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06 Dec 2011

Week 13 DVOA Ratings

by Aaron Schatz

After 13 weeks, the Football Outsiders DVOA ratings still have the Houston Texans number one, although their overall rating drops this week. Green Bay is still number two, and Pittsburgh is the big mover of the week, climbing up to number three. In fact, in Weighted DVOA, which lowers the importance of early games, the Steelers are now second behind Houston and ahead of Green Bay. Remember, their worst game of the year by far was in Week 1.

So, let's talk about Green Bay some more. Their narrow win over the Giants actually drops their overall season DVOA slightly. I'll admit, the whole Packers situation is a bit frustrating. The majority of the football commentariat describes Green Bay as unbeatable, as head and shoulders ahead of the rest of the league. Those of us who look at things a little closer know that the Packers have flaws. We know there is a difference between "unbeatable" and "unbeaten." And yet... let's face it, it just looks weird to not have an undefeated 12-0 team on top of the DVOA ratings. It's even worse now that they've dropped to third in Weighted DVOA. Doesn't Green Bay look like the best team in the league to all of us, even if we don't think they should be ranked among the best teams of all time? 

In order to talk about Green Bay properly, I think we need to separate the concepts of "greatness" and "dominance." The Packers are by no means a dominant team. They are fairly one-dimensional; that dimension just happens to be performing off the charts. (Although as of this week, the Packers have fallen behind the 2007 Patriots for the best passing DVOA ever.) The defense has lived off turnovers, but that element isn't as sustainable as preventing yardage. The DVOA ratings suggest that the Packers aren't much different from two other teams, New England and New Orleans. The difference is primarily one of degree -- the Packers are just a little better on offense and a little better on defense.

2 GB 26.5% 37.3% 1 12.4% 24 1.5% 12
5 NE 24.0% 34.5% 2 13.4% 26 2.9% 7
8 NO 19.1% 34.3% 3 14.8% 29 -0.4% 19

Some readers have suggested that perhaps total DVOA is not the proper measure to use when a team is so superlative in one area of the game. That's the "defense doesn't matter, because Aaron Rodgers can outscore anybody" theory. The problem with this theory is that it doesn't explain any team in the past. It's not an issue with the 2007 Patriots or 2010 Patriots, each of which ranked first in total DVOA as well as pass offense DVOA. It's not really an issue with the 2004 Colts either, who are fourth all-time in passing DVOA and were fourth in total DVOA in 2004. It's easy to argue that the Colts were better than the No. 3 Buffalo Bills that year, but hard to argue that they were truly better than either New England (14-2) or Pittsburgh (15-1). As far as total offensive DVOA goes (as opposed to just passing DVOA), the team that ranks fourth historically in offensive DVOA is the 2002 Kansas City Chiefs, who were the opposite of the Packers -- they finished fourth in the league in total DVOA but went just 8-8.

Is there something in the way DVOA is built that is missing an indicator of Green Bay's dominance? I don't think so. Instead of looking at Green Bay with DVOA, let's look at Green Bay with a fairly simple measure: points scored and allowed. Most readers know that we can estimate a team's wins and losses based on points scored and allowed, known as the Pythagorean projection. And here's the thing: By Pythagorean wins, Green Bay is not the best team in the league this year. Both San Francisco (9.6) and Houston (9.2) are ahead of Green Bay. Green Bay's totals of 420 points scored and 262 points allowed work out to a Pythagorean win percentage of .754, or 9.0 wins. The difference between Green Bay's actual win percentage and Pythagorean win percentage is the second-highest since the merger, behind only the 1992 Indianapolis Colts. And here's something perhaps more surprising: By Pythagorean projection, the 2011 Packers are no better than the 2010 Packers. The 2010 Packers had a Pythagorean win percentage of .757. It just so happens that last year's Packers fell far short of their Pythagorean projection, and this year's Packers are far ahead.

And now, a digression. We've been writing about the Pythagorean projection since we launched in 2003. We've always used 2.37 as the exponent in the equation; this is the exponent that now-Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey found was most accurate for the NFL when he worked for Stats Inc. two decades ago. However, that exponent is based on the offensive environment of the league. We all know the offensive environment is a bit different now. Teams are scoring more points and allowing more points. So the exponent has changed, and 2.37 is not the most accurate way to estimate Pythagorean wins anymore. Actually, if we want to be as accurate as possible, each team plays in a different offensive environment. Saints games feature lots of points. Jaguars games feature fewer points. The exponent should be different for each team.

Baseball Prospectus discovered this a few years ago and started replacing Pythagorean wins with something it called "Pythagenport" (after writer Clay Davenport). I've figured out a similar method to get better results for the NFL. Pythagenport finds a different exponent for each team based on their offensive environment. The equation that works best in the NFL is 1.5 * log ((PF+PA)/G). The improvement is slight. The correlation between Pythagorean wins and actual wins for 1990-2010 is .9120. The correlation between Pythagenport and actual wins for 1990-2010 is .9134. However, the improvement from Pythagenport is bigger in recent seasons because scoring has been higher in recent seasons. (In particular, it helps with the Colts, who have continuously outperformed the standard Pythagorean projection all decade.) We'll probably use the new method to update all the listings of Pythagorean wins on the site this offseason.

OK, digression ended. Let's get back to the Packers. No team this year has played in a stronger offensive environment than the Packers. Their Pythagenport exponent ends up as 2.63, and this gives us a more accurate projection of wins: 9.3 instead of 9.0. That moves the Packers ahead of Houston, but still they don't have the highest projection in the league. Here's a list of the top teams in the league this year by Pythagenport wins:

SF 10-2 288 161 .799 9.6 2.36 .798 9.6
GB 12-0 420 262 .754 9.0 2.63 .776 9.3
HOU 9-3 310 189 .764 9.2 2.43 .769 9.2
BAL 9-3 296 192 .736 8.8 2.41 .740 8.9
NO 9-3 393 269 .711 8.5 2.61 .729 8.8
NE 9-3 362 247 .712 8.5 2.56 .727 8.7
PIT 9-3 268 195 .680 8.2 2.38 .681 8.2
DET 7-5 333 277 .607 7.3 2.56 .616 7.4
CHI 7-5 291 242 .608 7.3 2.47 .612 7.3
DAL 7-5 283 244 .587 7.0 2.46 .590 7.1

Two notes. First, the Packers are better than last year if we use Pythagenport instead of Pythagorean (.776 to .759). Second, the lowest Pythagenport exponent, for those curious, belongs to Jacksonville at 2.27.

If the Packers are not a dominant team, how have they managed to go 12-0 this season? The main answer is consistency. The Packers have been absurdly consistent. After this week, the Packers lead the league with 3.3% variance. If that number holds until the end of the season, it would be the lowest variance of any team in the DVOA era, surpassing last year's Atlanta Falcons who were at 4.9%.

(For those of you who wonder how variance is computed, it's just the "VAR" function from Excel used on all individual single-game DVOA ratings for each team.)

Of course, there's a reasonable chance that the Packers' variance will change with four more games to play, any of which could be particularly good or bad. So I went back to compare the Packers' variance through 12 games with every team's variance through 12 games, rather than through the end of the season. Using this measure, the Packers finish second. Surprisingly, this year's Atlanta Falcons finish third. But the team that ranks first is even more interesting:

Lowest Variance after 12 Games, 1992-2011
Year Team Var. DVOA W-L
2005 IND 3.1% 39.2% 12-0
2011 GB 3.3% 26.5% 12-0
2011 ATL 3.4% 17.6% 7-5
2007 JAC 3.4% 15.1% 8-4
2006 SD 3.6% 28.1% 10-2
1994 PIT 4.0% 23.0% 9-3
2002 NYG 4.0% -9.0% 6-6
1999 OAK 4.3% 23.3% 6-6
2003 CAR 4.5% 2.0% 8-4
1999 MIN 4.5% 0.4% 7-5


Yes, that's the also-undefeated 2005 Colts who were both more consistent and more dominant than the 2011 Packers. As we all know, that team didn't end up going undefeated, and it didn't win the Super Bowl. The Colts lost to San Diego in Week 15, lost to Seattle (while resting starters) in Week 16, and then lost to Pittsburgh in their first playoff game. Like Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning was a pretty darn good quarterback. But he eventually did run into a couple of defenses that could slow him down a little bit.

The 1999 Raiders provide an interesting look at how even a team with both quality and consistency doesn't necessarily get all the breaks. The Raiders played very well but faced the second-hardest schedule in the league (through Week 13 of 1999) and played almost nothing but close games. Their six losses were all by a touchdown or less. Four of their six wins were by a touchdown or less, and another one was by just nine points. The team ended up third in overall DVOA for the season and didn't even manage a winning record, finishing at 8-8.

So, let's circle back to the issue I brought up a few paragraphs ago, that we need to separate the concepts of "greatness" and "dominance." I think it's fair to say that the Packers are a great team, even if they aren't a dominant one. If the Packers manage to consistently play well like this over the next four games, that's a great accomplishment. And if the Packers actually manage to go 19-0 and win the Super Bowl with a bunch of seven-point wins, there is going to be an interesting argument over whether they truly qualify as "the greatest team in NFL history." Does the greatest team need to be the most dominant? However, the toughest tests the Packers will face will not be in their remaining four games. The toughest test will be the playoffs. That's why our current playoff odds report suggests the chances of the Packers going 16-0 are about 10 percentage points higher than the chances of the Packers winning the Super Bowl.

One other thing to consider when pondering the Packers' chances of going 16-0 or 19-0:

Weeks 1-7 40.5% 1 7.9% 19 -0.1% 16 32.5% 1
Weeks 8-13 32.9% 2 18.6% 29 3.8% 10 18.1% 9

Speaking of the playoff odds report, once again this week we've produced two versions: one which gives each team's Weighted DVOA as it currently stands, and one that attempts to adjust for the injured quarterbacks in Chicago, Houston, and Kansas City. In past weeks, I've reduced weighted DVOA by our rough estimate of the general difference between an average quarterback and a replacement-level quarterback, -13.3% DVOA. However, that's not how things have worked out in the two weeks since these teams changed quarterbacks. The Houston and Chicago offenses have declined significantly, while the Kansas City offense has barely declined at all. So it makes sense to adjust our ratings a bit more for Houston and Chicago, a bit less for Kansas City. What I ended up doing this week was figuring out the difference between each team's offensive DVOA before the quarterback change and after; then I reduced each team's Weighted DVOA by half that amount. It's a bit of a conservative estimate, but there's also no guarantee that just because Caleb Hanie had a horrible game this week, that means he's going to have a horrible game every week.

* * * * *

These are the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings through 13 weeks of 2011, measured by our proprietary Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) system that breaks down every single play and compares a team's performance to the league average based on situation in order to determine value over average. (Explained further here.)

OFFENSE and DEFENSE DVOA are adjusted to consider all fumbles, kept or lost, as equal value. SPECIAL TEAMS DVOA is adjusted for type of stadium (warm, cold, dome, Denver) and week of season. WEIGHTED DVOA represents an attempt to figure out how a team is playing right now, as opposed to over the season as a whole, by making recent games more important than earlier games.

As always, positive numbers represent more points so DEFENSE is better when it is NEGATIVE.

To save people some time, please use the following format for all complaints:

<team> is clearly ranked <too high/too low> because <reason unrelated to DVOA>. <subjective ranking system> is way better than this. <unrelated team-supporting or -denigrating comment, preferably with poor spelling and/or chat-acceptable spelling>

1 HOU 31.0% 1 33.6% 1 9-3 19.8% 5 -9.6% 5 1.7% 11
2 GB 26.5% 2 23.5% 3 12-0 37.3% 1 12.4% 24 1.5% 12
3 PIT 25.8% 6 32.3% 2 9-3 20.0% 4 -3.4% 9 2.4% 9
4 BAL 24.2% 5 20.5% 6 9-3 8.7% 12 -19.4% 1 -3.9% 28
5 NE 24.0% 3 23.2% 4 9-3 34.5% 2 13.4% 26 2.9% 7
6 NYJ 21.3% 4 21.1% 5 7-5 4.0% 18 -13.0% 2 4.3% 4
7 SF 20.3% 8 19.1% 9 10-2 0.8% 20 -11.3% 3 8.2% 2
8 NO 19.1% 7 19.8% 7 9-3 34.3% 3 14.8% 29 -0.4% 19
9 ATL 17.6% 10 19.8% 8 7-5 8.7% 13 -8.5% 6 0.4% 17
10 CHI 12.6% 9 13.1% 10 7-5 -8.3% 25 -10.6% 4 10.3% 1
11 TEN 11.5% 12 10.5% 12 7-5 7.9% 15 1.9% 12 5.5% 3
12 NYG 9.3% 14 11.7% 11 6-6 13.9% 7 5.8% 18 1.3% 13
13 DET 8.3% 11 8.5% 13 7-5 8.6% 14 -6.1% 8 -6.4% 32
14 DAL 4.5% 13 4.0% 15 7-5 8.8% 11 2.9% 14 -1.4% 23
15 PHI 1.2% 16 2.1% 16 4-8 10.1% 9 10.6% 22 1.8% 10
16 CIN 0.9% 15 1.1% 17 7-5 5.6% 17 5.5% 16 0.9% 14
17 MIA 0.6% 18 4.3% 14 4-8 2.9% 19 3.2% 15 0.8% 15
18 OAK -2.9% 17 -6.0% 21 7-5 5.9% 16 8.2% 20 -0.6% 21
19 DEN -4.3% 20 -1.8% 18 7-5 -2.9% 23 5.6% 17 4.2% 5
20 CAR -5.6% 24 -3.3% 19 4-8 18.6% 6 18.6% 31 -5.6% 30
21 SD -5.7% 22 -5.5% 20 5-7 13.1% 8 16.2% 30 -2.6% 27
22 BUF -5.8% 19 -14.2% 23 5-7 9.4% 10 13.7% 28 -1.6% 25
23 SEA -9.1% 27 -7.0% 22 5-7 -8.3% 26 1.2% 11 0.4% 18
24 TB -11.5% 21 -14.9% 24 4-8 -0.3% 21 13.6% 27 2.4% 8
25 WAS -11.8% 25 -15.5% 27 4-8 -10.3% 27 1.1% 10 -0.5% 20
26 CLE -16.0% 26 -15.1% 26 4-8 -6.2% 24 9.0% 21 -0.8% 22
27 MIN -16.4% 28 -20.7% 29 2-10 -1.8% 22 12.2% 23 -2.4% 26
28 JAC -17.7% 23 -17.8% 28 3-9 -21.4% 31 -7.6% 7 -3.9% 29
29 KC -20.3% 29 -15.0% 25 5-7 -18.1% 30 2.6% 13 0.5% 16
30 ARI -22.9% 30 -22.3% 30 5-7 -13.8% 29 12.6% 25 3.6% 6
31 STL -36.1% 31 -34.3% 31 2-10 -26.8% 32 7.9% 19 -1.5% 24
32 IND -38.9% 32 -40.0% 32 0-12 -12.7% 28 20.3% 32 -5.9% 31
  • NON-ADJUSTED TOTAL DVOA does not include the adjustments for opponent strength or the adjustments for weather and altitude in special teams, and only penalizes offenses for lost fumbles rather than all fumbles.
  • ESTIMATED WINS uses a statistic known as "Forest Index" that emphasizes consistency as well as DVOA in the most important specific situations: red zone defense, first quarter offense, and performance in the second half when the score is close. It then projects a number of wins adjusted to a league-average schedule and a league-average rate of recovering fumbles. Teams that have had their bye week are projected as if they had played one game per week.
  • PAST SCHEDULE lists average DVOA of opponents played this season, ranked from hardest schedule (#1, most positive) to easiest schedule (#32, most negative). It is not adjusted for which games are home or road.
  • FUTURE SCHEDULE lists average DVOA of opponents still left to play this season, ranked from hardest schedule (#1, most positive) to easiest schedule (#32, most negative). It is not adjusted for which games are home or road.
  • VARIANCE measures the statistical variance of the team's weekly DVOA performance. Teams are ranked from most consistent (#1, lowest variance) to least consistent (#32, highest variance).

1 HOU 31.0% 9-3 33.9% 8.5 5 -1.4% 25 -8.0% 29 16.2% 23
2 GB 26.5% 12-0 28.3% 9.7 1 -1.1% 24 -0.6% 19 3.3% 1
3 PIT 25.8% 9-3 25.9% 8.5 4 -0.3% 22 -12.0% 31 15.8% 22
4 BAL 24.2% 9-3 22.0% 8.8 2 4.8% 3 -14.9% 32 22.8% 29
5 NE 24.0% 9-3 23.5% 8.8 3 -0.9% 23 -5.4% 27 10.1% 10
6 NYJ 21.3% 7-5 20.0% 7.3 9 1.9% 11 -2.3% 24 13.4% 18
7 SF 20.3% 10-2 25.9% 7.8 8 -3.9% 32 -10.6% 30 4.9% 3
8 NO 19.1% 9-3 18.6% 8.1 6 -2.8% 28 1.8% 16 13.1% 15
9 ATL 17.6% 7-5 14.0% 7.9 7 2.4% 10 -3.9% 25 3.4% 2
10 CHI 12.6% 7-5 11.9% 7.0 11 1.5% 14 -0.9% 20 13.3% 16
11 TEN 11.5% 7-5 15.9% 7.0 10 -0.1% 21 -1.6% 23 17.5% 25
12 NYG 9.3% 6-6 6.9% 6.9 12 0.5% 19 4.6% 9 18.1% 26
13 DET 8.3% 7-5 8.8% 6.9 13 3.1% 9 0.4% 17 8.2% 8
14 DAL 4.5% 7-5 9.3% 6.4 15 -2.5% 27 2.1% 15 18.3% 27
15 PHI 1.2% 4-8 1.4% 5.9 19 0.6% 18 3.6% 12 13.5% 19
16 CIN 0.9% 7-5 6.9% 6.6 14 3.2% 7 -1.0% 21 6.5% 5
17 MIA 0.6% 4-8 1.4% 6.4 16 1.9% 12 10.2% 4 13.3% 17
18 OAK -2.9% 7-5 1.7% 6.1 17 1.9% 13 2.2% 14 23.9% 31
19 DEN -4.3% 7-5 -2.5% 6.0 18 1.5% 15 2.6% 13 7.2% 6
20 CAR -5.6% 4-8 -2.5% 5.4 21 -3.4% 31 14.0% 1 16.8% 24
21 SD -5.7% 5-7 -0.2% 5.1 23 0.1% 20 5.9% 8 10.7% 11
22 BUF -5.8% 5-7 -6.1% 5.7 20 4.2% 4 3.6% 11 27.3% 32
23 SEA -9.1% 5-7 -6.9% 5.4 22 0.6% 17 -6.5% 28 12.1% 13
24 TB -11.5% 4-8 -18.7% 5.1 24 12.0% 1 -0.3% 18 20.9% 28
25 WAS -11.8% 4-8 -15.3% 5.0 25 -3.2% 30 4.5% 10 12.6% 14
26 CLE -16.0% 4-8 -10.3% 4.8 26 -3.0% 29 13.2% 2 5.1% 4
27 MIN -16.4% 2-10 -14.5% 4.4 28 3.2% 8 7.0% 7 13.8% 20
28 JAC -17.7% 3-9 -19.4% 4.3 29 8.2% 2 -5.3% 26 15.1% 21
29 KC -20.3% 5-7 -19.5% 4.4 27 0.7% 16 10.1% 5 23.3% 30
30 ARI -22.9% 5-7 -16.7% 4.1 30 -2.5% 26 -1.0% 22 8.5% 9
31 STL -36.1% 2-10 -39.9% 2.8 31 3.8% 5 9.5% 6 7.6% 7
32 IND -38.9% 0-12 -43.9% 2.1 32 3.3% 6 12.2% 3 10.8% 12

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 06 Dec 2011

359 comments, Last at 11 Dec 2011, 12:50am by JCD


by EasyLikeSundayMorning (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 4:35pm

I don't think this was meant to be funny, but I got a chuckle out of it... "Green Bay is still number two, and Pittsburgh is the big mover of the week, climbing up to number three... So, let's talk about Green Bay some more."

by Scott P. (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 4:41pm

Wait, Green Bay has given up more points than the Patriots? Really? That amazes me. Green Bay really does have a poor defense, doesn't it?

by CraigoMc (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 4:53pm

Green Bay allows 6.3 yards per play, highest in the league, but New England is 6.2 themselves.

(Baltimore and Pittsburgh tie for first at 4.6)

by leviramsey (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 8:00pm

I for one have more trust in the Patriots' defense's ability to stop/slow down Aaron Rodgers than I have in the Packers' defense's ability to stop/slow down Tom Brady.

by PatsFan :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 8:25pm

Being a Pats fan and having to watch this..."secondary" every week, might I politely say that you ARE ON CRACK!

by Guest789 (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 8:35pm

The difference is that Green Bay has guys like Matthews, Woodson and Williams, who can make 1 or two plays that can swing the game. I don't think the Patriot's defense has that dimension. So all else being equal, you've got to favour GB's D slightly.

by Nathan :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 8:52pm

Arrington has really good ball skills. Thought he was getting fluke interceptions at first but the last few have been kind of impressive. GB does scare me though.

by RickD :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 9:09pm

Ah yes, the yardage/points debate. Haven't seen that since...last week!

by RichC (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 12:59pm

So have the Jets, Saints, (the bears have given up 5 less points), (Dallas has given up 3 less points), the 7-5 Raiders, Broncos, Benglas, Lions have all given up more. The 7-5 falcons have given up 3 less.

The patriots defense gives up a ton of yards, but its pretty good at keeping people out of the endzone, and creates a significant amount of turnovers.

by tuluse :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 4:48pm

2 weeks ago, the Bears offensive DVOA was close to 0%. If you replace their current value with that they grade out at about 20% overall DVOA right in the thick of things with the other good teams in the league. Arguably, that offensive rating might have undervalued them because of the huge issues the Bears had in weeks 2 and 3.

Lovie Smith might have been right when he said this was the best group of players he's had in Chicago, but we'll probably never learn how far they could have gone now.

by TomC :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 12:32am

Agreed, and I can't tell you how sad that makes me. Nobody's fault; it just sucks.

(Well, maybe it's Jerry's fault for not getting a better backup, but honestly the Bears weren't getting out of the first round without a healthy Cutler.)

by QQ (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 4:49pm

"The defense has lived off turnovers, but that element isn't as sustainable as preventing yardage."

This might be true from a league wide perspective but am not sure if it is right as far as individual teams are concerned. This is the 3rd consecutive year that GB has been near the top of the league in Turnovers/INTs. Recovering fumbles might be luck but forcing them and interceptions are an ability

by Jimmy :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 4:53pm

Recovering fumbles might be luck but forcing them and interceptions are an ability....that statistical analysis reveals is unsustainable.

There you go finished it for you.

by tuluse :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 4:57pm

It's more like, "forcing fumbles and picks is good, but if you also give up 400 yards per game it's likely a sign something is wrong."

by Aaron Schatz :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:01pm

There is also a difference between "unsustainable" and "less likely to be sustained."

by ammek :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:01pm

More precisely: less sustainable than the ability to hold an opposing offense below 400 yards every once in a while.

The Packers gave up three pass plays of more than 40 yards to New York. When was the last time that happened? The Randy Moss coming-out party? As Aaron's table shows, the Packer D is bad and getting worse. Dom Capers admitted in his conference call that there are some fairly basic routes the defensive backs just can't cover. Opponents will continue to call these plays until such time as the Packers work out how to defend them.

by NYMike :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 9:46pm

I'm not terribly surprised that the GB defense is getting worse, especially since the last game was the worst of all. They're missing Nick Collins, and against the Giants their two middle linebackers, and for some time another safety (Woodson). Injuries matter. Jarrett Bush is a fine special teams player, an excellent gunner. As a safety, not so much.

by QQ (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:08pm

So how many years in a row must a team sustain something before you are willing to admit it is sustainable?

by Will Allen :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:14pm

How many times in a row would a team need to win the coin toss for you to conclude that they were demonstrating a sustainable skill?

by QQ (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:18pm

Here are GB's INT statistics since Capers took over:

2009-30 INTs
2010-24 INTs
2011-23 INTs-On Pace for 30.6666

I guess Capers is just a lucky Defensive Coordinator. Hopefully his lucky rabbits foot continues

by Will Allen :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:23pm

My guess is Capers is good, but that if the phenomena was particularly sustainable, we would see multiple teams demonstrating it over the years.

by QQ (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:32pm

Not necessarily, you are assuming a few things:

1. That the ability to intercept is equally distributed throughout teams. Only 1 Charles Woodson, Nick Collins, Ed Reed, Charles Tillman, etc exist

2. That coordinators have similar philosophies. Just because 1 Coordinator believes that an aggressive approach is the best one does not mean others do

*People readily acknowledge that more skilled Players are more adept at forcing Turnovers than other players. You would be in the Minority to say that Woodson or Polamolu force more turnovers than Peprah simply because of luck or playing time.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:15pm

No, I am not making those assumptions. Football has been played for a while, with many different combinations of players and coaches. Yes, it is possible that this set of players and this coach are a unique combination, and are thus showing a much greater degree of sustainability that other combinations have shown. Absent a much larger sample size, however, that isn't a wager I'd make, at least not one of much size.

by Kanguru (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 7:05pm

Dom Capers was a defensive consultant for the New England Patriots in 2008.

The Patriots play a similar style of defense ... in terms of emphasizing more on generating turnovers and stopping in the red zone and on 3rd down than giving up yards. The Pats led the league in turnover ratio last season.

I don't think it is chance that the Packers or Patriots D are generally "creating" more turnovers than other teams.

I also think that current statistical methods fail to interpret this completely. I am sure Belichick cares less that his D is 30+ place in yards or in the bottom quarter in DVOA. He would care more about whether he thinks the execution is better or worse than he thinks it should be.

NOTE: This is not meant to be a comparison between the Pats and Packers D, nor a hint on which coach might have applied such a style first, nor any sort of opinion whether the Patriots or Packers defense are any good or not. (I am sure I missed something in the disclaimer)

by alaano (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 8:21pm

And here we see the necessity of looking at INT per pass attempt. Since NE and GB score a lot and have vulnerable pass defenses, they see a lot of pass attempts--close to 20 percent more than the median. They still produce a lot of interceptions per attempt, but it no longer looks quite so exceptional.

by RickD :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 9:15pm

Wait - why do we care about INT per pass attempt?

We're not interested in which team gets the most INTs per pass attempt. We're interested in which team gets the most INTs.

Maybe if we're picking players for the Pro Bowl, we could get into debates about which players are better based on INT/attempt. But if we want to know which defense is doing better at intercepting passes, a simple total will suffice.

by Scott P. (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 9:25pm

No, we're interested in rate to determine which team is better at INTs.

If Green Bay played Denver and Tebow didn't throw a pass, would zero INTs mean that Green Bat suddenly got bad at intercepting the ball?

by RickD :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 10:23pm

No, we wouldn't care about whether GB was good or bad at intercepting the ball in that situation.

What do you want DVOA to do? Do you want it to measure what has happened or do you want it to measure what might happen? I'm content to let it measure what has happened.

by Scott C :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 11:07pm

What if a team plays in such a way that causes teams to throw more often, baiting them into more interceptions? This might raise the interception total but not the rate (or even lower the rate). The opportunities to get an INT are caused how both sides call their plays and interact.

The Interception Rate and Total are both useless all by themselves.
The rate tells you something, but the picture is incomplete because the situation that those passes are in matters. Is the rate high because there are more passes in desperate situations? Or high because of the pressure? Or low because the opponents threw mostly 'safe' passes?

The total tells you something, but the picture is incomplete because it tells you nothing about the number or context of the opportunities.

30 interceptions on Hail Mary's at the end of half/game is not the same as 30 tipped INTs or 30 caused by disguised coverage or pressure.

Hmm, isn't there a stat that tells you, based on situational context, the value of plays? Hmmmm somewhere maybe.

by RichC (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 1:10pm

No, we don't need INT per pass attempt, thats useless.

We need INT per DRIVE. Thats whats really important.

by Perfundle (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 1:16pm


Well, GB and NE are 1st and 2nd in this, just as people suspected.

by Eddo :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 1:26pm

I can see where interceptions per drive could be more useful, but I don't see why interceptions per pass attempt is useless. A team with more pass attempts against it should make more interceptions.

EDIT: That is, the Packers and Patriots could have the same true ability to intercept passes, but if the Packers have faced 10% more pass attempts, over the name number of drives, they should have 10% more interceptions. Any variance would be indicative of differences in ability.

by ammek :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 2:53pm

It's more complicated than that. You have to add down and distance, and score, and time remaining. Takeaways are quite heavily correlated to game situation: teams that are in the lead intercept more passes than teams that are behind. Not all pass attempts (or drives) are equally likely to produce an interception.

If only someone had invented a play-by-play statistic that uses a baseline to calculate something like a value over average.

by steveNC (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:45pm

Depends if you mean a particular team, or any team this year, or any team in history. Within a given year, out of 32 teams, let's go with a Bonferroni-corrected 10 in a row.

by fyo :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 7:13pm

21 times

by MJK :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 8:41pm

How many times in a row would a team need to win the coin toss for you to conclude that they were demonstrating a sustainable skill?

There actually is a mathematical answer to your question, that depends on what your threshold is for determining it was a sustainable skill. For example, winning three coin tosses in a row is probably meaningless (there's a 12.5% chance of that happening). Winning 20 coin tosses in a row has less than a 1 in a million chance of happening by random chance, so I think in that case it's pretty reasonable to say the team is somehow cheating on the coin toss.

by Schmoker (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2011 - 8:31pm

The browns lost 12 coin tosses in a row this year. Think they were cheating to lose? No matter how many times you lose a coin toss in a row, the odds are still 50/50 on the next one. If it comes up heads 1000 times in a row, its still
50/50 on the next one.

Just ask Rosencrantz. Or is it Guildenstern?

by BaronFoobarstein :: Fri, 12/09/2011 - 9:48pm

Yeah, if the prior 11 tosses have already come up heads, then the probability of getting 12 in a row is 50%. If you're starting from scratch, the probability is .024%. Those are two entirely different things.

by Mr. Guest to you (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 8:59pm

Look, I'm not a GB fan, but what the man says is true. Certain teams do create more fumbles and certain teams do create more interceptions. The former is an approach, the latter a scheme. Do you really believe that all DC's prioritize tackling above ball hawking? cause some actually don't. And don't you believe that some schemes are set specifically to fool a QB into throwing grab passes? Some are.

If GB fits into all that is debatable. That it exists is not.

by Mr Shush :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 6:27am

Sure. Interception rate is a predictor for itself. It's just not a very good one. Yes, the Packers almost certainly are better than average at creating interceptions, whether because of their ball-hawking defense, their high-scoring offense, or both. However, they are also almost certainly lucky, and the luck related element can be expected to regress. They don't have to be only one of lucky and good.

by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 7:46am

I think that this season has provided a very good comparison for explaining the Packers' ball hawking D. Last year the Colts defense ranked 24th, exactly the same spot as the pack this year and have slipped to dead last without the pressure exerted by Manning's offensive prowess. While anyone who knows anything about football would happily concede that Woodson is an excellent player and Williams is becoming one, it should also be clear that a very good offense can also have an impact on the level of risk that an opponent takes with the ball. Whether taking that risk makes any sense is debatable, that some teams do so when faced with trying to keep up with a Rogers or a Manning is less so.

by jedmarshall :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 2:51pm

I don't think that's a fair comparison. Some of it is on Manning being out, but their secondary (and pass coverage in general) is worse than last year and they've been awful since injuries hit the DL. The defense was actually doing pretty well through the first 3-4 games and have been horrible since Nevis and Foster got hurt.

by bravehoptoad :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:16pm



QQ, I'm trying to be funny, so don't get mad.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:20pm

Don't worry; I laughed. I may suspect something was amiss at 19. Call me a cynic.

by CraigoMc (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:16pm

I think you're misunderstanding "sustainable." You can be very good at takeaways for part of a season, have a bad stretch where you record few, and still finish near the top of the league.

Being good at something doesn't mean you can do it constantly.

by QQ (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:25pm

I guess I disagree about how you use "sustainable" then. Sustainable is more about the season long ability/trends for a team that any small amount of games. A team that regularly records 20+ INTs/Season can be said to have "Sustained" a particular level of skill in Intercepting Passes

by CraigoMc (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:46pm

Sure, if that definition comforts you, use it. But they don't play football by season, they play it game by game. And game by game, turnovers are highly variable. There's are times when sportscaster cliches are useful: "Live by the big play, die by the big play." Yardage and per play statistics are much, much more consistent than turnover statistics. It's not very likely that a defense, which gives up a large amount of yards and points per play and per game will improve substantially, while there's a fairly good chance that a team that records a high number of takeaways will see a regression, or at the very least high variance.

by Arkaein :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:25pm

I just checked, and here is GB's INT breakdowns per game:

0 3 2 3 2 1 2 3 1 2 3 1

Only one game (New Orleans) without an INT. Never less than 3 INTs across any two consecutive games, and never less than 5 over any three consecutive games. That's pretty darn consistent.

The biggest problem is that, like almost any team, GB will force more INTs against worse QBs (0 against Brees, 1 against Manning, though they did get 3 each against Rivers and Stafford).

Considering that GB is one of the most consistent teams in DVOA history as Aaron has just pointed out, I think it's worth considering that GB is simply better than average at making consistent INTs on defense, just like they are better than average at completing passes and scoring TDs on offense.

It's mostly been the same core players getting the bulk of the INTs for the past few years (Woodson, Williams, and Collins), spread around enough so that one player having an off year can't drag the whole team down. Woodson was off last year, and Collins is out this year, but the other guys are good enough to pick up the slack. The teams that aren't as consistent generally don't have as many proven interceptors in their secondaries.

by NYMike :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 9:47pm

Dropped two against Manning.

by DGL :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:02pm

I think most people inclined towards statistical analysis would operationalize "sustainable" as "showing strong self-correlation over time". This is the methodology used for the analyses that show, for example, that "clutch hitting" isn't a "sustainable skill".

One team recording 24+ interceptions in three consecutive seasons could be evidence of a sustainable skill, or it could be merely small sample size. If getting interceptions is truly a sustainable skill, then you would expect to see it being sustained by more than one team in the history of the NFL. So you could analyze the self-correlation across seasons of all NFL teams' interception rates, say since the 1978 rule change. That would give you a large enough sample to indicate whether the ability to get a large number of interceptions is a "sustainable skill", or whether the number of interceptions that GB's been able to get in the past three seasons is more likely to be statistical noise.

If there is no evidence of interceptions being a sustainable skill in the last 40+ NFL seasons, that doesn't mean it's impossible that GB has now developed a new and unique skill that no one in football has ever developed before. Perhaps there's some confluence of Dom Capers' coaching methodology (even though he's been coaching in the NFL for the past 25 years) and the talent in the GB defense (even though I don't think anyone is claiming that GB's defense has some heretofore-unseen talent and ability).

But I wouldn't bet money on it.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:18pm

I swear, I'm not a plagiarist!

by QQ (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:54pm

Lots of good points, although 1 point is incorrect in my mind:

"If there is no evidence of interceptions being a sustainable skill in the last 40+ NFL seasons"

There is lots of evidence at the individual level of interceptions being a skill that some players possess. Ed Reed for example either has a great skill at Intercepting or is exceptionally lucky. Charles Woodson either had great skill at Intercepting or is exceptionally lucky. It also goes the other way where certain players rarely get many INTs.

If players seem to have a sustainable ability to intercept passes then a Defense with enough of such type players should be sustainable. For example, if Woodson, Reed, Polamolu, etc all were traded to Carolina, it would be silly to not expect the Panthers to become better at forcing Turnovers/INTs

by ammek :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 7:25pm

Reed has played his whole career on a good Ravens defense. Baltimore has won a lot of games over that time. A lot of Reed's interceptions are 'situational': he knows he can gamble because the opponent's options are limited by the game situation (third down, trailing, etc).

Your Woodson example illustrates this:
Woodson as a Raider: 8 seasons, 17 ints.
Woodson as a Packer: less than 6 seasons, 36 ints.

Last season, Woodson only had two picks in the regular season. Yes, over his career, he's proved he has a better-than-average knack for the ball. Even so, he's endured long streaks without an interception.

The Packers' run defense is terrible at the moment, for all kinds of reasons. If an opponent ever finds itself with a fourth-quarter lead, I doubt there'll be an opportunity for the GB DBs to make the game-changing pick. The opponent is going to run. The Packers' takeaways are first and foremost an effect of the offense being unstoppable. If it were merely above average, the number of picks would be lower — and the defense would be talked about as one of the worst of all time.

by Paul M (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 7:36pm

You must mean-- worst among the historically great teams.

If that's not your meaning, then somehow I didn't realize that the 2008 Lions were one of the best teams of all time, or that the 9-73 Sixers were one of the best NBA offenses, etc, etc...

I mean it's laughable. They have, going back to last year, been on the field 10 consecutive times with the opponents having the opportunity to win the game or take the lead late in the 4th Quarter-- and have allowed precisely ZERO pts-- this has never been done by any of the great streak teams-- not even close. Charles Woodson, or nearly every other great interceptor in the secondary, is not "exceptionally lucky"-- do you ever watch the games? most of Woodson's INTs, as was Tramon Williams Pick Six which broke open the Falcons game last January, are the result of knowledge, anticipation, and great skill-- he uses his experience and smarts along with his football talent to make a big play. Surely you and others do not believe that three consecutive years-- we're now talking about 49 games worth of evidence-- where the Packers are either best or close to the best at intercepting passes is luck? Or random events?

That's crazy talk. I will accept that they are not a particularly good defense of late-- but "worst of all time""--- seriously.

by ammek :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 8:09pm

I meant the worst Packer defenses of all time. That wasn't clear. Take away the offense bailing it out, the field position, and the game situation — this might be a defense to rival those of 1983, 2004, 1980….

I never used the expression "exceptionally lucky". Of course intercepting is a skill. But there's also a correlation with situational elements — number of pass attempts, score — which shouldn't be overlooked. GB's extraordinary takeaway streak is due to both.

They have, going back to last year, been on the field 10 consecutive times with the opponents having the opportunity to win the game or take the lead late in the 4th Quarter-- and have allowed precisely ZERO pts

The Giants had the opportunity to tie the game at the end, and the Packers' defense gave up an easy score and a two-point conversion. I think there's something in what you're claiming for the defense, but I'm not ready to say that it's all part of a great strategic plan to suck at coverage and concede cheap TDs until the last few minutes, when the defense suddenly remembers to be awesome. Some of it's skill; some of it has been luck; a lot of it is down to the offense being unstoppable.

by Paul M (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 8:18pm

OK-- thanks for the clarification. I grant you the Giants tying drive, though it wasn't the same as if the game had been 33-27 and not 35-27. But I do think there is an aspect of this defense being as good as it needs to be, which in some ways I think you are agreeing with. The offense is so good it doen't have to be very good most of the time. What none of us yet knows is what happens when the offense plays a mediocre game (well, they did vs. the Bears last year and the Eagles for much of the 2nd half) and the defense has to play much better to keep Rodgers and Co. in it. DVOA suggests they will likely lose. Of course there's another outlier theory here-- Rodgers will never play mediocre-- at least not for the remainder of this year.

by thebuch :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 12:29pm

Okay so they gave up the tying score once. Big deal. Let's look deeper into the whole body of work:

*looking backwards, games I skip over were won by at least 8 points
Week 9, San Diego: Defense came up with two pick sixes (one of which was a jumped route, which is certainly more repeatable than the tipped ball) and stopped the Chargers on their final drive.
Week 7 in Minnesota: Vikings have a chance to score a go ahead touchdown late, force a Vikings punt with about 2:36 left, Vikings never touch the ball again
Week 1 at Saint: Saints have chance to get touchdown and 2 point conversion at the end, but fail

Then going back to the playoffs last season, pretty much every game other than the Atlanta blowout ended with the home team having a chance to come away with a late score and throwing a game ending interception. So yes, the Packers defense folded the lead ONCE late in the game in THEIR LAST EIGHTEEN GAMES, of which, they have not trailed in the fourth quarter. Is their defense playing well? Not really, but when its all said and done, other than in one case, they've successfully ended the game on their own terms and when it has been time for the defense to made a play, they've made a play (sometimes even two).

by ammek :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 1:16pm

I find the use of the eighteen-game sample really annoying. As we know from FO, season-to-season defense varies quite a lot. In 2010, the Packers were giving up 100 fewer pass yards per game and 1.6 fewer yards per pass play, as well as leading the league in interceptions. They were #1 in DVOA. This year is not the same. A template has emerged for how to pass against the Packers, and the defense has shown no sign of being able to disrupt it. As your list shows, the sample size for late stops in 2011 is really tiny. It's only valid if you make the connection to 2010, but in that case you have to explain why there's been such a difference during the first 58 minutes of play. The main arguments are outlined elsewhere on this thread — personnel changes, niggling injuries, individual declines in performance, lack of urgency, deliberate risk-reward strategy, and a failure to adjust the scheme.

by Jimmy :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 3:16pm

Okay so they gave up the tying score once. Big deal.

That would be twice (NFC Championship game).

by Paul M (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 3:35pm

Bears never tied that game in the 4th Quarter. They scored twice with Hanie-- but only got within one touchdown

by RickD :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 9:21pm

I like how this changed from last week:

"They have, going back to last year, been on the field 10 consecutive times with the opponents having the opportunity to win the game or take the lead late in the 4th Quarter-- and have allowed precisely ZERO pts-- this has never been done by any of the great streak teams-- not even close."

Last week it was simpler. It was that the Packers had the lead all the time. But since the Giants tied them on Sunday, the stat has been watered down ever so slightly to "have been on the field 10 consecutive times with the opponents..."

Not quite as sexy as "had the lead."

by NYMike :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 9:51pm

Okay, I'll make it simple. For 18 straight games, the Packers have never been behind in the 4th quarter.

by QQ (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 10:31pm

GB not only has not trailed in 18 Consecutive 4th Quarters but only 2 times now have they even been tied. Not bad for such a "non dominant" team

by DuhBears (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 12:04am

Meh. The Chicago Bears have won over 700 consecutive games in which they led at the end of the 4th quarter.

by QQ (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 1:53am

Not trailing at all during the 4th Quarter is still the more impressive stat.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 8:21am

I dunno. I think Abe Gibron screwed up one time, when Bobby Douglass was there, and they managed to lose one of those games.

by Scott C :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 2:12pm

Rodgers must suck! ZERO come from behind victories!


by QQ (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 8:21pm

Woodson's INT increase is a testament to the effect that differing schemes have on a player. Either Woodson suddenly developed a new skill (possible), the scheme in GB allowed to him gamble, read routes, etc, or he has just been lucky.

If you use the skill example, Tramon Williams credits many of his INTs to learing film study and learn how to recognize route combinations. It seems that it is more developing a skill set than simply good luck.

GB's run Defense is also not terrible, we have seen far worse Run Defenses. GB's Defense is built and schemed to compliment the Offense. Since they have a prolific offense it makes sense to have a high risk Defense.

by RickD :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 9:25pm

"Since they have a prolific offense it makes sense to have a high risk Defense."

I'm sorry, but that doesn't make sense at all.

See what happens if I take the opposite of your premise:

"Since they have a low-scoring offense, it makes sense to have a high risk defense."

That seems to make a little more sense. If your offense cannot sustain long drives, you might want to have a defense that specialized in forcing turnovers the led either directly or indirectly to scoring opportunities.

If your offense is high-scoring, there's little need for your defense to take risks.

by QQ (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 10:35pm

I disagree. GB is likely the Best team on the field every game. The Better the team the more they should want to maximizize Possessions. High Risk Defenses that cause turnovers/give up big plays should yield more possessions.

Contrastingly, bad teams should play Bend but Do not Break. Such Defenses should lead to long, clock consuming drives, thereby reducing the number of total possessions and leading to higher variance

by commissionerleaf :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 12:09pm

Green Bay can do whatever the 'ell they want on defense because they score so many points it doesn't matter. That is the lesson we should take away from this. They give up lots of yards, and get lots of sacks and turnovers, because the Defense doesn't have to care about the score, they just rack up individual stats.

by 'nonymous (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 4:24pm

I don't think that's the idea behind "bend but don't break" at all-- teams should pick the defensive strategy that plays to their strengths relative to any given match-up. The idea of "bend but don't break" is that you can shut down big plays and make the offense run shorter plays patiently and successfully to get down the field-- all teams are prone to mistakes and drops, which kill drives.

No bad team should ever give up hope of outplaying their opponent. Bad teams outplay good teams over 60 minutes all the time-- not every upset is a result of trickery and strange bounces.

by tgt2 (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 9:43pm

Or it's some combination of the 3, though putting the "just" in front of lucky is uncool.

by Tom W (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 3:18pm

Why should it be controversial that teams that have players that are good at intercepting passes should have a lot of interceptions. I believe this is consistent with research that has been done in the past. I haven't checked, but I'd be very surprised if GB wasn't among the league leaders in INTs over the last three or four years. If you ask Mike McCarthy or Dom Capers, they would tell you that this is something the Packers make a concerted effort to do. Fumbles are more of a random occurrence.

by TheOtherDude (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:25pm

I think the issue is that there's greater variance from game to game in forcing turnovers than there is in yards or points allowed. In 2009, the Packers were by far the best in the league in turnover ratio (+24, Eagles were second at +15), but that didn't hold up against the Cardinals in the playoffs, and they lost.

by Ryan (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:53pm

True, though that might be a bad example. It took perhaps the greatest passing performance in NFL history to beat them. And even then, Rodgers missed a throw by 2 feet that would have won the game in OT.

by 'nonymous (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:11pm

The 2010 Steelers were +17 in turnovers, with 21 interceptions, while the 2010 Packers were +10 in turnovers, with 24 interceptions. (regular season stats)

Of course, in the Super Bowl, the Packers got 3 turnovers, and the Steelers got none. That kind of bad day can happen to any team in any game, and it's pretty hard to overcome.

And, if the Packers are an example of turnover consistency the last three years, the Steelers are a counter-example. They currently sit at -6 in turnovers, and that includes a +2 or +3 day on Sunday.

by zenbitz :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 9:30pm

I don't see how GBs INT rate is relevant. INTs are counted in DVOA, right?
Unless we are trying to say that DVOA is modeling defense incorrectly.

by BaronFoobarstein :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:50pm

If it's only one team sustaining it while nobody else does, then the answer should probably be "never." Consider, with 32 teams running around the league, what are the chances that at least one of them will consecutively perform well on a given statistic? "Unsustainable" doesn't necessarily imply that past performance has zero predictive value on future performance, it means relatively little, and even if there was zero correlation between past and future you should still expect a couple of teams to be consistently good over a few year span.

by RichC (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 1:04pm

DVOA thinks that defense as a whole is pretty much unsustainable year to year, so I have a hard time when its trying to say certain facets of defense are unsustainable.

The fact that the league as a whole does not have a specific ability does not mean that there aren't teams that do.

Its like BABIP (batting average on balls in play) in Baseball. A big part of the sabermetrics movement was realizing that pitchers in general don't have much control over how hard balls are hit. Until we realized that there are guys that actually do have a lot of control over it. They're rare, but they're out there. (like Tim Wakefield and his career .260 BABIP. League is .300)

The fact that the league as a whole (which is what Aaron studied) doesn't correlate, doesn't mean that specific teams or styles of defense don't.

by Alternator :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 12:28am

Wakefield actually makes a good comparison. If you can demonstrate a sustainable skill that is not, ordinarily, sustainable, you must be (by definition) doing something at either a vastly higher level than anyone else, or you are doing something very different than anyone else.

Wakefield throws the knuckleball as his primary pitch. There are two active pitchers who do this, Wakefield and Charlie Zink (who used to be in the Red Sox minor league system and learned due to Wakefield).

For interceptions to be sustained, you'd also be looking for something oddball to be in play--and Green Bay may actually have that. Combine an excellent passing offense, a defensive coordinator who actively stresses ball-hawking even when it comes at the expense of the rest of the defense, players with a good knack at being in place for interceptions, and a dash of luck and VOILA! A defense that can put together multiple above-average interception seasons.

That doesn't mean it is, ultimately, something that should be expected to be sustained. If the offense deteriorates, a few injuries on defense, the run defense falling apart, even just luck going against the Packers, all of these would put an end to the streak. With that many variables, you can't really predict it to keep happening, because usually it won't.

There's always going to be a few teams that will manage it--beating the bell curve is funny that way--but it doesn't mean we should be expecting it.

by Travis :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 11:49am

Zink is inactive, at least with regards to organized baseball. There are at least 2 other knuckleballers active, R.A. Dickey (Mets) and Charlie Haeger (AA Red Sox, his 4th organization in 11 years).

by bigtencrazy (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 4:53pm

Given the repeated breakdowns in the secondary the loss of Nick Collins cannot be overstated. Peprah and collins were able to work just fine. Peprah and Burnett has been an abject disaster with Tramon Williams regularly gesturing after a play to demonstrate where someone was supposed to be but wasn't. And Williams is not a finger pointer. He's just a player trying to help his peers.

It's deeper than just Collins of course. Raji has been going through the motions all season. No real replacement for Cullen Jenkins. AJ Hawk has gone from average to awful.

but if you want the core problem is that Collins is not back there cleaning up everyone's mess.

by tuluse :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 4:55pm

I never thought AJ Hawk was anything special. I think he was always being hidden by other, better, players on defense.

by bigtencrazy (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 4:57pm

I did write 'average'

Last year he made some plays. This year he has been a complete disaster.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:08pm

Yeah, but he is married to Brady Quinn's sister!!!

.....oh...sorry.....had a flashback to 2006.......

by Jimmy :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 4:57pm

Collins is a fantastic player. He picks off loads of passes and drops as many but I don't really mean that as a criticism (although it obviously isn't ideal). It is amazing that he gets himself into so many positions to make plays on the ball even if he does drop more than you would like. If he had great hands people would be talking about him in the same way as they do about Ed Reed. The guy has awesome instincts, if he had great hands he wold be a HOFer.

by bigtencrazy (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 4:58pm

If Collins returns and regains his previous form he's young enough to keep going to enough Pro Bowls he might have a HOF case some day. Also helps if GB remains competitive

by ammek :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 4:53pm

And here's something perhaps more surprising: By Pythagorean projection, the 2011 Packers are no better than the 2010 Packers.

I think I'm right in saying they're worse than the 2009 Packers, too. By DVOA they certainly are.

This season's schedule has been much easier of course. (And will continue to be: three of the four remaining opponents are starting backup QBs, and three of the games are at Lambeau.) Yet strangely the Packers have played better against the teams in the top half of DVOA — especially Atlanta, Detroit and Chicago — than against cellar dwellers like the Rams and Buccaneers.

by 0tarin :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:43pm

I like to call that the "Baltimore Tendency".

by dmstorm22 :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 10:07pm

That's Baltimore this year. Baltimore was basically the opposite in 2009, when the finished the season #1 in DVOA. They destroyed the weaker teams they played, but lost games to almost every good team. Almost all were close (21-27 to NE, 15-17 to IND, 20-23 to Pittsburgh, twice to Cincy). This is really the first year Baltimore is displaying this maddening tendency.

by 0tarin :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 3:21pm

Yeah, I recall that season as well, and it was just as maddening. As a fan, I'm really not sure which of the two I'd prefer, but yes, in the past they've been pretty good at putting away the teams that they should, particularly under Harbaugh.

by Keith(1) (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 4:55pm

Very interesting analysis, Aaron. Though, as a Packers fan, I think it is necessary to temper any talk of 16-0 and 19-0 with trepidation attributed to "Any Given Sunday" and other such cliches. I honestly felt like we would lose against the Giants, and this fear of losing has been mounting for the last few weeks. There have been some stomps, but I understand the Packers have weaknesses.

If Charles Woodson misses any major time, that could be a blow akin to Matt Leinart; while not the most important player on the team, losing him requires all sorts of adjustments and really skews what the defense is otherwise trying to do. Then again, maybe now they can play real defense and not have to compensate for Capers' inability to just play vanilla and not give up large plays while being overly exotic...

by Dejspin (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 4:56pm

In regards to the Packers and total DVOA, the hyper-conservative nature of Mike McCarthy while leading has to have a sizable effect. As evidenced by Aaron Rodgers commenting after this weeks game that he expected McCarthy to call a draw to start the eventual game winning drive with :58 left. McCarthy is very, very gun shy with a lead. Is there any way to calculate DVOA while the Packers are winning by 1 score or less?

by Tom W (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 3:44pm

I've mentioned this before, but prior to last week, GB had really not played any games that were close throughout. In fact, the Giants were the first team to have a lead against the Packers in the fourth quarter. The Packers have played some games where they've had big leads, gotten conservative on both sides of the ball, trying to trade yards for time, and allowed teams to close the gap. But how many games have they been in serious danger of losing? One could argue that the Packers' coaching staff has been too quick to go into "protect the lead" mode, but what needs to be understood is that they're trying to win the game, not impress DVOA, and over the past eighteen games, I believe it is (including playoffs) they've succeeded.

by dryheat :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 3:50pm

In fact, the Giants were the first team to have a lead against the Packers in the fourth quarter

Now you've done it...get ready for the storm.

Fun Fact: Did you know that the Packers have won 18 straight games, with a chance for 25?

by Paul M (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 4:18pm

No storm, just a mild breeze. Ummm.... the Giants never took the lead in the 4th Quarter Sunday. They trailed 28-27, and then they tied the game at 35. There is a difference.

by drobviousso :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:01pm

In his house at Pythagenport, Fitzhulhu waits dreaming.

by Waldo (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:02pm

You guys should look up your explainations as to why GB was head scratching high in DVOA ranks in 2008. You at least could explain what the problem with DVOA was there. In 2008 GB played ridiculously bad football in the waning moments every week, after playing good for 55+ minutes, which hid the badness somewhat to DVOA.

The 2011 Packers have a habit of taking their foot off the gas on both sides of the ball when they go up multiple scores. A look at their DVOA when the score is within a TD (GB has been down more than a TD only a few minutes all season) will paint a different picture than their overall DVOA. DVOA is seeing a ton of late game crap play from GB when they aren't overly concerned with losing, the hot sauce on the play cards kept in the garage.

The 2007 Pats were accused constantly of running up the score. DVOA likes that. The 2011 Packers take their foot off the gas, almost seemingly to a fault at times (though it hasn't cost them a game). DVOA does not like that.

by ammek :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:11pm

DVOA is seeing a ton of late game crap play from GB when they aren't overly concerned with losing

Well they should be. We've seen lots of late comebacks this season, against defenses much better than Green Bay's. The suggestion is not even particularly true. If the Packers were giving up a ton of 8-yard plays and 10-play scoring drives that would be understandable. As it is, they're giving up TDs on four-play drives that last less than 2 minutes. DVOA can't ignore that.

by Danny Tuccitto :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:29pm

For the sake of argument, here's GB's O DVOA rankings by score gap:

Down 8 or more: 12
Down 7 or less/tied: 1
Up 7 or less: 2
Up 8 or more: 8
Second Half w/ score gap +7 to -7: 1

Here's GB's D DVOA rankings by score gap:

Up 8 or more: 18
Up 7 or less/tied: 13
Down 7 or less: 7
Down 8 or more: 24
Second Half w/ score gap +7 to -7: 1

Are they "taking their foot of the gas?" Maybe, but going from 1st/2nd to 8th on O or 7th/13th to 18th on D is not exactly crapping the bed. I think, more importantly, those twin No. 1 rankings in Late & Close DVOA tell most of the unbeaten-but-not-unbeatable tale.

by Waldo (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:47pm

How is it possible that GB's overall D rank is 24th given those #'s by score gap?

The down 8 or more #'s definitely suffer from a lack of data.

To go from 1/2 and 13/7 to 12 and 18 is a pretty severe drop, expecially given how much time GB has spent up 8+ points all season. Yes every team deals with this issue to a degree, but it does go a long way to explaining why GB has been able to bring home the wins, they are simply a different team when the game is on the line.

by Danny Tuccitto :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 7:07pm

Probably an Aaron question, but I'd imagine it's because the "Winning Big" sample size is larger relative to the others, and so you have their worst situation being spread out over more of the overall sample when you aggregate up to the unit-wide DVOA.

by RickD :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 9:40pm

Your falling into a fallacy related to averages and ordinal ranks. A team that is above average for each of several categories is not necessarily above average when the entire data set is considered. This is a relatively famous observation whose name I cannot remember.

Easy example: let's consider four players being compared across three categories:
Let's say higher numbers are better.
X1 X2 X3 X=avg Xi
P1: 3 3 3 3
P2: 1 2 9 4
P3: 2 9 1 4
P4: 9 1 2 4

P1 is 2nd best for all three variables, but is worst when all three are combined.

by tuluse :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 1:12am

Simpson's Paradox I believe.

by TheOtherDude (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:54pm

Thanks, I had been wondering what those numbers would look like. I think the most interesting stat is that their defense ranks 7-13th with the game within one score but 24th overall. However, it might be more revealing to see how they ranked with a score gap of +8 to -8, since they've given up at least a couple late drives with an 8 point lead, which is still only a one possession game.

by TheOtherDude (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:07pm

Really, just total DVOA for the Packers when trailing or leading by fewer than 9 points would be very interesting to compare to their overall DVOA.

by Danny Tuccitto :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 7:17pm

Excluding ST, GB's total DVOA when winning by 8 or more = 20.8% (ranked 12th). Not surprisingly, HOU is #1 at 115.0%.

by Waldo (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:12pm

As a matter of technicality, a 7-8 point lead is not a one possesion game though it is commonly described as one. It takes two possessions to actually win the game. (Obviously ignoring the case that a team can play for the win instead of the tie when down 7, something I can't recall ever seeing occur in pro football thus irrelevant).

by tuluse :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:18pm

"(Obviously ignoring the case that a team can play for the win instead of the tie when down 7, something I can't recall ever seeing occur in pro football thus irrelevant)"

I've seen Gruden do this with Tampa and at least one other time in the past 5 years.

by TheOtherDude (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:26pm

Yeah, but with a 9+ point lead they can go ultra-conservative and basically concede points as long as they don't give up big plays. Against the Giants last week, they definitely weren't conceding that last touchdown.

by Andrew Potter :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 9:09pm

Denver Broncos vs. San Diego Chargers, September 14, 2008. The infamous "Cutler fumble" game where Hochuli blew the call. Shanahan's Broncos went for two after the touchdown, and converted to win the game.

Herm Edwards also tried it during his time with the Chiefs, but they failed to convert and lost.

Edit: The Herm instance was November 9, 2008. Chargers 20, Chiefs 19.

by RickD :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 9:43pm

That's not the usual definition of "one possession game."

by Keith(1) (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:06pm

So, with all these numbers, and their defense playing its best late and close, does that help shape the perception that they are unbeatable? They are obviously doing things on defense that DVOA does not like, but they are top-half in many categories. Could DVOA conceivably be under- or over-valuing some facet of their defense that is not easy to pinpoint?

by archibaldcrane (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 3:09pm

Just remember, when we gave up a long TD drive+2 pt. conversion vs. the Giants, that was an 8 point game, just outside the +7-7 range.

Still fascinating that the D is the best in the league in those "late and close" situations.

by Schmoker (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2011 - 8:24pm

Single season football stats are already a ridiculously small sample size compiled against a wildly unbalance.d set of opponents. Breaking them down into even smaller components has to rend er them nearly meaningless.

And therein lies the problem with trying to be predictive with any football stat. Sixteen games against an unbalanced schedule is far too small to be truly meaningful. Add in that teams are very different from week to week due to the high injury rate in football, and then even teams with identical schedules are really not playing on a level field either.

Finally, with the average nfl career lasting only 3-4 years, cross season comparisons are valueless.

Football is not baseball. The sample size is too small and the variances too great for a football stat to be taken with any sort of the same face value as baseball stats.

DVOA does a better job of this than any single star I've yet seen, but it is still akin to throwing bricks in the Grand Canyon on any given sunday.

To top it off, every argument in favor of the packers "skill" at getting turnovers that I have seen relies heavily on anecdotal statements that carry no weight. Quoting a player saying, "We practice that," has the least value of all. A statement by a person is not proof of anything.

by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:50pm

I don't buy this at all. Going through GB's schedule, there are very few games where they allowed a bunch of backdoor covers after taking an insurmountable lead. It is true that they did play worse after taking a 14+ lead in many of their games, but a good deal of them ended up as one score contests where the opponent had the ball at the end with a chance to tie or take the lead.

No matter how much you want to discount it, it still matters. And games like the NO and NY ones demonstrate that it wasn't just letting up off the gas. GB's defense simply isn't very good.

by Waldo (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:07pm

I think you are missing the point here. Why is Green Bay undefeated when by DVOA they aren't nearly as good as some teams in the past, and heck aren't even the best team this year? It is very obvious, they play much better when the game is on the line, but a lot of the season the game hasn't been on the line.

GB's bad DVOA when the team has a big lead while it may contribute to making games overly close, it is not losing GB games. The strategy to beat GB is not "OK guys, GB isn't very good when they have a big lead, so what we are going to do is let them score a bunch, then we will come back and beat them". No matter what a not close game has to become close before a team can take the lead over GB. GB has literally been losing 0.0 seconds in the 4th quarter in 2011.

by Paul M (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 7:41pm

It's 0.0 seconds for all 18 games of this winning streak. All-time NFL record-- by far.

by Paul M (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 7:58pm

I have seen virtually every down the Packers have played on defense this year, just as I did last year. So since I'm not comparing them to any other team, but instead against themselves, I think the observation has a lot of merit.

If we assume that the value of the defense-- given the propensity of pass plays-- is roughly 25% D Line (it is a 3-4 they play, after all. Any many times a 2-4 or 2-3); 30% LBs; and 45% Secondary, then I would say the following:

The D-Line is not as effective this season, because (until yesterday) Raji hasn't played as well, and Mike Neal (injured until just a few weeks ago) has not adequately replaced Cullen Jenkins. I'd say the overall performance is down 20%.

The LBs are a wash-- there were key injuries last year (Barnett, Poppinga and Chiller-- all didn;t return) and there have been again this year. (Zombo has missed most of the season; Bishop and Hawk missed the last game plus) matthews, despite his sack numbers, is actually having a better all-around year, with improved pass coverage. Walden and the inside guys have been decent when healthy. Overall I'd call it a wash.

but the secondary is where the biggest difference is evident. Last year Morgan Burnett was hurt and out for the season relatively early; Peprah replaced him and, by and large, played well. This year they lost the other safety-- Collins-- a Pro Bowler-- also early, and Peprah replaced him and, by and large, has not played all that well-- nor has Morgan Burnett when he's been asked to play more of a Free Safety role. And Tramon Williams-- who emerged as one of the top corner covers last season-- has clearly regressed-- at first, it was thought due to a shoulder injury, but his play has been inconsistent. he shut down Megatron but then got beat twice on deep balls vs. the Giants. Woodson and Shields seem relatively equal to last year. I'd say the overall performance is down at least 30%. And the weighted impact is in the neighborhood of 15-20%-- the difference betwen a very good defense (last year) and a so-so defense, at best (this year)

Truth is the injury to Nick Collins has been a major hit. But there are still are several pretty key playmakers on this defense, and I would think they should get the benefit of the doubt until they blow a game late.

by JohnnyG (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 11:48am

Good analysis, but Shields hasn't played well either. He was more consistent in coverage last year. I think Woodson play has dropped off also. He's missed more tackles than I can count. Woodson will always get beat once in while because he gambles, but he's having issues covering shorter routes this year. The defense will not improve, this is the 2011 Packer defense. I don't expect any miracles nor do I hope for radical changes.

by QQ (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:30pm

GB very clearly took their foot off the Gas on Offense against NO.nteitre address:

by k (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 12:16am

It is false to say GB's defense isn't very good with the game on the line. Watching every defensive snap they have came up with huge stops when the game matters. Actually the first time they didn't all year was last week against the giants. Using NO as an example is very poor. They stopped NO at the Goal line when it was needed. Poor use of words there.

by Joseph :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 5:32pm

A couple of points about the NO game:
1. Yes, they stopped the Saints at the goal line--but they also committed DPI on the last play of the game to give the Saints an untimed down to score the potentially game tying TD + 2 pt. conversion. They also were unsuccessful at stopping them BEFORE they got that close.
2. They also needed to stop the Saints inside the 10 on another drive (iirc, in the 4th Q also).
So yes, they stopped the Saints 2 out of 3 times on high-leverage plays. At the same time, on that last drive they had other opportunities to stop the Saints and did not. I think what some people are saying is that in several close games, the Packers' D has had multiple chances to make a stop, and has been lucky that the opponent couldn't pull off ONE more successful play.
Analogy--if Team A is constantly giving up 9 yds between 1st and 2nd down, "relying" on being able to make the stop on 3rd & 1 (and maybe 4th & 1), they aren't going to do it all the time. In fact, doing it for more than about 3x in a row is severely lucky, as iirc the NFL avg is about 70% conversion on 3rd/4th & 1, giving an avg. D just a 2.7% chance to stop an avg. O 3x in a row. A great D against a horrible O probably couldn't do it more than 5x in a row (let's say 50% conv. rate=3.125% for 5x, ~1.06 chance for 6x).
I remember in the late 80's/early 90's, the Saints had a MNF game against the 49ers. A 3rd & 1 play came up--before the snap, one of the announcers mentioned that the Saints D had stopped the opponent 11x in a row on 3rd/4th & 1, and they stopped the Niners on that one. IIRC, later in the game the Niners converted to end the streak. Impressive streak? yes. Extremely lucky? yes. So, GB fans better hope that their streak doesn't end soon. Because it will end.

by Paul M (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 8:35pm

Don't disagree with your basic point and the Saints scare me the most in terms of the NFC title game. But that PI was on AJ Hawk and it was what I call an "appearance play"-- it looked like he hit from the back, when in fact he came over the top and made contact with the receiver and the ball at the exact same time.

by Yaguar :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:04pm

Please give us an answer on what the Playoff Odds Report is up to in its game projections.

You give the Packers a Pythagenport win percentage of 77%, meaning that such a PF/PA ratio would be expected to win 77% of games on average. And yet the playoff odds simulator gave them these chances, as of last week, for their remaining games:

Week 14 vs. OAK: 73%
Week 15 at KC: 69%
Week 16 vs. CHI: 67%
Week 17 vs. DET: 68%

Even at home against Oakland, the playoff odds simulator uses a conservative win percentage well below their pythagenport average. But not just the Packers: it's all the winning teams.

The Niners, at .798 Pythagenport and .833 actual, are expected to go 2.3-1.7 (.575) in their remaining four games. Do they have a tough schedule? Not remotely. They have the Cardinals, Seahawks, and Rams still to play.

The Ravens are another dominant team. They get to host the Colts and Browns. Not even they can get 3 mean wins in their final four games.

How about the Saints (.729 Pythagenport)? 2.4-1.6. You don't think they can make 3-1 against the Falcons, Titans, Panthers, and Vikings?

The Playoff Odds Estimator is too conservative in projecting games, so it is systematically biased against division leaders and towards improbable long-shot playoff runs.

by Paul M (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:19pm

something is screwy with these ratings. Even the 51% probabiity for the Packers vs the Giants was flawed. 51% chance that it might be a close game? I'll give you that. But I would argue that for about 90% of that 2nd half, the Packers were never below about 65-70% chance of winning, and often as much as 80%+. And this is after they played a pretty crappy 1st half, one of their worst all season, which is not simply a product of their opposition.

by tuluse :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:24pm

I think you are underestimating how often "weird" things happen. A blown call here, a fumble there, a pass going off a receiver's finger tips and into a defender's waiting arms, a hold on the final 2nd down of the game, one of the Giant's d-lineman pulling a Tommie Harris and just knifing through before Rodgers even knows what's happening. It seems like all these won't happen until they do.

by SFC B (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 8:11pm

Do you think that there is something in the water in Wisconsin that is preventing Packers fans from realizing that they were a goal line running play and a coin toss from losing to the Giants? If there is, I need to know. I live in WI and don't want to be drinking the crazy people water.

by Paul M (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 8:25pm

Huh?? That statement is patently untrue. A) that goalline running play could have produced the same immediate TD the pass to Nicks did; B) that goalline running play could have set up a sequence where the Giants did not score at all; C) that goalline running play might have stiffened the Packer defense to the point that the 2 pt conversion didn't work

What did happen is our Qb got the ball back with plenty of time to win the game. I would ask you this question: Do you, or Aaron Schatz, or anyone else on this site, believe that there is anything to the theory that the defending Super Bowl champions, on a potentially historic winning streak, are facing a heightened level of performance from their opposition than they would under more normal circumstances?? If we think computer play the game, then the answer is no. But they don't-- it's human beings.

by Mr. Guest to you (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 9:31pm

Yeah, you're missing the point. GB was in a tie with the NYG with under a minute to go. If not for those ridiculous, luckurious catches by GB, an unlucky coin flip would have surely meant a loss. GB's defense was not stopping Eli.

by NYMike :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 10:06pm

Maybe you don't watch the Packers every week. They make those "luckurious" catches all the time.

Nothing lucky about the first one to Finley, just a three inch window that a less extraordinary QB would not hit. Nothing unusual about the play to Nelson; he seems to make one of those a game. And Jennings was wide open. So I'm not seeing the luck, just opportunities taken by very skillful players in total tune with each other. And despite the length of this thread, no one is arguing the Packers have less than a historically great offense. Best ever> Maybe not, but certainly in the discussion.

by Mikey Benny :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 12:48pm

It's not even in the discussion. I see what the parent's saying about "crazy water".

Green Bay's a great team. Not sure about the inferiority complex.

by RickD :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 10:00pm

The game was tied until the last second kick, but still the 51% win percentage for the Packers was "flawed."

This is also a bit rich:
"And this is after they played a pretty crappy 1st half, one of their worst all season, which is not simply a product of their opposition."

Have you noticed that a team's fans tend to think that any ups and downs of their own team's play is entirely a function of their own skill and effort, and "not simply a product of their opposition."

Give the Giants some credit here. They're a pretty good team.

by NYMike :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 10:09pm

You're exactly right about fans' inability to even notice the other team suited up, and oh by the way, might be playing very well. I watched the game, as a Packer fan, with my Giant fan friends, who all expected to watch a blow out (I didn't, especially missing two starting LBs). I could have walked away from that game knowing the Giants won, rather than the Packers lost. But I would have felt lonely ...

by zenbitz :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 12:11am

Actually WPA floated around 50% (0.5) for the first half, went up to .75 GB but down to about .60 (with spikes to .57) until 5:10 left in the 4th when the Packers got in FG range against. And in fact, with the game tied an 1 minute to go, the Giants had a 45% chance of winning. Now I think those numbers are accounting for Aaaron Rodgers and the Packers, but it won't shift them that much.

by Jetspete :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:09pm

How many poor special teams plays do the jets have to make to knock them down the ST rankings? Every week they make a boneheaded special teams play that comes at a juncture that could cost them the game. This past week it was an inexplicable punt fumble at around 40 seconds left in the first half. They also had a botched KO return that left them at the 8 yard line. Either something is wrong with the formula, or Special Teams around the league are so horrendous that a team that has multiple special teams turnovers or miscues actually is 4th best in the league.

by Eddo :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:09pm

I would like to say that I love when you write articles like this to go along with the DVOA ratings. I find them very interesting.

by Anonymous454545 (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:34pm

Agreed! the longer commentary is well worth the wait. Thankfully, Packer fans are so darn polite here. Geographically, they are pretty much Canadian, so maybe that helps.

by Mr. X (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:21pm

As a long-time Packers fan, I have no problem stating that the 1985 Bears were more dominant than this year's Packers. Having said that, wins are what ultimately counts. It's interesting that the Saints have given up as many points as the Packers.

by nat :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:31pm

Wow, the Patriots defense took a huge hit for that fourth quarter. The question is, does that quarter say anything about who they are, or is it just about resting too many players and/or playing too soft? After all, they did indeed have enough of a lead to get away with playing atrociously.

My guess is that it doesn't say much useful. The Patriots are unlikely to take a 28 point lead into the fourth quarter of a playoff game, and will not rest starters if they do.

DVOA is right to be what it is. Football fans would be right to consider the Patriots a bit stronger than their DVOA indicates.

by tuluse :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:33pm

I think what it says is that the Patriots have little to no depth on defense, so if they do suffer a couple injuries, they're in trouble.

by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:43pm

And you would be incorrect in that assumption. NE didn't just play a backup or two, they started three seperate players who had a total of ~10 defensive snaps on the year, one of which was signed off the street three days prior. They also played another safety in a linebacker position that he hadn't played ever in his NFL career.

They basically gave a bunch of guys a bunch of snaps to see if they might be able to play a few snaps in a pinch. More than likely two of them will never see the field no matter how many injuries NE sees.

by Eddo :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:53pm

Hold on; you're telling me that the Patriots had to start three guys who had played a total of ten snaps on the year, including one who was signed three days prior, and had to play a safety in a linebackers role.

And this disproves the assumption that they have poor defensive depth?

by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:13pm

Yes, because they didn't "have" to.

by Eddo :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:22pm

I'm still not following.

Are you saying they didn't have to because the normal starters had stayed healthy all this time? In that case, it's still poor depth; they were just lucky with injuries.

Or are you saying that the Patriots did have sufficient depth, but too many players got hurt? That might be true (I'm not familiar enough with the Patriots), but I would argue that ever reaching a point where you have to sign a guy to start three days before the game is not having adequate depth.

by Athelas :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:36pm

I believe he is saying the Patriots has healthy or near-healthy players that could have played and done a better job, but they wanted to play the practice squad to increase the experience of those players since they did not fear Indy would allow themselves to win.

by tuluse :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 7:00pm

Why would they care about experience of players so bad they are likely to never play?

Either Bellichick was protecting the health of better players, which implies he is worried about depth, or he thinks these players might have to play which means depth is poor.

Or he is just doing some kind of weird mind game.

Those are the options I'm seeing.

by RickD :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 10:09pm

Vince Wilfork played 66% of the snaps. Usually he plays 95% of the snaps or more.

You may say that this "indicates [Belichick] is worried about depth." Or you could just say that he wanted to give big Vince a break because he didn't need to keep him on the field all day.

I think it's reasonable to say that the Pats' defense you saw in the 4th quarter against the Colts is not what you'll usually see from them.

I also think it's reasonable for DVOA to give them a low score for that quarter. Statistics are quantitative, after all. They're supposed to be objective, not subjective.

by RichC (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 1:30pm

"Why would they care about experience of players so bad they are likely to never play?"

Because playing them is the only way to figure out if they're any good. Practice and live game situations are completely different things.

There were several starters that practices all week last week, never showed up on the injury report, barely played, and are practicing fine this week.

by tuluse :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 5:21pm

I have never before in my life seen an NFL head coach throw a player who's been on the roster for 3 days into a game to "see if he's any good."

What could possibly be learned? There is no way he has a good command of the playbook or sufficient chemistry with his teammates to make a reasonable evaluation of him. Further, if the players in front of him were any good (and I don't just mean starters, I mean 2nd string and hopefully there is a 3rd string in front of such a player), it would all be irrelevant.

by Alternator :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 7:19pm

I think his point is that they were giving the backups to the backups some reps, and wanted to see how well they could play. I'm not sure if that's true--I haven't checked the depth charts--but I think that's the point.

by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 7:31pm

It is a little bit of both. There are depth issues at both CB and safety that I'm sure BB is trying to figure out, perhaps 10 snaps a game at both positions, along with an injury list about a mile long.

But even assuming the health of the team stays the same, NE could easily have used Guyton and/or Tracy White (both of whom have been relied upon in Spikes/Fletcher's absense) rather than turn to Niko Koutouvides. But Bill wanted to see what he had in Niko.

At safety, Moore has been a solid influence since he was inserted for the Jet game. They easily could have played him there rather than Slater, who hadn't played safety since 2009.

Nate Jones (the midweek signing) is someone that they are likely to need as the #3 or #4 cornerback by the time the playoffs roll around, so it isn't surprising that they'd give him some minutes) but he started at safety and played all but 3 snaps, IIRC.

The long and short of it is, yes, there are some depth issues. But the Patriots actually played the Indy game as if the injured guys stay injured and they lost a few more on top of that. It was pretty clear that they were developing contingency plans along with letting a few guys rest.

by Mr. Guest to you (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 9:36pm

Pure bull. Not at all something Belichick would partake in. If you're healthy, you play. If you're not, the team will cover.

by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 9:34am

You are free to disregard the truth, but that doesn't make it any less so.

by RichC (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 1:41pm

This isn't the first time hes done this. A couple years back he sat pretty much the entire offense against Miami.

Cassel started, and his leading WR was Bam Childress.

And its not the only time hes done stuff like that. There's plenty of precedence for him sitting starters in unimportant games.

by RichC (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 1:25pm

"Had to" and "did" are not the same words. They don't mean the same thing.

They sat a whole bunch of guys who are healthy.

by Eddo :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 1:29pm

That's a fair point. But the fact that the backups he did play didn't do very well would suggest their depth isn't too good, right? If one of the players he chose not to play were to get hurt, there's not an adequate replacement available to step in.

by RichC (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 1:36pm

"Why would they care about experience of players so bad they are likely to never play?"

No, it doesn't suggest that at all. Every team's 3rd string defense sucks. Thats why they're 3rd string.

by RichC (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 1:37pm

clipboard fail.

That was in response to the defense sucking being a sign of poor depth.

by Eddo :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 1:50pm

There are a lot of mental gymnastics going on, here.

So now, Belichick decided to sit two levels worth of defenders. I guess I could believe that.

But, if third-stringers are always going to suck ("every team's 3rd string defense sucks"), why would it matter if Belichick gives them playing time to see how good they are?

Why is it so hard to just say, "The Patriots don't have very much depth on defense"?

by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 7:01pm

I've already said that was part of it. The search for a someone to offer 10-15 snaps a game is one of the reasons why he did it.

But it's not the entire picture. Not much more to add than the last post I made earlier about who, how and why.

by RickD :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 10:33pm

I think that's what you're saying.
DVOA has no idea who's on the field.

by Anonymous454545 (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:43pm

Also, the Patriots are unlikely to face Orlovsky in the Playoffs (thankfully)! The murderers row of quarterbacks that the Pats have had to endure is terrifying-- Henne, Sanchez, Campbell, Fitzpatrick, Palko, V. Young. The aforementioned 85 Bears would have struggled with those kind of opponents. Wow, the Pass defense has been horrible!

I don't think BB will get criticized for running up the score with this year's secondary.

by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:38pm

What a 4th quarter for NE. Going into this week they actually held a 2% advantage over Green Bay and then held their opponent to 3 points for the first three quarters while GB allowed 35 points, including a game tying TD in the closing minutes of the 4th quarter.

But one single quarter of football apparently was enough to overcome all of that and knock off not only whatever gains NE was able to earn, but an additional respective 4% as well. Astounding.

by dmstorm22 :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 10:10pm

It was their opponent adjustment. Also, it wasn't exactly a great day for the NE offense, especially given the level of competition they faced.

by twelve pount courier (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:44pm

"If the Packers are not a dominant team, how have they managed to go 12-0 this season? The main answer is consistency."

2007 Patriots O: 75.4% pass DVOA, 17th in O-VAR (7.7%)
2010 Patriots: 72.5%, 17th (8.1%)
2005 Colts: 48.3%, 5th (4.7%)
2004 Colts: 69.1%, 7th (5.3%)
2011 Packers: 73.7%, 1st (1.1%)

"Some readers have suggested that perhaps total DVOA is not the proper measure to use when a team is so superlative in one area of the game. That's the 'defense doesn't matter, because Aaron Rodgers can outscore anybody' theory."

What about "when a team is both so superlative and so consistent in one area of the game"? Looking at GB's variance, I'm reminded of this little Goodfellas narration:

"But now he has to pay Paulie, every week no matter what. Business bad? F--- you, pay me. Had a fire? F--- you, pay me. The place got hit by lightning? F--- you, pay me."

While perhaps GB's passing attack this year isn't the best ever, regardless of what the opposing defense is doing, Rodgers is saying to all challengers, "F--- you, pay me."

"The problem with this theory is that it doesn't explain any team in the past."

I'd offer GB's uniquely low O-VAR sets them apart from the other similar cases. It may be rare, it may be the first time a team has done this, but with how GB's O has been playing, it looks like that one component is strong enough to eclipse their other (and, sometimes, notable) shortcomings.

by Joshua Northey (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:02pm

"And yet... let's face it, it just looks weird to not have an undefeated 12-0 team on top of the DVOA ratings."

In my fantasy football league I am first in points scored and first in points against yet finished 8-5. At one point I was first in both and 6-5. Meanwhile the lowest scoring teams with an average points against is doing just as well as I am.

That is the only information you really need to resolve the mystery of how an "undefeated team" could not be first when you look at the play-by-play performance. Football analysts (including unfortunately FO) have a huge huge outcome bias that causes them to distrust objective measures when they disagree with tiny samples of relatively random outcomes.

I once won a hockey game 2-0 where my team was out-shot 40-3. Were we the better team that day? No. We were lucky as hell. Mystery solved.

by Joshua Northey (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:06pm

By "first in points against" I mean that I had like 1100 for and 800 against where the league average was 950 against, just in case the phrasing was ambiguous.

by Jonadan :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 9:07pm

With one important caveat:

DVOA is not, strictly speaking, an "objective measure". To be sure, it's based on objective measures, but it's a subjective algorithm compositing all those measures into one thing. How each element is weighted, unweighted, or discarded is decided, hopefully on the basic of evidence, history, and probability, but at its best I think everyone agrees it's a model, and "only" a model, however good – which means the conclusions based on the best evidence are still being arrived at by a limited, flawed, human.

The "mystery" isn't created so much by the 12-0 record as the fact that – at least I would argue – the Packers have looked "dominant", or at least dominant enough to be a clear 1 to much of the sports commentariat, sometimes including other people's advanced stats (for instance, PFR's SRS puts the Pack way clear at 12.6, 3.4 points better than the #2 Ravens; on the other hand ANFLStats has Houston, Pitt, and GB as its 1-2-3).

"When you absolutely don't know what to do any more, then it's time to panic." - Johann van der Wiel

by Joshua Northey (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 9:30pm

But the simple point is that outcomes like this should be absolutely no surprise to anyone with the slightest familiarity with statistics or pro football.

Over a 12 game sample the chance an undefeated team is actually the best team is not very high given the strength distribution in the NFL. There simply isn't enough separation between the teams and the outcomes are too random.

It is like declaring someone the best coin flipper in the world after 12 consecutive flips, it just demonstrates a lack of ignorance about the underlying dynamics, which while not entirely random are partially so, and more than enough so for a 12-0 record to be evidence for little more than "above average".

by RickD :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 10:38pm

No, DVOA is an objective measure, not a subjective one.

You're going to have to go back and re-read those definitions.

The act of combining several objective measures into one summary statistic does not dramatically change the philosophical underpinning of what's going on in the manner that you suggest. It's not like the relative weight of various factors is tailored to subjective factors, like how much Aaron likes one team or another.

by Danny Tuccitto :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 11:00pm

I agree with your overall sentiment, but I think that, as philosophy of science goes, every statistical model has an inherent amount of subjectivity to it, chief among them is deciding what a "meaningful" predictor is. Someone has to ultimately decide if the critical p-value should be .001, .01, .05, etc. Similarly, someone has to decide how a given factor should be weighted given both statistical and contextual evidence. Those are objectively-informed subjective decisions, and that's -- I think -- what Jonadan was getting at.

by BaronFoobarstein :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 12:35am

This discussion came up earlier this season. I don't feel like finding it, but I believe that there was at least some consensus that DVOA is objective because it evaluates directly on things that objectively took place (with the caveat that perhaps some charting itself may be subjective). However the method by which DVOA is determined from those objective facts is arbitrary for the reasons you outline.

DVOA: objective fact derived via formula designed arbitrarily though informed usage of statistics.

Ascribing meaning outside of statistical models to DVOA is of course subjective.

by Jonadan :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 12:08am

Obviously there are levels. If you ask me to rank the best NFL teams, and I do it by whose uniform I like best, we agree this is wildly subjective because my criterion (fashion design) has nothing to do with what the actual product (an NFL team) is intended to do (win games). Entertaining, but so subjective as to be pointless.

Less subjective (and therefore more useful) would be an opinion on how well teams play. But this will work oddities – no matter how careful I am, for instance I'm probably going to underrate the Bears, Cowboys, and Steelers (I'm a Lions fan, and I have obnoxious friends) as much as possible before my rational mind rebels.

The difference here is that, yes, DVOA is using a formula based on actual facts and results, not, "Hanie kind of sucks and Peppers is on the wrong side of his career". But someone still has to decide what and how much something matters: for instance, defining a "successful play" or deciding to add 25% bonus to red-zone plays (and who decides the "red zone", anyway?).

I'm with you all the way that DVOA is intended as far more of a scientific approach then my hypothetical power ranking; but while it's more complicated it still has the same kind of problems as the NFL's quarterback rating – if to a lesser degree due to additional research and being able to change things and stuff.

What I'm trying to get at, though, is that models are potentially flawed: when results – in this case, wins – disagree (or seem to disagree) with the model, we need to remember that somebody may have done something wrong.

tl;dr: Yes, DVOA is "objective" in that the calculation once set up is immune to bias errors (assuming no tampering, obviously). However, DVOA is, like any complex probabilistic model, what you might call "meta-subjective" in that the calculations themselves may be affected by either bias or even the (more objective) decision to simplify certain inputs or formula.

"When you absolutely don't know what to do any more, then it's time to panic." - Johann van der Wiel

by Thok :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 8:16am

By your argument, wins aren't an "objective measure". They're dependent on points, which depends on a subjective choice of which plays are more important, which was chosen by humans. I mean, it's not like the Green Bay Packers routinely hit home runs or run a 9.5 second 100 meter dash.

by Danny Tuccitto :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 10:47pm

Pretty sure I speak for FO staff here when I clarify that Aaron's explanation has nothing to do with outcome bias. It has to do with wanting to massage the neck injury induced when some people suffer a severe case of whiplash seeing GB at #2. We don't see something wrong with DVOA simply because GB isn't #1. To the contrary, we're completely fine with it. What we do see, however, is a need to reassure whiplash sufferers that DVOA is trustworthy in its non-#1 assessment of 12-0 GB team.

by Paul M (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:15pm

I have backed off my "defense of the defense", ardent though I was last week and weeks prior. Raji and Walden did supply some more pass rush Sunday; Hawk and Bishop both being out weakened the rush defense-- they'll both be back soon; but Collins won't be back and the deep coverage seems to be getting worse.

But I will say this: if the Packers win the next 7 games-- shattering the all-time NFL victory streak (it would be 25) and permanently removing Mercury Morris from all future Sports Center broadcasts-- whereever they are in terms of dominance their essential greatness will be established. And it will be such a unique accomplishment as to make any detailed analysis of their strengths and weaknesses credit this exceptionalism. In other words, they will be the exception that proves the DVOA rule.

by Ezra (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 1:28am

I don't think so. If they do it, it will mean that their DVOA improved, and I can't see that happening. As a Packer fan, I'm frankly kind of embarrassed that people are actually talking about 25 straight. It ain't going to happen.

by QQ (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 2:01am

Why would you be embarrassed? For a team that has won 18 in a row, more than a 1/2 against Playoff Caliber teams, winning 7 in a Row is hardly beyond the realm of possible.

The odds are perhaps even better when you consider that out of the final 7 Games, 5 would be at Home, 1 would be on a Neutral Field, and only 1 would be on the Road (against 1 of the worst teams in the league).

by Waverly :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:16pm

Hey, that was a great article. But not a dominant one, judging by the comments. Still, I hope it's sustainable.

by Karl Cuba :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:35pm

You have to be kidding, this article is a part of a historic streak of great articles that stretches back over more than twenty games. The article has no flaws and any dissention from the appreciation of the streak of articles merely serves to demonstrate that the systems used to judge articles is broken and should be thrown out.

by JetFanInMD (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 11:12pm

As a matter of fact, if Aaron keeps pumping out articles like this he will have established a level of greatness that means we will never have to hear from any other sports writer ever again.

by Shattenjager :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 12:07am

Never hearing from other sportswriters again. Oh, what a dream . . .

Note, since this is FO: This is an exaggeration. It is a joke.

by Nathan :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 12:29am

You're talking about Barnwell, right? He's the writer-who-shall-not-be-named of this metaphor?

by PackersRS (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:18pm

"The defense has lived off turnovers, but that element isn't as sustainable as preventing yardage."

Thus the problem with DVOA. Since Dom Capers took over, the Packers have been in the top 2 in forced turnovers every single season. And they've forced at least 1 turnover every single game this year, and at least 2 turnovers all games except the season opener. Yet turnovers aren't a sustainable element?

by QQ (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:22pm

You are correct, GB is just lucky. For some reason, opposing teams decide to throw the ball to GB when they play and then go back to business as usual in their other games.

by Karl Cuba :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:31pm

While your comment may be dripping with scarcasm, if Eli doesn't throw that inexplicable pass to Clay Matthews then the Pack could easily have lost that game.

by QQ (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:40pm

Eli was not throwing the Pass to Matthews. Eli was pressured an tried to throw the pass in the flat to the Giant (I assume it was a RB). Matthews read the play and jumped the route. In some ways it was similar to Tramon Williams jumping the route vs San Diego. The fact that GB is so aept at jumping routes to me is a combination of scheme, talent, and aggressiveness.

by Karl Cuba :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:55pm

But it was a bloody awful throw, I was shouting at Eli not to throw it before he did, the timing was screwed up which was what allowed Matthews to jump the route. He could have thrown it at their feet or over their heads or taken the sack and then the complexion of the game changes. It really was an awful play by Eli.

by QQ (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 8:29pm

QBs make bad decisions on a regular basis, especially when pressured. If we want to eliminate bad plays then let's also remove Rodger's INT that basically handed NYG a free TD

by Karl Cuba :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 8:52pm

I'm not trying to eliminate plays. I'm just trying to point out that that game changing play had more to do with Eli than the otherwordly brilliance of the pack.

And I'm not going to argue anymore, it's clear that we aren't going to agree.

by QQ (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 10:51pm

GB is fortunate that every QB that they play basically has such blunders

by bravehoptoad :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 10:15am

GB is fortunate that every QB that they play basically has such blunders

Yes they are, QQ. Yes they are.

Good job, buddy. I knew eventually we'd agree on something.

by Tom W (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 3:51pm

Not to mention that they have inept pass defenses.

by Paul M (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:42pm

And if Crosby makes the first FG, or that LB the Giants got off of a truck this week doesn't make the wrong cover decision (and Rodgers thus would not have thrown an INT), the Packers win a lot more easily.

by LionInAZ (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 10:57pm

Yes, you all are right, the Packers are truly invincible this year, the rest of us should just pack up and disappear so that they can collect their Super Bowl trophy now. Every play they make is according to design.

Packer fans are beginning to sound like Tebow fans.

by Tom W (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 3:57pm

I don't think anyone is arguing (I'm certainly not) that the Packers are invincible. I'm arguing that they're not the third best team in the league.

by Mr Shush :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 9:20am

But DVOA gives loads of credit for interceptions! If DVOA is wrong about the Packers defense, it's not because it doesn't think INTs matter. That holds water for yards, and even points, but not DVOA. Non-sustainability of INTs may explain the DVOA pre-season projections under-rating Green Bay, but not regular season DVOA.

Stick to the big leads/Simpson's Paradox line of arguing. That actually may have merit.

by Karl Cuba :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:20pm

I really like the pythagenportian wins and not entirely because of the fact it really likes the niners, though I'm not suggesting it should replace DVOA. By taking account of the scoring environment that each team exists in it seems to be able to take some account of the nature of the games. The niners, who come out on top seem to feel that a lead of more than seven points is enough for them to rein in the offense. Great article.

by lester bangs (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:21pm

The majority of the football commentariat describes Green Bay as unbeatable, as head and shoulders ahead of the rest of the league.

Your second comment is true, but the initial comment is a staw man all the way. Green Bay is beatable, people realize that.

by tuluse :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:27pm

You must be watching different TV shows from me and Aaron.

by Kurt :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:32pm

The TV shows I watch say that Green Bay is likely to go undefeated because of their weak schedule. I've never heard anybody call them an unbeatable, all-time great team.

by dmstorm22 :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 10:14pm

I would think most people see GB the same way they saw the 2009 Colts. Unbeaten, but not unbeatable. The Colts won more close games (and had a better defense) just like GB. They had a great QB playing great (although Rodgers in 2011 is playing better than Manning in 2009). I don't think if the Colts never rested players and then beat NO people would have called them the best team of all time. Just like I don't think people will for the 2011 Packers unless they start playing a lot better on defense.

by QQ (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 10:55pm

In some ways, 2009 Indy and 2011 GB are Close yet Opposites. Both teams had many games that were but Indy 2009 was famous for 4th Quarter Comebacks whereas 2011 GB is famous for never being behind in the 4th Quarter

by dmstorm22 :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 11:08pm

This is true. I'll never forget Manning bringing them down from 17 points twice in three weeks.

by tuluse :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 1:17am

I've heard a lot of talking heads express the opinion "no one can stop Aaron Rodgers, so I don't see how the Packers can lose."

by dmstorm22 :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 1:34am

2004 Pats. I heard the same thing about the 2004 Colts. Manning in 2004 still has the DVOA record (about 7 points higher than what Rodgers is right now).

There was a team that found a way to stop them. I don't know if any team that resourceful and good exists this year, but I think Baltimore has a shot.

by QQ (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:35pm

On ESPN and NFL Network, I saw many people predicting both DET and NYG to upset GB. Additionally, I have seen multiple people say that just in the NFC that SF and NO have a good chance. There are even multiple videos on NFL.com expressing these viewpoints.

Heck, just yesteray on NFL.com there was a video stating that Kansas City has the blueprint to beat GB. What media are saying that GB is unbeatable?

by lester bangs (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 7:14pm

There's a key distinction here: Aaron is saying the *majority* opinion is that Green Bay is unbeatable.

I recognize it's a throwaway line and I don't mean to suggest that it's some massively-important discussion topic, but it still rings false to me. I consume a lot of NFL media, surely much of the same stuff you guys consume, and I'm still trying to figure out if I heard Green Bay called unbeatable (or similar) even once.

by EasyLikeSundayMorning (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:33pm

None of the teams in the top 11 in DVOA have a future schedule that is harder 16th, and most are in the 20s. Averaging this group's rankings of future schedules comes out at 25. Seven of these teams already having 9 wins. If DVOA ends up being predictive, this group should rack up at lot of wins down the stretch.

If we end up with 7 12+ win teams, this would be the most since at least the 1980s (I checked back to 1990 and ran out of time)... 2010: 4, 2009: 4, 2008: 5, 2007: 4, 2006: 5, 2005: 4, 2004: 5, 2003: 6, 2002: 3, 2001: 5, 2000: 4, 1999: 4, 1998: 5, 1997: 4, 1996: 4, 1995: 2, 1994: 3, 1993: 3, 1992: 3, 1991: 4, 1990: 4.

by ammek :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 7:06pm

So far, 2011 has been the year of non-averageness. Last week barely 15% of teams were within one game of .500. This week there's only one team with a 6-6 record. Five teams are 5-7, but two of those are in the bottom four of DVOA. There are no teams at all at 8-4: the six teams that entered the weekend with seven wins all lost.

The exception is Cincinnati, which is almost perfectly average in all units, and with minimal variance to boot.

by EasyLikeSundayMorning (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 7:53pm

Since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, there hasn't yet been a season in which 7 teams have had 12+ wins. And 2003 was the only season with 6 teams with 12+ wins. Over that time, more than 75% of the Super Bowl winners have had at least 12 regular season wins.

by Paul M (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:39pm

The final implication from Aaron was pretty clear cut: Packers haven't played anywhere near as well in the last 5 weeks as they did the 7 games before that, on either offense or defense. I have been tracking the Packers offense-- and they have had their three worst 1st and 10 performances-- by far-- in the final 4 weeks (the Minnesota rout, TB, and the Giants) so I can vouch for some reduced efficiency there.

But as the Packers know all too well-- and many other teams before them have shown-- it matters little how well a team is playing in early December-- it is early to mid January that counts. It is entirely possible that the Packers will shift into a higher gear a la 2010 and be playing better as they enter the playoffs than they are now. Their likeliest first round opponents will be either the NFC East winner or either the Falcons or one of the two teams they will play to close the season: Lions or Bears-- or in other words, teams they would have beaten 11 times against 2 losses (the Rodgers concussion game and the late loss to Atlanta in November 2010) since mid-season 2010 should they go 16-0. (4-0 vs. Bears; 2-1 vs. Lions; 1-0 vs. Dallas; 2-1 vs. Atlants; 2-0 vs. Giants)

The next game will probably be NO or SF-- two entirely different types of opponents at Lambeau. I used to worry most about the Niners, but now I'm thinking the Saints, despite their horrible road playoff record, might be the tougher foe, given the Packers' pass defense deficiencies.

And it's the Patriots in the SB-- it has to be. For all the self-evident reasons.

by DRohan :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 12:29am

But how effective will the Saints offense be at Lambeau in January?

by bigtencrazy (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 7:03pm

Lost in all the defense talk is that the GB special teams is light years better this season.

Masthay was LIGHTS OUT on Sunday.

by Sweeper (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 7:47pm

Or how about having someone who can return the ball? Cobb has been awesome this season except for a couple rookie mistakes.

by DisplacedPackerFan :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 9:29pm

Special teams are significantly better, but it's funny that you specifically mention the worst unit on the team. Masthay had about 6 games last year that were as good or better than what he did last night (the Jets game last year was one of the best punting performances in the NFL and possibly the best ever by a Packer). Over the last 9 games of 2010 he was the 3rd best punter in the league. He hasn't been nearly as good this year and I was disappointed about that since I thought he established himself and figured it out after a horrendous start to 2010. He didn't start out as bad this year, but it's taken him much longer to get back up to the same level. But still the punt unit is -5.3 so far this year, they finished last year at 3.5. It's been significantly worse, but the return games are much better and kick off coverage has gone from -7.0 to to merely poor at -1.7. Crosby has been better on FG/XP as well. Cobb makes the return game so much better. Of course it's not just him, the Packers kept 10 rookies this year and most of them have made special teams plays from good tackles to good blocking. The draft was targeted pretty heavily at special teams in my opinion which I've said before several times (including right after the draft).

by alaano (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 7:54pm

Just have to say it: all of you geniuses who shouted last week about how DVOA was wrong in its win probabilities for GB against the Giants should take a bow about now.

by Paul M (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 8:09pm

I'll take that bait. And simply point out that the Packers played one of their two or three worst halves all season in the 1st half-- and that's not all due to the quality of the opposition. Yet they had a 4 pt lead with the ball coming to them to start the 2nd half. I would argue that their odds of winning that game were generally at least 65-70%, and often 80% or higher throughout the 2nd half, with the brief exception of the Giant 3 and out with the score at 28-27. On that last drive what were the odds that Rodgers would get the team into territory where Crosby would be at least 90% to make the kick?? If it was 40%, that means the Packers were about 67% to win the game. Even if it were only 30%, and I think that's low, they were still almost 65% to win the game.

The 51% was a ridiculous projection, as are the remaining four roughly 70% projections of GB to win-- I don't think they are less than 80% to win any of the remaining 4 games, assuming MM doesn't pull a caldwell with them 14-0-- and he won't.

by MJK :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 8:38pm

No need to argue or guess. Here's their probability of winning the game as a function of time:


The Giants had better odds of winning in the first quarter, and right before halftime. Throughout the second half, it looks like their probability was ~65% in favor of the Packers.

by Arkaein :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 10:48pm

That model is based on historical data concerning specific game situations. It does not consider the relative qualities or matchups specifics of the team involved (which is why all games start at 50% win probability for both teams).

That model would say that the Colts would have a better than 50% chance of beating the Packers in a hypothetical game where the Colts got the ball first and managed a FG (or even just took the opening kickoff into GB territory).

Considering that GB is a better team than NYG, that graph essentially inflates the odds of a NYG victory at every point.

EDIT: clarified second paragraph.

by SFC B (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 11:58pm

We're not dealing with the Green Bay Packers vs. the Houston Cougars, or even the Colts. The Giants are playoff-caliber team and would probably win against the Packers 4 times out of 10. The Giants playing at home against the Packers was predicted to be a coin toss, and it turned out to be exactly that.

Seriously, think back to what you thought about Patriot fans in Week 14 of 2007. You are there right now. It is not a pretty sight.

by dmstorm22 :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 12:19am

I guess that means after they beat the Eagles and Ravens by 3 each, but the Pats fans had more grounds to be over-confident. That team was truly dominant. Their defense was really underrated that year. Hell, the defense really won them the AFC Title Game (and that nice 9 minute game ending drive).

by Paul M (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 12:46am

OK would you agree that all of the following are in the Giants' neighborhood in terms of ability?? They either made the playoffs last year, or are going to make it this year, or are going to fall just short as the Giants did last year and might this year.

ATL (2)
NYG (2)
CHIC (3)

The numbers in parentheses are the number of times the Packers have played these teams since December of last year. 12 games, and the Packers have won all 12. 8 were on the road or ona neutral field. Now why would anyone think the Giants could beat them 4 times out of 10??

The difference between us and the Patriot fans is, of course, the previous 6 wins the year before. They had SB victories, too, but they were three years removed from the last. No Packer fan that I am aware of is arguing (yet) that this is the type of dominant team that the Patriots fans thought they were witnessing back then. But the way this team has won-- on the biggest of stages-- gives us a little more confidence that they could just do it again, and they could run the table and win 25 in a row. And if they do I could care less what DVOA says-- that will be a historic run that we are likely to never see again. And what's the point about being shy about it? If they lose, they lose.

by 'nonymous (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 9:48am

You should realize there is nothing absurd about supposing that the Giants had a 40% chance of winning on Sunday, or that each of the teams on your list of 12 quality GB wins had at least a 30% chance of beating them. Statistically, a team going 12-0 against such opponents is an event we expect to happen every once in a while. (It's about a 0.2%-1.4% chance-- and that's ignoring the fact that you chose the last 12 games, rather than 15 or 20, to make GB look as good as possible)

Yes, Green Bay is a great team on a great run, one that is among the best streaks in NFL history. But that is not good evidence it's likely to continue; it's actually evidence it's unlikely to continue. It's consistent to say GB is an excellent team and a favorite to win the super bowl, and to say that their odds to do so are considerably less than 50%. (In fact, I think it would be very unreasonable to dispute either half of that statement.)

Of course you should be excited about Green Bay and should be cheering for them to win out and win the Super Bowl. But there are a lot of other good teams in the mix, whose Super Bowl chances are not very different from Green Bay's, each of whom will have a real shot (say 25%-45) of beating Green Bay in the playoffs.

by RickD :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 10:44pm

And simply point out that the Packers played one of their two or three worst halves all season in the 1st half-- and that's not all due to the quality of the opposition.

I swear, this is exactly the kind of thinking that Pats fans were engaging in back in 2007. It's always about the Pats, and if they struggle, it has nothing to do with the opposition.

Congratulations on achieving fandom narcissism.

by Paul M (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 12:52am

funny how you can interpret "not all due to the quality of the opposition" as "nothing to do with the opposition"!! So if I said that 90% of X outcome was the result of Y's ability, but not all was-- you would interpret that to mean 90%=Nothing!!! I love it!! Brilliant!!

The Giants played well, so did the Saints in Week One, but the Packers played a lot better that night than they did on Sunday-- OK?? Am I allowed to say that?? The Giants had little or nothing to do with 6 drops from receivers and a couple of surprisingly errant passes from Rodgers. The INT he threw was clearly the product of an inexperienced defender blowing coverage but ending up in the right spot at the right time (see Jarret Bush-- Super Bowl last February-- exact same thing) But I will say this-- the Packers are generally taking the best shot from other teams, so maybe Oakland or KC will be the Giantslayers in this case-- stranger things have happened. That Ravens team that scared the daylights out of the Patriots in 2007 wasn;t very good, was it??

by dmstorm22 :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 1:36am

The '07 Ravens were ravaged with injuries. They were finally healthy for that game, so they were more like the team that went 13-3 the year before with an amazing defense than the 6-10 team they were in 2007.

by QQ (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 2:14am

Considering that this "healthy" Ravens team went 1-3 the rest of the year with 2 Blowout Losses, I would say that they were not near the 13-3 team from the year before

by dmstorm22 :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 2:58am

True. That said, Baltimore definitely played better (a lot of it had to do with them playing really hard after Sean Taylor died that weekend - a lot of 'The U' guys on Baltimore) that day than it did probably all of that season.

by JimZipCode :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 3:59pm

Yes, and as a Ravens fan that conduct was enraging. They mostly didn't feel like playing, but whoa did they get up for that Patriots game. Bunch of showboaters.

They were also devastated by injuries in the secondary that year. Chris McAlister missed half the season, so did Samari Rolle, and I think Gerome Sapp & David Pittman got injured too. They lost starters and backups at corner, and couldn't cover anybody. Once McNair got hurt and Kyle Boller revealed himself to be Kyle Boller, and the team had a bye week to mull it over, they mailed it in.

My old roommate at the time called it before the game. He said: "You know what's going to happen, don't you? The Ravens are going to beat the Patriots. They're going to beat the Patriots. And then in two weeks they're going to lose to the Dolphins. Because that's just who they are. They beat the best team and lose to the worst team."

Funny, that's sort of what they've done this year too.

One thing I haven't seen discussed very much is what happens when a bunch of injuries are concentrated in a position group. The 2008-9 Ravens had arguably *more* injuries than the 2007 team, yet both teams went to the playoffs. The 2008 squad advanced to the AFCC. One difference is that in 2008 the injuries were mostly spread around to various position groups, and Ozzie Newsome is often fabulous at building depth. In 2008 the cornerbacks kept going down, one after the other, starters and backups. Rex Ryan was pulling guys in off the street and telling them to cover Vincent Jackson & Reggie Wayne & Randy freakin Moss.

(Another key difference is that in 2008 the Ravens lost both their #1 and #2 QBs, which meant they went from Kyle Boller to Joe Flacco. Addition by subtraction.)

When one position group gets destroyed by injury, you completely lose the ability to execute one phase of the game. In the case of cornerbacks, that phase is "cover wide receivers", and in today's NFL that means you lose. But a similar dynamic would probably play out with other positions. If you lose all your OT's, you're not going to be able to protect the QB, and you will lose. If you lose all your interior DL, you won't be able to stop the run, and you lose. If you lose your QBs, you can be 2011 Indianapolis.

I guess the 2008 Patriots show that it's not always a disaster, and maybe Houston will show it again this year. The 2008 Ravens. But it's not usually good news.

by 0tarin :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 6:07pm

This isn't really relevant to any of your points, but every now and then I come across a replay of that Ravens-Pats game on NFL and it refreshes in my mind just how infuriating that game was. Not only that it was the only one Baltimore bothered to show up for in the entire season, but just how they managed to lose it. SO many chances, blown one after another. And then, to end it all on a Hail Mary that was CAUGHT, but at the 1? My blood boils just thinking about it.

by QQ (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 8:36pm

"Just have to say it: all of you geniuses who shouted last week about how DVOA was wrong in its win probabilities for GB against the Giants should take a bow about now."

Also, most people would agree that 1 result does not validate whether the probability estimates are correct. For example, assume before the Rams vs Saints game you said it was a 99% probability of the Rams winning. Even though the Rams did win that doesn't mean that the probability estimate was correct

by Alaaaa (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 12:31am

Nonetheless, the fact that the game was tied with just a few ticks left does tend to INvalidate the claims that the notion of a fifty-fifty game was ridiculous given that it actually occurred.

by Ezra (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 8:59pm

I know this is fairly obvious, but Lambeau might actually work against the Packers if they get standard January weather, against either the Saints or 49ers. The simple fact is that the Packers are an extreme finesse/scheme team. While I agree that McCarthy (who after all came up under Schottenheimer) is by nature a conservative play-caller, it's become clearer that even he realizes they can't gain 3 yards by force to save their lives. Against Detroit they had a second-and-2 late in the fourth up by 16, I think, and called a long pass from the shotgun (which failed); then on third-and-2 the run got stuffed. I was astounded. The only times runs *ever* work are when they are spread out and catch the D off balance. Making matters worse, they can't pass or run from two tight end sets. Calling this a West Coast offense is an extreme bastardization of the language. I think most Packer fans are rightfully worried, and I think the Raiders are going to beat them this week.

by Paul M (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 10:30pm

McCarthy may once have been, but believe me he is no longer a "conservative play caller"-- check the opening play of that last drive. But I agree with your premise and heve been saying it for weeks-- outside of the Giants game last year, they have not had a truly dynamic offensive performance in wintry Lambeau conditions in a very, very long time. Whereas they routinely light up domes.

by bigtencrazy (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 9:02am

The Packers beat the Giants 45-17 last year on Dec 26th and it was cold as snot that day. THe year before on Dec 27th the Packers blew the doors off Seattle 48-10

And in the NFC championship game last year GB was moving the ball regularly until Peppers clanked Rodgers in the side of the head.

With the advances in glove technology unless there is real WIND I don't see cold being a barrier. And if it is windy Rodgers has a better arm than almost any qb in the league so again, advantage GB.

It will be GB being outscored because the defense completely collapses versus the offense getting shut down that dooms the Packers season.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 9:09am

Four pass rushers having a good day, combined with dbs who play competently, combined with an offense working efficiently, will beat the Packers. You don't get that very often, thus it is likely the Packers repeat.

An extreme wind event could work against the Packers, if it turns the game into a run-only contest.

by BJR :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 12:22pm

Yes. If it comes down to a Packers/Saints NFC Championship game at a freezing Lambeau in January, as is quite likely, I know who I'll favour, and it isn't the team that plays most of its games indoors.

by Ezra (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 6:34pm

I'd favor the team that can run the ball. People have accepted the long-held belief that warm weather or dome teams can't win in Lambeau or other cold venues because they're "not used to it," or like it's an attitude issue, but I believe talent has a lot more to do with it. Ask the 2002, 2004, and 2007 Packers. When the field is shortened and possessions are limited, the teams playing better in the trenches are going to be favored. *That* was what made all those previously unbeatable Packer teams so successful at home; not some affinity for the cold. The Saints can really run the ball when they want to, and the Packers can't. It would be a very tough matchup for the Packers.

by dryheat :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 12:44pm

It will be GB being outscored because the defense completely collapses versus the offense getting shut down that dooms the Packers season

That's pretty much it. Green Bay is going 16-0, which is amazing. There's only a few teams in the league who can likely beat them...those who have offenses who can score 35-40 points if they needed to, because this Packers team would likely hang 21 vs. the 85 Bears, and 30+ on any team in 2011. Barring a fluky game, like Rodgers throwing 2 pick-6s and maybe 2 more turnovers and therefore getting crushed by a ball-control offense, that means the Giants, Patriots, Saints, a healthy Eagles, possibly the Steelers, Falcons, Dallas, the Chargers of Monday night, or Carolina behind a great day by Cam Newton.

That's it. You can probaby eliminate the Chargers and Carolina, because barring a significant turnover edge, they're going to get worse than they give. Only one of the NFC East teams is likely to make the playoffs. So that leaves five teams that could threaten a 19-0 season - the Falcons, Saints and East winner in the NFC playoffs, and the Patriots or Steelers in the Super Bowl.

I wouldn't hate it if the Packers go 19-0 if I thought it would shut up Mercury Morris and crew. But it won't. And if someone is going to go 19-0, it may as well be the Packers, as I have no dislike for them. However, I suspect myself and most non-Packer fans will find ourself involuntarily rooting against them in the playoffs and Super Bowl.

Finally, when the FO crew does the next round of enhancements, I would absolutely love a "block poster" feature for times like this when the posters come out of the woodwork for no other reason than pound their chest and denigrate FO because they don't recognize their team as the one true deity and the hope of all mankind.

by Eddo :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 12:52pm

A "block poster" function would be nice, but what I really would like is forced registration to comment. That would cut down on the amount of drive-by trolling posters.

(And for those of you concerned about personal information leaking, just register with a secondary (or completely new) email address. You don't have to give any identity info.)

by Paul M (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 2:32pm

How about this? The next time a team wins 18 in a row, with a chance to get to 25 in a row that same season-- do the "block poster" thing. Makes perfect sense. BTW, I've tried to register a couple of times and found the exercise incredibly cumbersome and gave up. Maybe I did something wrong.

But shudder to think that the topic of whether a team that is potentially on an all-time NFL record streak is being undervalued by an intriguing metric system is akin to a profound theological debate-- gee, I just thought Dom Capers, Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson weren't getting their due. If you are saying that the work of FO should not be questioned, or that the questioning ought to be limited to whether one 7-5 team is marginally better than another, OK-- I'll gladly depart the premises as soon as the streak ends, never to return. I-- and I am being serious now-- simply thought that the value here vs. the record there made for some interesting discussion material, no matter which side one is on, and I am now on record as saying that FO probably now has it mainly right about the Packers defense.

by Eddo :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 2:38pm

I don't think dryheat was necessarily talking about you, Paul.

by greybeard :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 1:28am

Despite the perception 49ers cannot run the ball. 49ers offensive success is mostly based on the passing game and they are also quite a scheme team themselves. Of course people look at the names (Smith at QB and Gore at RB) and assume that the running game is what makes things go. Unfortunately 49ers have below average (I am being generous here) OL, both in pass protection and run blocking.
On the other hand they are very careful with the ball in the passing game and would not play into interception heavy defense of Green Bay.

by QQ (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 2:19am

The reason they can be careful passing the the ball is that their Defense allows them to not have to take chances to score since they rarely fall behind and if they do not by much. The only time off the top of my head that I recall them being down much was against Philly who then imploded in the 2nd Half.

I think SF is a Dream Matchup for GB in the Playoffs. If they fall into an early Double Digit Deficit we'll see if their passing game starts to take more chances

by bravehoptoad :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 10:32am

I'd think the dream matchup for GB would involve a defense that relies on the blitz to bring pressure, because a balanced defense with more options would have a better chance against Rodgers.

GB would be a pretty good matchup for SF...if they play on the muddy fields of Candlestick. Those Packer receivers look like they do appreciate their traction. That's not looking likely with GB's two-game lead in the conference race, though. Curses!

That's not SF's dream matchup, of course, since SF has, like, the best run defense of all time, and the Packers could hardly give a shit.

by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 10:41am

When I consider a Niners-Packers match up I see visions of Jennings and Nelson running down the left sideline catching high passes thrown over Tarrell Brown as he fails to look back for the ball early enough and then falls down. I also see a lot of very annoying slants and playaction passes that open up just enough room behind our safeties as they bite too hard on the fake. I also see good games by Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker that are spoiled by imprecision and one drop too many. But then apparently I'm utterly biased and should hurry back to my cave before the sun comes up.

by Arkaein :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 11:39am

Rodgers does great when defenses blitz him.

GB's offense has declined slightly over the past few games as teams have switched away from zone defenses mixed with blitzing to more press man coverages. These coverages have been somewhat effective in disrupting the timing of GB's passing attack, at least in reducing it from "all-time great" to simply "great". However, this has also lead to an uptick in defensive penalties by GB opponents.

I think the best defense to stop, or at least slow down GB would be one with multiple CBs who can play tight man coverage with a minimum of penalties, and a front seven that can stop GB's limited running game without safety help so that the safeties can take away the deep passes (because Rodgers will beat man coverage deep eventually).

by bravehoptoad :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 12:54pm

I guess that's what I was trying to say, though in only one sentence instead of several.

by John Berry (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 9:34pm

When it comes to statistical analysis and projections based on said statistical analysis, the 2011 Green Bay Packers = a black swan (the first sighting, or course).

by DGL :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 11:32pm

I believe we are getting perilously close to 2005 Atlanta Falcons FOMBC territory here, and urge all Green Bay fans to recall week 10 of the 2005 season.

by Dave2000 (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 11:49pm

The most fascinating part is 5 of the top 6 teams are in the AFC, Green Bay being the NFC one. Of course Houston without Schuab isn't a top team, still interesting how much better the AFC is.

by k (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 12:35am

Also funny how most power rankings have 3 of the top 4 teams being NFC. If we aren't going off DVOA who would argue with that. I completely feel the two best teams are the Packers and Saints and it isn't that close. third place is a good battle between dominant defenses(wait I shouldn't use the word dominant) and well I won't even add the patriots to this discussion.

by Jonadan :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 1:22am

Top 16:

By record (all 7-5 or better):


By EWP (Advanced NFL Stats):


There's obviously some significant agreement here, as well as some real oddities (Philly as a top-half team in two rankings).

If I draw up a composite of "teams in all rankings", conventional wisdom gets some boost: NFC playoff field is GB, NO, SF, DAL, and two of CHI, DET, ATL. AFC is weirder because the AFC West is bad but not horrible, just bad enough to beat each other up. Currently rankings call for HOU, BAL, PIT, NE, NYJ as playoff teams, which just leaves the AFC West: DEN has the lead (barely), Oakland has better (read: any) ranking appearance – and San Diego is the "consensus" best team by stats. This should be entertaining.

Which was an entertaining exercise for me, but seriously why are the Eagles so high? Yes, they've been underperforming expectations, but McCoy can't have been padding their stats that much... right?

"When you absolutely don't know what to do any more, then it's time to panic." - Johann van der Wiel

by greybeard :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 1:15am

Given that DVOA in general suffers from sample size issues, and cross conference games are even smaller sample set and significantly less connected to each other, it is hard to take it seriously when it compares teams form different conferences.

by k (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 12:33am

Wow these comments have been fairly annoying. I guess once a team wins that many games in a row any fan base would act like that. So lets not act like we are any better than the next person. The Packers are on a dominant streak so I for 1 will call them a dominant team. If Eli can call himself Elite then Packer fans and the media can call the Packers dominant. Most people don't appear to understand GB had a huge weakness on defense having two starters at MLB that have never started before I believe. 1 of which who was in charge of relaying passes. I believe 1 was undrafted last year and the other was a late round rookie. Then consider there play call relaying safety is also out and I'm sure things were much harder. The Giants put up a good fight and maybe the closest game they have had during their whole 18 game winning streak. I wonder if they win the SB twice in a row if packer fans will be allowed to boast. Or if the Packers will be allowed to ignore their DVOA and call themselves one of the best teams of all time. I for 1 don't believe stats say much but wins are all that matters. The same reason us NFL fans have to start calling Tebow an NFL qb :(. If GB breaks the all time winning record then you have to consider them 1 of the best of all time. Simple as that.

by QQ (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 2:35am

I think the reason that GB does not seem like to Great Team to some people is that they do not follow the pattern of most Great Teams. Historically, most Great Teams are like Houston where they destroy some opponents, have a few come from behind comebacks, and occasionally suffer an upset loss. On the other hand, GB's style of play where they win almost all games by 6-12 points but fail to have many blowouts is pretty unique.

A strong argument can be made that GB is ALREADY a Great Team. Having tied the 2nd Longest Win Streak in NFL History, 18 Games, and having Won a Super Bowl puts them in select company. For example, if GB loses this week and in the NFC Championship Game, they will have tied the 89-90 49ers in regards to accomplishment.

by tuluse :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 4:48am

No one is saying the Packers aren't great.

by Humil (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 8:18am

Indeed annoying, but not as despicable as the 2007 pats fans.

Can't argue with the game-to-game outcomes during the winning streak, but seeing the whole "we just win because we have won" hindsight bias justified with all sorts of less-than-sensible (at times bordering on cherry-picking of small sample size) data interpretation makes me want to puke.

Another point: mostly consider tacking on x number of games from previous season to pad winning streaks as a talking heads tactic to dramatize... but really? y'all don't think it's a little weird to reference "18 games in a roll, and possibly 25" across 2 season with this frequency?

Just know that the building-up to hubris made the patriots' ultimately getting served in '08 that much more poetic..

by bravehoptoad :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 10:39am

One thing I appreciated about the 2007 Patriots fans is that after their team lost, they didn't disappear from the board. The dropped their holier-than-thou attitude and mostly stuck it out with an appropriate amount of rue.

Any takers on how long QQ lasts the next time the Pack Lose a Game? I predict he Vanishes Faster than a Falcon Fan.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 10:53am

Who was that guy who used to confidently post that it was a near impossibility for the Saints to fail to repeat?

by tuluse :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 5:24pm

That Brees4mvp guy? I remember he predicted was there was no way the Saints fail to score so many points against he Vikings in the opener, and of course they did. That was great.

by QQ (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 5:37pm

I found this board amusing considering that I have been posting for quite a while yet have never seen your name before hoptoad

by 0tarin :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 1:48am

For what it's worth, as a relative unknown here who rarely posts but usually reads, I've seen both of you in comments threads for quite a while. I can't really guess an actual timeframe, but neither of you are really new.

EDIT: My mistake, I didn't mean to step in the middle of a measuring contest.

by bravehoptoad :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 7:33pm

Well sir, I missed the initial "Run to win/Run because you're winning" article that pre-dates DVOA, but I slipped in a few months after that.

But here: http://www.footballoutsiders.com/search/apachesolr_search/bravehoptoad

And looky! Here's me at FO's 2nd anniversary party way back in aught five: http://www.footballoutsiders.com/ramblings/2005/happy-second-birthday-fo...

Good times. Makes me a little tender. It's a bit like looking at the family photo album. Hi, Pat on the Back! Hi, Basilicus!

Strangely QQ, hard to find a trace of you before July. But I enjoy your comments a lot. I hope you stick around when the going gets tougher and Green Bay isn't winning all the time. You bring a lot of energy to this board.

by QQ (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 11:18pm

Congrats on posting a few times really long ago, not that duration is of any value which is why the RaiderJoe love is beyond baffling.

I had to change names after someone else registered the name that I had previously posted under

by dbt :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 6:04pm

RaiderJoe has a better sense of football history than pretty much anybody else on this site. You may dislike his typing skills or his obvious raider homerism but if you don't know what he brings to the table then you are missing out.

by BigD1770 :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 4:03am

Should Offense be weighted more now, as a share of overall DVOA, than in years past? I would not suggest to know how much or what season offense started mattering more.

But the impact of a good defense on the fate of a team seems to have diminished greatly in recent years. A team with a good offense and poor defense can win. A team with a poor offense and good defense cannot. Hell, a team with a good offense, bad defense and bad special teams can win and a team with a poor offense, good defense and good special teams cannot.

by tuluse :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 4:50am

"Hell, a team with a good offense, bad defense and bad special teams can win and a team with a poor offense, good defense and good special teams cannot."

2010 Chicago Bears, National Football Conference Championship game. 2010 New York Jets, American Football Conference Championship game. 2010 Texans, watching playoffs on television.

by Mr Shush :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 9:48am

To be fair, he said "bad defense". "Bad defense" does not even begin to encompass the 2010 Texans. The run defense was appalling. The pass defense may have been the worst in NFL history.

by SFC B (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 11:19am

What is this 2010 Texans of which you speak? My NFL history book goes from 2009 to 2011. No 2010.

Never. Happened.

by JCD (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 5:13am

In general, one would expect a team with a great offense to give up more yards than average. When their opponents are playing from behind, they are forced to pass. Passing plays have higher expected yardage than running plays, albeit with greater variance. The trailing team has to try to make big plays more often than just trying for the first down.

Consider: of the last 30 games in which a quarterback has thrown for more than 400 yards, 22 of those 400+ yard performances resulted in losses, while only ten resulted in wins (two of those games saw both QB's throw for over 400 yards). Teams often earn lots of yards because they are losing. It's the correlation to the rule that teams don't win because they run the ball; they run the ball because they are winning.

Likewise, any team that can consistently force the their opponents to pass can expect to make more interceptions.

DVOA contributes to a nice model, but we would be wise to remember that all models are wrong; some are useful.

by JCD (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 10:30am

Oops. That should read "It's the corollary to the rule …", not "It's the correlation to the rule …."

by zenbitz :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 3:48pm

yes, but a stat list DVOA is per-play. So "giving up a lot of yards because the other team is passing" does not explain GBs low defensive DVOA.

by JCD (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 6:56pm

It doesn't matter that DVOA is per-play. Focusing on performance per play provides an opportunity to lose sight of the big picture.

Lets look at the defenses of Baltimore, Minnesota, Arizona, and Indianapolis for a moment. On average, in each game, Baltimore's opponents have to drive the ball about 21.4 yards to earn each point. Minnesota's opponents have to go about 14.5 yards for each point. For Arizona and Indy's opponents, it's about 18.1 and 13.6 yards, respectively. That appears to correlate pretty well with win loss records, and not too badly with defensive DVOA. By DVOA, BAL has the best defense. MIN is ranked 23rd, ARI 25th, and IND dead last. GB fit in right between MIN and ARI. So, how far do Green Bay's opponents have to drive the ball for each earned point in an average game? About 29.7 yards. In other words, GB makes their opponents do over 38% more work to earn every point than do BAL.

DVOA is an attempt to model reality; it is not, itself, reality. The relevant question isn't how a team with such a high (lower being better) defensive DVOA has managed to win all of their games, but rather why DVOA stats don't identify a team that has clearly been dominating. The anomaly indicates that DVOA has shortcomings, not that Green Bay has gotten lucky.

by zenbitz :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 9:16pm

Interesting point. But yards per point is not a pure function of defense. Its also a function of starting fp (in turn a function of special teams and offense). GB is not a good defensive team by points allowed, either (but better than yds or dvoa?). What about points allowed per drive?

As mentioned in the original article, green bays defense is bad by almost all measures. Not just DVOA.

by JCD (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 12:14am

At the end of the day, the only measure of a defense that means anything at all is if they can hold the opposing team to fewer points than their own team scores. Other metrics might make for interesting discussion on ESPN and football Web sites, but they are, by comparison, meaningless.

We are interested in models to make predictions about team performance in the (near) future. For that, we have to rely on other metrics. The problem is, no matter which defense metrics are examined, no matter how they are combined in the model, we will be left with an R-squared less than one. The model will be imperfect.

We can look at yards allowed, but we have seen that not all yards are created equal. Against some teams, more yards are required to earn the same amount of points. Also, losing teams often gain more yards than winning teams. We can look at points allowed, but that, too, is imperfect. In many game situations, a defense is more than happy to give up field goals, but not touchdowns. Sometimes they'll even give up touchdowns if they can make sure scoring drives eat up lots of game time. Different game situations offer different goals for the defense.

We can look at performance on a per play basis, but that will lead to misleading results when looking at teams with a strong enough offense that their defense can rely on the high variation of yards gained by plays designed for fast, big gains. Is a defense actually poor if they allow 50 yards per drive, on average, even if only a small portion of such drives are converted into points? Is a defense bad if they allow an offense to run the ball up the middle for five yards on every play in the last half of the fourth quarter (keeping the carrier inbounds) if the defense's team is up by 21 points?

We can come up with lots of different metrics, some simple, some complex. None of them, nor any combination of them, will be perfect for modeling future performance. (All models are wrong; some are useful.) If we only want to analyze past performance, they all fall short of the sign of net points each game to determine the effectiveness of the defense in that game.

The reality is that Green Bay has been a dominating team thus far this season (or for their past 18 games, depending on how you look at it). I try not to waste my time wondering why reality doesn't fit the model. It's far more interesting (and useful) to try to understand why the (usually pretty good) model doesn't fit reality in this case. What indicator variables are being overlooked?

by tuluse :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 4:14am

The model says Green Bay is an excellent team. How does that not fit reality?

by JCD (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 12:16pm

The model also says their defense is well below average. In reality, the team has rarely, if ever, needed to come from behind. In other words, their defense isn't just great, it is consistently great.

by tuluse :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 12:20pm

That is ludicrous.

by DGL :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 12:29pm

Imagine a team with an offense that scores a touchdown on every single drive. It also has a tremendous run of luck and wins every coin toss, so it takes the opening kickoff of every game.

This team also has a defense that gives up a touchdown on every single drive except the opponent's last possession of the game.

It will win every game. It will never need to come from behind, and will never trail in the fourth quarter.

But to describe that team's defense as "consistently great" would be delusional.

by JCD (not verified) :: Sat, 12/10/2011 - 6:42am

The goal of the defense is to prevent the opposing team from scoring more points than their own team. If team A beats team B 44 to 37, and team B beats team C 6 to 3, it is absurd to claim that team C has a better defense than team A. Team C's defense failed to achieve the only goal that matters, while team A met that goal. Success > Failure.

As game conditions change, so do defensive strategies and tactics, as well as the metrics of a successful play and series. The goalpost, so to speak, is not static. It is delusional is to ignore that dynamic aspect and pretend that defense exists in a vacuum.

We cannot conclude that the defense can't just because they have not yet had to. It isn't logical.

by Mr Shush :: Sat, 12/10/2011 - 10:06am

Dear God, please tell me you're joking.

Which do you suppose would go round a race track faster: a family saloon (sedan) driven by a professional racing driver or a Formula 1 car driven by a 90 year old woman? I guess the family saloon must be a better racing car, then.

by JCD (not verified) :: Sat, 12/10/2011 - 6:36pm

Why would you think I'm joking?

Reality offers only a single metric by which to measure the true quality of a defense, i.e., whether or not they successfully prevent the opposing team from outscoring their own team. We can select many, many metrics to use as indicator variables in order to build a statistical model in order to try to predict the single important real world metric. But, when there is a discrepancy between reality and the model's prediction, it is always the model that is wrong.

Arguing that Green Bay's defense isn't really that good because their defense DVOA value is too high is like arguing that the mountain one is climbing doesn't exist because it isn't on the map.

by Mr Shush :: Sat, 12/10/2011 - 7:42pm

I take it back. You're not joking, you're insane.

Tell me, do you simply refute all counterfactual statements - statements with forms such as "If A happened, B would happen"? For example, "If it had been raining, I would have taken an umbrella" or "If the Packers had the Ravens defense instead of their own, they would be more likely to win the Superbowl"?

In fact, never mind that. What you are saying implies one of two things:

1. Every unit on an unbeaten team (even a 1-0 team) is by definition perfect. No matter if the special teams allowed three return touchdowns, missed six figgies and had four extra points blocked in a 24-21 win, those special teams did what they needed to do and are therefore perfect.
2. Something about future performance (impact on win probabilities in future games, say) matters in one's assessment of a unit. In which case what on earth is wrong with using demonstrably predictive (if imperfect) metrics like yards per play, points and DVOA to gauge likely future performance and hence bear on our assessment of unit quality?

by JCD (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2011 - 12:50am

> Every unit on an unbeaten team (even a 1-0 team) is by definition perfect.

One shouldn't draw any conclusions about a team after a single game. Nonetheless, as a single data point, the team's performance is a success. Of course, there is a huge difference between a team that goes 1-0 and a team that goes 12-0.

> Something about future performance (impact on win probabilities in future games, say) matters in
> one's assessment of a unit.

No. We look at past performance to assess a team and make predictions about future performance. That future performance is a random variable.

> what on earth is wrong with using demonstrably predictive (if imperfect) metrics like yards per play,
> points and DVOA to gauge likely future performance and hence bear on our assessment of unit quality?

Nothing is wrong with selecting indicator variables for a predictive model. We must keep in mind that those indicator variables are not the response variable that we actually seek to predict. In and of themselves, we do not care about the indicator variables.

No matter how good a a model is, it will, to some extent, be wrong. That does not imply that it is never useful. But, it serves no purpose to fail to acknowledge it when a model's predictions are incorrect.

With respect to DVOA, all I know about it is what I've read on this site. I don't know anything about the statistical methodology used in its development, which I believe to be far more important than anything I've read thus far. Consequently, I have no opinion about it, good or bad, except with respect to its entertainment value.

by Christopher (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 6:56am

Alex Smith is easily the most improved player in the league (though it didn't happen entirely this year). He tends to make great decisions, quickly, and is surprisingly accurate. Three or four times per game he makes an excellent deep throw, though far too many of them have been dropped so far. Mostly, he has been very calm and collected in the face of pressure.

Most of the time, the run game has not been up to snuff. Gore is a great runningback when healthy, but he has definitely been hampered by playing through injury. Kendall Hunter was a great selection, and quite the steal, but a healthy Gore is definitely better. The OL has mostly been atrocious, though they are a little better at run blocking.

The advantage for the passing game is that you don't necessarily need the OL to do their jobs very well, especially with a talented (if underachieving) set of receivers, and a QB with a quick release. Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker, the top two tight ends on the team, might be better than the top two receivers on a significant number of teams, though they are not the best at actually catching the ball. Crabtree drops far too many balls, and disappears at times, but can get open at will when he's on. Ted Ginn isn't a good receiver, but he is a significant deep threat, and excellent with the ball in open space. Braylon Edwards is often hurt, but when he isn't, shows a great amount of talent. Kyle Williams is always doing good things, has the speed to be a true burner, and is surprisingly competent if you ask him to play out of character as a possession receiver.

I want to reiterate once again, the niners OL is abysmal. Staley (LT) has massively regressed and lets defenders blow by him several times per game. Iupati (LG) is good at pulling, and has significant strength once engaged in a block, but is a bit lost in pass protection, and doesn't do a good job initiating blocks. Goodwin (C) is essentially no better than the random plugging in of noncenters that occurred last year, and will be abused by any good DT. Adam Snyder (RG) is a basically competent journeyman run blocking guard, with a tendency to get beat in pass protection. Anthony Davis (RT) is basically a turnstile, and has almost as many holding penalties as well executed pass blocks, while not being all that much better in run blocking (a more severe version of failing to initiate blocks properly); if it is a speed rusher, he often can't even slow them down a little bit. When Chilo Rachal (RG) plays, you can basically count on him getting beaten on every play within two seconds, and he was the starter much of the year. There is no significant depth either; if there were, they would start (see Adam Snyder above. He was the primary backup at all positions.). The nine sacks in the Ravens game could have been more like 15 without much difficulty (Luckily, no one else has as good a d-line as the Ravens in the entire league. I think Ngata could be the best player at any position in the league). On most pass plays, at least three Ravens beat their blocker in less than two seconds. The Rams managed to get 4 easy sacks on the niners line, despite there only being 27 opportunities (not counting Kaepernick's two end of game attempts, which occurred well after the Rams gave up).

The 49ers having a league average offense is actually quite the coup. DVOA bears out the passing offense being the strength of the team (Ranked ninth in the pass, and 26th in rushing). The niners don't pass much because they don't need to, and so that Alex Smith doesn't get killed. I trust that Alex Smith would be up to the task of beating any team, including the Packers, if push came to shove (as a long time niners fan, that just sounds wrong. Horribly, terribly wrong. I gave up on him a long time ago.).

The packers are probably a better team (despite the defense disparity disagreeing) overall than the 49ers, (recall that the vast majority of players are the same as were on the team last year), but Jim is seemingly a far better coach than Mike (again, long time niners fan. I saw Mike before he was a head coach, when he helmed the worst offense in the league). I expect a close game, though the Packers probably win.

by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 7:39am

I think you're being a little harsh on the line, especially Staley, who I think has been decent. Anthony Davis had been excellent since Philly until the Baltimore game and then Chris Long game him the usual whipping, I think his confidence might be slipping, remember that he's only 21 years old. I think Goodwin has played well for most of the year. FO has pointed out that continuity is vital for offensive lines and this group are still learning all the intricacies of the new scheme. I would say the line really struggles with picking up complicated blitzes, which is an indication of the sort of communication difficulties you'd expect if the issue was caused by a lack of familiarity with their responsibilities. Look at the teams that have really caused problems in pass protection, New Orleans in the preseason, Dallas (esp second half when they sent the same blitz over and over and we just couldn't block it), Baltimore and now St Louis; they all use innovative blitz schemes and the niners don't seem to react with enough precision or alacrity.

I still think that opponents are trying to stop Gore with blitzes and make Smith beat them. Thankfully, this year he has started to be able to do that enough to win.

by bravehoptoad :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 10:50am

I don't agree the running game is bad. If the running game can force eight or nine in the box -- a look the 49ers have seen a lot this year -- then it's doing a great job. The alternative idea is that all those D-coordinators are scared of ghosts and stacking the line to stop a crappy unit. It doesn't give the league's coaching a great deal of credit.

I also think the poor running game's numbers look bad because, ever since Morgan got hurt at the end of the Tampa game, SF's playcalling has gotten as conservative as all get-out when they've taken a good lead. They seem to stop caring if they get first downs; they look happy to run three times and punt.

Also disagree about the O-line. It sounds like you're describing the line from the first three games.

by greybeard :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 12:44pm

The only reason 49ers see more 8-men fronts is that they play 21, 31, 22 personal more often than other teams and will bring 6th or even 7th lineman 2-3 times a game. They also bring Sopaoga as fullback a lot. When you play 22, 31, or bring extra lineman you are guaranteed to have 8 in the box. 49ers can afford to do that since they have good pass catching tight ends. A very big chunk of the 49ers run yards come from when they run outside the tackles.

I think the Oline is better than the first three games, but still below average. Staley went back to his mediocre self. Goodwin has improved a lot since Snyder replaced Rachal. He is probably in the top 15 of centers (though he may be very good or bad at line calls which we don't know), Snyder is an average guard. Davis improved since the first 3 games. But he is slow. Iuapati is great at run blocking, so is Davis. But the other three are below average.

This OLine was one of the worst Olines in football the first three weeks. They are probably between 15-20 range since then. Both in terms of run and pass blocking.

by zenbitz :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 4:04pm

Smith is improved... but he still throws a couple "Patented Alex Smith" throws which sail high (although usually theoretically catchable) per game. It doesn't seem to be correlated with pressure, I think sometimes his mechanics are just off.

I think that with the Niners the run game and pass game are inversely correlated. They are simply not good enough to beat you when you know what is coming, so they get you to stack the box via formation and throw passes out of it. They also get very conservative in the red zone (presumably trading TOs for FGs).

The OL has gotten exposed by great pass rushes but it's more or less competent. If you compare the 49ers OL performance vs. the Ravens as compared to teams that are pass-rush only (Detroit, Rams, Cowboys) - the ability and willingness of the Niners to run the ball weakened the effect of the pass rush. But you can't run the ball on the Ravens, and I think that might have really hurt.

Another thing that trips them up is that their WRs are merely average (although a healthy Crabtree might be good, he has looked much better the last few weeks), their TEs are supposedly major threats but since they have to pass block or at least chip so much they seem to be not that effective. Very surprised they don't pass more to Hunter or Gore in the flat, but I suspect this is again to do with pass protection. Also Gore has never been a great receiver... which is odd because as a runner he gets 90% of his value in open space/secondary.

by bravehoptoad :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 4:38pm

Gore's bad receiving isn't so odd...he's not a good catcher.

I don't think "great" is the correct kind of pass rush that gives the 49ers fits, but "complicated." I'm thinking that if the Ravens game had been on Sunday instead of Thursday, they'd have had half as many sacks, because the Ravens have exactly the kind of pass rush you need time to study for.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 8:37am

The 2011 Packers are perhaps the greatest passing team ever. That's pretty good, folks. Whether they are one of the greatest teams ever remains to be seen. If they crush all playoff opponents in the manner of the '85 Bears, '89 49ers, or '91 Redskins, I'll put'em in the club.

by QQ (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 5:45pm

Many people would disagree that dominating in the playoffs is a prerequisite for greatnesss. Many people consider the 99 Rams, 72 Dolphins, 03-04 Patriots, etc near the top of Great teams and they did not crush everyone in the playoffs (very small sample size).

If GB goes 19-0, many will put them ahead of all the teams that you listed, even if every playoff win is on a Hail Mary

by dmstorm22 :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 6:38pm

I don't think anyone considers the 2003 Pats one of the best teams of all time. THe 2004 ones have a case, and they held the #1 scoring offense to 3 and then scored 41 against the #1 scoring defense. Yeah, they did play a close Super Bowl though.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 8:35pm

Hell, many people think Tebow is a good MVP candidate, based upon a poll of football fans I heard of today.

The Rams team was quite lucky to win their last two playoff games. The 73 Dolphins were better than the 72 Dolphins. The Patriots teams simply were not as dominating, as Adam Vinitieri would attest. Look, this stuff is ultimately subjective, and I already said there is an element of luck in crushing three straight playoff opponents. However, I just don't see any way to argue that beating good teams in the playoffs by 7 points or less is any way as much of an accomplishment as simply destroying all opponents.

by QQ (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 8:44pm

I would assume then that 96 GB would be a Great team to you. Not only is their DVOA super high but all their Playoff wins were by at least 14. I wish they would have stayed aggressive on Offense in the 2nd Half instead of going into classic Homgren 2nd Half Shut down Mode

by Will Allen :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 10:19pm

I'd certainly say they were the best team of the salary cap era. We may never see again the sort of dominance which was possible before the salary cap.