Any Given Sunday
The weekend's biggest upset goes under the Football Outsiders lens.

Any Given Sunday: Cardinals over Packers

Any Given Sunday: Cardinals over Packers
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Rivers McCown

The Green Bay Packers, in the eyes of a certain segment of their fan base, have perpetually been the team that valued continuity over instant attempts at improvement. Dom Capers coordinated the defense for nine years, and for five years after Colin Kaepernick ran all over them in the NFC divisional round. The team rarely went hunting for free agents, preferring to promote from their own ranks. It became a part of the Packers ethos: they believed in their process and didn't want to deviate from it. The whispers of Mike McCarthy being a step behind the best offenses in the game started years ago -- he became The Coach Who was Bailed Out by Aaron Rodgers.

So I can think of no more Packers way for Mike McCarthy's head coaching tenure to finally end than what we saw on Sunday. The team finally embraced Aaron Jones as a starting running back about a year after everybody else figured out Jones had star potential, only to run into one of the most underrated defenses in the NFL. Arizona stacked the box against the run. Jones saw 27 percent of his runs against an eight-man box. Then, they asked McCarthy's antiquated passing game to try to win on third down. The Packers were 3-of-14 converting third downs, with an average of 7 yards to go. They converted their first two third downs, then went 1-for-12 over the rest of the game. Here are some prime examples of how that went:

On third-and-10 at the 50, the Packers come out with ... handoff to the running back. It's not even a draw; the whole line blocks forward from the snap.

via Gfycat

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It wasn't very effective!

On third-and-1, with 4:16 left in the third quarter, the Packers ran a sweep to Jamaal Williams. Right guard Justin McCray is asked to ... do something? I'm gonna be honest, I don't really know what went wrong on this play. I do know that McCray blocked zero eligible defenders in an eight-man box, while Gerald Hodges (51) had a free ride right to Williams' crease.

via Gfycat

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The Packers completed one pass marked "deep" for the entire game. Let's see what a calculated and measured strike it was:

via Gfycat

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Just how you draw it up on the board!

When a team goes 3-of-14 on third downs, there's a lot of blame to go around. Rodgers struggled against delayed blitzes. Equanimeous St. Brown dropped an easy long pass. Marques Valdes-Scantling didn't have a particularly useful day. But a lot of what we saw the Packers struggle with were the vestiges of McCarthy's offensive sets and ideas. There were some asinine play calls, as there have been for much of McCarthy's tenure. It doesn't help that according to reports, Rodgers had little confidence in what McCarthy was doing. We have even gone the extra step and actually found footage of Rodgers talking about McCarthy's play calls:

And then Mason Crosby, who has been protected over the years, stepped up and missed the game-tying field goal. Crosby has never hit 90 percent of his field goals in a season. His career average is under 80 percent. Yet Crosby has rarely had competition. There's no more perfect way for McCarthy's career to end then again entrusting Crosby with a 40-plus-yard field goal attempt to tie the game.

The power vacuum has opened. There's still time to wring a couple of good years out of Rodgers' prime. Are the Packers going to hire the people that can make that happen?

Where the Game Swung

Quarter Time Down To go LOS Play GWC pre-play GWC post-play GWC added
3 2:01 2 8 GB 8 29-C.Edmonds left end for 8 yards, TOUCHDOWN. 39.2% 52.9% +13.7%
4 4:35 3 23 ARI 12 (Shotgun) 3-J.Rosen pass deep right to 11-L.Fitzgerald to ARZ 44 for 32 yards (35-E.Pleasant). 25.5% 49.7% +24.2%
4 1:45 4 3 GB 26 5-Z.Gonzalez 44 yard field goal is GOOD, Center-46-A.Brewer, Holder-2-A.Lee. 77.0% 90.4% +13.4%
4 0:15 2 10 ARI 40 (No Huddle, Shotgun) 12-A.Rodgers pass short middle to 18-R.Cobb to ARZ 31 for 9 yards (33-T.Boston). 86.0% 66.9% -19.1%
4 0:09 3 1 ARI 31 (Shotgun) 12-A.Rodgers pass incomplete deep right to 83-M.Valdes-Scantling. 66.9% 53.5% -13.4%
4 0:03 4 1 ARI 31 2-M.Crosby 49 yard field goal is No Good, Wide Right, Center-43-H.Bradley, Holder-6-J.Scott. 53.5% 100.0% +46.5%

Nothing too wild here. The go-ahead touchdown is worth a lot. The final plays of the game are worth a lot. The missed field goal is obviously a killer. But let's look briefly at the Josh Rosen pass that set up Arizona's go-ahead field goal:

via Gfycat

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The Packers bring four pass-rushers on five blockers and a David Johnson chip. Clay Matthews (51) defeats Korey Cunningham (79) to the outside, forcing Rosen to step to his right just as the posts would open up in this zone. But Rosen is able to buy time with his legs and unleash a hellacious throw downfield to Fitzgerald in true impromptu style. Devastating play on third-and-23 when a stop would have given the Packers a short field, and, well, the kind of play you'd expect the opposing quarterback to make.

By the DVOA

ARI -13.7% -8.5% 8.6% 3.4%
GB 12.6% 32.8% 0.7% -19.5%
ARI -3.4% -0.4% 8.6% 5.6%
GB 5.3% 2.6% 0.7% 3.4%

Perhaps you are thinking "Wow, Byron Leftwich as offensive coordinator has really invigorated this offense!" Well, he's doing things less poorly than Mike McCoy was. But that doesn't exactly mean that he's doing empirically big work. This was Arizona's third-best offensive DVOA of the season, but it was their first game over -30.0% DVOA with Leftwich as coordinator.

And those opponent adjustments! Yeesh.

Josh Rosen Check-in: How Much Does he own These Scarlet Numbers?

While it was very easy to pin the tail on Josh "The Next Michael Vick" Allen's early numbers, Josh Rosen was presented to us differently. He was QBASE's favorite of the non-Baker Mayfield prospects in this year's draft class. Rosen subjectively seemed to be more of a favorite of people who simply based their opinions on the tape -- the reason he slid to where he did in the draft was because he didn't have that "CEO" mindset that other starting quarterbacks have, and NFL teams' subjective evaluations of quarterback mindset and mentality can lead to some odd results.

So here we are three-quarters of the way through the season, and the Arizona Cardinals have one of the worst offenses of all time. They're still one of the 10 worst offenses ever after this performance, pulling all the way up to -37.5% DVOA to slot them in sixth place out of all offenses since 1986 through 12 games. They are doing this despite having one of the best receivers in NFL history, a running back who led the NFL in yards from scrimmage in his last healthy season, and a quarterback prospect who can make throws like the one further up in the article. What is happening here?

The short answer is that this offense is being held hostage by its line. The Cardinals are middle of the pack in adjusted sack rate largely due to Rosen's efforts. D.J. Humphries has been adequate at left tackle, but missed this game (his second straight) with a knee injury. That left 2018 seventh-rounder Cunningham at left tackle, and 2017 fifth-rounder Will Holden at right tackle after John Wetzel went on IR and Jared Veldheer was sent off to Denver in the offseason. Justin Pugh, the team's stab at improving at guard, is also on IR. So inside, the Cardinals have Mike Iupati, who hasn't been the same player since injuring his neck against Seattle in 2015. (Well, they had him -- he's now also out for the year after this game!) They've got journeyman Oday Aboushi, and third-round rookie Mason Cole at center. There's not a single player on this offensive line that's appreciably good, and it shows.

Rosen's had rookie moments and bouts of trouble with his accuracy, but the Arizona offense is still just too old school for its own good. David Johnson is one of the best backs in the NFL in space, and getting him as far away from this offensive line as possible should be the goal. Let's see how that went:

Wow, a whole two runs outside of the tackle box!

Even with the turnover from McCoy to Leftwich, Rosen has not been given much help. Next Gen Stats tracks what they call "xCOMP%" -- expected completion percentage based on where the receivers are when the ball is thrown, given all the fancy tracking technology that isn't available to the public. You'd expect Rosen to be last for the season given that he suffered through a lot of McCoy. But he was also last in xCOMP% in Week 13, fourth-to-last in Week 12, and peaked at 11th in Week 11. Week after week, Rosen gets stuck with the hardest throws to make in the NFL. He adds on to it by trying to do a bit too much sometimes, such as this throw at Fitzgerald in the first quarter:

via Gfycat

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The Packers threaten a big blitz, then drop three from the line of scrimmage into coverage, including one underneath defender right into Fitzgerald's passing lane. Rosen sees how perfect this throw will have to be, and then tries to drop it in anyway.

I still think, based on some of the highlights, Rosen has a chance to be a successful quarterback. But what they're doing around him this year is hard to watch, and it has exacerbated some pre-existing accuracy problems.


9 comments, Last at 06 Dec 2018, 7:48am

1 Successful Coaches

Off-topic: I saw a post on Acme Packing Company (Packers SBNation site) arguing over what a successful coach is and how often they come around. I was thinking of trying to figure out how often a coaching hire is "successful," but we need a borderline starting point. I'd go with at least 4 years and a .400 or more winning percentage; what does everybody else think?

9 Re: Successful Coaches

Simple - A coach is successful if they have career-positive WARM (you know, Wins Above Raheem Morris).
In all seriousness, the coach is successful if they're able to rebuild whatever dumpster fire they took over with two or fewer "blow it up/tankapalooza" seasons, and at least get to 7-9 or better in year three.

After that, it's pretty situational. Like, was Rex Ryan a successful head coach? He had to coach in the AFC East against prime-of-career Brady and Belichick, Peyton Manning looming in the conference, and managed to win playoff games in multiple seasons. No small feat. But if he "only" does that in a softer division, are we as impressed?

2 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cardinals over Packers

Context on Crosby - his % has been weighted down by playing half his games at Lambeau, and trying a lot of 50+ yard kicks over the years. He's a good kicker.

On the 3rd-and-10 run, apparently the plan was to pick up a few yards and go for it on 4th, but McCarthy bailed out when they picked up nothing (correctly imo).

3 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cardinals over Packers

The sad thing is you could have chosen several other plays where the Packers linemen ran into one another or blocked ghosts or fell instantly onto their butts. Tempting as it is to blame injuries, the Packers have released two Pro Bowl guards, Tj Lang and Josh Sitton, in recent years. The replacements have not been up to scratch, especially second-round pick Jason Spriggs who is buried on the depth chart behind undrafted players McCray (seen blocking nobody in gif 2), Lane Taylor (seen falling on his ass in the same) and Byron Bell (seen performing a full 180-degree spin in gif 1). This year they chose not to take a lineman before the fifth round. Last year it was the sixth. So it's a foreseeably thin unit.

Crosby isn't a great kicker but he's been a fraction better than average since his horrible 2012 (worth a cumulative +4.0 points prior to this season according to your special teams stats). I'm not sure anyone in the stadium was confident the Packers would win this one in overtime with the way things were going; Crosby's miss felt like a relief to be honest.

I remember Mike Tanier enthusiastically drawing up some of McCarthy's plays during the superbowl run in 2010. I'd prefer to remember that rather than the lackluster anti-strategy of gif 3 in this article. McCarthy was always a conservative and stubborn coach (he's from the Marty Schottenheimer tree) so I suppose he was an obvious candidate for failing to keep up with the times. Adieu, then, Mike, and enjoy Cleveland!

4 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cardinals over Packers

I’m not going to waste my breath defending McCarthy at this point, but in the “deep pass” gif Rodgers looks directly at a wide and quickly open Jimmy Graham at the first down market as his second read and just passes him over. Not sure why, but I think it is a reminder that just because they will hire a new coach doesn’t mean they suddenly will be the juggernaut of days gone by.

6 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cardinals over Packers

Far be it from me to argue with pro-bowler but it looks to me as if the DB was reading the route and as Graham made his break was running to undercut it. Don't know if Rodgers was supposed to release the ball before the break but in any case, Graham is a couple of yards short of the sticks and the DB is in full stride as Rodgers pumps and then turns to other side, which is when the space for Graham really opens. Rodgers could have threaded the needle to Graham initially, I suppose, but it's pretty bunched up with another DB at that point.

8 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cardinals over Packers

Yeah it was a bit tight but with a clean pocket and his arm he definitely could've gotten it there in time for Graham to reach the first down marker. Hard to believe he doesn't trust Graham to break where he expects him to, but maybe that's it? Just again points to bigger issues than just McCarthy, which is what the entire sarcastic text of this article implies.