Saturday, September 5, 2009

Some Sobering Facts About the Packer Defense

There is a lot of excitement over the defense this year. Is it warranted?

Unfortunately, not based on what we have seen so far this preseason. This preseason we have witnessed a defense that has created a ton of turnovers but has been gashed for big yardage and has shown a chronic inability to hold on third down.

But the problem with last year's defense wasn't that it couldn't force turnovers. The Packers were 8th in the league in turnovers last season---and led the league in defensive touchdowns. The problem with the Packers defense last season was that it could not find a way to get itself off the field in the fourth quarter.

What evidence is there that this defense will do any better?

There is none.

In fact, the little evidence---and I do emphasize little---that we do have suggests---and a do emphasize merely suggests---that this defense might have an even hard time getting off the field than last year's squad.

Now as a preface, I must say we don't have a ton of data to draw a lot of conclusions. But from what we do have the 2009 Packer defense looks a lot more like the 2008 Packer defense than it does the 2008 Steelers defense. Looking only at the starters--the backs ups were much much worse---the defense has allowed the conversion of 8 of 15 third downs, for 53%. As a point of reference the worst teams in the league last season in third down conversion were the Colts and the Chiefs who held 47% of the time. Lasts year's Packers were tied for 10th in the league at 38%. (The Steelers led the pack at 31%).

But whats far more troubling to me is how atrocious this defense has been (in admittedly limited action) in third and distance (which I'll call third and seven or more). On those plays, the Packers allowed their opponent to convert 4 of 8 tries. A middle-of-the-road team should be able to hold on a third and seven 37% of the time. The Packers have been much worse than even middle of the road. The Packers also gave up huge plays against the Cardinals on third and long, allowing a third and nine to go for 27 yards and a third and ten to go for 27 yards.

This defense might have a hard time getting off the field this year. Granted, it hasn't been as obvious as it should be because of all the turnovers this preseason. However, if the defense's primary way of getting off the field is waiting for Woodson to strip the ball from a receiver, its going to a long season.

And it was not just the Cardinals that made the first string defense look bad. I'm sure that most have already forgotten that the Browns' starting offense marched down to the Packers 13 (converting 2 of 3 third downs) before committing a 10 yard penalty and then missing a routine fieldgoal. Had the Browns made that field goal (and imagine if they punched it in for a td), I think Packer fans would have a much more level-headed, and in my opinion accurate view, of this defense. But they missed, and Buffalo committed a ton of turnovers, and voila the Packers starting defense pitched a "shutout" through the first two preseason games. Enter the over-exuberance.

Now, here is the where I add some caveats. (And I do this for a very specific reason: if the Packers defense is awesome right out of the gate, I won't have to admit that I was wrong.) We have only seen the preseason version of the defense. We do know that Capers is holding some super secret stuff back for the regular season. And the third down percentage will get better. That is a near absolute certainty. It has to get better, because there is nowhere to go but up. But the question is: how much better?

Here's an idea. Instead of talking Super Bowl (you know who you guys are) let's wait and see. And don't throw up your hands in disgust if the defense enters the season shaky. There will be a learning curve.

Let's give it some time.


1 comment:

  1. BINGO! The one thing I was looking for against Arizona was a 3-and-out from the starting defense. Even though we created turnovers, the D never got a 3 and out.

    As you mentioned, Capers hasn't come close to showing his full hand. When he does, the D should play even better. In my opinion, Capers doesn't have to be a miracle worker for this team to succeed. Just making it mediocre (ranked in the 13-17 range) would be an upgrade.