Green Bay Packers: 4 Stats That Sum Up 2011-12 Struggles All Green Bay Packers All the Time
Packers TE Jermichael Finley led his position in drops with 14.

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.

Drops: 52

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.

Fatally flawed

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.

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22 thoughts on “Green Bay Packers: 4 Stats That Sum Up 2011-12 Struggles

  1. That’s a 12% drop in pressure plays. The bigger issue was something Capers had mentioned; sacks are game changers. The other issue that stood out were the number of secondary members missing tackles. We ran a lot of zone, w/o having good tackling? And how hard is it to teach tackling? I just don’t understand why we didn’t use our DBs at what they’re best at. I know, I know, we couldn’t get pressure without blitzing…but you can blitz in man to man.

  2. Tackling requires the tackler to be attacking the ball carrier. The soft zone had the defenders either backing up or flat footed before they responded to the runner. That resulted in the runner having the advantage and in turn resulted in many more big plays.

    The dropped balls are coachable (I hope). Any improvement here just makes the offense that much more potent next year.

    Priority is Defense. The process to fix it begins now. Get rid of non-performers ASAP. Neal and Harrell are just two reminders. This is the area that needs improvement now.

  3. Some good analysis here. These are fundamental football issues and the Packers will need to go back to the drawing board to get these corrected for the 2012 season. In spite of all of the above, give us back 2 -3 bad throws by Rodgers and some dubious coaching decisions against the giants and I will take my chances that we are still playing this week.
    Since ’61

  4. Great summary analysis Zach. If your head is still spinning wondering what the hell happened – your re-cap paints a pretty clear picture. The only question is why wasn’t our coaching staff able to address this. Or, do we simply lack the talent to execute. I’m guessing a bit of both, with a lean towards the talent. Need definite upgrade at ROLB and DL. Not sure the draft will get it done. TT will have to step it up and shop for some proven talent. Also,Perry and Witt may be need to be replaced.

    As far as the offense goes, I do believe we have the talent – we just seemed to really lack the discipline in the Playoffs. I guess my head is still spinning a bit on that one. We changed WR coaches to give EB a shot. Can’t say that he cured the dropsies. Bennet and McAdoo need to get that figured out or be replaced.

    1. ELo, Agree completely with your conclusions. ROLB and RDE were the issues. One thing Jenkins did that we forget was hold the end on runs. This year that was Walden’s job and he was terrible. That in turn caused a whole lot of issues in the Dbackfield.

  5. Forgot to mention what a great piece of information you provided here. This is the kind f stuff that gives us the depth to speak intelligently on these issues. We are the best informed fans thanks to you, Al and the rest of his guys.

    Did you see anything on 3rd dow Defensive efficeincy?

    1. Thanks a bunch Ron. RE: Third downs on defense. I’d have to do some more looking on that. I’d really be interested in seeing how their 3-and-long efficiency stacked up against the rest of the NFL…

  6. Kind of interesting on the missed tackles. The players with the most missed tackles were all in the secondary. I wonder if this is the case with most other teams? Else, we have the worst F’ing secondary in football. Not only do they give up big plays, but let them rupture by missing the tackle(or vice-versa). Either way, they stunk this year. And I know the pass-rush was bad this year but still…

    1. Mojo, from the small sample size of other teams I saw, linebackers missed the most tackles. They simply had more opportunities. On this Packers defense, however, the secondary gave itself plenty of chances to make and miss tackles.

  7. On the question of dropped passes, did you see this article from SI, on a training tool used by Jennings to increase concentration?

    The article suggests (1) that Jennings (one of our better receivers on not dropping balls) got the other receivers to do the same training; and (2) that drops are down substantially since Jennings’ rookie season in 2006. This is apples and oranges to your point, but if you have year-by-year stats on drops, I would love to see them.

    1. Tom, that sounds like a pretty good idea for another article…Might have to get on that. It’d be good info to know

  8. If I’m correct, Capers also blitzed more than ever before. But is that the result of there being more pass plays against the Pack?

    Anywho, I think this is all the result of the lockout, or most of it at least. Yes, I know other teams were better than us, but Mike McCarthy is a coach who is very heavy on offseason workouts. Especially when it comes to developing young players Like Shields and Neal.

    1. If you trust the Packers coaching staff, then the lack of an offseason probably hurt Green Bay as much or more as any team. Valuable coaching time from a good staff missed out on. Good comment, Chad

  9. Great stuff Zach.

    These four stats were why GB just didn’t pass the eyeball test for all but 4 or 5 games this year. You just KNEW they’d have to do better in 3 out of 4 of those areas to win in a tough playoff game.

    They could have done it. Instead they laid an egg.

    TT/MM will get it fixed. I have full confidence in them.

  10. Agree. I can believe that Jennings had this training and that it helped. He is pretty good on drops. But if he in fact got the other receivers to do the same training, it certainly didn’t take with all of them. And it is one thing to say that drops are down about 25% since 2006, but (a) different quarterback; and (b) only Jennings and Driver were regular contributors in both years. Would be much more interested in seeing stats, year by year, over that 6 year period.

  11. All of the defensive issues have been well documented and there is no doubt the Packers will be working to correct them through the draft and the 2012 ota’s and training camp. In football it is also necessary for a team, especially the defense, to play with a chip on it’s shoulders. Some controlled anger is good for a team, defense is an attitude as much as anything else. To me this was what the defense was missing all season and missing from the whole team against the Giants. I am hoping that the sting of this loss will give the Packers a big chip on their shoulders for the 2012 season. Give the defense an attitude to prove themselves again and play up to their 2010 level. As for offense, Rodgers needs to lead them with a chip on his shoulder for sub par performance against NY. Time will tell.
    Thanks, Since ’61

  12. If I remember correctly, last year our secondary was a good tackling unit, last year we were hailed as having the best overall DBs in football. Know we seem to have one of the worst…wierd!

    Only 3 drops for JN, factor in the amount passes thrown to him and the no of great catches he had, what a great year he had.

  13. Perhaps of all the improvements needed a hard tackling strong safety that can put some fear on opposing wide outs might be the easiest to acquire.Burnet was that type earlier in the season ,but then also faltered.

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