Previewing the 2013 Packers with Rivers McCown from Football Outsiders

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The Football Outsiders 2013 Almanac
The Football Outsiders 2013 Almanac is out now!

The 2013 Football Outsiders Almanac is out now and I would advise Packers fans to pick up a copy. I’ve always enjoyed how the almanac blends modern analytics and metrics with traditional scouting and the unique perspectives of a talented writing staff.

Rivers McCown wrote this year’s chapter on the Packers. I don’t want to give the entire chapter away — don’t be a cheapskate, go buy yourself a copy — but I did want to bring a little Football Outsiders perspective over to ALLGBP.com one way or another.

Thankfully, Rivers took some time to answer a few very long-winded questions I asked him about the 2013 Packers. Here’s what he had to say:

Adam Czech: The Packers defense has been labeled “soft” by many fans and a few members of the media. Is there any truth to that label? Or is what some may perceive as being soft have more to do with being injured, slow, forced to play six DBs, or all of the above?

Rivers McCown: I wouldn’t say that they are “forced” to play six defensive backs. The Packers play defensive backs so much because they are trying to force opponents to beat them on the ground rather than through the air — San Francisco exempted, that was a pretty successful strategy. Calling a defense “soft” is kind of irrelevant to the point of whether a unit is actually good. It’s true that the Packers defense is more injury-prone over the past few years than many other units, but that doesn’t really make them soft — that’s just a strategic choice that Green Bay has made to chase players of that ilk because Ted Thompson can build depth like no one else in the league. “Soft” is just an imprecise way of trying to quantify the idea that a defense isn’t good enough, and Green Bay’s defense is good enough.
 
AC: Does Football Outsiders have any statistics on the success or failure other teams have had after swapping positions along the offensive line like the Packers will be trying this season?
 
RM: I wish I had some interesting answer for this, but no, not really. That’s the kind of study that would probably have to be done with only recent teams, because offensive line shuffles weren’t really tracked very well in the past and the motivations behind most of them are injuries to begin with, so you’d be trying to suss out meaning from that. I’d probably just omit this question from your post.
 
AC: Will Aaron Rodgers need to throw seven TDs per game in order to make up for having A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones as the Packers starting inside linebackers?
 
RM: I’m not saying A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones are good players or anything, but they’re pretty irrelevant at the macro level. The Packers went three deep to find Jones last season and still had few problems romping to the NFC North crown. Middle linebacker just isn’t an impact position like it used to be. Sure, in an ideal world you’d love someone who could cover better than Hawk, but Jones got paid a fairly decent amount to come back for a reason. They’ll be fine.
 
AC: Based on Football Outsiders’ metrics and your own keen eye, does Morgan Burnett have a shot at being as good as Nick Collins? Even if he doesn’t, is he good enough to make up for the lack of experience in the candidates to line up next to him at safety?
 
RM: I don’t think they are the same kind of safety. Collins was more of a rangy ballhawk, and Burnett has a more diversified skill set in that he doesn’t excel in one area like that, but does just about everything pretty well. In the sense that scheme-diverse players now rule the NFL, sure, Burnett has a shot at being as good as Collins. Honestly, we’re pretty high on the other safeties too. Jerron McMillian made our top-25 prospects list. M.D. Jennings has also shown some skill. It was very telling that Thompson didn’t go out and get a new safety this offseason, when it was theoretically possible with the Charles Woodson cap space.
 
AC: With Eddie Lacy and Jonathan Franklin now on the team, do you think Mike McCarthy really will run the ball more? Or will he run the same amount, but hope for better results?
 
RM: We ran something on ESPN Insider earlier this year that basically noted that the number of runs the Packers have had under McCarthy — even during years like 2008, where Ryan Grant was generally getting good results — stayed pretty much the same. I’d expect Green Bay to keep running the ball as often as they always have. I’d also expect them to improve significantly because I am very high on the talent of both of those backs.
 
AC: I know I’m over my question limit, but one more if you don’t mind: Any chance DuJuan Harris is better than both Lacy and Franklin?
 
RM: I guess it’s theoretically possible. I know a few Packers beat writers still believe Harris is RB No. 1 coming in to camp. I just don’t see it on a talent level. Harris played above his weight class last year. He’s a punchy little scatback, and those have value in today’s NFL when they can also return kicks, but as a 16-game starter? Ehh. I think Thompson told you all you needed to know about his thoughts on that when he drafted two new backs.
A big thank you to Rivers for answering my questions and giving ALLGBP.com readers a little more insight into the 2013 Packers as training camps rolls along. Now go buy a copy of the almanac.
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Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam's writing on the Packers here.

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  • http://www.lyrictrumpet.com Bearmeat

    This is exciting to read! GO PACK GO!

    Oh, and btw – if you haven’t been reading about Ponder’s so called “progress” this season, I suggest you check this link out: http://espn.go.com/blog/nfcnorth/post/_/id/58316/vikings-camp-day-2

    LOL! We are still the big boys in the NFCN!

  • Mojo

    Interesting point by Rivers that the ILB position isn’t as impactful as it used to be. Makes sense when you consider teams pass more often than they used to where the OLB’s have a bigger say. Works out well for GB considering we have a somewhat unknown and Hawk as presumptive starters.

    • Stroh

      I think its pretty obvious ILB are devalued. Only time you see an ILB go in the 1st round is when everyone knows he’s gonna be a stud. Even the Packers haven’t drafted an ILB high since Barnett and he was converted from an OLB in college. Thompson hasn’t used a high pick on ILB since he took over. If you get a chance at Keuchly or Patrick Willis then it makes sense. Otherwise don’t waste a high pick on a player that can be found later.

      You have to prioritize positions and try to draft only the premium position in the top rounds. QB, LT, Pass rusher (DE or OLB), CB. Those are the premium positions in the NFL today. Unless you can get a real stud player at another position you’ll continue to see that strategy on draft day from most teams.

      ILB most comes off the field on passing downs, unless you find a stud that is also very good in coverage.

      • Ed Schoenfeld

        I think the Packers drafted Hawk after they drafted Barnett. :-)

        But in general you are right about the relative value of ILB in today’s game, just adjust the date to 2006.

        • Stroh

          Hawk was drafted as an OLB in a 43 D. He was later moved to ILB when they switched to the 34. So that changes the nature of the argument. They had to find a place for Hawk and he wasn’t big, fast or enough of a pass rusher to play OLB in a 34 D. ILB was the natural place to play him.

  • http://bluesberryjam.com BZ in BA

    This was one of the most informative articles I have read in awhile. Thanks for posting such interesting and high quality information!

    • Adam Czech

      No problem. Thanks for reading.

  • packett

    Nice interview! Great questions!
    Not sure I am convinced of his assessment of lowered value at ILB position. If Defensive tackles are merely to ‘eat up blockers’, then I would expect a fast roving, heat-sinking ILB to be key ‘peg’ in the run defense, and to have ability to cover short-to-middle of the field dump off passes. But I really appreciated his perspective on Caper’s choice of strategy, to allow softness in the middle/front…and dare teams to beat you with the run. But if that is the case, why does GB yield so many 3rd downs on pass plays?

    • Adam Czech

      I think in today’s salary-cap era NFL, you need to make choices. Unless you really hit the jackpot for multiple drafts in a row, you simply can’t afford to be stacked at every single position.

      It’d be great if the Packers had a couple studs at ILB, but if they’re going to be a little shaky in a position group, I’d rather it be ILB rather than the secondary or outside pass rusher.

      • Adam Czech

        On the 3rd down pass plays, I’m hoping Datone Jones and Nick Perry fix some of those issues. The Packers need to complement Matthews with another pass rusher from the outside or someone on the D-line that can get to the QB every now and then.