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On average, the Packers starting offensive field position in 2009 was their own 32 yard line. That sounds pretty decent if you’re just thinking possessions off of kickoffs. But included in the mix is offensive possessions off of punts, defensive interceptions and fumble recoveries, missed field goals, blocked kicks and 4-down defensive stops.
In 2009, the Packers’ defense finished second in the league in average yards per game given up. So we can’t point the field position finger at the defensive unit. Other than how much yardage your defense relinquishes, the next biggest factor in determining your average offensive starting field position is your specials teams return game. Jordy Nelson did an average job with kickoff returns, finishing 17th in the NFL among kickoff returners with at least 10 chances (an average of 25.4 yards per return).
Punt returns, unfortunately, were a whole different ballgame. Nelson was a putrid 36th in the NFL among punt returners with 10 chances or more, with an average of 5.3 yards per return. That’s called a field position nightmare. When Tramon Williams was given a chance at punt returns, he doubled Nelson’s average. But with the Packers’ secondary injuries, Williams became too valuable to risk getting hurt on punt returns, so Nelson took the bulk of the snaps.
Of course, it’s not fair to just blame Jordy Nelson. He was only there because of the injury to Will Blackmon, and there are 10 other players on the field who have to do their jobs, as well. Regardless, the Packers will be thrilled to have Blackmon back returning punts, and that’s a big reason I feel they are moving him to safety, where it will be easier for him to make the team (Probably as Nick Collin’s backup and as an all-purpose DB in the various passing D packages).
The Packers are expected to be looking at a variety of players to return kickoffs, including Blackmon, Sam Shields, James Starks and even Nelson, again.
I’ve previously dealt with the Packers’ punting game disaster, so I won’t repeat it here. Suffice to say that where you give the other team the ball can eventually effect where you get it back.
So how much did the Packer’s field position woes actually affect the offense? Apparently, less than one might have expected. Examining the numbers, the stats show that more than a third of the Packers offensive possessions started inside their own 20 (66 out of 191). Even more interesting, 24 of their 50 offensive touchdowns on the year came on drives of 70 yards or more! Move the bar down to 60 yards or more, and you can add another 10 touchdowns.
So, 34 of 50 Packers touchdowns came on drives of 60 yards or more. Even if you take out the 5 Packers touchdowns on single plays of 60 yards or more, that’s still a lot of long drives resulting in touchdowns, not field goals (only 7 of the Packers’ 27 field goals were on drives of 60 yards or more.) The pattern continued in the Arizona playoff game, where four out of six touchdowns scored were on drives of 60 yards or more.
So, it seems that in 2009, the longer the Packers offense had to go, the better the odds that they would wind up scoring a touchdown. I’m not sure I have a good explanation for this. Perhaps the momentum gained during a longer drive helped carry them into the end zone more often. Perhaps opposing defenses wore down at the end of long drives. Perhaps it was the Packers 63% TD efficiency in the Red Zone. Perhaps it was just an anomaly.
The Packers don’t publish these compiled stats for previous years, so unfortunately, I can’t go back and compare. So I’ll throw this out to the readers – what are your theories on this? Coincidence? Cause and effect? Mike McCarthy magic? Let’s hear from you…——————
Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.