The bye week break gives us an opportunity to look back and look forward, to analyze and contemplate, to fix what’s broken, and exploit what’s working.
The two-week break between games of course gives the players time to get their bodies and minds in shape for the six-game stretch run. Equally important, it affords the coaches time for detailed analysis, followed by making needed adjustments over the remainder of the regular season. Several fixes are essential if this team is to have much postseason success.
The inconvenient truth is this team has gone into a descent since the initial four games of the LaFleur era. In those four contests, three of which were played at home, the Packers averaged 338 yards of offense while giving up 330. In the last six games, the offense has increased its output to 368 yards per game, but the defense has yielded an average of 421 yards!
The best thing about the first ten games is the fine 8-2 record that was achieved. It gives the team the prospect of not only making the playoffs but also enjoying a bye week to start the postseason – and of one or more of the games played on the tundra.
But let’s not be deceived. Two of those games were against recently-inserted backup quarterbacks. Only two of the wins were by more than seven points. I also believe the Packers have intercepted a pass in the end zone in either three or four of their games this season – we can hardly rely on such good fortune continuing to happen.
Another stat to be considered is turnover ratio. As of Tuesday, the Packers stand at +9 on the year, second best in the league. The Packers have nine interceptions and seven fumble recoveries to date, while losing five fumbles and yielding but two interceptions.
Not far behind them in the turnover counts are two upcoming opponents: San Francisco is at +5 and Minnesota is at +4 – each had more giveaways than takeaways on Sunday, and because of it they almost lost games in which they were handily favored.
Turnover ratios tend to vary widely from year to year. While many turnovers are due to sterling defensive play, there’s also a fair element of luck involved. In McCarthy’s final two losing seasons, Green Bay ranked nineteenth (0) and twentieth (-3) in the category – this was despite QB Rodgers’ historically low interception rate.
Delving some more into the stats sheets, the Packers’ increased reliance on the run game is notable. To date this year the Packers have run the ball 41.1 percent of the time (243 runs and 347 passes). In 2018, McCarthy’s charges ran the ball only 34.2 percent of the time. Among the dividends this has produced, the Packers have enjoyed an edge in time of possession in eight of its ten games. Cumulatively, Green Bay has possessed the ball for 18 more minutes than its opponents.
Possessing the ball is a great way to exercise control over a game, stall the opponent’s momentum, and lessen the opportunities for damage that opponents with robust offenses can inflict.
Offensively, the Packers are 17th in the league in yardage produced per game, and 28th in yards given up. It’s highly out of the ordinary – almost freakish – for a team with such stats to be sporting an win percentage of .80%. In giving up 258 passing yards per game, the Packers are tenth worst, while their current yield of 128 rushing yards per game is eighth worst.
On the other hand, when it comes to points allowed, the Packers defense has gone from being ranked 28th a year ago (25.0 average) to currently being ranked 12th (20.5). This is another indication that LaFleur’s charges, while being statistically inferior in many respects, have managed to rise to the occasion more often than not when games have been on the line.
Given their below average yardage numbers, I’d say the Packers are immensely fortunate to be at 8 and 2. I’m thankful, but they must get better – and quickly – if they are to go deep into the playoffs. At least they’ve given themselves plenty of room for improvement, and I am optimistic they’ll move up several notches by the end of the regular season.
It’s doable. Though I feel the young head coach has an enormous blind spot when it comes to Aaron Jones, LaFleur seemingly has done well in most other phases of his new post.
It makes sense that a first-time head coach should only get better and more comfortable as he becomes acclimated to his new duties, and as he more fully grasps the strengths and weaknesses of his roster. I’m concerned, therefore, that since the team’s first four games, the team’s production has gone downhill. Let’s hope that a week of rest will rejuvenate the group.
The Focus Going Forward
It’s great that LaFleur’s Packers are an opportunistic bunch, but Job 1 for this team over the next six weeks has to be to solidify its defense. Never mind the big plays, they give up too much ground on most plays. They bend way too much until teams invade their red zone.
Here’s a disturbing thought: despite the huge investments made this season for several top-notch defensive players, the Packers’ 6-9-1 group of 2018 handily outranked the current group in comparative defensive yardage yielded: 18th versus 28th so far this year. LaFleur’s guys have also enjoyed much better health than did McCarthy’s. This is both disturbing and perplexing.
In my next post I’ll discuss ways in which defensive coordinator Mike Pettine might rapidly shape up his underachieving defenders.