Packing the Stats: Coverage Sacks and Pressure Interceptions

It’s a rare thing to witness a quarterback get sacked seven times and intercepted four times all in one game. In fact, the last time it happened was back in 2002 when Washington Redskins quarterback Patrick Ramsey faced the New Orleans Saints. But that’s exactly what happened last week when the Green Bay Packers defense seemed to rise up from the ashes and completely stifle the Chicago Bears offensive attack.

ESPN’s Stats & Info blog covered some of the problems quarterback Jay Cutler had when under pressure that evening. Here is the meat of the article:

Cutler struggled on throws traveling more than 10 yards downfield, going 2-for-11 for 35 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.

Last season Cutler ranked among the best quarterbacks in the NFL on passes of that length, as noted in the chart on the right.

How did the Packers defense attack Cutler?

They sent five or more pass rushers on 13 of Jay Cutler’s 35 dropbacks. Against such pressure, Cutler was 2-for-9 for 24 yards with two interceptions and was sacked four times. Cutler’s 22 percent completion percentage against more than four rushers is lower than the Packers allowed in any game last season.

After last season, it’s been a relief to Packer fans – even if only momentarily – to see the kind of pressure they were able to get on Cutler during Thursday night’s game. But what made this possible in large part was the ability of the defensive backs to blanket the receivers, leaving no options for the quarterback to get the ball out.

Below is a breakdown of each sack and interception forced by the Packers defense that night:




Play Time

Pressure Speed

Rushers vs. Blockers


Sack Credit


Q1 13:37


6 vs. 8


D. Smith


Q1 4:32


(4 vs. 5)


C. Matthews / E. Walden


Q2 9:12


(5 vs. 6)


C. Matthews


Q4 9:07


4 vs. 6


M. Daniels


Q4 8:04


(4 vs. 5)


C. Matthews


Q4 4:09


4 vs. 7


J. Worthy


Q4 3:49


5 vs. 6


C. Matthews


Some notes:



The Double-Edged Sword Of Charles Woodson

Green Bay Packers CB Charles Woodson may not keep smiling if the rest of the pass defense doesn't step up soon.

Every cornerback wishes he was Charles Woodson; you hear college cornerbacks during the draft process mention his name as someone they’d like to emulate, you hear coaches gush about his exceptional ability to conceptualize the game of football and you hear the admiration of his teammates on his leadership abilities.  And rightly so, Woodson is one of those rare breed of players that has the skill set to transcend the game of football; Woodson doesn’t play defensive back, Charles Woodson defines how good a cornerback can truly be.  As mentioned by fellow writer Chad Toporski, Pro Football Focus actually created a position called the “Woodson” that “mixes one part cornerback, one part safety, one part linebacker”, which naturally only has one member, Charles Woodson.

However, I do wonder if Woodson’s uniqueness is a double-edged sword.  On one hand, the Packers defensive secondary has a first hand view of how great a “Woodson” can be; but on the other hand, what happens when someone who isn’t Charles Woodson tries to play like Charles Woodson?

Stay with me here; Charles Woodson’s greatest skill at this point is his exceptional ability to predict routes and offenses; as such, usually when Woodson gambles on a play he’s right.  I would argue that while his physical skills have diminished, as is natural for a player after 15 seasons, his gambling acumen has kept him near the top of the list when it comes to the best defensive backs.  So what happens when you have young defensive backs like Morgan Burnett, Sam Shields and Jarrett Bush trying to emulate Woodson?  In one word: disaster.

Let’s take a look at much maligned defensive back Jarrett Bush, who for so long was the whipping boy for all that was wrong with the Packers defense until he “redeemed” himself during the Super Bowl.  The Packers use Bush in a manner very similar to the “Woodson”, as Bush is often at the line of scrimmage as a “slot defender” and a legitimate option to rush the quarterback.  At this point, I might even argue that Bush is better or at least on par with Woodson physically.  But as Packers fans can attest, Bush is often a liability in coverage because he never seems to know where the ball is in the air; it’s not because he can’t track the ball, I suspect its because Bush is often so caught up in trying to position himself for the big play that often times he loses track of the receiver and is out of position as a result.  Now why would Bush be attempting to jump routes for interceptions?  Because he sees Woodson do it every day, and of course Bush wishes he could play like Woodson.



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.



Green Bay Packers: Studying the Stats #1 – Interceptions

Looking back at the Green Bay Packers stat sheet for the 2009 season, a few items just jump off the page. In some cases  they are negative stats the Packers DO NOT want to see again. In other cases, they are positive stats the Packers would LOVE to repeat.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be taking a look at a few of these eye-openers and discussing what they could mean for the Packers in 2010.

Stat #1 – Interceptions: The Packers led the entire NFL in 2009 with 30 interceptions. In addition, they gained 477 yards and scored three touchdowns on interception returns, with NFL Defensive Player of the Year Charles Woodson notching all three.

After the 2009 preseason, I wrote that the Packers’ defense would be one that would live and die by the turnover. It seemed to me at the time that opposing teams would be able to move the ball against the Packers’ defense, so they would need the big plays to counter that. Either that or their red zone defense would have to be of the shutdown type, which as I recently wrote about, did not happen in 2009.

Overall, the defense exceeded my expectations with regards to yardage given up,  but part of that was due to the wonderful field position opponents were handed by some very poor punting and kick return coverage. face it. opposing teams were not forced to go the length of the field to score very often. (I’ll examine this closer in another installment of this series)

The other factor to consider was the level of the opponent. Against the lesser offenses (Detroit, Cleveland, Seattle, Chicago, Baltimore), they racked up some impressive yardage relinquished numbers, only to go in the full opposite direction against Minny, Pittsburgh and Arizona. On average, there were enough weak offenses on the schedule to offset the shootouts and keep the Packers as the second-ranked defense in terms of yards gained.

So despite the seemingly impressive defensive statistics, this would still be a team that would live and die by the turnover – especially in the big games. The turnovers, more specifically the interceptions, did happen. And not surprisingly, much success followed.

However, there were only four games in 2009 where the Packers did not record an interception, and not coincidentally, they were all losses. (Minnesota, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Arizona – playoffs).