20

May

Who’s to Blame for Aaron Rodgers’ Record High Sacks?

Aaron Rodgers sacked by SeahawksWe’ve all seen the numbers. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked a total of 51 times in 2012 – more than any other NFL quarterback – and 55 times if you count the playoffs. It eclipsed his previous record of 50 sacks in 2009 and brings his five-year total as a starter to 202. His lowest sack count in that span was 31 in 2010, the same year they won the Super Bowl.

Frustrating doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling that Packers fans have in response to this data. Arguably the best player in the game right now is on his back way more often than he should be, and we are all left wondering why. Well, perhaps some fans are looking more for an answer to “who” than for “why.”

Who is to blame for this risk to our precious franchise quarterback? Who can we channel our anger towards when we’re yelling at the 60-inch plasma television?

Unfortunately, that’s not easily answered. But we can give you some suspects to choose from . . .

(don’t forget to cast your vote in the poll below…)

SUSPECT #1: The Blockers (Offensive Line, Running Backs, etc.)

In most cases, the offensive line is usually who we shout profanities at immediately after Aaron Rodgers gets sacked. After all, when it comes to the passing game, their number one responsibility is to protect the quarterback long enough for him to complete a pass. If he goes down, then it means they failed.

During the 2012 season, the two biggest culprits were Marshall Newhouse and T.J. Lang. They each allowed 9 sacks according to ProFootballFocus.com, which accounts for roughly 35% of the 51 total sacks. It’s not surprising that Mike McCarthy felt the need this offseason to shake up the offensive line, pointing specifically to a weakness “on the left side.”

There’s plenty of blame to go around, though. Josh Sitton, Jeff Saturday, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Bryan Bulaga, and Don Barclay combined for another 17 sacks allowed. All in all, that makes 35 sacks from the offensive line, which is a clear majority of the season total.

Let’s not forget, though, that tight ends and backs also share some responsibility for blocking pass rushers. Fullback John Kuhn allowed two sacks and tight end Tom Crabtree allowed one. (Some might be surprised that none of the halfbacks allowed a sack according to PFF, especially in recalling the major gaffes by James “Neo” Starks.)

9

October

Little Mistakes Add Up to Big Loss for Packers

Rodgers vs. ColtsThere’s nothing worse than missing a game where the Green Bay Packers lose. Yes, it saves some heartache and keeps the remote control from flying across the room, but it’s disheartening to know that, when I go back and watch it, I’m only going to be disappointed. The one silver lining, however, is that the emotion has taken its course, and I can look at things a little more objectively.

With this in mind, I already knew what to look for when the Green Bay Packers dropped an 18-point halftime lead over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. I had to figure out what changed between the two halves of play and why things started going south. A lot of blame was passed around in the 24 hours following the loss, but I wanted to draw my own conclusions with the tape to back up my claims.

And what did I find? While I agree with “Jersey” Al that the offense deserves a lot of the heat, I don’t think I can point my finger directly at the play calling. And though Adam Czech is correct in pointing out the missed scoring opportunity at the end of the first half, I think there’s more to it than that. In fact, what I discovered was a lot of little things that added up to big problems. There was no one consistent failure, but multiple mistakes and drive-killers that allowed the Colts to make an historic comeback.

Dropped Passes by the Usual Suspects

It didn’t take long for people to start asking why the Packers didn’t put the Colts away in the first half. They were sitting on an 18-point lead and had over a minute to put a scoring drive together going into halftime. While it is a good question, the answer didn’t have anything to do with a lack of trying.

The Packers made a nice 6-yard gain on a short outside pass to Kuhn, who also managed to run out of bounds and stop the clock. Good play calling to start the drive, if you ask me. In fact, I didn’t have any issues with the next two play calls – it was the execution that mattered. Jordy Nelson made a big drop over the middle on 2nd-and-4, and then Jermichael Finley followed it up with a drop on third down to end the drive. So after less than 20 seconds coming off the play clock, the Packers punted it back to the Colts.

27

September

Putting the Packers offensive line under the microscope

If the Packers are going to be an explosive offense, they must protect their QB.

If the Packers are going to be an explosive offense, they must protect their QB.

Fail Mary. The Inaccurate Reception. Senseless in Seattle.

Whatever you want to call it, the Packers’ Monday Night misfortune has been the topic of the sports world this week. Did the Packers deserve the win at Seattle? Sure, they did. But buried under the outrage surrounding the NFL’s replacement officials are some lingering issues with the Green Bay offense.

Through three games last season, the Packers averaged 33.0 points per game. The wide receivers were constantly making plays, and Aaron Rodgers had racked up eight touchdowns compared to just one interception.

This year, however, the Packers are averaging just 19.0 points per game through three games. Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings both have yet to catch a touchdown pass, and Rodgers, the reigning MVP, has accounted for only three scores.

So, why such a dramatic decline in production?

Perhaps opposing defenses have caught on to the Packers’ offensive philosophy. Or maybe their lack of a consistent running game has finally caught up to them.

In either case, one thing was quite obvious during Monday night’s game in Seattle–the Packers’ offensive line is struggling mightily.

Rodgers has been sacked 16 times through three games, which is four more times than any other quarterback in the league. Pro Football Focus has only credited the offensive line for allowing nine of the 16 sacks, but the starting line has performed well below league average thus far in 2012.

According to Pro Football Focus, only one of the Packers’ five starting offensive linemen (Josh Sitton) has earned a positive overall grade. The line has featured some pleasant surprises, as well as some major disappointments. Left tackle Marshall Newhouse has been solid in pass protection, while right tackle Bryan Bulaga has struggled in every area.

Let’s take a closer look at the Packers’ offensive line through three games. The five linemen are ranked 1-5, from best to worst, by their overall grade according to Pro Football Focus through three games.

(All stats include players who have played at least 75% of their team’s offensive snaps.)

1) RG Josh Sitton: 0 sacks allowed, 3 QB hurries

*Ranks 11th among 52 guards, (+4.3 overall, +3.6 pass blocking, +0.8 run blocking)

2) LT Marshall Newhouse: 3 sacks allowed, 3 QB hurries

19

September

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:

 

SACKS

No.

Play Time

Pressure Speed

Rushers vs. Blockers

Receivers

Sack Credit

1

Q1 13:37

2.6s

6 vs. 8

2

D. Smith

2

Q1 4:32

2.8s

(4 vs. 5)

4

C. Matthews / E. Walden

3

Q2 9:12

2.6s

(5 vs. 6)

3

C. Matthews

4

Q4 9:07

4.3s

4 vs. 6

4

M. Daniels

5

Q4 8:04

4.2s

(4 vs. 5)

4

C. Matthews

6

Q4 4:09

4.2s

4 vs. 7

3

J. Worthy

7

Q4 3:49

2.4s

5 vs. 6

4

C. Matthews

 

Some notes:

18

September

Clay Matthews Video: Better Speed Pass Rusher from the Right Side?

Clay matthews vs. 49ers

Clay Matthews celebrates a sack of Alex Smith

When the news came this off-season that the Packers would be moving Clay Matthews back to the right side, I did a little jig (ok, since I’m Italian, it was more of a tarantella).

Watching Matthews speed rush the passer from the left side the last year, there was something missing. The initial explosion was still there, but once engaging the right tackle, something strange was happening – usually one of two things. Either Matthews would get stood up and lose momentum, or lose his balance and end up on the ground. In either case, Matthews was easily handled and posed no threat to the quarterback.

Fast forward to this season and Matthews’ speed rush from the right side includes not only speed, but a violent punch, low pad-level and much better balance.

So is Matthews just a better speed rusher from the right side? Um, maybe…

In his rookie season, when Matthews played right outside linebacker, he recorded 10 sacks, despite not starting until game four. In 2010, the Packers’ Super Bowl Championship season, Matthews was moved to the left side and finished with 13 sacks in 17 games, with another four in the playoffs. As we all know, Matthews’ production fell off in 2011, with only six over the course of  the season.

But what didn’t fall off was his quarterback hits and hurries. in fact, they increased over 2010. This happened despite the fact that Matthews was given more responsibility in other areas in 2011. He played more in coverage, had more run game responsibilty and even was asked to shadow or provide contain on some of the more mobile quarterbacks the Packers faced. When he did get to rush the passer, Matthews was still generating pressure, but he just wasn’t completing the final task of dis-engaging from the right tackle. He basically wasn’t winning enough one-on-ones.

Lets take a look at some videos from last season’s Packers – Giants playoff game. In this first video, you’ll see Matthews looking to execute an outside speed move, but he’s never able to get any kind of punch or get under the tackle. Instead, he’s easily forced wide at arms length, and ends up losing his balance and slipping to the ground.

 

5

October

Who Is The Real Clay Matthews?

Clay Matthews gets a hit on Drew Brees in Week 1, but is it too little too late?

One sack.

Through four games in the 2011 regular season, Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews has just one sack. As the 26th overall draft pick two years ago, he notched 10 sacks in his rookie season, followed by a 13.5-sack performance his sophomore year in the NFL. Opposing offenses have resorted to giving him plenty of attention through chips, double teams, and moving the pocket away from his side. Fans and coaches alike have come to expect an elite level of play from Matthews.

And yet it doesn’t seem like they’re getting it.

Despite playing against a porous Chicago Bears offensive line and matching up against pedestrian right tackles, Clay Matthews has just one sack to his name. The worst part is that his sack is no more than a technicality, as first draft pick Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers was running out of bounds on the play.

We gave him some leeway in Week 1 against the New Orleans Saints, since Drew Brees is an elite quarterback who can get the ball out of his hands quickly and accurately. The Week 2 matchup against the Panthers proved to be an unexpected performance from a rookie quarterback and a set of receivers that cut holes in the Packers’ secondary. Plus, Newton’s ability to run and the frequent checkdown passes required the linebackers to do some spying.

Then, after Week 3 against the Bears, people began to get worried.

Why hasn’t Clay Matthews been the disruptive force we’ve known him to be? Are the minor injuries and lack of preseason playing time catching up to him? Is the loss of Cullen Jenkins having that much of an effect across the line? Are offensive coordinators figuring out the defense?

It’s a frustrating situation, and despite all the opining from journalists and bloggers, no one has been able to come up with an answer.

Of course, this whole issue is just a slice of the larger problem – the Packers’ lack of a pass rush. Opposing quarterbacks are getting time in the pocket to make their reads, and there has seemingly been no consistent push along the line. This is what makes it challenging to sort out the concerns with Matthews’ performance.

24

August

Packers Film Study – Bryan Bulaga Much Improved at Right Tackle

Green Bay Packer Offensive Tackle Bryan BulagaWe haven’t heard much this year about Packers offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga. T.J. Lang and Derek Sherrod have received most of the training camp attention on the offensive line as they battle for the open LG spot. Now that Lang is apparently the clear frontrunner, it’s time to start focusing more on the offensive line as a whole.

The Packers stability on the line has allowed Mike McCarthy to test a no-huddle offense in each of the first two preseason games. Both no-huddle drives have resulted in touchdowns that made the Packers offense look unstoppable. It’s going to be fun if the Packers’ no-huddle keeps rolling into the regular season.

It’s going to be even more fun if that up-tempo style is complemented by a reliable running game anchored on the right side by Josh Sitton and Bryan Bulaga.

McCarthy has praised Bulaga throughout training camp, saying that he is a “different player this year than he was last year.” If Bulaga continues to progress and Sitton keeps playing at a high level, the Packers could have a formidable run-blocking duo for the first time in a long time.

On the below play late in the first quarter of Friday’s preseason game against Arizona, Bulaga knocks the defender he’s matched against off the line and gives Ryan Grant some room to operate. Sitton also gets to the second level and makes his block.

The efforts from Bulaga and Sitton did not result in a big play this time, but if they consistently make blocks like this, big plays will happen.

Last year I broke down Bulaga’s penalty-filled performance against the Bears in Week 17. One of the things Bulaga struggled with was engaging pass rushers before they penetrated deep into the pocket. By waiting too long to square up his block, Bulaga allowed pass rushers to get too close to Aaron Rodgers and the QB got spooked and broke the pocket before it was necessary.

Bulaga had no problem keeping his man from spooking Rodgers against the Cardinals. On this play, Bulaga engages the pass rusher early and prevents him from even getting close to the Super Bowl MVP.