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Will It Be 2011 All Over Again?

In case your memory isn’t so good, let me take you back ten years.

The Green Bay Packers had put together an exceptional team. With young QB Aaron Rodgers in his fourth year as a starter, the passing game went bananas. Aaron’s numbers (he was rested the final game of the regular season) were: 343 completions in 502 attempts (68.3), 4,643 passing yards, 9.2 yards per attempt, 45 TDs, 6 interceptions, and a 122.5 passer rating – the latter mark being the best in league history. By the way, Aaron also rushed 60 times for 257 yards, and scored three touchdowns along the way. He was sacked 36 times, and he lost no fumbles on the year.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) and tight end Robert Tonyan (85) celebrate after connecting on for a touchdown during the second quarter of their game against the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday, December 6, 2020 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.

Aaron was named the league’s MVP, and it wasn’t close. The nationwide panel of 50 media members from the Associated Press gave Rodgers 48 votes, while Drew Brees got the other two. There’s not much else that needs to be said: Aaron had a magical year. And it’s looking like he’ll pick off another MVP award this season.

The team finished the regular season at 15 and one; the sole loss came in Week 14, in an away game, by a score of 19 to 14. The team that beat them was Kansas City. It was the only sour note for Aaron that regular season: he completed only 17 of 35 passes, for 235 passing yards, 1 TD, was sacked four times, and had an 80.1 passer rating. The winning QB was Kyle Orton, whose rating on the day was a solid 104.1. The Chiefs finished the year at 7-9, and the Packers went on to the playoffs as the top seed – which also might repeat itself this time around.

Then came January 15. Playing at home, the Packers were immediately eliminated from the playoffs by the New York Giants – and rather easily, by a 17-point margin.

What went wrong? In that game, a young Eli Manning handled the Packers’ defense with relative ease – which wasn’t unusual. In going 21 of 33 for 330 yards, 3 TDs, and with a 114.5 passer rating Eli received the Super Bowl MVP award.

It hardly came as a shock that the Packers’ defense crumbled. On the regular season, Green Bay wound up 19th in total yards surrendered. Worse though, they were dead last in passing yards given up, yielding 4,796 yards – the league average was 3,675.

But to say that the defense played badly isn’t the only reason the Packers Super Bowl dreams were so suddenly dashed. It wasn’t just the defense that was inferior on that chilly day. The Giants largely thwarted the Pack’s reigning Super Bowl MVP quarterback and the team’s fearsome pass attack.

Among the treasure trove of talented green-and-gold receivers, no one stood out that day. Donald Driver had 3 catches for 45 yards, Greg Jennings had 4 for 40, Jordy Nelson had 3 for 39, Randall Cobb had 3 for 38, Jermichael Finley had 4 for 37, and James Jones, James Starks, and Ryan Grant each had fewer than 25 yards through the air.

As for Rodgers, his line was 26 of 46 for 264 yards, 2 TDs, an interception, and a dismal passer rating of 78.5 – 44 points below his regular season rating, and 36 points behind Eli’s rating on that day.

So it was typically bad pass defense, and untypically bad pass offense that led to the stunning defeat. But that’s not all.

On that day the Packers lost three fumbles – by Rodgers, Ryan, and John Kuhn. While the Packers gave up four turnovers, the Giants gave up just the one interception. A team that commits three more turnovers than the opposition is seldom going to win a playoff game.

Yes, the little-remembered item that occurred back on January 14, 2012 was that the Packers failed to secure the ball. Of the three reasons set forth above, I’d say that those four turnovers was the primary reason the Packers lost to the Giants.

How uncharacteristic was it for the Packers to have so many giveaways? On the regular season they fumbled the ball away only six times in 16 games. In this one game against the Giants they did so three times. Prior to the playoffs, the Packers had the second-best turnover differential (takeaways minus giveaways) in the league, at +24 – only one other team had a differential of more than +11.

For those critics who give the Packers no chance to go far in the upcoming playoffs, some words of caution. Turnovers happen, and they can happen to the best and most talented of teams. Any team can win it all once it makes the playoffs – the 2010 Packers are proof of that. And any team, no matter how dominant in the regular season, is likely to lose if they come up short on the turnovers scoreboard.

2011 and 2020 Comparisons

Are you ready for some more statistical overload?

In the 2011 regular season, Green Bay had the most points scored (560), the third best overall yardage (6,482), and the third-best passing yardage (4,924). Through 13 games, the current Packers are first in points scored (31.5/game, narrowly ahead of the Chiefs, Seahawks, and Titans); they are second-best (to the Chiefs) in total yardage (5,169); and they are also second-best in passing yardage (well behind the Chiefs).

In 2011, the Packers had the league’s best regular-season record (15-1). Currently, only the Chiefs (12-1) and Steelers (11-2) have better records than the Packers (10-3, tied with the Saints and Bills).

In 2011, the Packers were in nineteenth place at giving up points (22.4). They were last in giving up total yardage (411.6/game), and also last at yielding yardage through the air (311.8/game). The current defense is tied for 16th in giving up points (24.8/game). They are 8th best in total yardage given up, and they are 12th best in passing yardage yielded (226.0).

The 2011 Packers were second best in turnover differential (+24). The current team is tied for tenth best in turnover differential (+4).

Conclusions

The current Packers are a dynamo when it comes to scoring points, total yardage, and passing yardage – as was that marvelous 2011 team.

The current group’s winning percentage of .769 is very good, though it cannot match the earlier team’s .937 percentage.

The current team is decent at creating turnovers and preventing giveaways. They are nowhere near their 2011 counterparts, however, when it comes to turnover differential.

Which brings us to defense. The Packers are smack-dab in the middle of the league, at 16th, at giving up points. They are surprisingly competitive at giving up yardage overall (8th), and not even that bad (12th) at giving up passing yardage. Despite the Pack’s reputation of being unable to stop the run, they actually rank 11th best at yielding rushing yardage (109.7/game).

I should caution readers that rushing yardage totals can be especially misleading. Some teams that are pass-happy don’t rush for much yardage simply because they don’t attempt many run plays. For example, the Lions just rushed for only 51 yards, but that was because they only ran the ball 15 times.

The above analysis suggests that the current Packers are pretty darn comparable to the juggernaut the Pack assembled in 2011. Let’s hope, however, that they don’t share that team’s postseason fate. The best reason to think that won’t happen is because the team’s current defense, while not very good, is considerably better than the league-worst group we had to endure ten years ago.

Nor should we forget that turnover differential is the wild card in any NFL game, whether regular season or postseason.

Tags:
Rob Born

Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.

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17 Comments

  1. Skinny December 16, 2020

    Philbins son tragic death also had a huge impact on how that season ended. Took the air completely out of that playoff game.

    Reply
  2. Howard December 16, 2020

    The last second Hail Mary type TD by the Giants at the end of the first half was 7 points that should have been avoided.
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    I just want to say something again about the Packer defense that very few take into account when looking at the stats that put the defense hovering around the Mendoza line.
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    The Packer defense has been on the field the second fewest snaps (tied with NO) in the NFL at 780 snaps. The only team with fewer defensive snaps is the Patriots with 779 snaps. The defense that has been on the field the most snaps is Seattle at 894. That is over 100 defensive snaps more than the Packers. The league average for defensive snaps is 836.8 snaps. So the Packers defense has been on the field approximately 57 snaps less than the average NFL defense.
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    I believe the reason the defense has been on the field so few snaps has a lot to do with a ball control, game clock killing offense led by LaFleur and Rodgers. The defense also has forced more 3 and out series this year, even though it doesn’t seem like it. In addition the defense has given up quick scores on few plays at times.
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    When your looking at stats you have to consider how many plays a defense or offense have been on the field. For example It can impact the sack quantity a defense has per year, etc. substantially less pass rush attempts can result in less sacks. That is why I like looking at points per play and opponents points per play. Currently the Packers offense is ranked #1 in points per play. The defense is a dismal #24 in opponents points per play allowed, and that is up from #26 last week.

    Reply
    1. Robster December 16, 2020

      On the subject of misleading stats, the caveat I try to keep in mind is how skewed the stats get when a team gets a sizable lead in many games, and then goes into a prevent defense – thereby intentionally allowing opponents to move down the field and even score touchdowns while draining time off the clock. I’d say this scenario applies to the current Packers.

      Reply
      1. Howard December 16, 2020

        I understand what your saying Rob, and I agree it does apply to some extent to the current Packer defensive stats. I think Prevent defense is a dangerous game to play. No question Prevent defense against average to below average offenses and teams can work to preserve victories at the expense of defensive stats. Prevent defense ran by average defenses against good to very good offenses and teams can prevent a victory.

        Reply
        1. PF4L December 16, 2020

          Random thought…..After giving up long, clock consuming opening scoring drives…at what point do you stop deferring after winning the coin flip?

          Reply
          1. Howard December 16, 2020

            Rodgers made a comment after the Colts game about coin tosses. Rogers said in part that he felt good in OT after Boyle’s finally made the right call on the coin flip. That raised my curiosity so I looked at coin tosses. The only opening coin flip called correctly by Boyle’s prior to, and including, the Colts game was game 3 against the Saints. Since then the only coin flip called correctly by Boyle was against the Lions. The Eagles and Lions (week 2) have been the only opponents to not call the coin flip correctly.
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            The Packers have had the choice on the opening kickoff only 4 times this year and have deferred each time. In the 9 other games when the opponents won the coin toss they have deferred every time except the Falcons.
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            I guess deferring is the way most teams go, for that potential double up at the end of the half and start of the 3rd. To me it sure seems the Packers defense and offense start out a game better when the offense is on the field first.

            Reply
  3. Robster December 16, 2020

    I meant to say, after giving Eli’s stats against the Packers, that he then went on to be named the Super Bowl MVP. Just like the Packers in 2010, the 2011 Giants – a 7-7 team on December 15 – had to win four playoff games to claim the trophy. Unexpected things often transpire during the playoffs.

    Reply
    1. PF4L December 16, 2020

      Decent enough comparison Rob, sans a few points.
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      Here’s what i took from this article. What happens in the regular season is no comprehensive indicator of what will happen in the playoffs. Which has been my believe all my football fan life.
      Even if you beat the Titans.
      .
      Now lets put our viewpoints and metrics under better perception.
      It’s true, the Packers did give up less yards on the ground over last season, in the regular season. The Packers rank 11th this season. Spoken as if this is a sign of improvement. On it’s surface …maybe, maybe not.
      The truth….Who the f have the Packers played so far? Most teams who can barely even smell getting into the playoffs. Teams who have had mostly, 1,2,3 or 4 wins when they played the Packers.
      The 2019 Packers gave up 120 yards a game….guess what….in the NFCCG…the Packers gave up 285 yards rushing.
      Conclusion….What you did in the regular season is not a true indicator of playoff performance.
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      The 2011 regular season had the Packers turnover differential of +24 (stellar), in the playoffs against the Giants, it didn’t mean a damn thing as they were -3 and one and done.
      What you did in the regular season is not a true indicator of playoff performance.
      .
      It’s true, this years Packer defense rank better than the 2011 defense, no doubt about it.
      Now….if you could choose which defense you could have for this years playoffs, i’ll take the 2011 defense.
      You might be asking …..why?
      Because there is one stat that matters most, the one that decides who wins the game, and that is points allowed. That was where the 2011 defense was better by 2,4 PPG. Small….but considering the defense ranked last in 2011, it’s fairly impressive. Not to mention the fact the 2011 defense had 31 interceptions…stopping 31 opponents drives in their tracks.
      Again…the regular season is no indicator. But i’ll take my chances with the 2011 defense.
      So getting back to reality… we have a 2020 defense who gives up 5 PPG more over last years defense (that’s called a regression).
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      I can’t sugar coat that, spray perfume on it and play show and tell with how well they…”rank” in the NFL. They….regressed. I don’t care if they rank 1 against the pass, and 1 against the rush. If you’re giving up more points per game than last season…it doesn’t mean shit.
      .
      For the 20th time……you’ll know when you have a Championship team….when you prove it in the playoffs.
      There is……no other way.

      .

      Reply
      1. Dean December 16, 2020

        I’d take this years defense against teams like Seattle or KC — as opposed to 2011’s defense. It is about match-ups, and in a shootout type game, the team that gets one key stop in the 4th quarter usually wins. Our defense has fewer snaps this year than other teams and if the pack can get the bye week, even better for guys like Clark to get healthy.

        Reply
        1. PF4L December 17, 2020

          So far this season the Packers have a 5 minute 4 second advantage in time of possession…average each game.
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          In the game against Detroit, the Packers had a 9 minute advantage in TOP.

          Reply
  4. NobodysBurfect December 16, 2020

    Great write up Rob.

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    This team passes the stat test, but they don’t pass the eye test. Sorry but it’s just true. Football is a team sport – you simply cannot get away with poor special teams play AND have glaring holes on defense and get away with it.

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    There’s an easy formula to beat the Packers every year since 2010 – play good defense and cram the ball down their throat in the run game. It might sound ridiculous given…well, everything…but I do not want to see this current iteration of the Packers play “the franchise formally known as the Redskins”. Mark my words – go up against a team like that with a smart OC & they’re finished.

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    Shanahan understood this last year – hence throwing the ball 8 times total in the NFC championship game. I hope our road to the superbowl doesn’t go through Washington.

    Reply
    1. Stiggy December 16, 2020

      4 man rushes getting to the qb can beat any team on any given Sunday. Thats about all the redskins can do.

      The radio pundits have caught up with my view that the most dangerous team the packers could see are the rams. Ramsey is a bona-fide stud and Donald can collapse the interior. The rams have a great scheme and will run the ball at every chance. Not to mention Lafleur isn’t going to out smart Mcvay.

      Reply
      1. Howard December 16, 2020

        I tend to agree with you about the Rams. Last year I said it didn’t matter where the Packers played the 49ers/Shanahan, the 49ers would kick the Packers/LaFleur’s ass. This year I think Lambeau is an evening factor in the playoffs against better warm weather, artificial turf, and dome teams, as long as the wind is not blowing real hard. Most of those teams would have a distinct advantage on their turf.
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        It is still to early to tell with three games left. A lot can happen on the injury, and COVID front. I will say If the Packers have any chance in the playoffs it is going to be with home field and a bye. True fan noise would also be helpful, but probably not likely.

        Reply
  5. Dean December 16, 2020

    One thing different about the 2011 versus 2020 offense — Jones and Williams in the running game if needed on a cold windy day. If I remember right, in late 2011 teams eventually figured out to have 2 safeties back (tampa 2) and not worry about the packers run game. Also Rogers had way more sacks in 2011 — the giants had a great 4 man rush to capitalize.

    If teams tried to play their safeties back now, I think the packers could run or dump off short passes to the backs to move the ball and chew up the clock helping their defense.

    Reply
  6. Mick December 17, 2020

    Besides the Rams, another matchup problem would be the Saints. If Brees is healthy and ready to go, he and coach Payton could match wits with LaFleur. Like the Rams, the Saints have a top tier defense. They also have the experience in playing in tough games, and winning on the road. (hence- Tampa Bay). Also, lots of playoff experience. IF GB wins out and gets home field throughout, my gut tells me, the Saints would be a tougher out. I know the Pack beat N.O. earlier this season, but, the post season is a different animal. The ball bounces funny ways and little mistakes are magnified when so much is on the line. It will be interesting to see what happens!

    Reply
  7. Ferris December 17, 2020

    In Pettine…NOBODY TRUSTS!! Crosby better kick every kickoff out of the back of the end zone too. When the other team brings it out everyone holds their breath.

    Reply
  8. Mick December 18, 2020

    Yup, not only on kickoffs, but punts too! Our special teams, excluding Crosby; from the coach on down, need a rebuild. The scheme or whatever hasn’t been pro caliber for the last decade. They have not been rated last every year but, they are consistantly well below the mendoza line. One stat that could help in both ST and the D, is tackling. Game after game, the tackling is a big issue for this team. What are the defensive and special teams coaches teaching? On those 2 units, tackling should be one of the basic fundamentals. I hope LaFleur and Gute keep these things in mind when they pick their next DC and ST coach!

    Reply

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