14

August

Jeremy Ross’ Hands Will Be His Undoing

Jeremy Ross, Training Camp DrillIn the grand scheme of the game, it might not have been the significant difference between a win and a loss, but it’s a moment Green Bay Packers fans won’t soon forget, no matter how hard they try to repress the memories.

Mike McCarthy won’t soon forget it, either. His decision to have rookie wide receiver Jeremy Ross return punts in the playoffs against the San Francisco 49ers backfired in the worst way possible. With the Packers up 14-7 and building some momentum, they managed to stop the 49ers offense at midfield to begin the second quarter. Unfortunately, the ensuing punt was muffed by Ross at the Packers’ 10-yard line, and Colin Kaepernick hit Michael Crabtree for a touchdown three plays later. The game was now tied, and all the momentum had shifted.

Make no mistake, Jeremy Ross could be an exceptional return man – maybe even better than Randall Cobb. He has the right combination of vision, speed, and elusiveness that can create substantial returns. The one ingredient that is missing, however, is ball security. And all things considered, it’s perhaps the most important ingredient. Teams can recover from poor field position, but it’s ten times harder to recover from a turnover.

Fast-forward to training camp, and Ross hasn’t shown any improvement in being able to field punts or make catches. He’s been given multiple reps as a returner, and it’s no secret that McCarthy would prefer him to be “the man” at that position. The head coach’s decision to put Ross into the Divisional Round game was, in large part, due to his desire to keep star wide receiver Cobb from unnecessary injury, and that desire hasn’t changed much. If the Packers can have a back-up wide receiver fielding punts and kickoffs, it reduces the risk of them losing a key player in the part of the game where injuries occur most often.

But so far, Jeremy Ross hasn’t done much to help the situation.

As training camp reports from the beat writers come out, we’ve seen some all-too-frequent accounts of muffed punts and dropped passes from Ross. JSOnline’s notes from Tuesday’s practice mention another pair of dropped passes by Ross, which adds to a growing list. Dropped passes obviously aren’t the same as muffed punts, and the mechanics of each type of catch are completely different; nevertheless, they both show a propensity for poor ball security. But even besides that, if he wants to make the 53-man roster, Ross will still need to show he’s valuable as both a wide receiver and a punt returner.

17

October

Packing the Stats: The Rise and Fall of Jermichael Finley

Packing the StatsFor Green Bay Packers fans, there has been no more controversial player during the past few years than tight end Jermichael Finley. His boisterous personality and recent penchant for dropped passes have clashed significantly with the perception of his physical talents and work ethic. And while we like to believe that on-field performance trumps off-field attitude, there’s no bigger catalyst for the disgruntled fan than when both start to head south.

I’m not going to look at the off-field issues, because we could talk about that for hours. What I want to focus on, instead, is the performance trajectory of Finley since he was taken in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft. (Actually, we’ll omit his rookie season, since Finley only saw 12 targets the whole year.) Please note that all stats have been acquired from ProFootballFocus.com.

Let’s start with some basic statistics from the past four years:

Year GP TA Rec. % Ct Yds Yds / Rec. YAC YAC / Rec. LG TD FD
2009 14 78 61 78.2 845 13.9 377 6.2 62 5 29
2010 5 25 21 84 301 14.3 106 5 34 1 12
2011 17 99 59 59.6 804 13.6 251 4.3 41 8 44
2012 6 36 24 66.7 210 8.8 74 3.1 31 1 12

What we first have to account for is the games played by Finley each season. 2011 was the only year where he played in every game, and as we all know, his time on the field in 2010 was cut short due to a knee injury (torn meniscus) in Week 5. That said, looking at straight-up totals won’t tell us much; instead, we need to focus more on percentages and averages that give us a better indication of per-play production.

My first impression of Finley’s basic production is that 2010 could have been his best year had it not been cut short. His catch percentage and yards per receptions were both his highest in four seasons, and his yards after catch per reception were the second highest. It’s a smaller sample size, so we have to take some things with a grain of salt, but there’s enough to indicate peak performance.

5

July

Packing the Stats: James Jones vs. Donald Driver

Here’s a post that is sure to spark some heated debate. We’ve had quite a few comments lately about the infamous James Jones and his comparison to the esteemed Donald Driver. Most of this has stemmed from two points of contention: (1) the Green Bay Packers’ decision to keep Driver despite his declining performance, and (2) the reputation of Jones in regard to dropped passes.

So, as I am wont to do, I took some time to research each of these player’s performances in 2011. I discovered some interesting things along the way, but let me first present to you some of the raw statistics (thanks to PFF):

 

J. Jones D. Driver
Snaps 514 521
Pass 376 419
Run Block 179 144
PFF Rating -2.2 -4.4
Penalties 1 0
Targets 54 54
Receptions 38 37
Catch % 70.4 68.5
Yards 635 445
Yds. / Rec. 16.7 12
YAC 292 142
YAC / Rec. 7.7 3.8
Longest 70 35
TD 7 6
INT 2 0
Drops 6 8
Missed Tackles 6 1
Fumbles 1 0

 

As you can see, Jones and Driver are very comparable as Packers receivers, with just about the same number of snaps and targets each. They do fill slightly different roles, though, as Jones provides more support in run blocking than Driver. Jones is also more of a deep threat, being targeted 11 times on passes of 20 yards or more, compared to Driver’s 3 targets in that range. That said, they both saw about 30 targets each in the 0-9 yard range, with most of their targets coming over the middle.

Now, it’s quite obvious that Jones was an overall more productive player. He caught just one more pass than Driver in the same number of targets, yet he put up almost 200 yards more. And while the deep balls do make a difference, Jones was able to rack up 150 yards more than Driver after the catch and recorded more missed/broken tackles.

The two marks against Jones are that he had one fumble and two interceptions on passes thrown at him (though only one of those was on a dropped pass, as we’ll see later).

11

January

Three Dont’s for a Comfortable Packers Win over the Giants

Tramon WilliamsThe Green Bay Packers could have had an easy game against the New York Giants when they played in week 13. But their own mishaps turned what should have been a comfy win in enemy territory into a nail-biter requiring Aaron Rodgers to come to their rescue.

I happened to be at that game in person. There were three things that struck me about the Packers’ play that day. Ater watching the replay on NFL Network last night for the first time, It just reinforced what I had seen in the stadium.

The Packers hurt themselves in three main ways in that game. I’m confident that if they can “clean it up”, the Packers will be hosting the Saints or the 49ers in the NFC Championship game at Lambeau. Here are my THREE DONT’S:

 

1) Don’t give up the big play.

Officially, “big plays” are defined as plays of 25 yards or more.  The Packers secondary went the extra mile against the Giants, giving up 3 pass plays of over 40 yards in their first meeting. All three led to scores, a total of 17 points handed to the Giants.  This falls very nicely into something I read today in the Wall Street Journal’s sports pages (yes they cover sports – from a purely analytical view).

The Journal reports (according to Stats, LLC), since 2008, teams with at least three more big plays than their opponents have won 80.2% of those games. Teams with just one more big play than their opponent won 60.5% of those games. The Packers had 2 big plays (one less than the Giants) in that game, both passes down the sideline to Jordy Nelson.  So the Packers actually bucked the big play odds by winning that game.

My point here is make the Giants earn it. Force them to drive the field in smaller chunks, make them run more plays where something can go wrong. Which leads me into #2:

 

2) Don’t drop interceptions.

I watched the replay of the game last night. Without particularly looking for it, I saw at least 4 plays where the Packers dropped sure interceptions.  In three cases, the ball bounced off a player’s hands.