Cory’s Corner: Raji and Shields aren’t worth worrying over

B.J. Raji was not franchise or transition tagged by the Packers.

B.J. Raji was not franchise or transition tagged by the Packers.

There is no reason to worry about the Packers not tagging anyone with a franchise or transition tag.

I can totally understand not tagging B.J. Raji. Here’s a guy that scoffed at $8 million and if the Packers applied the franchise tag it would’ve cost them $9.654 million and $8.061 million if they used the transition tag. The Packers aren’t going to spend that kind of cash on a guy that appeared disinterested last year — which happened to also be a contract year.

Raji, while only 27, will likely be paid a king’s ransom but will never live up to his 2010 season in which he had 6½ sacks and gave us his own rendition of twerking in the NFC Championship at Chicago.

The same goes for Shields. The Packers’ secondary has been in shambles ever since Charles Woodson lost his ability to cover at a premium level. That unit has made subpar passers like Colin Kaepernick look like Peyton Manning and has put more pressure on the front seven to generate a pass rush.

Shields would be owed $11.834 million if he were franchised and $10.081 if the fourth-year cornerback were transition tagged. Another twist in this whole equation is that Shields’ agent is Drew Rosenhaus, the antichrist for front office pro teams. Rosenhaus is the guy that tells his clients to hold out while asking for more money and a long-term deal.

The 26-year-old Shields has blossomed into a reliable corner. I wouldn’t say he’s the shutdown corner the Packers covet and need for a division loaded with guys like Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery but he is solid. ProFootballFocus.com has Shields as the 52nd best corner — 12 spots below teammate Micah Hyde.

The Packers have proven that they are unwilling to overpay just to keep a veteran. That was proven when the Packers let go of center Scott Wells in 2011 — which happened to be the same year he was named a Pro Bowler for the first time.

Many people see that the Packers have the sixth-most cap space with $34,197,930 and wonder why none of that is getting used. Ted Thompson knows that Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb must be taken care of after this season and he still may sign a defensive free agent.



Packing the Stats: Defense Tackling Improvements

Packing the StatsIn my recent perusal of the internet for some Green Bay Packers news in the offseason, I came across an article at Football Outsiders by editor-in-chief Aaron Schatz. “Broken Tackles 2012: Defense” focuses on the best and worst defensive players when it came to broken tackles last season. Those of us who regularly follow the Packers know that tackling was a big point of interest after an abysmal 2011 season when, according to ProFootballFocus.com, they missed a whopping 109 tackles.

Naturally, I was intrigued to see how the Packers and some of their individual players ranked among the rest of the league for 2012. I braced for the worst, knowing the defense was lacking against opposing rushing attacks. (They gave up 132.6 yards per game, for 25th in the NFL.) And then, of course, were the games against Adrian Peterson.

Imagine my surprise when I found out the Packers were in the top three best teams when it came to missed tackles.

Now, let’s clear something up first. Football Outsiders clearly defined their criteria for a “broken tackle,” which should not be confused with the PFF “missed tackle” statistic. (Though for comparison’s sake, the 109 missed tackles from 2011 dropped down to just 81 in 2012 as charted by PFF.) That aside, here is how FO defines a “broken tackle”:

We define a “broken tackle” as one of two events: either the ballcarrier escapes from the grasp of the defender, or the defender is in good position for a tackle but the ballcarrier jukes him out of his shoes. If the ballcarrier sped by a slow defender who dived and missed, that didn’t count as a broken tackle.

Before we get to the team’s overall numbers, I want to highlight the two Packers players that made “best” and “worst” lists. First, take comfort in the fact that no player from Green Bay recorded 10 or more broken tackles. None of the defensive backs made the bottom ten in broken tackle rate; of course, none of them made the top ten either.

No, our two players in question were linebackers.

Inside linebacker Brad Jones made the “naughty” list as one of the twelve worst linebackers when it came to broken tackles in 2012. For his 61 solo tackles on the season, he had 7 broken tackles, for a rate of 10.3%. That put him seventh from the bottom.



Packing the Stats: Randall Cobb and Other Movers of the Chain Gang

Packing the StatsGreen Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy wasn’t kidding when he called second-round pick Randall Cobb “very talented,” “multidimensional,” and “a matchup player” after the 2011 NFL Draft. We didn’t see a whole lot outside of kick returns last year, but this season has really seen Cobb explode on the offense. From his role in the slot to his special place in the “Cobra” formation, he has been a dynamic force that tilts the field.

We could talk about his best-in-league 131.0 wide receiver rating from ProFootballFocus.com. We could also look at his 45 receptions (tied for 13th in the league) or six receiving touchdowns (tied for 7th). But what I really want to focus on in this issue is a measure of production not often looked at: first down conversions.

What I have charted below is the number of conversions made by each individual player on the offense through the first nine weeks of 2012. From there, I’ve broken that number down into passes, runs, conversions by down, and touchdowns. (Note that a touchdown is considered part of the total number of conversions. Also note that the trick special teams plays are not included, since they are not produced by the offense.)

Let’s take a look at the numbers before we go any further:


Conversions by Player, 2012, Wks. 1-9


As is always the case, we can glean a few different things from this information. What I want to focus on first, however, is the fact that Cobb, Nelson, and Jones are the biggest “movers of the chain gang.” They’ve accounted for a combined 85 conversions, which is slightly more than half of the entire offense’s total.

We can also note that both Randall Cobb and James Jones are at their best on second and third downs. Jordy Nelson, on the other hand, seems to be equally productive across downs. Furthermore, these three players have accounted for 19 of the Packers’ 27 touchdowns, with Jones currently holding the lead at 8 touchdowns.

But let’s dig a little deeper. The Packers’ receiving corps has been hit by some unfortunate injuries to Greg Jennings (groin/abdomen), Jordy Nelson (hamstring/ankle), and even Jermichael Finley (shoulder). This means that straight-up numbers don’t mean a whole lot without a little more context.



Packers Receivers Making Aaron Rodgers Look Bad

Finley Drops a PassEveryone needs to head over to ProFootballFocus.com right now and check out one of their latest articles, “Signature Stats Snapshot: Accuracy Percentage.” Once you’re there, scroll down to find the table listing the Top 10 most accurate passers so far this season. Check the number two spot, and gasp in amazement as your read the name of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

For those of you too lazy to check out the article, PFF determines a quarterback’s accuracy percentage using the following formula:

PFF Acc. % = (Completions + Drops) / (Attempts – Throw Aways – Spikes – Batted Passes – Hit As Thrown)

Basically, they add the drops as completed passes, then remove attempts for throw aways, spikes, batted passes, and passes where the quarterback is hit while throwing. What this essentially does is tell us how many of the passes are “catchable.” Here is Aaron Rodgers’ stat line:

# Name Team Drop backs Att. Comp Drops TA BP SP HAT Acc. %
2 Aaron Rodgers GB 223 189 130 17 4 1 1 1 80.8

We’ve all been critical lately of Aaron Rodgers and his performance in comparison to last year, and his accuracy has been part of that criticism. For some reason, we don’t remember him making the kind of throws we are used to him making. The missed pass along the sideline to Jordy Nelson this past weekend was one such example.

However, I think this data helps to support the claim that he hasn’t really regressed in this area. To make matters even clearer, check out Rodgers’ stats from 2011:

# Name Team Drop backs Att. Comp Drops TA BP SP HAT Acc. %
1  Aaron Rodgers GB 581 502 343 40 17 5 2 3 80.6

The biggest problem I think we are currently seeing with the passing game is the number of drops by receivers. And, quite frankly, I think it’s adding to the overall idea that Rodgers isn’t playing as well as in the past.

To take this even further, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning are currently tied for third with regard to how many of their passes have been dropped (17). The only quarterbacks ahead of them in this category are Brandon Weeden (22) and Drew Brees (20).



Do the Green Bay Packers Have the Best Offensive Line in the NFC North?

Last week, ProFootballFocus.com released their 2010 Offensive Line Rankings. They used three categories – Run/Screen Blocking, Pass Blocking, and Penalties – to determine which NFL teams had the best and worst set of players along the line. After putting together all the numbers, the Green Bay Packers ended up ranking 12th overall, 5th in the NFC, and 1st in their division.

Here is how each of the NFC North teams ranked, along with their summary analysis from PFF:

12.  Green Bay Packers (2009 Rank: 22nd)

Run Rank 12th, Pass Rank 15th, Penalties Rank 15th

Nothing too flashy about the Packers, they get a good push up the middle but had some issues with pass rushers coming off their right side. When you have a quarterback as mobile as Aaron Rodgers, that’s not necessarily the worst combination in the world.

Best Player: Impossible to look past Josh Sitton. He elevated his game to another level in the post season, showing he’s more than just an excellent technician.

Biggest Concern: He was a rookie, but 13 sacks is way too many to give up, Bryan Bulaga. He needs to step up.


21.  Minnesota Vikings (2009 Rank: 25th)

Run Rank 27th, Pass Rank 13th, Penalties Rank 9th

It’s like a computer game. One player is too good so you crank the difficulty setting up by making the guys on his team so much worse. That’s the Vikings run blocking line who are determined not to give Adrian Peterson any free yardage.

Best Player: Their best blocker may well be Jim Kleinsasser, but unfortunately he’s classified as a tight end.  Bryant McKinnie is at least an above average pass blocking left tackle.

Biggest Concern: That there is no one concern that jumps out at you. This is a line that could use an upgrade and injection of youth at near enough every spot. Even promising rookie Phil Loadholt turned into a struggling sophomore.


23.  Detroit Lions  (2009 Rank: 18th)

Run Rank 24th, Pass Rank 16th, Penalties Rank 19th

More was expected of this line, but it didn’t quite pan out. Rob Sims wasn’t terrible, but didn’t upgrade the left guard spot, and Gosder Cherilus is still yet to live up to his draft slot. We’ve seen everyone on this line play better in recent years.



Do the Packers Have the Best Cornerback Trio in the League?

There’s a very interesting article about NFL cornerbacks on ProFootballFocus.com that provides some unexpected insights about the trio of Green Bay Packers cornerbacks. Overall, Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and even Sam Shields compared very favorably to the rest of the cornerbacks in the NFL.

I see it as a rather ironic development, as last off-season, many Packers followers (including myself) thought cornerback to be one of the Packers’ biggest positions of need. So naturally, Ted Thompson did nothing to address it in the draft, but then miraculously struck gold with UDFA Sam Shields. The combination of Woodson, Williams and Shields would prove to be a point of strength for the Packers in 2010, surprising just about everyone.

The Pro Football Focus article  ranked NFL cornerbacks based on several statistics.  First, they looked at the “times thrown at per coverage snaps.” I would expect this to be reflective of a player’s reputation, and the results mostly seem to bear that out. In the top four are Nnamdi Asomugha, Sean Smith, Asante Samuel and Darelle Revis. No surprise is Charles Woodson also being in the top 20, coming in at #18.

A shocking development, however, is Sam Shields coming in at #9. How in the world was he thrown at so few times? After the first game in Philly, I wrote that Eagles fans should be furious at their coaches for not going after Shields (see the last paragraph here). I was convinced that Shields would be attacked much more frequently as the season progressed. The stats here show it just didn’t happen.

The second interesting stat in the article is the “catch percentage per coverage snaps.” This takes into account total coverage snaps, the amount of times they were thrown at and the number of receptions allowed.  Guess who had the best percentage in the entire league? None other than Tramon Williams. Despite being targeted more than Charles Woodson and even Sam Shields, Tramon trounced the entire league with his coverage skills. We saw a perfect example on the Steelers last play in the Super Bowl – just fantastic coverage.

Looking at some other PFF stats (not in the article) provides even more insight into the play of the Packers’ cornerbacks. Of cornerbacks who were on the field for at least 50% of their team’s snaps, by the PFF overall ranking system, Tramon Williams was the 6th best cornerback in the league, with Sam Shields landing at 25 and Charles Woodson at 41.