In their Week 13 game against the San Francisco 49ers, the Green Bay Packers were clearly favored to win the match-up. Not only were they playing at Lambeau Field (the first time since playing the Dallas Cowboys before the bye week), they were also facing a team whose mere four wins came against opponents currently boasting no better than a .500 record.
Perhaps that’s the reason, then, why fans were a bit frustrated after the first quarter of play.
Here were the Green Bay Packers – an offensive powerhouse and a defensive machine – down by two fields goals and with zero points to show for their efforts against the 49ers?
“Mike McCarthy’s teams always start slow,” you might hear some fans say. “Just wait. There’s a lot of game left.”
And most people would probably agree with this sentiment pretty readily. The Green Bay Packers have tended to start slow in their games before piling on the points in ensuing quarters. As fans, we’ve taken their first quarter play with a grain of salt. We don’t like it, but we’re willing to wait it out and see what the next 45 minutes of game time brings.
That got me to thinking, though. Do the Packers really start slow? And how do their games usually progress across the four quarters?
In order to answer these questions, I went digging through some basic statistics to see if I could find any trends in the data. Take a look at the following table and graph, and see if you noticed the same things I did:
SLOW STARTS, SLOW FINISHES
One of the first things I noticed was that the Green Bay Packers have never played a game this season in which they have scored in all four quarters. In fact, there were three games (against the Philadelphia Eagles, Miami Dolphins, and New York Jets) where the Packers only notched scores in two quarters of play.
But there’s more to this than meets the eye. Notice the difference between the first eight games of the season and the last four.
In the first half of the season, Green Bay was much more likely score in the first quarter than in the fourth quarter; however, over the past four games, they tended to finish stronger than they started. This dichotomy perhaps explains some of the preconceptions carried by fans.
There’s not a great deal of evidence to support slow starts over the first eight games, but you can see how this idea has crept up since playing the Cowboys. Green Bay has only scored a single field goal in the last four first quarters of play.
Likewise, the idea that the Packers can’t finish games still lingers after their first eight opponents outscored them 46-30 in the fourth quarter overall.
It’s certainly important for fans to note this shift in gameplay and to understand how things have changed since the start of the season.
DEFENSE BEST WHEN PLAYING THE ODDS
In looking at the chart and its accompanying graph, there is a distinct difference between the defense’s level of play in the first and third quarters versus the second and fourth quarter.
Through the first twelve games, no team has scored more than seven points against the Green Bay Packers defense in either the first quarter or the third quarter. They have allowed an average of only 2.2 points in each.
That’s a statistic any defensive coordinator would be proud of.
Unfortunately, the Packers give up significantly more points in the other two quarters, particularly the second. In this quarter, opponents have only been held scoreless three times and have averaged 5.7 points a game.
Two conclusions can be drawn from this. The first and most obvious is that the defense is best on a fresh set of legs.
The second is that the defense perhaps operates slightly under par in the face of pressure. Offenses typically ramp up their tempo and level of play in the second and fourth quarters, especially if they are behind. In light of this, defenses have to play on their toes and might be caught off balance a little more often.
On a positive note, though, the defense has only allowed a total of 20 points in the second halves of the past six games.
A THIRD QUARTER TEAM
Turning to the offense now, it should be obvious that they are at their best during the middles of games. They have scored 186 (or 61.4%) of their 303 total points in the second and third quarters.
This probably also lends some credence to the idea that the Packers start and finish slow, since we intuitively base that on offensive output.
Combining that with the trends of the defense, the Green Bay Packers are clearly a third quarter team. There has only been one third quarter in the entire season where the Packers failed to meet or exceed their opponents point production, and that was against Miami. Overall, they outscore their opponents by an average of 5.1 points in this quarter.
Unfortunately, this is followed up by an almost pathetic fourth quarter where Green Bay outscores their opponents by a paltry average of 0.3 points per game.
While in most games the Packers have scored enough to not make this a problem, three of their four losses have come from games where Green Bay has either led or equaled their opponents in points at the beginning of the final quarter.
This trend seems to be shifting more positively over the past few games, but we can’t forget that the games against the unmotivated Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings teams are part of those numbers.
LOOKING BEHIND THE STATS
Statistics are just that: statistics. They are not going to give you the whole story, but they can be a good starting point for finding trends and discussing broad topics. And in such a basic analysis as this one, there are quite a few things we don’t take into consideration.
For one, I haven’t differentiated between special teams, defensive, and offensive point production. If we sorted all of that out, we might get a slightly different picture, though probably nothing major.
We also need to consider the strength of opposing teams. For instance, scoring 28 points in the second quarter against the Dallas Cowboys might be a bit of an outlier in the data.
But overall, this information can give us a general indication of the Green Bay Packers’ strengths and weaknesses in a quarter-by-quarter perspective. Over the last few games, the offense has started slow, yet they haven’t finished games as poorly as they did in the beginning of the season.
I hope this was as interesting to you as it was to me, and if you have any additional thoughts on the data or what other aspects of the game might support it, feel free to comment below.——————Follow @ChadToporski