Monday, September 21, 2009

High Expectaions for Offense Crash To Earth

Like me, I'm sure many of you came into opening weekend of the 2009 season salivating over the potential of our offense. I mean, we had Aaron Rodgers, who was being picked by most as a Pro Bowler, even league MVP by a couple of national pundits. We had the deepest WR corps in the league and a set of tight ends that seemed ready to set the world on fire. Even Ryan Grant was recovered from injury and was set to run behind three fullbacks on the way to another 1,000+ yard season.

What could go wrong?

Five little words should be ringing through your heads right now: "It all starts up front." True then, true now. Especially now.

One of my favorite light-bulb-going-on-moments was when, years ago, some television analysts were making the point that Buccaneer Errict Rhett had all of the skill and talent of then-superstar Emmitt Smith. So, why wasn't Rhett tearing up the league like Smith was? "Rhett isn't running behind the Dallas offensive line."

So, as our offensive line has sputtered, Rodgers has struggled under pressure, Grant has struggled for consistency (and holes), and our receivers have lost their rhythm. The offensive juggernaut we expected to start the season has folded like a house of cards.

Oh, sure, we've played both our games close. In fact, the Packers have scored 21 and 24 points against some respectable defenses.

But, a closer look would suggest that the Packers offense is struggling to establish itself on the field. The thing that kept striking me was that it seemed like many of our points were a result of defensive plays or opportune field position given to the offense. I wondered how accurate that was.

In our first two games, the offense has had 24 offensive possessions of note (I'm not including the kneel-down in the first game), twelve possessions each game. In that time, the Packers offense has scored four touchdowns, or one touchdown in every six possessions.

Of those four touchdown drives, however, only two have originated in Packer territory: the first possession against the Bengals, which was an 11-play, 80-yard drive; and the final drive of the Bears game, which ended in a 50-yard pass play to Greg Jennings to win the game.

The other two touchdown drives were set up by interception returns by the defense, essentially placing them on the doorstep, giftwrapped and ready to go. Against the Bears, an Tramon Williams interception return put the ball on the Bears' one-yard line. And the Packers offense only had to "drive" eleven yards following a Charles Woodson interception in the Bengal game.

All tallied, the average length of the Packers' touchdown drives? 41 yards.

The Packers have also gotten in position to attempt five field goals, making three of them. The starting field positions on those five drives were, in order, their own 49, their own 22, the Bears' 30, their own 24, and their own 21.

All tallied, the average length of the Packers field goal drives? 33 yards.

That leaves fifteen possessions that did not result in a score. Obviously, we have a drive that ended with a fumble, one where time ran out, and one that ended in a safety. The rest were all punts. But this is the most troubling stat of all.

All tallied, the average length of a Packers non-scoring drive? 13 yards.

This means that the average length of any drive by the Packers offense is a mere 17 yards per possession. By comparison, the Packers averaged 34 and a half yards per possession through the first two games of last season (and yes, one was against the Lions, but you do get the idea of what a juggernaut offense should be producing).

Not only are the Packers not able to put themselves in scoring opportunities, but they continue to lose the field position battle, especially when our punt coverage squads continue to struggle. Jeremy Kapinos ranks 19th in the NFL in gross punting average, but drops to 30th in net average with a pathetic 29.8 yards per punt.

[Note: Jon Ryan presently leads the NFL in that category with 44.3 ypp]

The disparity comes in the face of the fact that the Packers have won the turnover battle, rather handily. The Packers have had only one one turnover, a fumble. In comparison, the Packers have piled up six interceptions, tied for the league lead, with an average of 31 yards per return. They have also recovered an onside kick and foiled a fake punt, which are essentially special teams turnovers, too.

But those turnovers aren't always translating into points, at least by the offense. While both interceptions against the Bengals turned into touchdowns, one of them was run in by Charles Woodson himself. The four Bear turnovers (not including the one that ended the game) resulted in a punt, a safety, a touchdown (from the one-yard line), and a field goal, for a net of eight points.

In the Bears game, the defense compensated for the problems the offense had moving the ball, resulting in a win. But against the Bengals, a team far more familiar with the 3-4 and how to attack it, the offensive struggles were far more evident. And glaring.

So much for the second coming of the "score-at-will offense" many of us were expecting.

Simply put, an offense featuring Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jermichael Finley, and Ryan Grant averaging 17 yards a drive is a tremendous waste of talent, as well as field position. The defense may have struggled against the Bengals run game, but they still shouldn't have the entire onus on them. Our offense should have been able to drive down the field far more than they did, putting the Packers in more positions to score and control the field position battle.

St. Louis presently boasts the league's 29th ranked defense, and have allowed an average of 146 rushing yards per game thus far. If there's a game where the offense can find a rhythm, it is this upcoming week.

Because the following week is a Pride Matchup against the Vikings, who rank fifth defensively overall. And then, there will be a very long bye week to think about the results.

1 comment:

Kevin Purcell said...

Great analysis and it shows the real problem with this team is the poor decision making of the GM. He is directly responsible for the O-line's makeup. They have to play but they are not talented enough to play in the NFL. That is not their fault. They go with what they have. Ted should see that. I'm not a Ted hater. I have defended him for most of his tenure. But I am willing to calling it what it is. A serious failure to put together a good 0-line. We are one of only a small number of teams without a first round draft pick on the O-line.