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The Packers Make Big Changes

Oct. 19, 2016
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Before everyone goes crazy, it is important to realize that the Vikings and Cowboys are probably two of the best teams in the league, and there is no shame in losing to either. That said, there is shame in getting pantsed by elite teams, and the Packers were thoroughly pantsed on Sunday. The run defense was easily overcome by a truly great offensive line, and Dak Prescott operated like a veteran outside of inexplicably dropping the ball for no reason at one point. The Packers’ previously stout defense wore down and injuries to the secondary continued to plague them. 

Perhaps most troubling, Mike McCarthy entered the game with just one active running back, and we now know that Eddie Lacy was in no condition to be playing, though he played valiantly.

That said, I’m not sure we need to rehash all of the issues that arose in this game. Most of them, like Aaron Rodgers occasional bouts of baffling inaccuracy, and a wide receiver corps that is simply over-matched in most instances, have all been said before. What I’d like to do instead is look at the fallout from the many injuries, examine one of the bright spots from the Cowboy game, and introduce a new statistic I invented the other day. 

Starks and Lacy Will Miss Serious Time


NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that Eddie Lacy’s injury is more severe than thought. He will certainly miss the Bear game on Thursday and any injury worse than an ankle sprain probably means several more. We had similar stories about Ty Montgomery last season and he was eventually placed on IR with an ankle injury so severe that he barely recovered for the start of the this season. Starks was struggling mightily and replacing his production is not much of an issue, however Lacy was having a truly great bounceback season, and looking very much like the guy who could both make people miss and plow people over. It stings to lose one of the truly bright spots of the offense and Ted Thompson wasted no time in making a bold move, trading a conditional draft pick to Kansas City for Knile Davis. Knile Davis is an interesting prospect. Only 25 years old, he was taken in the 3rd round of the 2013 draft by the Chiefs based largely on his outstanding measurables. One metric used to judge running back prospects is Speed Score.

Speed Score isn’t complicated; it’s merely shorthand for telling you how fast a player is given his size. Running a 4.4 second 40-yard dash at 175 pounds isn’t really the same as doing it at 225 pounds. Knile Davis basically broke Speed Score by running a 4.37 40-yard dash at 227 pounds. In short, he ran faster than almost all wide receivers while weighing only 4 pounds less than Eddie Lacy. Knile Davis is a special athlete. I developed a foolproof two-step scouting formula over the last decade. The first thing you have to figure out is if a prospect meets the minimum physical requirements for his position. Davis easily does that, as previously mentioned. 

The second criteria is to determine if that player is actually good at football. Here, Davis has some issues. He tends to miss holes, frequently running into the backs of his own blockers. He doesn’t track the ball well in the passing game and he has poor hands both receiving, and in ball security. His pass blocking is brutal as well. In short, Davis can run straight ahead, very fast, and not much else. This isn’t really a gamble because the Packers gave up almost nothing to get him, and it’s often worth gambling on insane athletes, but there’s a good chance that Davis disappoints. After all, he started as the primary backup to Jamaal Charles, and was eventually passed by both Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware. There is a good reason he was freely available. 

That said, he will get a big opportunity in his first game against a pathetic Bear defense while running behind one of the league’s best offensive lines. The Packers also activated practice squad running back Don Jackson and given Davis’ tendency to fumble, and struggle in pass protection, Jackson may really be the guy to keep an eye on.

Sam Shields


Shields was placed on injured reserve with the potential to return this season, and while the team could certainly use him I hope he sits the rest of this season out. Shields has suffered at least five concussions and they seem to be happening with greater regularity. When healthy Shields is a great cover corner, and the secondary hasn’t been the same without him as Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins have struggled (and suffered injuries in their own right). 

Ladarius Gunter can often hold his own, but the prospect of Gunter and Demetri Goodson facing their opponents’ two best receivers is not comforting, but every team deals with injuries and the Packer safeties are still second to none. Hopefully Rollins and Randall return soon, but at least the Bears aren’t terribly formidable in the passing game.

Here’s hoping that Sam Shields gets well soon, and does what is best for Sam Shields.

The Bright Spot: Ty Montgomery


Montgomery did put the ball on the ground a few times and I would like to see his carries kept to a minimum in the future for that reason, but as a receiver out of the backfield he was outstanding. Rodgers actually didn’t have terrible numbers on Sunday (though they weren’t exactly great either) and he has Montgomery to thank for it. The young, stout receiver caught 10 of his 12 targets for 98 yards, and 9 of his 10 receptions were successful, (meaning the Packers were more likely to pick up a first down after the play than they were before the play). That kind of efficiency has been lacking from the Packer passing game, and if they don’t increase Montgomery’s role going forward they are making a huge mistake. When the Packers took Montgomery out of Stanford I envisioned a sort of strange hybrid of Randall Cobb and Anquan Boldin, and that comparison now strikes me as accurate. If the Packers can feature Montgomery in the short game going forward they may finally be able to unlock the outside receivers, and if Rodgers knows he has a reliable safety valve, perhaps he will finally settle down and return to making fundamentally sound throws.  I hope he sees 12-15 targets a game going forward. 

QB-OPS


Before I wrote about football, I wrote about baseball, and I still think about a lot of sports in baseball terms. One of the biggest early battles of the Sabermetric movement was against the concept of batting average, because batting average treats all hits equally, and treats walks as a negative. It is now common knowledge that On Base Percentage (or On Base Average if , if you want to be pedantic) is far superior to batting average, and the Slugging Percentage fills in the blanks that OBP leaves out. Combining OBP and Slugging Percentage (SLG) gives us a more complete picture in the form of OPS (literally On Base Plus Slugging), and even the Miller Park scoreboard has abandoned batting average in favor of OPS. OPS in its raw form isn’t perfect (OBP is worth more than SLG and in a perfect world we weight them accordingly), but it’s a good concept. It tells us two things:

1.    How good is this player at avoiding outs.
2.    How much this player does with the opportunities he is given.

Avoiding outs gives your teammates more opportunities to hit, which increases scoring. Hitting home runs as opposed to singles accomplishes in one plate appearance what might otherwise take three. Football is a very different sport, but in some important ways it’s also quite similar. Avoiding outs is analogous to picking up first down. Both provide your team with additional opportunities to play on offense. That said, dinking and dunking your way down a football field comes with risk, as eventually someone will make a mistake, or fumble, or throw an interception if given enough opportunities to do so. Hitting big plays for big chunks of yardage reduces your risk on a drive by drive basis, just as hitting a home run means not having to rely on stringing multiple hits together. 

Completion percentage is a good proxy for OBP. If you can reliably string even short, low risk passes together, you will reliably pick up first downs, and keep possession. Yards Per Attempt is a decent proxy for slugging percentage. If a quarterback is adept at routinely hitting big plays it will be reflected in this statistic. After playing around with some numbers I was able to combine these two statistics into one, and by using a few constants, it now looks very much like its baseball equivalent. I call it QBOPS, or Q-BOPS when talking to myself about it. You can see the 2016 leaderboard and Aaron Rodgers’ career numbers here. 

Rodgers’ career high for a season was 1.010 in 2011 (David Ortiz-like), but he’s fallen all the way to .784 so far this season (which is more like Pittsburgh Pirate right fielder Gregory Polanco). It also, somewhat disturbingly follows a bell curve from 2008, peaking in 2011, and slowly descending into the present day. While this metric does ignore interceptions and touchdown passes, it captures the vast majority of useful things quarterbacks do, and touchdown passes can actually be hugely deceiving. Cam Newton, for instance, loses a lot of short touchdown passes because he is so good at running the ball in. It would be nice to incorporate picks into the equation, but for now it serves as a nice, easy number that almost anyone can understand upon seeing it. Close to 1.000 is excellent, closer to .700 is bad. Your current top five are:

 

Top 5 2016 QBOPS

Matt Ryan-1.053 
Dak Prescott - 0.943 
Sam Bradford - 0.938 
Philip Rivers - 0.936 
Andy Dalton - 0.929

 

Bottom 5 2016 QBOPS:

Jameis Winston - 0.767 
Joe Flacco - 0.763 
Ryan Fitzpatrick - 0.762 
Brock Osweiler - 0.756 
Blaine Gabbert - 0.733

If you want something that isn’t as opaque as QBR or as seemingly nonsensical as Quarterback Rating, you could do worse. Rodgers is the 6th worst in football so far, and will go into Thursday with a worse number than Brian Hoyer’s respectable .894. Hoyer isn’t a good quarterback by any stretch, but if the Packer secondary is still in shambles, don’t be surprised if he improves on that number.
 

The Bears 


Very quickly, the Bears are still a work in progress, but running back Jordan Howard and wide receiver Cameron Meredith have made them entertaining. Meredith impressed in his first starting role with Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White injured, and as a big-bodied red zone target he will likely stick around for awhile. The Packers are more banged up than the Bears, who may have their best defensive player Pernell McPhee back as well, and on a short week anything can happen. 

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