It might be difficult to say that a team that won 15 regular season games went through many “struggles,” but the truth is that the 2011-12 Green Bay Packers had their fair share of significant flaws that were successfully covered up for most of the season. In the end, all four of them came back to bite the Packers in their 37-20 loss to the New York Giants in the NFC Divisional Round.
The weaknesses I speak of could be summarized by a high percentage of Packers fans. But while those defects pass the eye test, they also pass the stat test. Using numbers from Pro Football Focus, we can take a closer look at just how poorly the Packers played in certain areas of the game this season.
Missed tackles: 109
Packers coach Mike McCarthy was very adamant during his final press conference about how the lacking fundamentals in his team’s tackling was a major disappointment for the Packers’ 2011 season. This stat re-enforces McCarthy’s worries. The Packers missed 109 tackles this season, which amounts to almost 6.5 a game over the 17. In comparison, the San Francisco 49ers missed just 65 over that same amount of games. Charles Woodson led the way with 18, but he had plenty of company. Tramon Williams had 16, Charlie Peprah 11, Sam Shields 10, Morgan Burnett nine and both A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop eight. That’s simply too many missed plays from too many players for a defense to be as consistently good as you’re looking for in the NFL. Also, PFF had the Packers down for eight missed tackles last Sunday against the Giants.
If there was one flaw that consistently showed up in an otherwise machine-like performance from the Packers offense, it was drops. The Packers put 52 catchable passes on the ground in 2011, which was good for over three a game over 17. Jermichael Finley was the biggest culprit with 14, a number that led all NFL tight ends by at least five drops, and Donald Driver finished second with eight. James Jones had six, Greg Jennings five, Randall Cobb four and Jordy Nelson three. The running backs had 10 (James Starks four, John Kuhn and Ryan Grant three). In a pass-heavy offense like the Packers run, a certain amount of drops are excusable. But not 52. The same can be said for seven in one game, which is exactly the number Green Bay had against the Giants. It’s hard to be consistent on the biggest stage with that kind of catching percentage.
Big plays allowed: 80
McCarthy also brought up the amount of big plays his defense had given up this season as his other biggest disappointment. A year after allowing just 54 plays over 20 yards, the Packers gave up a whopping 80 in 2011-12. The number per game jumped from just over three in 2010 to five on the nose this season. 71 of those plays came in the passing game, and the explosive plays were a big reason why the Packers went from allowing 6.5 yards/pass attempt to 7.8 in 2011. The Giants exposed that penchant for allowing big plays in the Divisional Round, as they gained 20 or more yards on four separate plays. Of course, that included touchdown passes of 66 and 37 yards in the first half that put the Packers in a 20-10 hole.
Total pressure plays: 235
A common theme among the final interviews with the Packers defensive staff was the lack of pass rush this season compared to the last. We can again go to the stats to confirm that thinking. PFF keeps track of quarterback sacks, pressures and hits as a measure to track a defense’s pass rush, and, using those three stats, PFF agrees that the Packers’ pass rush took a nose dive in 2011. The 235 “pressure plays”—a combination of the three measures—was 25 less than what the Packers totaled last season. That’s not a huge number—about 1.5 a game—but you have to factor in the number of opportunities. This season, teams attempted 637 passes (No. 1 in the NFL) against the Packers. In 2010, that number was only 527. So in 110 more chances to create a pressure play, the Packers’ number actually fell this season. That scenario helps paint a much more worrisome picture than just saying the Packers created 25 less pressure plays. The biggest drop off came in sacks, where the Packers finished with 17 less in 2011. The overall hits and pressures were relatively close in both years, but the Packers simply failed to finish off those stats with sacks this year. Against the Giants, the Packers actually had 21 pressure plays—a number that I struggle to label with the game I witnessed. Even so, the Packers had just one sack and Eli Manning was far too comfortable on far too many big passing plays.
So, what do these stats tell us? The 2011-12 Packers were a flawed football team. For 15 of 17 games, those flaws were put to the back-burner because the play of the Packers quarterback was at a level that the NFL has historically rarely seen. But once in the playoffs, against a team that was playing its best football of the season, the Packers were unable to overcome all four flaws showing up at once.
Forget a blueprint for beating the Packers. They had their own four-step process for beating themselves, and they executed it perfectly against the Giants last Sunday.——————
Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.
You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.Follow @zachkruse2