This past week, Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy gave his season-ending press conference. I detailed some of his responses here. One comment that he made still resonates with me. When asked if he was going to look at the team’s injury situation and look into why so many Packers players were lost due to injury, part of McCarthy’s answer was that “stats are for losers.” Now, in fairness, that wasn’t the entire response.
McCarthy went on to add that when one looks too far into stats, it can build false confidences and negatives. He said they need to look beyond just the numbers to really determine what is going on.
That’s great and all and I know he doesn’t particularly enjoy talking to the media and especially when answering questions about some of the negative things that are going on. I get the whole “Pittsburgh macho” thing that he’s going for the “we have it under control and you don’t know what’s really going on here” mantra. But perhaps McCarthy forgets that we all own televisions or are sitting in the stands? The fact of the matter is that the numbers DO matter.
If you ask any good CEO to evaluate a company’s health and describe what is going on, they’ll likely use stats. Numbers are important. They don’t tell the entire story but they are one of the primary illustrators of what is happening. Many times I’ll ask someone what happened in a game and they’ll say “the box score doesn’t tell the whole story”. Sure, it doesn’t measure things like energy level, enthusiasm or my personal favorite: toughness. But more often than not, something can be drawn from the numerical recap.
I’m talking about more than just the Packers injury situation, although that is certainly something that the Packers need to look into. 15 players ended up on season-ending injured reserve this season and they did use the IR-Designated for return option on receiver Randall Cobb. I get that football is a physical sport and that not all injuries are preventable. Still and far too often, the Packers are seeing their players drop in bunches. Is it amplified by the lack of depth behind the key players getting hurt or are there simply too many of them? As I have said before, I am not sure but if you ask any consultant for their opinion on the matter, the first thing they’re going to look is. . the stats.
Looking beyond injuries are more stats that offer some evidence as to what the Packers might want to consider and look into heading into this offseason. McCarthy says stats are for losers and technically, the Packers have lost their last game in three of the past four seasons. It’s unfair to call the Packers “losers” and I’m hardly implying that here. No team wins a championship every year. But we can all likely agree that the manner in which Green Bay has been ousted over the past few seasons is cause for concern as it pertains to moving forward.
Starting on the defensive side of the ball, it’s hard to ignore a few stats. The simplest ones start with the team that has bounced the Packers the last two seasons in a row. The San Francisco 49ers have won the last four consecutive meetings between the two teams and have baffled the Packers defense each time. 9ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has thrown for nearly 1,000 yards and run for close to 300 during those four games. Did I mention that Kaepernick didn’t even play in one of them? Those stats are a problem and no surprise, they led to Packers losses.
This season, the Packers finished 25th in total defense according to the single stat of yards per game surrendered. The Packers gave up 372 this season. If you look at yards per play, the Packers gave up the fifth-most at 5.9. Look at points per game allowed, the Packers were eigth with 26.8. None of the seven teams who gave up more points made the postseason. Green Bay finished ranked 24th in both passing and rushing yards allowed per game. More stats that might tell us why the Packers didn’t win more games.
Next, let’s take a look at special teams. If we go by the McCarthy mentality, he will talk to us all day about the good seasons punter Tim Masthay and kicker Mason Crosby had. He’ll tell us that Crosby fought adversity and returned to top form in 2013 after a wretched 2012. What McCarthy won’t likely talk about is the fact that the Packers were bottom feeders when it came to covering kicks this past season. Green Bay was better than only three teams in terms of average kick return yardage surrendered (25.9 yards). As far as average punt return yards given up, the Packers were third-worst (13.1 yards) behind only the New York Giants and Indianapolis Colts.
If you put a challenged defense up against the high likelihood that the opposition is going to have better-than-average starting field position, you may see a reason why the Packers gave up lots of yardage and points. Some will point back to the injuries and say “wait until they have a healthy Clay Matthews and Casey Hayward” or “the Packers were without Aaron Rodgers for half of the season” as a reason why. It’s true, those were all big losses for this team. It also magnifies the lack of play making ability behind some of those starters. Still, the numbers do paint a picture worth looking at.
That’s where my concern lies. How carefully will McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson look at those numbers, a.k.a. stats? Was McCarthy simply speaking out of emotion and the frustration of another disappointing playoff loss? Or do the Packers really believe that they have all of the answers and just need to “stay healthy and execute”?
McCarthy also said, during the same press conference, that he’s not going into this offseason looking to make a lot of changes. Perhaps in sheer number, many changes aren’t needed, but there are a few glaring ones that do need to be made. So without stats and numbers, how do the Packers determine which changes are needed and what their goals will be in 2014?
I find it funny that when asked about a particular player’s performance in a past game, McCarthy has often said that he was going to look at the tape and grade each player out. Wouldn’t that require some sort of numerical system and ranking? I guess we can argue that those aren’t really “stats”, but that’s getting technical and arguing semantics.
It has already been said that this could be one of the most interesting off seasons for the Packers in recent memory. Based on some of the needs that the team has had the last few seasons and that the Packers chose not to take a different course of action (safety position most namely), I guess I can’t say I’d be shocked if Thompson didn’t make any significant moves. I would, however, be disappointed. Would he really be that bold and ignorant of the need for obvious changes for this team to be more competitive?
The Packers can’t afford to ignore a useful resource in the numbers and trends, often referred to as stats, that have led to three straight disappointing playoff performances. If they do, they may not even get there as the rest of the division and NFC continue to develop and evolve. A failure to realize and address their constant shortcomings will lead to the Packers walking off the field as losers and on the bad end of the most important stat: the scoreboard.
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: