for this young player.  The big question is how much of an impact can we truly expect to see from him during his second season.

While it may seem difficult for Cobb to have too huge an impact thanks to the depth of the Packers’ receiving corps, there is simply too much talent oozing from this young player for Green Bay not to figure out how to get him more involved in the offense.

So, just how big of a leap will he make from year one to year two?  Let’s take an in-depth look at what the 2012 season may hold for this talented youngster.

Receptions

Last year Cobb was only thrown at 31 times which resulted in 25 receptions.  There is little doubt that both those numbers should increase, and here is why.

James Jones and Donald Driver had a combined 108 targets last year.  With Driver’s increasing age and diminishing impact on the game combined with Jones’ inconsistent hands, it isn’t crazy to think that Cobb could begin the season as the No. 3 receiver on the depth chart.  When Jordy Nelson was the No. 3 receiver during the 2010 season, he was thrown at 61 times with 45 receptions.

It is definitely possibly that Cobb could see that many targets this year, but I actually believe he’ll see more.  Teams are going to need to focus on slowing down Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley, leaving a potential mismatch on every snap for Cobb.

If there is one thing we know about Rodgers as a quarterback it’s that he loves to throw to the open man.  Cobb will certainly be open a bunch this season, making it extremely likely that he surpasses Nelson’s 2010 campaign.