Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

07 Oct 2008

Any Given Sunday: Falcons over Packers

by Ned Macey

The linked ESPN article focuses primarily on the Atlanta offense against the Green Bay defense and ignores to some extent the elephant in the room that is Brett Favre's departure.

A few numbers are worth showing here. To date, Rodgers' DVOA is a respectable 2.7%. Here are Favre's DVOAs for the past six years, including this season:

Year DVOA
2008 11.1%
2007 28.0%
2006 -1.2%
2005 3.2%
2004 26.5%
2003 6.2%

Rodgers is just not that far behind. In addition, he currently is the NFL's leading scrambler with 27 Rushing DYAR.

As for the biggest reason the Packers are struggling... Last season, Ryan Grant's DVOA was 12.3%. So far this year, even after a good game on Sunday, it is -30.6%, and only Chris Perry is worse among running backs with 40 or more carries.

Posted by: Ned Macey on 07 Oct 2008

21 comments, Last at 09 Oct 2008, 2:21pm by Ralph Hickok

Comments

1
by JSA (not verified) :: Tue, 10/07/2008 - 5:56pm

Correction needed to article: you say Atlanta left tackle Chris Baker, should be Sam Baker - Chris is Jets TE

2
by Sean :: Tue, 10/07/2008 - 7:12pm

According to ESPN stats, Michael Turner is on pace for 330 attempts this season. I hope he is not a one and done player

3
by j'accusa rich (not verified) :: Tue, 10/07/2008 - 7:28pm

330 carries is hardly a deathknell. Get real.

4
by Nick W (not verified) :: Tue, 10/07/2008 - 7:31pm

Ryan Grant is just about the same guy he was last year. I don't know if it statistically shows, but when I watched him last year he was a major boom-or-bust guy. This year, it seems his injuries have kept him from the booms.

5
by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Tue, 10/07/2008 - 10:52pm

Wasn't the Packer running game terrible in early 2007, before Ryan Grant emerged? Yet the Packers were still winning games then.

I'm curious about how the Packers of 2008 compare to the Packers of early 2007 in different categories, including run offense.

I think defense is the biggest problem (as your ESPN article suggests).

7
by tuluse :: Tue, 10/07/2008 - 11:06pm

The Packers were winning because Favre was putting on a near MVP level show. All the talk about them on ESPN was "how long can Favre keep this up without help." See the 26% difference between Favre last year and Rodgers this year.

6
by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Tue, 10/07/2008 - 10:58pm

Via p-f-r, the 2007 Packers rushing totals in each game before Ryan Grant became the feature back: 46, 84, 42, 46, 121, 56. Their record at that point was 5-1. Their good defense and good quarterback seemed to overcome their poor run game (over the small sample size of six games, anyway).

14
by ammek :: Wed, 10/08/2008 - 5:31am

Yeah, folks seem to forget also that Green Bay had plenty of luck in its opening games last season. Minus the special teams errors by Philly and the fumbles by San Diego, the Packers probably would have opened 3-3. Not much better than this year.

On the other hand, once Grant entered the line-up, I think they became a genuinely good team. He's clearly not the same player this season. It's the old 'holdout - training camp injury - slump in performance' triumverate.

8
by justanothersteve :: Wed, 10/08/2008 - 12:00am

The defense has been ok, but nothing like it was in the first half last year. Last year they were outstanding the first several games and kept the team in games. Now, the run defense has been bad and Al Harris isn't the same guy he was a year ago even if he was healthy. Also significant, the punting game has been pathetic. Jon Ryan was terrible. Frost has been even worse.

15
by ammek :: Wed, 10/08/2008 - 5:43am

These negative Frost reports are spreading like, well, frost. But are they accurate? Look up Green Bay's punt DVOA. It's very slightly positive. Look up Jon Ryan's punt DVOA with the Packers last year and Seahawks this year. Not so good!

Frost has mixed a handful of horrible punts with a number of very good ones. I suspect if DVOA measured "variance" for punters, he'd rank last. But the stats show that Ryanostalgia is misplaced. And Washington fans would be queueing up to welcome Frost back.

9
by Dan :: Wed, 10/08/2008 - 1:41am

Last year Dunn had 3.2 ypc (-20.0% DVOA) in Atlanta. This year he's in Tampa, posting 5.1 ypc (6.1% DVOA), and his replacement in Atlanta, Turner, has 5.3 ypc (21.1% DVOA). What happened?

17
by Just Another Falcon Fan (not verified) :: Wed, 10/08/2008 - 1:01pm

Bobby Petrino happened to Atlanta last year. As for Dunn, he is getting spot duty at appropriate times for Tampa this year.

10
by j'accusa rich (not verified) :: Wed, 10/08/2008 - 1:50am

Cullen Jenkins and Al Harris are the key names here. The GB defense is soft setting the edge without Jenkins, and Harris' absence forces them to play a lot more zone than usual.

Green Bay's interior o-line is kinda crappy, so it's not surprising that the run game's regressing. Clifton ended up coming out of the game against Atlanta with Colledge replacing him at LT (hence matching him up against John Abraham) - that was pretty ugly.

11
by j'accusa rich (not verified) :: Wed, 10/08/2008 - 1:52am

Dan - different systems, different teams, different roles. Context is everything when it comes to statistical production.

12
by j'accusa rich (not verified) :: Wed, 10/08/2008 - 2:05am

To clarify, the Falcons aren't fielding the same o-line as last year - only McClure (C) and Blalock (LG) are returning at the same positions they played a year ago. Rookie Sam Baker (LT) has been an enormous difference maker for the Falcons offense. Clabo (RT) saw some action last year at various positions on the line, as a sort of utility man, but he's firmly entrenched at RT now; RG Harvey Dahl's a FA pickup who replaced Kynan Forney in training camp, as he's a nastier run blocker and a better system fit. He's probably the weakest link on the line at this point.

I don't know enough about TB's situation to get as in depth about them, but I'd guess that Dunn playing more of a third-down role and returning to a team that runs a lot of zone running plays has helped him a lot. He's still an excellent pass blocker and pass catcher, which you'd think would make him a better fit for Tampa's system.

13
by ammek :: Wed, 10/08/2008 - 5:24am

Efficient summary of the game over the two articles; thanks, Ned.

The two teams' DVOA for the game was about equal. Green Bay certainly had an edge in the second half, but the Falcons got off to a much stronger start. The key to the game was the first quarter; by the time the Packers earned a first down, Atlanta had run 24 plays, picked up 8 first downs, scored 10 points, and held the ball for almost 13 minutes of the first 16:30.

Afterwards, the defensive line was knackered. You could perhaps have pointed out that the Packers' troubles on the DL are linked not just to injury but to highly-regarded GM Ted Thompson, who dealt DT Corey Williams to Cleveland in the offseason, and whose 2007 first-round pick Justin Harrell is approaching Jamal Reynolds status. Of the three players now on the DT rotation, Pickett and Jolly are coming off injuries, Jolly is facing a felony charge, and Colin Cole is crap.

But I'd argue that the failure to pick up a first down on their first two offensive plays is what killed the Packers. In the linked comment, I suggest that the Packers' offensive woes, particularly on first down, were the most important cause of the defeat. You pick up on Ryan Grant's miserable DVOA, but the running game was fairly successful against Atlanta. The problem was passing on first and second down. When your offensive line doesn't afford enough protection to throw a three-yard dink, you are in trouble. And following the breakdown against Tampa, Mike McCarthy called a whole lotta max-protect; Atlanta dropped five or six into coverage on first down, and forced some jittery throws.

Rodgers is slowly getting happy feet and fearful behind his awful o-line. Green Bay's offense improves on third down - especially third and long - but the coaches haven't yet gone to the no-huddle. The empty backfield, which was a feature of the Favre-led offense last year, has been phased out. In short, the whole horrible mess stems from protection issues.

16
by Jimmy :: Wed, 10/08/2008 - 10:42am

I fully expected Ryan Grant to be less productive this year, mainly due to the reappearance of a beast not seen in Green Bay for approximately fifteen years - the lesser spotted box safety.

18
by Joseph :: Wed, 10/08/2008 - 3:26pm

Jimmy, great point.

19
by Mike Eischeid (not verified) :: Thu, 10/09/2008 - 12:53am

Man, Jimmy, I was just about to write that, only not nearly as eloquently. Rodgers is better than expected, especially considering that he couldn't hand off without grimacing a few days before the Falcons game. So McCarthy/Thompson appear to be right on their biggest decision--i.e. "Dump Favre for A-Rodg." It's the revelation that the good players (Tauscher/Clifton, Harris/Woodson, Driver) are old, and the younger ones are taking a step back (the interior line, Barnett, the wounded Hawk).

Even if the Packers right the ship in the next few weeks, they're still only an Aaron Rodgers sprained thumb on his throwing hand away from losing the rest of their games.

20
by tuluse :: Thu, 10/09/2008 - 2:05am

Part of that is that Favre makes an o-line look much better than it is in pass pro. The Packers could afford to get by with mediocre to bad guards because Favre would avoid any pass rushers, and keep the safeties back with his arm.

21
by Ralph Hickok (not verified) :: Thu, 10/09/2008 - 2:21pm

I agree with tuluse. The Packers haven't had good guard play since Ted Thompson took over in 2005. One of the first things he did was to let Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera leave as free agents, and the team has been trying to find two starting guards ever since. With Favre at QB, that problem was masked, but with Rodgers there, it's exposed.