21

November

Packing the Stats: Third Quarter Struggles

Packing the StatsIn my very first “Packing the Stats” feature, I broke down the 2010 Green Bay Packers’ scoring by quarter in an attempt to research the claim that they were slow starters. Among a number of conclusions that I drew was the discovery that the team performed best in the third quarter. Not only were they scoring well, but they were also limiting the point totals of their opponent.

As I look through the stats this year, however, it’s quite the opposite. The third quarter for the 2012 Green Bay Packers is their worst by far, especially considering it is the only quarter in which the Packers have been outscored by their opponent. In fact, the Packers have only had a higher third quarter score than their opponent in two out of ten games so far.

Before we go any further, though, let’s take a look at the raw data. I’ve also included a chart to help illustrate the overall scoring data by quarter:

 GB vs OPP Scoring by Quarter Chart

 GB vs OPP Scoring by Quarter Graph

The Green Bay Packers, perhaps surprisingly, do the best overall in the first and fourth quarters of play. Their defense does a nice job keeping the points down at the beginning of games, where they only allow and average of 1.9 points in the first quarter. Unfortunately, they allow on average a steady 6.0 to 6.6 points in each subsequent quarter of play.

The offense, meanwhile, scores the majority of their points in the second and fourth quarters. In fact, the Packers have only gone scoreless three out of twenty times in those quarters of play. Perhaps indicative of their struggles, they’ve put up the most points (9.1 average) in the fourth quarter, where they’ve probably needed them the most.

If you compare this data to the 2010 season, the margins are definitely closer. The third quarter problems become even more magnified when you also note that the 2010 Packers, at least in those first twelve games, maintained a higher average than their opponents across the board. Thus, having a negative difference in point total becomes a little worrisome.

Now, as further analysis, I thought it might be prudent to look at the opening drives of each half of play. I was curious to see if this might have anything to do with who got the ball first, as well as how each team fared on their first drive. Below you will find a chart that notes which team earned the first possession of the game, as well as whether each team scored on their respective first possessions in each half:

8

November

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.

1

November

Packing the Stats: First Down Balancing Act

Packing the StatsThere has been some frustration among Green Bay Packers fans lately about the run/pass ratio from the offense on first downs. During the lukewarm win against the Jacksonville Jaguars last Sunday, Mike McCarthy seemed to consistently call running plays on first down. Frustration with the predictability of the calls started to seep into the ever-watchful fans, and it became just another part of the team’s so-called “moral loss.”

Now, I have been slowly tracking a good number of statistics during the past eight weeks, most of which I haven’t even gotten into analyzing. One thing I do after each game is log every offensive play: the down, distance, yardage gained, how it was gained, who gained it, and the outcome. From there, I can gather a whole bunch of raw statistical information, a lot of which isn’t available on the popular NFL statistical websites.

One thing it has allowed me to track is the run/pass ratios on a down-by-down basis, which I have presented below. Now, in the following data, I have not accounted for plays in which penalties have been accepted, since a good number of times they are pre-snap penalties. This adds a little bit of error to the numbers, but it should be nothing of significance.

The first thing I want to show you is the total number of called runs and passes, as sorted by down and distance (click the image to enlarge):

 

2012 Run/Pass Ratios by Down and Distance

2012 Run/Pass Ratios by Down and Distance

 

If there was any doubt about which team we are analyzing, they are put to rest when we see just how much the offense is passing the ball. It’s no secret that Mike McCarthy trusts the arm of Aaron Rodgers more than his running game – and so he should. It’s their biggest and most reliable weapon.

However, there are some significant trends in the data. First and foremost, Mike McCarthy is actually pretty “balanced” when it comes to calling runs on first downs. In fact, the offense has passed the ball a few more times overall than they have run it in such situations.

The real “imbalances” come in later downs, as the offense tends to throw it more as the down increases. Running plays are only called 11.7% of the time on third downs, and if you take out the third-and-short distances, it drops to a measly 4.6%.

23

October

Packing the Stats: Rushing to Conclusions

Packing the StatsAfter Sunday afternoon’s 30-20 victory by the Green Bay Packers over the St. Louis Rams, I listened to Jason Wilde’s weekly appearance on ESPN Wisconsin’s radio show “Pack Attack.” The conversation immediately dove into a debate between Wilde, Bill Johnson, and Homer about the effectiveness of Alex Green’s rushing attempts. While he made 20 rushing attempts the entire game, Green only netted 35 yards for a 1.8 yards per carry average. His longest run was for 15 yards.

On one side of the debate was Jason Wilde, who maintained that making the attempts to run the ball was more important than their overall yards per carry. He posited that the defense’s linemen would have to account for a run, even if it wasn’t for significant yardage. That means they couldn’t just “pin their ears back” and go after the quarterback each down.

Opposing this idea was Bill and Homer, who both insisted that Green’s yards per carry was unacceptable and would need to get better in the future to ensure offensive success. They claimed that if the running game isn’t making traction, then the defense doesn’t really have to worry about it, period. (Jason Wilde eventually called them “stubborn” in their opinions.)

So which matters more – yards per carry or total rushing attempts? This really piqued my interest from a statistical standpoint, and I decided to head over to Pro-Football-Reference.com to being my research. My sample data was all games (regular season and postseason) within the past ten years (2002-2011) that matched the rushing criteria below.

(You can download the complete Excel file here: rushing_stats.xlsx)

TOTAL RUSHING YARDS PER GAME (2002-2011)
TOTAL YARDS W L T W-L% COUNT GBP W-L% GBP COUNT
60-79 212 513 1 29.20% 726 30.40% 23
80-99 342 527 0 39.36% 869 68.60% 35
100-119 435 427 0 50.46% 862 61.30% 31
120-139 393 291 0 57.46% 684 75.00% 20
140-159 352 189 0 65.06% 541 61.10% 18
AVERAGE YARDS PER ATTEMPT (2002-2011)
YDS/ATT W L T W-L% COUNT GBP W-L% GBP COUNT
1.0-1.9 42 77 1 35.00% 120 33.30% 3
2.0-2.9 322 363 0 47.01% 685 65.20% 23
3.0-3.9 786 768 1 50.55% 1555 64.00% 50
4.0-4.9 746 745 1 50.00% 1492 52.50% 40
19

October

Getting In Rhythm With The Packers Offense

In this week’s edition of “Tuesday’s with Aaron” with Jason Wilde (a must listen if you are a Packers fan), Aaron Rodgers tried to describe what is a “rhythm offense”:

“I don’t know… I think a rhythm offense is an offense that operates best in favorable down and distances and making consistent plays and not having negative yardage plays, whether its a negative run, sack, penalty…and making the plays that keep you on the field”

Rodgers is always insightful during his interviews so his response took me a little by surprise; I’m not entirely sure Aaron Rodgers knows what really is a rhythm offense because no one really knows what a rhythm offense is.  Teams either are in a rhythm or they aren’t; some teams (typically with great quarterbacks) tend to be in rhythm more often than teams that don’t have great quarterbacks, but conversely having a great quarterback doesn’t necessarily mean the offense will be in rhythm.  As far as I can tell, it just happens.

If you’ve watched any Packers games at all this year, it should be pretty apparent that the Packers weren’t in a rhythm in beginning of the season and maybe have “righted the ship” with a 6 touchdown demolition of the Houston Texans last week.  To me this seemed a little odd since the Packers managed to start off hot during the 2011 season, and that was without the benefit of having an offseason due to the CBA lockout; so if anything the 2012 Packers should have been even more ready than the 2011 Packers.

Perhaps even more interesting is that Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, two other great quarterbacks known for their use of up-tempo, no-huddle, “rhythm offenses” had very similar results as Aaron Rodgers in terms of struggling early in the season and playing much better down the stretch (if you can even be “down the stretch” in week 6).  Below is a table looking at the individual passing statistics of Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees during the 2012 season.  I’ve split the averages for games 1 to 3 and then games 4 to 6 (the Saints have only played 5 games since they had a bye last week):

 

Aaron Rodgers     COMP ATT % COMP YARDS TD INT QBR Y/A AY/A
1 SFO L 22-30 30.00 44.00 68.20% 303.00 2.00 1.00 93.30 6.89 6.77
17

October

Packing the Stats: The Rise and Fall of Jermichael Finley

Packing the StatsFor Green Bay Packers fans, there has been no more controversial player during the past few years than tight end Jermichael Finley. His boisterous personality and recent penchant for dropped passes have clashed significantly with the perception of his physical talents and work ethic. And while we like to believe that on-field performance trumps off-field attitude, there’s no bigger catalyst for the disgruntled fan than when both start to head south.

I’m not going to look at the off-field issues, because we could talk about that for hours. What I want to focus on, instead, is the performance trajectory of Finley since he was taken in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft. (Actually, we’ll omit his rookie season, since Finley only saw 12 targets the whole year.) Please note that all stats have been acquired from ProFootballFocus.com.

Let’s start with some basic statistics from the past four years:

Year GP TA Rec. % Ct Yds Yds / Rec. YAC YAC / Rec. LG TD FD
2009 14 78 61 78.2 845 13.9 377 6.2 62 5 29
2010 5 25 21 84 301 14.3 106 5 34 1 12
2011 17 99 59 59.6 804 13.6 251 4.3 41 8 44
2012 6 36 24 66.7 210 8.8 74 3.1 31 1 12

What we first have to account for is the games played by Finley each season. 2011 was the only year where he played in every game, and as we all know, his time on the field in 2010 was cut short due to a knee injury (torn meniscus) in Week 5. That said, looking at straight-up totals won’t tell us much; instead, we need to focus more on percentages and averages that give us a better indication of per-play production.

My first impression of Finley’s basic production is that 2010 could have been his best year had it not been cut short. His catch percentage and yards per receptions were both his highest in four seasons, and his yards after catch per reception were the second highest. It’s a smaller sample size, so we have to take some things with a grain of salt, but there’s enough to indicate peak performance.

13

October

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).