After week 1, every fan has the right to be optimistic. Fans of winning teams will instantly project the same success to the next 16 weeks, fans of losing teams will console themselves that its only one game and fans of teams that got blown out will delude themselves into thinking that their team is the next 2003 Patriots, who got skunked 31-0 by the Buffalo Bills only to finish 14-2 and win the Super Bowl.
Packers fans can count themselves lucky to be part of the 1st group after a thrilling win against the New Orleans Saints but amidst the victory, questions arose. The Packers game up an astounding 477 total yards with Drew Brees shredding the Packers secondary for 398 yards. Will this be an issue in games to come or just a result of playing one of best quarterbacks along with one of the most powerful passing offenses in the NFL?
In my opinion no. Take a look at the statistics
|2010 Avg Tm/G||22.00||336.00||27.20||114.50||0.80|
|2010 Week 1 Avg Team||18.25||311.25||26.31||105.72||0.66|
|2011 Week 1 Avg Team||23.50||350.30||25.60||105.30||0.70|
|2010 Week 1 League Total||584.00||9,960.00||842.00||3,383.00||21.00|
|2011 Week 1 League Total||752.00||11,211.00||818.00||3,369.00||21.00|
|2010 Avg Tm/G||20.50||33.70||221.60||1.50||1.00|
|2010 Week 1 Avg Team||21.06||34.28||219.94||1.22||0.84|
|2011 Week 1 Avg Team||21.40||34.90||245.10||1.70||0.80|
|2010 Week 1 League Total||674.00||1,097.00||7,038.00||39.00||27.00|
|2011 Week 1 League Total||685.00||1,116.00||7,842.00||54.00||24.00|
Abbreviations: TY: total yards, R/A: rushing attempts, RY: rushing yards, RTD: rushing touchdowns, P/C: passes completed, P/A: passes attempted, PY: passing yards, PTD: passing TD, INT: interception
The table above shows the offensive statistics of the NFL as a whole during week 1 in 2010 and week 1 of 2011 (the table also includes the 2010 team average statistics per game). I think the first thing that becomes apparent is that it appears that the lockout hasn’t affected the league except for one condition. When looking at total yards, passing attempts, passing completions, interceptions, rushing attempts, rushing yards or rushing touchdowns, there appears to be no difference between opening weekend 2010 and opening weekend 2011.
The big difference is passing touchdowns, with a staggering 15 more passing touchdowns in week 1 2011 than week 1 2010. That’s almost an extra passing touchdown for every game last week. This naturally also inflates the total points, which saw 168 more points scored this week than last year. Strangely, as I’ve mentioned previously, teams didn’t have to throw or complete any more passes, they just simply were more effective when they did pass.
Oddly, one of the “facts” that almost all pundits agree on is that usually the defense is ahead of the offense during the beginning of the season. Possible explanations include quarterbacks needing more time to develop with wide receivers, offensive linemen needing more time to gel and having to learn the right reads, motions and calls at the line.
The data supports this. Compared to the 2010 season average, teams scored less passing and rushing touchdowns per game and the average score was 3 points less than average in week 1 of 2010. On the other hand, in 2011 week 1 statistics are right on par with the 2010 season average with a point and a half more points being scored than on an average 2010 week 1.
Is this due to NFL personnel? I would again argue no, aside from rookies, a couple of free agents and players who retired this year, the vast majority of players will be playing in 2011 played in 2010. In regards to coaches, the only major new face might be San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, who left Stanford to join the 49ners. Other than that, John Fox, Ron Rivera, Hue Jackson and the rest of the new faces on the coaching staff were on NFL teams last year (of course these coaches have a lot more say on the final image of their teams as head coaches than as coordinators).
The only difference that makes sense is that lockout. With the lockout, somehow passing touchdowns have increased. It would seem counterproductive if offensive passing efficiency somehow increased with the lack of practice so the only thing that makes sense is that pass defense, for whatever reason, was what the lockout effected the most.
Just from the Packers game this is evident. Sam Shields did not look very good in his opening day preview, whether that’s because of the lockout, the “sophomore slump” or because he got a giant super bowl ring tattooed to his neck I don’t know but overall, he definitely wasn’t as good as he was in 2010. Nick Collins also had an uncharacteristic flub (though there has been some argument that there was a miscommunication and really Charles Woodson should have been playing the deep half) when he jumped the flat and left cornerback Tramon William out to dry on the touchdown pass to Robert Meachem (which looked suspiciously similar to when Morgan Burnett jumped the flat during the Colts preseason game). Either way not the best showing by the Packers secondary to be sure.
But it’s not just the Packers.
- Atlanta vs. Chicago: Chicago played a good game, but the Atlanta secondary gave Chicago receivers huge cushions of space and looked confused multiple times in coverage. Atlanta’s secondary was suspect after getting manhandled by the Packers in the postseason, but this was even worse.
- Miami vs. New England: It was pretty obvious what Bill Bellichick saw: a gassed Miami secondary. As a result the Patriots played the majority of the game in no-huddle and Tom Brady went on to post the 5th most passing yards in NFL history with 516 yards and managed to get Miami cornerback Benny Sapp cut after one game. On the flip side Chad Henne, who is a pretty average quarterback by most accounts also managed to post 390 passing yards and 2 touchdowns against a traditionally strong Patriots defense.
- Buffalo vs. Kansas City: I know, Kansas City has look completely lost this pre-season and they looked even worse against the Bills. But really, 4 passing touchdowns in a game? It took the Bills 4 games last year to post 4 passing touchdowns.
- Tennessee, New York Jets, Cincinnati, Carolina: Teams that have been traditionally run-heavy teams managed to score 2 touchdowns a piece; especially notable considering the Bengals and Panthers are starting a rookie quarterbacks, Tennessee started Matt Hasselbeck who they signed in the offseason and the Jets who boast one of the best running back tandems and offensive lines in the league and have a run-first philosophy.
I think Bellichick had the right idea. Defensive players, most notably defensive backs, rely on instincts and physical ability more than “football intelligence” and that’s exactly what players didn’t have a chance to hone during the lockout as the only way to do that is to get practice and game reps. On the other hand, offensive players rely more on “football intelligence”, scheme and personnel to succeed and that’s exactly what could be practiced during the offseason (such as watching game film or going through a playbook). It starts to make sense why it seems like the offense has come out of the blocks considerably faster than the defense when usually it’s the other way around. When you think about it that way, the Packers secondary probably did pretty well considering it was week 1, Drew Brees and one of the most explosive passing offenses in the NFL.
Now for the reason why we Packers fans need not worry. Defensive players are getting their reps now, only it happens during the game. Luckily the Packers aren’t going to be facing a real offensive passing powerhouse until week 5 against the Falcons and then week 8 at the Chargers. Hopefully by then the Packers passing defense will have caught up and well go back to seeing the secondary that we know and love.