Spring is here, and with that, another NFL Draft approaches. The Draft this year has snuck its way back into April, starting on April 30.
So, we begin this year’s draft series at a very simple starting point- where do the Packers need to get better? This is the first question we need to answer before we can look at a more specific position by position evaluation of needs.
I have attempted to answer this question by taking a deep look at the numbers. Sure, EVERY area of the team can always look to get better, but here’s a look at the areas that certainly need to empirically improve if the Packers are going to get where they want to go.
Red Zone Scoring
One of the constants of life with Aaron Rodgers is that the Packers have always ranked in the top 10 in red zone scoring proficiency. That was not the case in 2014. The Packers scored touchdowns on only 57% of red zone possessions last season, which was just good enough for 11th in the league. Sure, that isn’t anything to slit your wrists over, but it is still troubling for an offense that ranked 1st in the league in scoring overall.
Plus, this was made more glaringly obvious when the Packers struggled near the end of the season and in the playoffs in this area. It also didn’t help that Packer opponents fared just better by scoring touchdowns on 58% of red zone possessions.
This is especially curious when you consider that the Packers were 1st in red zone proficiency in 2012 with practically no running game to speak of. This suggests that either the passing game has become much less proficient in the past couple seasons, or that the Packers aren’t successfully utilizing their improved running game in the red zone.
There are basically three ways to improve this stat- 1) acquire better red zone targets, 2) call different plays, or 3) execute better. Of course, option 3 can always apply for anything. Richard Rodgers and Davante Adams may become better red zone options next season, but the Packers may also want to consider finding another one in the draft.
Short Yardage/Two Point Conversions
Part of the problem in the red zone is the fact that the Packers need to get better in short yardage situations. In third and fourth down and short last season, the Packers ran the ball 32 times and picked up the first down 20 times, for a 62% conversion rate. On those same downs, the Packers threw the ball 30 times and converted for a first down 22 times, for a 73% rate.
When you consider that most runs occurred with only 1 or 2 yards to go, while most passes occurred with 3 or 4 yards to go, that suggests the Packers need to either throw the ball more in short yardage or get better at picking up short yardage via the run. It might be more illustrative to point out that the Packers ran the ball three times on fourth and short and gained a whole 3 yards.
These numbers don’t even include the Packers’ 1 out of 4 conversion rate on two point conversions, which is another poignant illustration of the Packers’ problems with the shortest of yardage.
Coach Mike McCarthy’s neglect of the special teams has been a recurring theme during his tenure. However, another area of the game where the team seems to have zero urgency is in converting two point conversions. Look, you aren’t going to be attempting a two point conversion unless it is an extremely important play. Therefore, I don’t understand the Packers throwaway attitude about converting twos.
Regardless, it stands to reason that if the Packers can improve at picking up short yardage, they will also get better at converting two point plays. More than needing to improve the passing or running game in these situations, the Packers need to establish a couple “go to” plays for short yardage. Nearly every great short yardage team has a particular player or a couple particular plays that they run extremely effectively, and they stick with what works.
The most obviously glaring category for the Packers last season was their run defense. Even though the numbers improved a lot over the final half of the season, the Packers still finished 31st in first downs given up by rush, 27th in opponents yards per rush, and 26th in both opponents rushes per game and yards rushed per game.
Though they nearly got by despite the issue, this weakness was exposed in both playoff games against Dallas and Seattle. If the Packer defense ever wants to get back to being one of the better units in the league, then it will have to get better against the run. When you consider that even if the Packers brought the same front seven back they would still be no better than the unit pushed around in the playoffs last season, you realize that whether it be along the defensive line or the linebackers, either through the draft or signings, the Packers need to acquire some help against the run.
Definitely agree we draft best available run stopper. I do trust Casey Hayward can very good outside. Cornerback is possibly the most difficult position to develop after quarterback, and the higher the selection, the bigger the bust potential. Hayward was the highest-graded slot cornerback (at least 50 percent of defensive snaps played) in 2014. Of Hayward’s 470 total snaps last season, he played 225 in the slot, allowing only 88 yards after the catch on 16 receptions and nabbing three interceptions.
Quarterbacks throwing into Hayward’s slot coverage in 2014 averaged a passer rating of just 70.5, the second-lowest among slot corners.
Hayward finished the season ranked No. 9 out of 110 cornerbacks, the highest of any Packers corner in 2014. He allowed opponents a catch rate of 65.4 percent, which fell in about the top third ofcornerbacks last season.
He played 40.1 percent of the team’s total defensive snaps and posted 42 combined tackles as well as eight missed tackles.
Hayward looked like a starting-caliber NFLcornerback after his impressive rookie season in which he had 53 combined tackles, six picks and an incredible 21 passes defended. all information above from link.
Great write up Shawn. You did an awesome job while Monty was away at the Jeffrey Epstein Fantasy Camp.
lmao……. Btw, Bill Clinton, Alan Dershowitz, nor Prince Andrew thought this post was funny. Matter of fact, Dershowitz is contemplating legal action, using an age old strategy of diversion.
On the subject of short yardage, as much as I love how the entire state erupts when he gets the ball, they have to stop giving the ball to Kuhn. Every defensive player in the NFL knows what’s going happen when it’s 3rd & short and #30 is in the backfield.
Agree with all your areas of concern. I would like to throw out one more area that concerned me all year.
As we are all aware the NFL is very competitive, and there is not much difference between winners and losers. This parity makes it important to look at every edge in order to win games. As Packer fans the games that count most are the playoffs ,although all are important. Some troubling statistics that I believe have a direct impact on the games and become more important in the playoffs indicate the Pack is almost sucking hind tit. That stat is winning the fourth quarter or as I like to say finishing strong.
Since 2009 the team that wins playoff games win the 4th Q 69% of the time. The teams that win the conference championship win the 4th Q 75% of the time. The Super Bowl winner wins the 4th Q 83% of the time. In 2014 teams that won regular season games won the 4th Q approximately 72% of the time. The Pack won the 4th Q regular season games 28% of the time!
You can blame that stat on early leads, being conservative,red zone efficiency, run D, being out of shape, etc., however I believe it is important to finish a game strong, and that becomes more important in the playoffs in sudden death games. Why give a team a chance in the 4th quarter no matter the lead. We all know how that works out.
The Pack % of winning the 4th Q since 2009 is 09- 71%, 10- 50%, 11- 41%, 12- 64%, 13- 46%, 14- 28%.
Not sure how the draft can fix the problem, however the problem needs fixed. There must be more urgency by the Pack in the fourth quarter. Almost all the Super Bowl winners show that urgency even if they have leads in the fourth. This may be one of the reasons McCarthy is giving up play calling responsibility. The problem with the 4th Q is on both sides of the ball, however the D has the worst drop off in the 4th over the six year period. In 2014 the Pack was 25th overall in the 4th, Seattle was 4th, and NE was 5th.
you forgot to adjust your stats for the easy schedule the pack had last season. expect their fourth quarter stats to be much more highly correlated with their W-L record this year, as, unlike last year, there will actually “not be much difference between winners and losers” as you inaccurately put it, at least as far as the pack is concerned.
The Packer strength of schedule last year prior to the start of the season was 13th toughest. This year it is projected to be 14th toughest. Unless you can see into the future, not sure how you know how tough each team is going to be at the time the Packers play them?
MM has not been very creative in the redzone so hopefully we can improve on that with veterans coming back on offense. Throwing to Lacy more will help. Seattle does this all the time with Lynch and it’s hard to stop because RB gets lost in coverage. Lacy is very Lynch like with his hands and breaking tackles in open field. DB’s can’t bring him down. Drafting stud TE will help also. We’re thin there. Rodgers also holds on to ball too long in redzone. Need to work on that.
Our corners and ILB were probably the worst in the league in defending the run. Williams, Hawk, and Jones are some of the worst. Too passive. We need to draft guys with aggression and short yardage explosiveness at ILB and corners.
Overall, all the issues will probably be addressed by getting top ILB in first round, TE in second round and corner in 3rd round. Spend rest of the rounds on more ILB and DT. Can never have enough of them. Stephon Anthony in first (athletic freak like Matthews at 6’3″ 245 lbs 4.56 40 time), Max Williams in 2nd and Kevin Johnson in 3rd round and we’ll be ready to turn it around.
There might be a reason Rodgers holds onto the ball too long in the red zone, i’m thinking if he hasn’t thrown it, no one has gotten open.
ILB & CB are our positions of need, obviously…& without a big Nose Tackle, I don’t know how you run Dom’s 3-4 …So sign Raji already
My top choice as the 30th overall would be ILB, Benardrick McKinney (Mississippi St.). The only team that could cherry-pick us could be the Colts at 29 :/
I would also be satisfied with ILB, Paul Dawson (TCU). CB, Marcus Peters (Washington) or CB, Kevin Johnson (Wake Forest)