July is a boring month for football, but it's also when the Football Outsiders Annual Almanac is released. It can be a tough read that makes me wonder if I've stumbled into a college textbook on statistics, but the team chapters are great, even if you're only skimming over the percentages. I'm not going to copy-and-paste the entire chapter on the Green Bay Packers, but overall it's going to reassure fans that they have a very good team.
I will bring up one group of players: the linebackers. Selecting Nick Perry in the 1st round has been a big first step towards improvement, but I've been worried about the return of A.J. Hawk at starting middle linebacker. However, according to Football Outsiders, he was better against the run and pass than any linebacker who wasn't named Clay Matthews last season.
Instead, the linebacker who came out with major egg on his face was Desmond Bishop, who graded out as poorly against the run (worst) and pass (bottom five) as any linebacker in the NFL. Bishop's never been great in pass coverage so it's not surprising to see he had some problems, and he'll much better in 2012 if the pass rush is improved. But I've always thought he was great against the run, so his terrible ranking was a surprise. However, plays like this one didn't help his stats.
Football Outsiders probably counted this play against him. Adrian Peterson ran right at the spot where Bishop should have been. Instead he was blocked out of the play, though he did manage to catch up 50 yards later to make the tackle. This is a really good example of his problems and why he needs more help from his teammates.
At the snap, Bishop's lined up behind B.J. Raji at NT, and Howard Green at DE. Green, who won't be back next season, was pushed outside by the left tackle while Raji did nothing against a double team. In fact, the center was able to come off Raji and move up into the second level to block Hawk too. Raji's poor effort was probably due to the fact that this was late in the game (the last play of the 3rd quarter) and it was the point last season when he was starting to look completely winded because he never left the field. With a wide open path on the left side, the full back ran untouched through the hole to knock Bishop off his spot and gave Peterson a lot of room to run. Charles Woodson and Morgan Burnett each missed an open field tackle that could have limited it to a 10 to 15 yard gain. To Bishop's credit, he disengaged quickly from the full back to get back into the play.
This, of course, wasn't the whole story. The Packers were among the league leaders by playing with five or more defensive backs on 70% of their plays, and they were one of the worst overall, as a team, allowing 4.7 yards per rushing attempt. As much as Bishop struggled against the run, the defense wasn't lined up to prevent the run, and overall did a poor job against it.
What should happen next season is that the Packers will have a better player (rookie 2nd round pick Jerel Worthy) at that defensive end spot, Raji won't be as worn down from playing so many reps, and they'll give Hawk or Bishop a much better chance at making a play. Now we have to wait a couple more months before that can become a reality.