2

April

What Do Packers Injuries and Winning Have In Common? Packing the Stats…

Packing the StatsA lot has been made about the Packers misfortune when it comes to injuries; injuries was the major hurdle that the Packers overcame to get to the playoffs and ultimately win the Super Bowl in 2010 and injuries again were the major obstacle in 2013 with Aaron Rodgers, Jermichael Finley, Randall Cobb, Clay Matthews and Bryan Bulaga all missing significant time due to their respective injuries.

I have always argued that the nature of injuries is in large part random; football is a vicious sport and there are so many different ways to get injured that are largely out of the control of the player, the coaching staff or the front office.  Not many would argue that the tackle that Nick Collins ended his career was unusual nor was the hit that Jermichael Finley took against Cleveland anything out of the norm.  Rodgers breaking his clavicle and Matthews breaking his thumb all occurred on mundane plays that both players have been involved in countless times before in their careers.

In 2013 alone, I would argue that the only two injuries likely could have been avoided were Brandon Merriweather spearing Eddie Lacy and maybe Randall Cobb breaking his leg against Baltimore (but in the defense of Matt Elam, going low is now encouraged to defenders with so many fines being levied to helmet to helmet contact).

Data 1

However, it’s pretty undeniable that the Packers as a franchise have either had consistent terrible luck or something else is at play.  The Packers have had one of the worst strings of injuries over the last 4 years and it’s 99.9% significant compared to the rest of the league.  Fingers have been pointed at pretty much every remote possibility; plenty have blamed Ted Thompson and the front office for drafting players who are injury prone (i.e. Justin Harrell), some have blamed the coaching staff for not teaching proper form while others have blamed the strength and conditioning coaches (there was some ridiculous rumor that floated around that the 49ers had a secret stretching routine that made them impervious to injuries; keep in mind free agency does happen and more importantly players stretch out on the field for everyone to see).

6

February

Former and Current Free Agent Packers Want To Return

Jermichael Finley

Finley seems determined to return to football and prove that he is back to full strength

The NFL season has been over for a measly three days now but the Green Bay Packers season has been over for nearly a month.  Things obviously slow down when teams aren’t preparing for games each week and the constant news hits dwindle.

Still, this has been a busy week for some Packers chatter and I thought I’d offer a break in between our player evaluation and reports cards here at allgbp.com and highlight a few of the stories that have been most widely discussed.

“Discussed” and “news” are two different things, but if nothing else, there are at least a few debate topics here.

The first was a story by NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling about tight end Jermichael Finley.  Finley is currently a free agent after having spent the first six years of his NFL career with the Packers.  Finley’s agent has gone on record as saying that J-Mike, as he is frequently called, would love nothing more than to finish his career in Green Bay.  Whether that will happen is another thing.

Finley was seriously injured early in the 2013 season on a play in which he took a shot to his neck by Cleveland Browns safety Tashaun Gipson.  Finley was placed on season-ending injured reserve and needed surgery to fuse the C3 and C4 vertebrae in his neck.  Many question swirled about whether Finley would play football again, let alone return to the Packers.

Finley stated earlier this week that he expects his doctors to clear him to resume football activity, most notably contact, within the next month or so.  Gaining medical clearance from a doctor is one thing.  Gaining that clearance from a NFL team doctor is another.

While Finley and his agent have expressed a preference to remain in Green Bay and get a new contract worked out, Finley has also stated that he does not plan to discount his services.  With 19 total players set to hit free agency next month, the Packers are going to have some decisions to make as far as who to keep and at what price.

Finley certainly represents a risk, even if cleared to return to football.  There can be no guarantee that he won’t re-injure his neck and such an occurrence would have major implications not only for Finley the football player, but also Finley the man, husband and father.  It’s hard to say which direction Finley’s return and potential negotiations with interested teams will go.

11

January

Cory’s Corner: Criticize Mike McCarthy not Dom Capers

Mike McCarthy turned up the conservative calls when Aaron Rodgers went down in Week 9.

Mike McCarthy turned up the conservative calls when Aaron Rodgers went down in Week 9.

Now that you’ve all had some time to thaw out after watching Phil Dawson put this season’s hopes and dreams on ice, it’s time to reflect on what just happened.

First of all, Mike McCarthy needs to get the lion’s share of criticism. He is under contract through the 2015 season at roughly $5 million per year. If any season was a good example of how much he needed to prove his coaching mettle, this was the one. He lost his star quarterback in Week 9 and magically backed into the playoffs thanks to the combined efforts of said quarterback’s right arm and the inept Bears’ defense.

He was also dealt the second-most important injury on the team in Jermichael Finley. Without him eating up the middle of the field, receivers had more work to do to get separation and move the chains.

Granted, he was blessed with the Offensive Rookie of the Year in my opinion in Eddie Lacy but McCarthy didn’t exactly utilize him very well. Too often when backups Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn were under center he was more apt to call the predictable running plays on first and second down which usually set up the usual 3rd-and-7. That’s a tall task for an NFL starter let alone a backup.

As soon as the Packers lost Aaron Rodgers they lost who they were. And the head coach, who is also known as a quarterback guru, cannot let that happen. I’m not saying McCarthy should expect left rollouts thrown on a dime by his backups, but he shouldn’t pare the playbook down to the JV level either. The best example is that fateful game when Rodgers suffered that left collarbone injury.

With the Bears beating the Packers 24-20 very early in the fourth quarter, McCarthy dialed up a Lacy run on 2nd-and-7 from the 50. The run around the left end generated two yards setting up a tough third down which ultimately failed. And that came on the heels of the Packers throwing for 29 yards on back-to-back plays that took place on second and first down.

There’s a time and place to be conservative. I realize that coaches’ jobs have been lost due to knee-jerk risky decisions but when your team is losing in the fourth quarter, it’s at least a good time to start contemplating moves against the grain.

11

May

Three-year comparison: Morgan Burnett vs. Nick Collins

Morgan Burnett and Nick Collins

Morgan Burnett and Nick Collins

When the Packers were forced to release Nick Collins prior to the 2012 season, they were left with a gaping hole at the most important position in the secondary.

Collins, a three-time Pro Bowler, was among the best safeties in football at the time he suffered a career-threatening neck injury in 2011, while his counterpart, Morgan Burnett, was coming off a season-ending injury of his own in his second NFL season.

Burnett’s rookie year (2010) ended in week four, and Collins’ 2011 season–and possibly career–ended in week two. Those six games comprised the entirety of the Collins/Burnett Era at safety for the Packers.

In 2010, the Packers selected Burnett with the 71st overall pick in the third round. Three years later and entering the final year of his rookie contract, Burnett may be poised to fill Collins’ shoes as the team’s key defensive playmaker.

Athletically, Burnett compares favorably to the former second-team All-Pro safety.

At the 2010 NFL Scouting Combine, Burnett put up impressive numbers in the tests that best measure a player’s range at the safety position. He clocked a 6.87 in the three-cone drill, leaped 11 feet-8 inches in the broad jump, posted a 39.5-inch vertical jump and rushed out to a 1.57 10-yard split.

Burnett tested better than Collins in nearly every category, but Collins, a college cornerback, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds, which trumped Burnett’s 4.51.

Obviously, athletic ability doesn’t necessarily determine a player’s on-field ability. If it did, Bengals safety and workout warrior Taylor Mays would be one of the best in the league–and he’s not even close.

As a rookie for the 4-12 Packers, Collins started all 16 games and showed flashes of his seemingly limitless potential. But those glimpses were rare, as Collins slowly made the transformation from a little-known defensive back from Bethune-Cookman to a starting safety for the Green Bay Packers.

It wasn’t until his fourth NFL season that Collins put it all together and made his first of three Pro Bowls. His first three seasons were relatively modest, as he started 45 of a potential 48 games, racking up four interceptions and four forced fumbles.

Nick Collins: First 3 NFL seasons

Nick Collins: First 3 NFL seasons

Burnett, coming from Georgia Tech, didn’t face the same transition that Collins did entering the NFL from a small school. But regardless, holding a starting spot at a position that requires sound communication can be a rough wake-up call for a 21-year-old player.

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.

1

August

Morgan Burnett Emerging as Key Figure in Packers’ Secondary

Green Bay Packers Safety Morgan Burnett

Safety Morgan Burnett Taking Charge

After the Green Bay Packers cut ties with Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins, the importance of Morgan Burnett undoubtedly grew larger.On top of being the Packers’ key communicator on the back end of the defense, he was a turnover machine, constantly hovering deep in the middle of the defense waiting for his opportunity to jump routes or lay the lumber to an unsuspecting wide receiver.

And if the first week of training camp is any indication–Burnett appears capable of picking up right where Collins left off.

Playing alongside Collins, Burnett’s role often required him to play closer to the line of scrimmage–something that the 6’1″ 209-pound safety is certainly capable of doing but didn’t seem like a natural fit for his long build and rangy skill set.

Burnett missed the final 12 games games of his rookie season, and Collins missed the final 14 last year–as a result, the highly athletic and similarly skilled duo only started six games together. Now with Collins having been released by the team, Burnett will step in as the Packers’ “center fielder.”

On three consecutive plays at Tuesday morning’s practice at Ray Nitschke field, Burnett was the center of attention. First, he sprinted from the deep middle of the field to the sideline and broke up a beautiful Aaron Rodgers bomb to Jordy Nelson, then on the next play, jarred the ball loose from Jermichael Finley across the middle, and followed that up by intercepting Rodgers after Donald Driver lost his footing while running a route.

Tuesday’s practice was certainly both encouraging and impressive for everyone in Packer Country, but it was nothing new for Burnett, who arrived to camp in great shape and appears headed for a breakout season.

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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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31

July

A Little Support For Packers MD Jennings

With the departure of former starting safety Charlie Peprah, who was released in a very similar manner to former inside linebacker Brandon Chillar for failing his physical at the start of training camp in 2010, all eyes now look towards Charles Woodson, MD Jennings and Jerron McMillian to see which ends up being the starting safety opposite Morgan Burnett.

Only a couple of problems; Woodson is desperately needed at the line of scrimmage as the slot cornerback, Jerron McMillian is a 4th round rookie who naturally shouldn’t be counted on to step in as a starting safety and actually produce and MD Jennings, who despite being a “football nerd” and making it as a undrafted rookie free agent last year “is too small and short and looks like a cornerback instead of a safety” as paraphrased by Bill Johnson during Green and Gold Today on July 25th, 2012.

Is “the doctor” really too short and too small to be a safety with the Green Bay Packers?  I think the prototypical “safety” Bill Johnson is thinking of would be someone like Taylor Mays (who despite being a physical specimen apparently isn’t a half decent safety) who stands at 6’3” weighs 230lbs.  To figure this out, I’ve compiled a list of the Packers starting safeties from the last decade as according to Pro Football Reference.

 

Name

Height (inches)

Weight (lbs)

Aaron Rouse

76

223

Antuan Edwards

73

212

Atari Bigby

71

220

Charlie Peprah

71

202

Darren Sharper

74

210

LeRoy Butler

72

197

Mark Roman

71

200

Marquad Manuel

72

209

Marques Anderson

71

212

Morgan Burnett

73

210

Nick Collins

71

206

Average

72.27

209.18

STD

1.62

7.87