Wednesday, January 28, 2004

2003 Packers In Review. I'm defenitely not using a letter grade system to review the Packers. That is as arbitrary as real school grades, and itdoesn't tell you all you need to know about someone. No pythagorean (if team X scores A points and allows B points, its record should be C-D) outcomes because it doesn't say much either. I will use rankings from Football for some statistical analysis in this review and rank the units from best to worst, although the worst unit on the team was still league average.

Overall. The Packers were the 9th best team in the NFL, ranked according to the team's overall DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average). They were 14.9% over average, which doesn't predict anything when you realize the 18th best team in the league with a -5.8% below average team (Carolina) is going to the Super Bowl. Overall they were good enough to make the playoffs, good enough to beat any team in the playoffs (including beating the best team in the NFC, 5th ranked Seattle), but didn't make the plays when they needed it. Carolina and Philadelphia were both inferior teams overall, but both made big plays when it mattered. The Packers got few lucky bounces, it wasn't one of those magical years where everything breaks your way, and it just wasn't their year.

Run Offense. The best offensive line in the NFL was the best at opening holes for the running backs and the 3rd best at preventing negative runs with 80% of all running plays going for positive yards. Ahman Green was the main beneficiary with a 27.5 DPAR (Defense-adjusted Points Above Replacement) and the 4th back RB in the NFL. Overall the rush offense only ranks 12th because of all the fumbles, however, few if any fumbles occured over the last several games. Green, Tony Fisher and Najeh Davenport make up the best set of backs in the NFL. With the return of this entire unit in 2004, with the possible exception of possible free agent Chad Clifton, this unit could be the best run offense in the NFC in 2004 if the fumbles have stopped.

Pass defense. Only St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Dallas had better pass defenses in the NFC than the Packers. Its more impressive when you consider that the Packers pass rush recorded a sack on only 6.1% of pass plays which is only slightly above the league average of 6%. The pass blitz was rarely succesful and better execution on pass blitzes and stunts might greatly improve its success rate. Darren Sharper, Mike McKenzie, Al Harris, and Michael Hawthorne all were consistently solid, but not spectacular, in coverage. The linebackers were solid on coverage of the tight ends and running backs, with an exception in the San Diego game against Antonio Gates and LaDainian Tomlinson. Only Minnesota, St. Louis and San Francisco had more interceptions in the NFC than the Packers. Only Antuan Edwards and Hannibal Navies might leave from this unit, so it should be strong again in 2004 and they could be much improved with better pass blitzing.

Pass Offense. Brett Favre is either loved or hated. I appreciate that on 95% of plays, he is playing as well as any QB in the NFL, however, on the other 5% he takes risks that make him look like a rookie. So many NFL teams run such conservative offensive schemes, attempting perfect execution along with no turnovers, that their offenses are often anemic. Some teams look so much better in a hurry up offense that you wonder why they don't hurry up all the time. Favre is always running a hurry up offense, more often than not he is successful, but sometimes its a fiasco. Favre ended the season with his career best season completion percentage (65.4%), but he is likely to be remember this season for his jump ball interception in OT vs. Philadelphia. Favre's aggressive play created the most touchdown passes in the NFL (32) and the 3rd most interceptions (21). All those turnovers slipped his ranking to 16th among QBs and the pass offense to 11th. The offensive line was excellent in pass defense, allowing a sack only 18 times or 4.1% of their pass plays. There is room for improvement at wide receiver, Donald Driver was tops as the 25th best receiver in the NFL, while Javon Walker and Robert Ferguson were both top 40 and are likely to improve in 2004. The tight ends provided little to nothing all season, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Bubba Franks, David Martin, and Wesley Walls all return in 2004 and hopefully they can improve under a new tight ends coach. This unit should be excellent in 2004, maybe even better with improved receiver play, although Favre is unlikely to throw less than 20 interceptions.

Run defense. This unit only got better as the season went on, due in large part to the signing of Grady Jackson. The Packers were the 5th best run defense on carries under 10 yards, however, they were below average at stopping runs for negative yards (20th) and preventing runs over 10 yards (22nd). Overall they were 11th in the NFL. The Packers were poor run blitzers last year and Edwards had some trouble tackling, the game in Chicago comes to mind. Maybe improvement by Marques Anderson as a run blitzer and a full season for him in run support will improve both areas. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Packers look for a new strong safety, the Packers briefly flirted with Sammy Knight last offseason, but I would be surprised to see wholesale changes on the defensive line and at linebacker.

Special Teams. With the exception of Ryan Longwell, who is perfect from within 45 yards on field goals and perfect on extra points, this entire unit could be revamped. Overall the unit was average and the 12th best unit in the NFL. Josh Bidwell is a free agent and I wouldn't expect him back, unless at a league minimum salary. Antonio Chapman had some moments as a kick and punt returner, but was not a factor. Davenport might be an exciting kick returner in 2004, if he is given the job, after watching him as a kick returner over the last few games. The kick coverage is desperate for a gunner to make an impact.

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