Packers at Ravens: Keys to the Game

Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs

Ngata and Suggs remain as standout holdovers from last year’s Super Bowl championship team

The Green Bay Packers will hit the road again and head to Baltimore to face the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens.  The Packers have yet to have back-to-back home or road games this season and they will alternate home and road games until early November.

Winning on the road in the NFL is never easy, regardless of the opponent and the Packers have shown a tendency to win the hard way when away from Lambeau Field.

The Ravens entered this season having lost some of their salty veterans, but were still favorites to compete in the AFC in 2013.  The Packers were also among the NFC favorites and are looking to take another step towards solidifying that notion with a big road win.

While it has been close to eight years since Green Bay visited Baltimore, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was there.  It was his rookie season and he saw some playing time that Monday night.  Unfortunately that was because the Ravens were pounding the Packers and then-quarterback Brett Favre.  Rodgers was sacked three times and had an interception in relief of Favre.  On ESPN’s “Tuesdays with Aaron” show this week, Rodgers recounted that game, showcasing more of his innate memory skills.

While Baltimore has had their share of struggles with a shaky offensive line and a lack of playmakers in the passing game, they are still the defending champions and they have not lost at home yet this season.  If the Packers are going to emerge victorious, they will need a top-flight performance all around and mistake-free football to get it done.

Let’s look at this week’s keys to the game.

Pressure On

On defense, the Packers will be without linebacker Clay Matthews and they will need to find a way to keep pressure on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.  Flacco has been sacked 14 times already this season and the Baltimore offensive line has struggled overall.  Last week, the Ravens traded for Jacksonville Jaguars starting left tackle Eugene Monroe to help solidify the line, and Monroe is expected to make his debut on Sunday against Green Bay.

Last week against the Detroit Lions, the Packers were able to keep pressure on quarterback Matthew Stafford with outside linebackers Nick Perry and Mike Neal.  Both are expected to start on Sunday and an equally productive performance will be needed this week.  Green Bay could be very thin on the outside, as rookie Andy Mulumba is nursing a knee injury and has not practiced this week.



Lions at Packers: Keys to the Game

Lions RB Reggie Bush

Bush has jump-started the Lions offense this season and will factor heavily in Sunday’s outcome

The bye week is over and the Green Bay Packers have been preparing to get back on a winning track after their week three debacle in Cincinnati.

The good news for the Packers is that they are getting back many of those who were dealing with injury.  Clay Matthews, Jermichael Finley, Morgan Burnett, John Kuhn, Eddie Lacy and Jarrett Bush all returned to practice this week and have a good chance to play this Sunday.  Cornerback Casey Hayward did participate in some drills, but he has already been ruled out this week.  Backup offensive lineman Greg Van Roten suffered a foot sprain in Monday’s practice and he likely will not suit up this weekend either.

Green Bay needs all hands on deck now and after starting the season 1-2.  While they always have a good chance of playing a divisional opponent tough, these games are some of the most grueling on the schedule due to each team’s familiarity with each other.

While Detroit has lost 22 straight games at Lambeau Field, they are growing increasingly weary of hearing about “the streak”.  The Lions come in with a revamped offense and attitude.  Running back Reggie Bush has been phenomenal for Detroit so far this season and if he can stay healthy (he has already missed a game due to a knee injury), he will prove very valuable.  Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is benefitting from having another solid weapon to detract some of the attention from his All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson.  Speaking of Johnson, he was listed as questionable on Friday’s injury report, with a knee issue but popular opinion is that he will play this week.

Let’s look at the keys that will likely factor heavily into the outcome in Sunday’s contest at Lambeau Field.

Reeeeggie, Reeeeggie, Reeeeggie

This was once a battle cry that rang from the stands at Lambeau Field during the 1990′s and in hopes that former Packer Reggie White would destroy the opposing quarterback and impose his will on their team.  The Packers could benefit from channeling a bit of their inner-Reggie White this week and hopefully that same chant is ringing from the meeting room of every defensive position group this week.  This Reggie, however, is Reggie Bush.



Where to Point Fingers in Packers Loss to Bengals

Packers Jonathan Franklin fumbles against Bengals

Turnovers, like Jonathan Franklin’s fumble, were a major factor in the Packers’ loss to the Bengals.

I grow weary of Green Bay Packers losses. Not because they lose, but because I have to suffer the over-the-top reactions from fans every time. Okay, I guess it’s my choice to be involved in the Packers blogosphere and Twitterverse, but you get my point.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely no problem with being critical of your team after they lose a game like the Packers did to the Bengals. They should have won that game, and it was sloppy play that cost them. Regardless, it doesn’t mean that we need to start firing coaches or general managers. It doesn’t mean that our season is doomed.

But what really frustrates me is when fans automatically revert to grinding the axes they’ve been sharpening for years. When you mindlessly spout convenient excuses for a loss in anger and frustration, then your opinion lacks substance. Sure, there might be some valid points, but in many cases, it’s simply the failure of fans to objectively assess the game.

What do I mean? Let’s take this most recent loss. After thinking about the loss and reviewing some of the information, I’ve come away with some of the biggest reasons (and non-reasons) for the Packers’ loss. Below you’ll find three places where pointing your finger isn’t really a valid/honest assessment of the game, and then you’ll find three places where finger pointing is more than appropriate.

As always, feel free to agree/disagree in the comments section, but please keep it civil.


Where NOT to Point Your Finger:

1. Mike McCarthy’s Play Calling – Let’s get this out of the way first: that call on 4th-and-1 was horrible, no matter how much McCarthy wants to defend it. While I admire expecting your team to perform up to standard, I don’t understand why you try to use Franklin straight up the gut behind an average offensive line. Now, that aside, it’s complete bull manure to use that one example as an indicator of poor play-calling overall. I don’t have the analytical skills to judge McCarthy’s play-calling without going back to the tape, and I doubt a lot of you do, either. When the offense puts up 426 yards, how is that a failure? Not only that, but Starks ran for 55 yards on 14 carries (3.9 YPC), and Franklin ran for 103 yards on 13 carries (7.9 YPC). Even without the 51-yard run, Franklin still had 4.3 YPC. You can’t reduce unsuccessful downs simply to bad play calls, because you also have to consider the element of player execution. And until someone can provide some concrete analysis of the offensive tactics, then blaming McCarthy’s play-calling is just convenient belly-aching.



Packing the Stats: Measuring Success in the NFL, Part 2: Offense

Welcome to Part 2 in the “Indicators of Success” series, in which I look at how strongly certain statistical categories correlate to the success of an NFL team. In the first part, we looked at defensive statistics, but as I concluded in that piece, we were only looking at one side of the coin. Today we’ll examine how well the offensive statistics compare to a team’s success, again using information from the 2011 season.

(Note: Look here for Part 1 on the defense)

Here is the raw data I collected from TeamRankings.com:

Raw offensive statistics for the 2011 season. Click on the image to open a larger resolution.

As I explained in my first post, the teams are ranked according to their 2012 NFL Draft order. While not a perfect ranking, it does take into account the number of wins each team had in addition to their success throughout the playoffs.

I used the same statistical categories as I did in Part 1 with the defense, but this time as applied to the team’s offense:

  • Yards per Game (Yds/G)
  • Points per Game (Pts/G)
  • Red Zone Scoring Percentage, TD only (RZ%)
  • Average Time of Possession (Avg ToP)
  • 3rd Down Conversion Percentage (3rd Conv%)
  • 1st Downs per Play (1st Dn/P)
  • Giveaways / Turnovers per Game (TO/G)

As before, I’ll present you with a graph of each statistical category, followed by some brief analysis. Have a look:


Yards per Game, 2011

In the defensive statistics, the opponent yards per game was pretty much flat-lined. Here, however, we can see a very (very) slight downward slope. The three teams with the highest number of yards per game ranked in the top six, while the four teams with the lowest number ranked in the bottom 7.


Points per Game, 2011

As could be expected, we see a pretty high correlation here between points scored per game and overall success. The more points you score, after all, the more games you will win. There is a very clear downward slope, with the four highest scoring teams in the top ten and the seven lowest scoring teams in the bottom eleven.


Red Zone Scoring % (TD only), 2011



Packing the Stats: Measuring Success in the NFL, Part 1: Defense

Recently, fellow writer Michael Dulka wrote a post on the Green Bay Packers defense and how signs of improvement should give us hope for 2012.  A couple of comments were made discussing the relevance of the “Yards per Game” statistic that has so stigmatized last season’s defensive unit. Specifically, commenter “Sven” had this to say:

. . . Or could it be that we are using the wrong kind of ruler to measure the Packers defense. touchdowns and turn-overs are what count more than yards. Ultimately winning is what counts, and they did that in spades . . .

It raises a valid and long-standing debate about what statistics really matter when it comes to indicating a team’s success or failure. Inevitably, pundits and fans alike will find the statistics that best suit their viewpoint. In the case of the Packers last season, pessimists pointed at the yards they gave up, while optimists grounded their arguments on the number of turnovers they generated.

So what statistic(s) really encapsulates a team’s success? Well, in an effort to shed some light on the subject, I went over to TeamRankings.com and compiled some information. Here’s the raw data I collected:

Raw defensive statistics for the 2011 season. Click on the image to open a larger resolution.

Let me explain my approach to start. In trying to get an accurate portrayal of how well each team did in 2011, I ranked them according to their 2012 NFL Draft order. This takes into account the number of wins each team had, plus their success throughout the playoffs. It’s not perfect, but it’s about as close as we’re going to get. (For example, the Broncos are ranked ahead of the Steelers, but I think that more so indicates how lousy Pittsburgh performed in the playoffs than their overall success across the season.)

This is also just one year’s worth of information, so it is admittedly limited in scope.

Next, I hand-picked seven statistical categories that I thought might be relevant to how well each team performed:

  • Opponent Yards per Game (Yds/G)
  • Opponent Points per Game (Pts/G)
  • Opponent Red Zone Scoring Percentage, TD only (RZ%)
  • Opponent Average Time of Possession (Avg ToP)
  • Opponent 3rd Down Conversion Percentage (3rd Conv%)
  • Opponent 1st Downs per Play (1st Dn/P)
  • Takeaways / Turnovers per Game (TO/G)