Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Looking At The Packers' Snap Counts

Football Outsiders is good enough to provide snap counts in a sortable table, so I thought I'd take a look and see if there was anything interesting to discover in the Green Bay Packers' tendencies.

Three lineman (Lang, Sitton, and Newhouse) have played on 629 offensive snaps through the first nine games, so that's probably the total offensive snaps. Since it's not instructive to learn that the Packers always play with five offensive lineman and one quarterback, I'll focus on the other five positions.

RBs Alex Green, Cedric Benson, and James Starks have combined for 456 snaps, which is probably the most unexpected aspect of the 2012 Packers offense: the sometimes use of WR Randall Cobb as a running back. In total, Cobb only has 350 snaps and it's seemed like he's lined up more often as a receiver than a running back, so the Packers have gone with an empty backfield at least a couple dozen times. Cobb would be a receiving threat even if he was always lined up in a standard formation, but lining him up anywhere and everywhere on the field has certainly caused some additional confusion for opposing defenses.

TE Jermichael Finley has lined up for 392 snaps this season, which at first sounded low, but he's only behind WR James Jones (553) and WR Jordy Nelson (440) among skill players. Behind the expanded role of Randall Cobb, the biggest surprise has been the diminishing role of Finley. The dropped passes and a shoulder injury have been part of the problem, but the Packers seems to be using Finley more as a blocking tight end. They haven't lined up Finley out wide as often this season and they seem content using him as a blocker as often as a receiver. This might be the right decision, maybe he's likely to drop a pass or fail to exploit a mismatch, but it's taken away the dangerous element he's brought in the past.

On defense, S Morgan Burnett appears to be the player who never leaves the field with 630 snaps played. Adding up all the snaps played by defensive backs (3191) and divided by Burnett's 630 equals 5.07 DBs lined up on average. There have been 2334 snaps by linebackers, when divided by 630 equals 3.7. And 1404 snaps by lineman which gives us 2.23. So the average formation for the Packers is two down lineman, four linebackers, and five defensive backs. Overall, it seems similar to what the defense lined up with on a majority of their 2011 snaps, though the healthy return of CB Tramon Williams, and the quality play by rookie CB Casey Hayward, has made it more effective this season.

The only thing I'd point out about this 2-4-5 defense is that it's susceptible to getting pushed off the line of scrimmage on running plays. However, the run defense is ranked No. 13 overall by Football Outsiders, which is pretty good all things considering. Opposing running backs almost always get a couple yards, but they rarely get past the linebackers and safeties.

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