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.

2

January

Packers News: Worthy out for season, Woodson set to return

Packers DL Jerel Worthy

Packers DL Jerel Worthy

Packers defensive end Jerel Worthy suffered a significant knee injury against the Minnesota Vikings and will not play in the postseason.

Worthy left the locker room Sunday wearing a full leg brace and relying on crutches. The extent of his injury has not yet been released.

The Packers selected Worthy with the No. 51 overall pick in last April’s draft and played in 14 games as a rookie. Worthy tied for sixth on the team with 2.5 sacks in the regular season.

Without Worthy in the mix, the Packers will rely on their normal starting three-man line consisting of B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and C.J. Wilson. Mike Neal and rookie Mike Daniels will be the team’s top reserves moving forward. Neal has proved to be effective as a pass rusher, racking up 4.5 sacks this season, while Daniels has been a pleasant surprise as well.

Jordan Miller, a recent call-up from the practice squad rounds out the Packers’ six defensive linemen on the current roster.

Although Worthy will not play again this season, veteran defensive back Charles Woodson appears set to return against the Vikings this week in the playoffs. Woodson was medically cleared to return Jan. 1 after suffering a broken collarbone Oct. 21 against the St. Louis Rams.

Prior to getting injured, Woodson played strong safety in the Packers’ base 3-4 defense and bumped inside to slot cornerback in the team’s nickel formation. But since Woodson has been out, rookie Casey Hayward has risen to the occasion and could be this year’s NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Now, with Woodson set to return, it’s unlikely the Packers would take Hayward off the field. This could mean Woodson’s role would primarily be the second safety alongside Morgan Burnett, replacing rookie Jerron McMillian and M.D. Jennings.

Although Woodson isn’t the same, dynamic playmaker he once was, getting him back on the field will certainly be a nice boost for the defense.

Randall Cobb also returned to practice on Tuesday and says he will be “100 percent” for Saturday night’s playoff game against Minnesota. Barring any setbacks, the Packers will have Cobb, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Jermichael Finley on the field together for the first time since week one.

30

December

Packers at Vikings: Keys To The Game

Aaron Rodgers vs. Minnesota Vikings

Rodgers in a baseball cap and waving a celebratory towel would be a welcome sight on Sunday. Green Bay can clinch a playoff bye with a win

Here we are in week 17 and another season is nearly in the books.  The Green Bay Packers end their regular season schedule with a trip to Minnesota to face the Vikings.  A few years back, the NFL changed its schedule making such that the last week of the season would be a divisional game for all teams.  This was in the hopes that the games would be meaningful and teams wouldn’t rest slews of their starters in preparation for the postseason.

The NFL has gotten its wish this year and with this game.  Each team has something on the line.  The Vikings need to win to secure a playoff spot.  The Packers can clinch the second seed in the NFC with a win.  Should the Vikings win, the Packers can still gain the #2 seed with a San Francisco and a Seattle loss.

Last week’s format was a success so I’m going stick with a “Keys to the Game” theme.  Let’s see what will likely determine the outcome of tomorrow’s contest.

Vikings Running Back Adrian Peterson

I feel like a broken record with the thoughts I share about Peterson but given the season he is having, they bear some repeating.  According to ESPN, Peterson has 1,898 yards in 15 games.  102 yards shy of 2,000 yards, an accomplishment only six other running backs can claim.  Peterson is also 208 yards shy of the 28 year-old and all-time single-season rushing record set by Eric Dickerson in 1984.

Peterson is surely going to win a major award after this season.  Whether it’s the Comeback Player of the Year, Most Valuable Player award or Offensive MVP, Peterson deserves at least one of those.  I watched some of the tape of Peterson’s first game at Green Bay this season.   He is running as quickly and as hard as ever.  Many of the yards he picked up on long runs in that game came after contact.  Nowadays, we see more and more backs running out of bounds or diving to the ground before the big hit.  Peterson is a throwback and reminds me a lot of Walter Payton.

31

October

Packers Injury Update: Nelson to Test Hamstring Friday

Jordy Nelson

Packers WR Jordy Nelson will test his injured hamstring on Friday. He remains questionable for Sunday.

Here’s a quick update on the Packers injury situation before you sit down for dinner:

The following players did not practice today: WR Jordy Nelson (hamstring); FB John Kuhn (hamstring); LB Nick Perry (knee); CB Sam Shields (shin/knee); DE Jerel Worthy (concussion); DE Mike Neal (ankle); WR Greg Jennings (groin); CB Charles Woodson (shoulder).

Coach Mike McCarthy said that Nelson will test his hamstring on Friday and that Jennings re-scheduled his surgery, but might not be in Philadelphia yet because of the storm.

Obviously, Jennings and Woodson will not play Sunday against Arizona.

My gut tells me all the other guys will be out as well. We’ll see.

All the injured players won’t matter if the Packers offensive line doesn’t come to play against the Cardinals. Arizona has an active front four and can make life miserable for Aaron Rodgers if the offensive line struggles early.

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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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26

October

Packers Playbook (aka Hobbjective Analysis): Week 7 at St. Louis Rams

Like Darren Sharper and Nick Collins, there are defensive backs coming out of college that just seem to get it and can contribute right away.  This year it’s rookie cornerback Casey Hayward, who actually is tied for the lead in interceptions with 4.

Hayward has been a very good slot cornerback behind Tramon Williams, Sam Shields and Charles Woodson, but with Sam Shields out after being kicked in the shin against the Texans, Hayward was shifted out to the outside.  How would he respond in his first start and being left on a island?  Pretty good.  While fans will gush at his acrobatic interception, I would probably suggest that everyone take a step back; Hayward is solid cornerback, just not a playmaker…yet

The Situation: The score is 17-6 in favor of the Packers with 1:25 left in the 3rd quarter.  Needless to say things haven’t gone so well for the Rams in the 2nd half.  For the first 30 minutes of football, the Rams had managed to keep the game close by using a steady diet of ground control football with running backs Steven Jackson and Daryl Richardson.

The Rams also managed to keep the ball out of Aaron Rodgers hands by controlling the clock and as a result the Rams had a significant advantage in the time of possession.  However, the 3rd quarter was all about the Packers, who not only managed to flip the time of possession in 1 quarter, but had managed to do it with a methodical passing game which included 3 passing first downs capped off by a touchdown.  Obviously the Rams are beginning to feel the pressure and need to answer back.  This is the first play after the kickoff.

 

The Formation: The rams come out in a 2-1-2 formation (2WR-1TE-2RB), one of the old school staples of any offense.  WR Brandon Gibson is aligned out wide to the top of the screen while WR Chris Givens is aligned out wide on the bottom of the screen.  TE Lance Kendricks is inline next to the left tackle while TE Matthew Mulligan is aligns like an offset fullback.  RB Steven Jackson rounds out the group by lining up 7 yards behind the scrimmage forming a standard offset I formation.  The look is very biased towards running and presumably the Rams hope to catch the Packers off guard with a play action pass and a shot down the field.

18

October

Packers Playbook (aka Hobbjective Analysis): Week 6 at Texans

I think it’s time to do a Hobbjective Analysis on a group that has always been overlooked: linemen.  I’m guilty of it myself; line play is very complicated and nuanced and I will be the first to admit that I don’t know very much about it; if you want to see what sort of technicians and athletes these guys truly are, I highly recommend you check out the “Word of Muth” column over at Football Outsiders (one of my favorite columns by the way).  Nevertheless, I personally think that while Aaron Rodgers throwing 6 touchdowns probably was a big factor as to why the Packers were able to clobber the Houston Texans, I think the defensive line deserves even more credit than Rodgers in winning the game for the Packers.

The Situation: It’s 11:44 in the second quarter with the Packers taking the early lead in with a 14-0 advantage.  Early in the game the Texans had curiously attempted to get their offense started with a pass-heavy strategy but ended up with quarterback Matt Schaub running for his life.  By the time the second quarter rolls around, it appears as if the Texans have abandoned this idea and go back to their bread and butter strategy of getting good down and distance situations with All-Pro RB Arian Foster, and setting up the play action pass with QB Matt Schaub and All-Pro WR Andre Johnson.

 

 

The formation: The Texans come out in a 2-1-2 formation (2WR-1TE-2RB) with WR Johnson aligned out wide to the left and WR Kevin Walter aligned in the slot to the right.  TE Owen Daniels lines up inline along side the right tackle while RB Foster is 7 yards directly behind QB Schaub with FB James Casey forming a offset I formation.  The Packers respond with their base 3-4 alignment.  The Packers come out with their standard linebacking core of ROLB Clay Matthews, ILB AJ Hawk, ILB DJ Smith and LOLB Erik Walden.  With NT BJ Raji out of the game due to an injury sustained versus the Colts, DE Ryan Pickett takes his place and lines up as the 0-technique (to the open side shoulder of the center), while DE CJ Wilson aligns to the right of Pickett and plays the 4-technique (between the guard and tackle), while DE Jerel Worthy aligns to Pickett’s left and plays the 3-technique (directly infront of the guard; I admit it’s rather hard to judge the defensive line’s alignment due to the camera angle, traditionally the NT plays the 0 technique while the DEs play the 5 technique).    I’ve excluded labeling the secondary as their are extraneous in this play, especially with SS Charles Woodson outside the box.

18

October

Pro Football Focus Grades: Packers rookies stepping up on defense

After finishing dead-last in total defense last season, the Packers put an emphasis on improving their defense last offseason.

Packers general manager Ted Thompson used the 28th overall pick on USC outside linebacker Nick Perry, before trading up twice in the second round to help bolster the Pack’s struggling defense. Thompson is stingy when it comes to parting with his draft picks, but as he put it after the draft, “I’m no longer my father’s son.”

In the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft, the Packers traded up to No. 51 overall to select Michigan State defensive end Jerel Worthy. After losing Cullen Jenkins the previous offseason, Green Bay hoped to add a versatile pass rusher to its defensive line.

Seven picks later, the Packers, again, surprised everyone by moving up to select Vanderbilt cornerback Casey Hayward with the No. 58 pick. The secondary struggled mightily in 2011, and given the fact that Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins would no longer play for the team, the Packers wanted to add a defensive back capable of playing from day one.

And so far, Hayward certainly looks the part.

Through six weeks of the 2012 NFL regular season, Pro Football Focus has Hayward graded out as the No. 2 cornerback in football. Not the No. 2 rookie cornerback in football. The No. 2 cornerback in football, just behind Vikings veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield.

The folks at Pro Football Focus take every single play from every single game, and put each player under the microscope.

So far, Hayward has played 173 snaps on the season. PFF has charged him with just nine completions allowed, and opposing quarterbacks targeting him have combined for a league-worst 18.4 QB rating.

In the Packers’ last two games, Hayward has three interceptions. Hayward’s first pick of the season came last week in Indianapolis when he was matched up one-on-one against Reggie Wayne. The Colts No. 1 receiver torched the Packers all game, but Hayward got the better of him on that play.

At a pivotal point in the game, Hayward matches Wayne step for step and makes a great play on the ball. Not only was it an impressive play, but it’s pretty telling that the Packers’ coaching staff trusts a rookie on a receiver who had been dominant all day.