1

November

Packing the Stats: Balanced Offense Performing with Increased Efficiency

Packing the StatsThere’s no doubt that Green Bay Packers fans have experienced a rough start to the 2013 season. Among losing games to the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals, the Packers have been without a number of key players due to injuries. But, in spite of this, we’re finally starting to see this team come together and work with efficiency.

It hasn’t been an easy transition, though. We’ve been used to a high-flying offense that made big plays down the field and racked up quick points, and it has taken some getting used to a more balanced offensive attack. Yet this newfound balance has paid major dividends.

Here is a look at some basic statistical categories for the Packers offense this season compared to their overall results from the last two years (from TeamRankings.com):

Statistical Category 2013 2012 2011
Points per Game 30.3 27.1 34.1
Yards per Game 438.9 357.2 404.1
Points per Play 0.448 0.419 0.547
Red Zone Scoring % (TD) 50.00% 68.52% 65.22%
Yards per Play 6.5 5.5 6.5
First Downs per Game 23.0 21.2 22.2
First Down per Play 0.340 0.327 0.357
Average Time of Possession 31:57 30:06 30:28
Third Down Conversion % 46.39% 41.00% 48.50%
Rushing Attempts per Game 29.6 26.7 24.6
Rushing Yards per Game 141.4 104.6 100.3
Rushing First Downs per Game 7.6 5.1 5.7
Yards per Rush Attempt 4.8 3.9 4.1
Rushing Play % 43.76% 41.20% 39.43%
Rushing First Down % 32.92% 23.88% 25.66%
Pass Completion % 67.07% 67.14% 67.34%
Passing Yards per Game 297.4 252.6 303.8
Yards per Pass Attempt 8.4 7.2 8.7
Passing First Downs per Game 13.3 13.4 14.4
Passing First Down % 57.76% 63.25% 64.81%
Average Team Passer Rating 108.0 107.1 119.4
Passing Play % 56.24% 58.80% 60.57%
QB Sacked % 6.39% 8.03% 7.01%

 

I think it’s interesting to not only look at the overall improvements from last season (which are striking), but also to look at how this offense has changed from the high-scoring juggernaut of 2011. For example, the overall performance indicators for 2013 are generally better than 2012, but not quite as good as 2011. Categories like Points per Game, Yards per Game, and Points per Play clearly show this. However, notice that the Yards per Play statistic is the same in 2013 as 2011, and the number of First Downs per Game is slightly higher than both years.

16

May

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.

6

May

Packing the Stats: The 49ers, Ted Thompson, and Draft Class Contributions

Packing the StatsYou know what’s been bugging me about some fans’ reactions to the 2013 NFL Draft? They look at the San Francisco 49ers, who have been lauded for their draft results, and feel like the Green Bay Packers’ selections were utterly underwhelming by comparison.

Yes, the 49ers had a great draft. They were able to get some highly regarded players who could definitely make their great team even better. But I have a few counterpoints to the assertion that the Packers had a terrible draft in comparison. First and foremost, the 49ers started out with thirteen picks to the Packers’ eight. According to the traditional trade value chart, San Francisco’s total value of picks was about 1,958 points, compared to Green Bay’s total value of about 1,318 points.

In other words, the 49ers started out with 48.6% more draft value than the Packers. Of course they’re going to be able to get more out of it!

Secondly, these players have yet to play a single down in the pro arena. We should very well know by now that high draft picks can be phenomenal busts, while low draft picks can be hidden diamonds in the rough. It’s worthwhile to compare draft value based on scouting grades and reports; however, it’s rather silly to make concrete future predictions based on that.

Which leads to my third and most important point: a team’s draft picks don’t contribute that much in their rookie season. We call it “draft and develop” because these players don’t come ready-made for the NFL. They have to be coached, and they have to improve their technique and football knowledge in order to be effective at the professional level.

Let’s take the San Francisco 49ers for example. They reached the Super Bowl in 2012, but do you recognize any of these names from their rookie draft class? A.J. Jenkins, LaMichael James, Joe Looney, Darius Fleming, Trent Robinson, Jason Slowey, and Cam Johnson played a combined total of 12 games and zero starts. That means the 49ers were a Super Bowl team in the making over several years and that drafted players take time to really make an impact.

Of course, I don’t want to rest my assertion on that one example. I wanted to make sure that this claim actually has some validation to it, so I started doing some research.

18

April

Packing the 2013 NFL Draft Stats: Explosion Number, Part 1

Packing the StatsA couple weeks ago, I presented some data in regard to some of the 3-4 defensive front prospects that the Green Bay Packers could be looking at in the upcoming 2013 NFL Draft. We calculated their “production ratios” based on big plays during their college years. This time around, we’re going to take some numbers from the NFL Combine to see how explosive some of these players are.

Taking another page from Pat Kirwan’s book, “Take Your Eye Off the Ball,” we’re going to take some of the combine measurable and plug them into a formula that will help to show how explosive these players are.

“On the snap of the ball,” writes Kirwan, “the front seven and the offensive line are going to engage physically. It’s a series of adjacent bar fights, and we need to be able to project who has the athleticism to win these all-important battles in the trenches. . . . A prospect with an Explosion Number of 70 or higher has my attention.”

So how do we calculate this number? Here’s the formula:

BENCH PRESS (reps) + VERTICAL LEAP (in.) + STANDING BROAD JUMP (ft.) = EXPLOSION NUMBER

The bench press, vertical jump, and broad jump are three workouts at the combine that specifically test a player’s raw strength, power, and explosiveness. They comprise the core qualities that a defensive lineman needs to do his job. Other workouts like the 40-yard dash and three-cone drill don’t really factor into this equation, because they relate much less to these trench battles.

Without further ado, here are the numbers. The data is taken from NFL Combine Results, and the players listed are the only ones who have data for the required workouts. Some players skip certain workouts for health or preferential reasons, so their Explosion Number can’t be adequately measured. Additionally, I used DraftTek.com to pare down the list to only those players projected as 3-4 candidates. The overall draft rankings are also based on DraftTek’s “big board.”

(Click the image to enlarge)

 

2013 NFL Draft Stats: Explosion Number of 3-4 Defensive Front Prospects

2013 NFL Draft Stats: Explosion Number of 3-4 Defensive Front Prospects

 

You’ll notice that only four players have an Explosion Number (EN) of 70 or greater: Brandon Williams, Cornelius Washington, Margus Hunt, and Nicholas Williams. None of them are projects as first round prospects, which is rather interesting; however, Datone Jones is extremely close with an EN of 69.8. Conversely, Ezekial Ansah is the highest ranked of the group, but only boasts an EN of 65.3.

2

April

Packing the 2013 NFL Draft Stats: Production Ratio

Packing the StatsI have a confession to make: I’m completely clueless when it comes to NFL draft prospects. Okay, well maybe not clueless, but I don’t follow college football, so it’s hard to really know much about these guys moving around the draft boards. Once a guy gets drafted by the Green Bay Packers, then I take the time to read up on his scouting report and check out the highlight reels.

That means you won’t be getting a lot from me when it comes to evaluating players. However, as we get closer to the 2013 NFL Draft, I’m going to post some statistics articles that relate to the current rookie prospects. The nice thing about statistics is that I don’t really have to be that intimate with the players’ individual skills and deficiencies. I can take some of their important numbers, crunch them together, and make something useful out of them.

Of course, this is where I make my disclaimer that statistics don’t tell the whole story. They’re a useful tool when evaluating performance, but they’re just one item in the toolbox. Just like the “measurables” from the NFL Combine and pro days, statistics need to be combined with the rest of the puzzle to make the complete picture. (Okay, maybe that was one too many analogies in a single paragraph.)

My first endeavor is to determine the “production ratio” of front seven draft prospects. A few months ago, I finished reading Pat Kirwan’s book, “Take Your Eye Off the Ball,” and he mentioned a couple statistical tools he uses to help measure incoming players. (By the way, I highly recommend picking up this book if you haven’t read it. I got it on iBooks for about $10.) Production ratio is one of these measurements, and it’s a look at how often defensive lineman and linebackers made impact plays during their playing time in college. Here’s the formula:

(SACKS + TACKLES FOR A LOSS)/GAMES PLAYED = PRODUCTION RATIO

Obviously, this is an attempt to combine big plays into one number that’s comparable across the board. The sum of sacks and tackles for a loss are divided by the number of games played to essentially get an average number of impact plays per game.

7

March

Packing the Stats: Is Aaron Rodgers’ Time Ticking Away?

Packing the StatsIn the shadow of the last two postseason losses, I’ve seen a number of Green Bay Packers fans itching for Ted Thompson to make some big roster moves. Their basic premise is that star quarterback Aaron Rodgers doesn’t have much time left to get to another Super Bowl. It’s either now or never if the team wants to make another serious run at it.

Rodgers is, after all, turning 30 this December. By the time the season is over and the playoffs are underway, he’ll have reached that magic age in the NFL when a player’s value suddenly drops like a brand new car being driven off the dealer’s lot. Sure, he hasn’t shown any physical or mental signs of decline in his performance, but time flies when you’re chasing the Lombardi Trophy.

To be perfectly clear, I have been a big skeptic of this line of thinking. This skepticism has actually led me to do a little data mining. How many quarterbacks have won the Super Bowl after they’ve turned 30? How many have even played in a Super Bowl? Is it a foregone conclusion that Rodgers will be battling the odds in the coming years?

So I went all the way back to Super Bowl XXX and compiled the ages of the starting quarterbacks since that year. Just to note, I only went back 18 years for the purposes of time management and the idea that modern rules are helping with durability. Quarterbacks are being protected from physically damaging hits, so they should theoretically have a better chance of playing into their later years.

Here is the raw data I uncovered (click to enlarge):

Super Bowl Starting Quarterback Ages - Raw Data, 1995-2013

Super Bowl Starting Quarterback Ages – Raw Data, 1995-2013

 

After compiling all the data, I went through and calculated some simple statistics to help us measure and understand what we’re seeing:

Super Bowl Starting Quarterback Ages - Statistics, 1995-2013

Super Bowl Starting Quarterback Ages – Statistics, 1995-2013

 

Looking at the numbers, Aaron Rodgers has clearly surpassed the average age for quarterbacks appearing in a Super Bowl. Losing quarterbacks tend to be about a year older than winning ones, while the median age seems to hover around 28. About 60% of all quarterbacks starting in a Super Bowl during the past 18 years were under the age of 30.

29

November

Packing the Stats: Packers First Down Failures

Packing the StatsOne thing I noticed while watching the Green Bay Packers humiliating loss to the New York Giants was their inability to put themselves in favorable down-and-distance situations.

In fact, of the 54 offensive downs that Aaron Rodgers was on the field for, 40 of them were at or over ten yards to convert. Three were in the moderate-long range (7-9 yds.), eight were in the moderate-short range (4-6 yds.), and only three were in the short range (1-3 yds.).

But how does this compare with the rest of the season? It’s one thing to have the numbers, but we also have to have some context and comparison. After all, there will tend to be more downs of 10 yards to go, since that is what most first downs start with.

Without further ado, here is some raw data concerning the Packers’ offensive performance by down-and-distance (click on the image for a larger resolution):

 

2012 Green Bay Packers, Yards Gained by Down and Distance

 

The first thing to look at is the yards per play on first down. Green Bay had its lowest overall production on first-and-long this season (2.68 yards per play). Their second lowest output came against the Seahawks where they averaged a full yard more at 3.68 yds/play. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, their best production on first-and-long came against the Indianapolis Colts (6.79 yds/play).

What that means is the Packers should have faced more long second downs than normal. And, in fact, that was the case. Eleven of 20 second downs were in the 10+ yards-to-go range. That’s 55.0% for those keeping track. On the season, the Packers have only ended up in second-and-long situations 32.8% of the time.

What becomes even worse is how they performed on second down. Their 3.73 yds/play on second-and-long is a yard short of their season average. And one very misleading statistic is their production on second down with 4-6 yards to ago (moderate-short). While 78 yards on 7 plays gives an average of 11.14 yds/play, consider what happens when we remove the 61-yard touchdown to Jordy Nelson. It becomes a paltry 17 yards on six plays for just 2.83 yds/play – or about half of their season average.

We can clearly see that an inefficiency to move the ball forward into manageable situations led the Packers to downs where they were forced to throw deeper. And that, I would say, is a bad situation to be in against such a formidable New York Giants pass rush.