2011 Green Bay Packers Mid-Term Unit Grades, Offense
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With the bye week for the Green Bay Packers coming near the mid-point of the season, this seems as logical a time as any to examine how the units are performing.
When your offense is in the top three for yards and points, it seems logical to give them an A overall. But it is not as simple as that, as there are always mitigating factors.
For instance, one should look at the schedule. Green Bay has played four road games and only three home games. But there have been three teams with winning records outside of their game against the Packers and four who have losing records, and they have combined to go 18-22 against the rest of the league.
Then again, the Packers have been on the road for two of the three matchups against winning teams. If you want to get really technical, you can look at the teams they played...
That is the very definition of over-thinking things. A more relevant variable is how Green Bay slows itself down after getting big leads in the first half. If the Packers did not have the 10th-ranked scoring defense, this offense would gain and score more.
The reality is that this is the best offense in the football world, ostensibly worthy of an A+. Yet unlike a real report card, wherein a 4.0 GPA could only be earned with straight A's, there is no doubt that there are units that leave much to be desired in this offense.
The following are my unit grades to date during the season, complete with the grades they were issued for each game to date...
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Unit grades in order by week: A, B, A, A, A, A, A+
Aaron Rodgers: 171 for 239 (.715), 2372 yards (9.9/attempt), 20 touchdowns and three interceptions. He has 29 carries for 75 yards (2.9 average) and two touchdowns without a fumble lost.
Rodgers leads the league in touchdowns per game, and no one with even half his yardage has as few interceptions. This is why he tops the league in passer rating and total QB rating.
Perhaps a more telling statistical representation of his brilliance is that he leads the league in both completion percentage and yards per attempt. Rarely does one see the last two stats in combination, since, while yards per attempt is certainly helped by completion percentage, it is helped more by long gains that normally come from lower-percentage, downfield passing.
While it is true that he benefits greatly from his receivers' yards after catch, he also deserves some credit for that by throwing them open. And while his feet have not been the weapon beyond the line of scrimmage they were last year (third among quarterbacks in rushing yards), they are getting him a near-perfect passer rating outside the pocket, and he would be well over four yards per carry were it not for the plethora of kneel-downs.
Having a record-setting season so far is obviously worthy of at least a full A. His understudy, Matt Flynn, has thrown exactly one pass—normally too little for a grade. However, when it was to a wide-open receiver he missed so badly it was picked, it is worthy of an F, even if it is not significant enough to impact the grade for the entire unit.
Running Backs: C+
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Unit grades in order by week: B, B, C, B, D, D+, B
James Starks: 83 carries, 374 yards (4.5 average), one touchdown and one fumble lost; 18 catches, 137 yards (7.6 average).
It is normally pretty bad when your top back is averaging 53.4 rushing yards per game. It is even worse when he has as many fumbles as touchdowns. However, it is less of an issue when you have a two-back system, and virtually a non-issue when you have the passing attack Green Bay has.
While his 4.5-yard average has been helped by other teams' focus on the passing game, it has also suffered, as the Packers are predictable running out the clock. Furthermore, when one can still be in the top 20 in receptions and yards at one's position as part of a two-back system, it all adds up to a B-.
Ryan Grant: 57 carries for 229 yards (4.0) and seven catches for 52 yards (7.4), with one fumble and no scores.
Having a second running back averaging four yards per carry and over seven a catch for over 40 total yards a game is something a lot of teams would love to have. But as much as one has to allow for fewer yards for James Starks because of the two-back system, one would be right to expect more from Grant.
Grant's production is adequate, given the team's struggles running the ball, but nothing more. That equates to a C.
John Kuhn: 11 yards on seven carries (1.6) with two touchdowns and 34 on seven catches (4.9) with another score.
Kuhn has played unevenly in rushing, receiving and blocking. He has been fine at picking up blitzers and scoring touchdowns, but has done nothing to create holes or add to yardage production of the backfield. Giving him anything but a C would be to weigh those things he does well differently from those in which he is lacking.
Alex Green had three carries in garbage time for 11 yards (3.7) and a pretty important catch for six. Because of his injury, this is all we will get to see of him, but it is as much as one could expect given his limited action: C+.
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Unit grades in order by week: A-, C+, B+, A-, B, B, A-
The big question is how much of the success of the receivers is predicated on the skill of Aaron Rodgers, and vice versa. Obviously, they feed off one another, but there are some statistics that are more a credit to receivers than the quarterback.
Packers receivers are in the upper echelon of the league in catches, yards, yards per catch and touchdowns. But they have also been on the top of the NFL all season in yards after the catch while having among the fewest drops and fumbles (still none), stats barely influenced by quarterback play.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about this unit is its depth. While Greg Jennings is having a Pro Bowl season, there are 10 Packers tight ends and wide receivers who have caught a pass, and seven who have a touchdown.
Greg Jennings: 42 catches, 677 yards (16.1) with five touchdowns
Jennings is on pace for over 1,500 yards, which would be a franchise record. He is the best player on the best unit in the league, and despite their best efforts, defenses have yet to find a way to stop him. He does benefit from not having to see a lot of double-teams other than safety help deep, and he did drop one pass that resulted in an interception, but this performance is clearly worthy of an A.
Jordy Nelson: 24 catches, 465 yards (19.4) with four touchdowns
Nelson has emerged as the Packers' second best receiver, and the best at stretching the field. He is on pace for nearly 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns, and could be the first Packer since James Lofton in 1984 to have over 35 catches and average over 20 yards per catch. For a second receiver who was fourth on the depth chart last season, this is an A- effort.
Jermichael Finley: 25 catches, 334 yards (13.4) with four touchdowns
Last season, Finley had 21 catches for 301 yards (14.3), but just one touchdown through four games before having his season end on a knee injury at the start of Week 5. This season, he had 22 catches for 301 yards and three scores through the end of the fifth week, but has had just two catches for 33 yards and one score since. Still, that puts him on pace for nearly 60 catches, 800 yards and eight or nine touchdowns, worthy of Pro Bowl consideration and an A-.
James Jones: 19 catches, 326 yards (17.2) and three touchdowns
Jones was re-signed this offseason with an obvious expectation that he would compete for the second receiver role, but he is under 80 percent the production of Jordy Nelson in catches, yards and scores. Still, his pay is not unreasonable for the best third receiver in the league, and if he continues at the present pace, his 45 catches, 700 yards and seven scores will be worth over $3 million per year, earning him a B-.
Randall Cobb: 11 catches, 187 yards (17.0) and one touchdown; one carry for one yard
Cobb was drafted to improve the Green Bay return game, but those skills are not part of his grade on offense. While it was thought he would contribute when the Packers had the ball, the prevailing wisdom told one that with the return of Finley, the Packers would not run many five-wide sets and he would get little playing time. Instead, he has been effective enough to be fourth on the team in receiving yards, which easily earns him a B+.
Donald Driver: 13 catches, 107 yards (8.2) and two touchdowns
By this point, it is pretty clear that Donald Driver is not going to be back next year. He is still one of the toughest guys to cover and tackle, but he no longer has deep-threat speed. Someone will want his veteran leadership and give him a chance to get more than the 30 catches and 250 yards he will get as a Packer this season. But while no one can reasonably question his character, it is equally indisputable that by falling from second to fourth or fifth on the depth chart in one season, he should not earn better than a D.
Andrew Quarless: one catch, 21 yards
Quarless was drafted only 13 picks later than Williams to be a poor man's Finley. He still is the likely starter, based on sheer athleticism, if another injury should befall Jermichael, but has shown no improvement over last year, when his production was disappointing given the unexpected playing time. Thus, he cannot earn higher than a D.
Tom Crabtree: two catches, 19 yards (9.5)
Crabtree is the only tight end on the active roster who was not drafted, and is clearly the team's second tight end. He is better as a blocker than as a receiver, but being on the field much more has led to more opportunities to catch passes. Still, he has shown little to make one think he will ever be more than a blocking tight end, but since that is all he is expected to be and he does that fairly well, he earns a C+.
D.J. Williams: one catch, seven yards
Williams was drafted and kept for his potential, and should be able to push reserve tight ends for playing time who were selected later in the draft or signed undrafted, albeit the previous year. Yet he has barely gotten on the field, and in a crowded but unspectacular reserve trio, that cannot earn better than a D.
Offensive Line: B-
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Unit grades in order by week: B, B, B, B-, D, B-, C-
I do not pretend to be able to follow every player on every play, especially those the camera rarely shows. To further complicate the grading process, NFL.com tracks precious few lineman stats, making grading the individuals much harder than grading the entire unit.
Thus, grades must be driven more by the unit's performance and influenced by the few things that stick out, like the quality of players faced, penalties and sacks.
Last season, Daryn Colledge was the most likely recipient of any laundry, but no player sticks out as noticeably this season. One can get a feel for how well some players are doing by how the unit has endured injuries to both tackles, the position that always gives up the most sacks in the NFL.
Chad Clifton has faced the likes of Julius Peppers, John Abraham (briefly) and Elvis Dumervil. Still, the line play was markedly better (three B's and a B-) while he was healthy. Reports of his demise were once again premature...B+
Bryan Bulaga has not played as well as he did at the end of last season, but he has still been solid. His return has also helped to stabilize the line, as reflected in their grades the past two games...B-
Josh Sitton is not carving out running lanes as the team might expect, and struggled while the team supported Marshall Newhouse against the Atlanta Falcons. However, he is almost totally absent from the penalty column and remains the team's most reliable lineman...B-
Scott Wells also struggled in the Falcons game, and did well last week against Kevin Williams. Moreover, he is key to the line's unity because he is smart enough to recognize pass rush designs, call out protections and support where needed. Overall, the good outweighs the bad...B-
Marshall Newhouse has been flagged a bit much, and struggled against Atlanta, as most of the line did. He also was torched by Jared Allen last week until the Packers rolled protection his way, but Allen has been doing that to most of the league. The reality is that he has handled both tackle spots reasonably well, considering he was only a late fifth-round pick in 2010 and did not see any action that season...C
T.J. Lang has not progressed much since his rookie year. He was an obvious choice to replace an aging Clifton at some point and challenge Bulaga for the left tackle role last season. Instead, it was a tackle who was considered raw at that position who challenged Lang for the starting guard spot all but handed to him by the departure of Colledge. He has not been bad in that spot, but he has not been good, either...C-.
Derrek Sherrod was thought to be a work in progress, and has shown enough to still believe he will be a bookend in the future. Experimenting with him playing right guard probably stalled his development. He was barely adequate when pressed into action in the Atlanta game, and one would like to see a bit more from a first-round pick...D+