3

March

Surviving Sunday: Packers News, Notes and Links for the Football Deprived

Surviving Sundays With No Packers Football

Surviving Sundays With No Packers Football

When is it time to get worried about the Packers recent history in the first round of the NFL draft?

  • Bryan Bulaga (2010): Missed four games in 2011 with a knee injury and seven games in 2012 with a season-ending hip injury.
  • Derek Sherrod (2011): Broke his leg toward the end of a ho-hum rookie season and missed all of 2012.
  • Nick Perry (2012): Broke a bone in his wrist and missed the final 10 regular season games and the playoffs.

Ouch.

Of those three, Bulaga appears to be a good to great player if he can stay on the field. The jury is still out on the other two.

If you’re looking for a silver lining with these three, you could probably say that these are not re-occurring and nagging types of injuries. It’s not like these three are always hobbling around with a strained hamstring, sore back or migraine headaches. If these injuries heal as they should, the chances are good each player’s development could get back on track.

Or maybe the serious nature of these injuries has set each player back so far that they will never reach their potential.

Either way, I’m sick of the tough luck (or maybe the fragility) of the Packers recent first-round picks. Here’s hoping things turn around this April and Ted Thompson finds another Clay Matthews or B.J. Raji who is productive and stays on the field.

Packers News, Notes and Links

  • Bob McGinn had some great stuff in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel this week. He got Mike McCarthy for a one-on-one and covered issues such as the Packers toughness, the salary cap and the Packers draft outlook. I like how McCarthy took some ownership for the Packers defense in the story on toughness. He needs to do more of that this season.
  • Evan Western at Acme Packing Company goes over Jermichael Finley’s comments about not being willing to take a pay cut. I’m on Finley’s side here. He shouldn’t have to take a pay cut. And he shouldn’t be vilified for taking that position.
  • Jacob Westendorf, the newest scribe at Packerstalk.com, also chimes in on Finley. Packerstalk.com podcasts this week include a breakdown of the corners and safeties, the Out of the Pocket Podcast with Richard, Kelly and Colleen, and a personal favorite of mine, the ‘Ol Bag of Donuts podcast on Charles Woodson, free agents and other stuff.
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.

16

March

Assessing the Packers’ Biggest Draft Needs

Ted Thompson Packers

Despite Tom Silverstein’s shocking news that the Packers are interested in former Miami Dolphins’ defensive end Kendall Langford, chances remain high that the Packers instead address their defensive deficiencies through the draft.

In doing so, the question becomes which position should the Packers address first; an outside linebacker to put opposite Clay Matthews or another body to build up a much-needed pass rush. Or what about center if Scott Wells finds a new home via free agency and the Packers come up empty-handed with veteran centers?

Regardless of need, Ted Thompson is likely to draft the best player available when the Packers get on the clock, but it’s worthwhile to play the game.

While the Packers having glaring holes both on the defensive line and at right outside linebacker, addressing the issues of the defensive line will also help to alleviate additional pressure placed on the outside linebacker, as well as the defensive back field.

With a steady pass rush in 2010, the Packers were able to mask their weakness at the right outside linebacker position all the way to winning Super Bowl XLV. When Cullen Jenkins walked out the door to become an Eagle and the pass rush struggled, there were just too many problems to disguise. By fixing one issue, namely the defensive line, the Packers would again be able to compensate for weaknesses elsewhere, if not able to find a solution via free agency or the draft.

The news of Mike Neal’s suspension earlier this week was another hit to the Packers’ defensive line situation. Supposed to be the justification for letting Cullen Jenkins walk for a somewhat affordable deal, Neal hasn’t lived up to the hype and is getting dangerously close to the bust label, or even the Justin Harrell 2.0 label. It appears that Neal is not the answer, and the doubt weighs enough that it’s time to act.

While Langford would be a good addition to the rotation on the line, he won’t offer much in terms of the pass rush, the Packers’ biggest downfall in 2011. He is a run-stopper first and foremost and not known for getting after the quarterback.

The Packers need to address the defensive line and get a lineman who can and will get to the quarterback. That’s not to say if the Packers have a chance at a top outside linebacker they should pass him up, but just that the addressing the issues on the defensive line is a more desperate need.

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.

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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23

January

Mike Neal. 2011 Green Bay Packers Evaluation and Report Card

Mike Neal

Mike Neal

1) Introduction: With Cullen Jenkins wearing an Eagles uniform, the Packers turned to Mike Neal to replace Jenkins’ pass rush and grasp of the 3-4 defense. It didn’t work out. Letting Jenkins go and relying so heavily on Neal turned out to be a rare miscalculation by Packers GM Ted Thompson, one that played a huge role in the Packers early exit from the postseason.

2) Profile:

Michael Jamel Neal

Position: DE
Height: 6-3
Weight: 294 lbs.
AGE: 24

Career Stats

3) Expectations coming into the season: Up and coming. Neal was supposed to be the next man up and fill the void left by Jenkins. After starting strong, Neal’s 2010 season was cut short due to injuries. Injuries got the best of Neal again in 2011, and the chiseled DE never came close to replacing Jenkins’ production.

4) Player’s highlights/low-lights: Neal’s only highlight was finally making it onto the field. From there, everything else was a low-light. Neal manged just two tackles in seven games.

5) Player’s contribution to the overall team success: The NFL allows teams to put 11 players on the field. When Neal played, it ensured that the Packers took full advantage of this rule. They probably could have put Neal on the bench and only played with 10, but that would have looked silly on TV.

6) Player’s contributions in the playoffs: Actually, Neal’s best game came against the Giants in the playoffs. It still wasn’t a good game, but it was his best game this season. I don’t think Neal’s knee was anywhere close to 100 percent when he returned and the playoff bye week probably helped him. I still think Neal can be a player if he’s healthy, but that’s a major if right now and Packers can’t rely on him to be a contributor.

Season Report Card:

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