I wasn’t able to make a timely commentary on the Packers-Jaguars game due to Hurricane Sandy … I’m sure you’ve heard about it.
Suffice to say it was an ugly win and I think the Packers will have pored over the film and will be better prepared this week against the Cardinals. I’ll add that if the Packers play as poorly on offense as they did last week, they will have their hands full with the Arizona defense and will likely lose the game.
How are the Packers doing at the midpoint?
The answer for me is: “Pretty Good!”
The offense is brilliant at times, methodically driving down the field. At other times, the plan seems incoherent as they attempt to establish a run game with little hope of success. I thought that MAYBE they threw on 1st down more often last year than this year, but after looking at the stats I was surprised. Last season the Packers had an almost 50-50 split of run/pass of 1st down, nearly identical to this season. Rodgers has been almost up to his 2011 standards, probably because the sports media has said he couldn’t do it again.
What is the difference then?
While yards per rush are nearly identical on 1st down (3.8 in 2011/3.7 in 2012), yards per pass attempt (YPA) is WAY down from 9.6 in 2011 to 6.7 (on 1st down) so far this season. The same goes for 2nd and 3rd down. Overall YPA is off from 9.4 in 2011 to 7.3 this season. Every other statistic is in line with 2011 numbers except one: Yards after the catch (YAC) has gone from 6.2 to just 4.5 this season.
The question is: WHY?
My answer is Greg Jennings. Jennings didn’t lead the team in YAC last year, Jordy Nelson did, but that was when Jordy was the #2. Nothing against Jordy, he is a legit #1, but when teams are focused on stopping him as opposed to stopping Jennings, his YAC was bound to drop. Jennings faced the same in past seasons and while it cut his YAC, Jordy could run free over the middle and deep. James Jones and Randall Cobb have made some impact this season and Cobb looks particularly promising (5.5 YAC), but the absence of Jennings is the biggest deficit in comparison to last season.
The defense has also been hit and miss. At times they have been brilliant, as they were against Houston and Chicago, and at other times they were unable to stop the worst offense in the NFL (Jacksonville). Even with their weaknesses, the Packers defense is 12th in points allowed per game, 10th best in 3rd down conversions against and 13th in yards per game. The turnover differential isn’t impressive at +3, but it is tied for 8th best in the league.
What matters most is that they are certainly improved over last year’s defense, but injuries have begun to take their toll. With any luck, the injuries will have come at an opportune time, as the Packers have what I consider offensively ‘challenged’ teams until they face the Giants on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
What comes through is that the Packers are a better overall team than they were at the midpoint last season. The offensive explosiveness is hindered by Greg Jennings’ injury, but if he can return by December, the offense will be the better for it. If the rest of the receiving corps can catch like they are able, Rodgers will be the MVP again.
But the defense also needs to absorb the injuries and get off the field on third downs.