Aaron Nagler hosted a Facebook Live session to discuss the latest Packers news and take questions from readers. (Feb. 5, 2018)
GREEN BAY – The Philadelphia Eagles proved you can win a Super Bowl with a backup quarterback.
If the Green Bay Packers had gotten out of backup quarterback Brett Hundley in his nine starts (74.2 rating) the production Nick Foles gave the Eagles in his six starts (98.6), the Packers would have had a vastly different season.
But as you break down the 2017 season statistically, there are too many failures elsewhere to think the Packers could have done what Doug Pederson’s Eagles did Sunday in beating the New England Patriots 41-33 to win Super Bowl LII.
They certainly would've been better than 7-9 with Aaron Rodgers starting every game, but the poor performance of the defense, injuries on the offensive line and limited production from the tight ends all served to drag down the team.
The following statistical analysis shows how the negatives outweighed the positives in 2017.
The Packers thought they were covered with Hundley as their backup quarterback, but it was evident he showed little improvement over the 619 snaps he played in relief of Rodgers.
Hundley’s season rating of 70.6 was the lowest of any Packers quarterback with at least 100 pass attempts since Don Majkowski posted a 59.3 during the 1991 season.
Two things really stood out about Hundley’s failures:
First, he scrambled way too much, often times unnecessarily, choosing to bail out of the pocket instead of moving around within it to buy more time. When he left the pocket, his production was abysmal.
Hundley completed 192 of 316 passes (60.8 percent) for 1,836 yards and nine touchdowns with 12 interceptions and 29 sacks. He dropped back to pass more than 350 times and scrambled 68 times (defined as running laterally beyond the tackles or forward to the line of scrimmage).
Here are some related scrambling statistics:
41 – Times he scrambled to his right.
11 – Passes he completed scrambling to his right.
103 – Yards passing scrambling to his right.
2 – Touchdowns thrown scrambling to his right.
1 – Interceptions thrown scrambling to his right.
15 – Times he threw the ball away scrambling to his right.
49.0 – Passer rating scrambling to his right.
33 – Yards rushing scrambling to his right.
The other area where Hundley’s game really suffered was the deep ball. In 316 attempts, Hundley completed 17 passes of 20 or more yards and four passes of 40 or more yards.
The Packers ranked 26th in completions of 20 or more yards. Only Baltimore’s Joe Flacco (5.6) had a lower yards-per-attempt average than Hundley’s 5.8 among the top 35 quarterbacks in passing yardage.
By comparison, Rodgers had 21 completions of 20 or more yards in 238 attempts before fracturing his right collarbone and a yards-per-attempt average of 7.0 (which was well below his career average of 7.9).
Here are some Hundley deep-ball statistics:
27 – Times he threw deep (defined as the ball traveling at least 25 yards).
6 – Deep passes he completed.
199 – Yards those completions netted.
2 – Touchdowns and interceptions his attempts netted.
45.1 – Passer rating on deep balls.
The big screen
One of the major failures of fired defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ defense was the inability to defend the screen pass.
Starting around Week 6 when the Packers went into U.S. Bank Stadium to face the Minnesota Vikings, opponents figured out they could shred Capers’ defense with wide receiver and running back screens.
The New Orleans Saints tore up the Packers with three screens in Week 7 that accounted for 59 yards and three first downs, including one on third-and-17 at their own 13-yard line late in the first half.
A nine-game stretch starting with the Vikings game yielded these remarkable statistics:
40 – Screen passes thrown against the defense.
34 – Screen passes completed on those attempts.
17 – First downs yielded on those completions.
21 – Screen passes allowed that gained 10 or more yards.
9 – Screen passes allowed that gained 20 or more yards.
Conversely, the Packers’ offense performed poorly with their screen passes. Aside from rookie running back Jamal Williams’ 54-yard touchdown against Pittsburgh, there weren’t many big gains.
In fact, the number of times the Packers failed to even complete a screen pass was astonishing. Here is a breakdown:
48 – Screen passes attempted (more might have been called but not executed as a traditional screen).
33 – Screen passes completed on those attempts.
3 – Times the quarterback was sacked.
8 – First downs made on those completions.
8 – Screen passes that gained 10 or more yards.
2 – Screen passes that gained 20 or more yards.
One of the narratives espoused about the failure of the Packers' defense was that outside linebacker Clay Matthews no longer was an impact player and needed to take a pay cut in 2018.
Matthews is due $10.4 million in base salary, $500,000 in a roster bonus and $500,000 in a workout bonus and has a cap number of $11.4 million in the final year of the five-year, $66 million deal he signed in April 2013.
DOUGHERTY: Packers need Clay Matthews playing inside
Set to turn 32 in May, Matthews might not be a sure-thing, double-digit-sack pass rusher, but the number of times he was in the backfield eclipsed anyone else on the team, including linebacker Nick Perry, who fought injury after signing a five-year, $60 million contract in the offseason.
Matthews had a team-leading 7 ½ sacks despite missing two games and playing 62.8 percent of the defensive snaps. Had the Packers not been so poor in the secondary, he might have had a lot more. Why? Consider his pressure statistics:
12 – Quarterback knockdowns, most on the team; Perry was second with seven.
12 – Quarterback pressures (forcing the quarterback to scramble or reset), just ahead of second-place finisher Kenny Clark (11 ½).
In addition, Matthews finished third on the team in tackles for loss (of players other than quarterbacks), broke up two passes, caused a fumble and returned a fumble 63 yards in the first Minnesota game.
Swings and misses
At times, the Packers were a solid tackling team, especially within their front seven. But at other times, the defense looked like it had never practiced tackling before.
The worst offenses took place in the secondary where safeties and cornerbacks whiffed on tackles with regularity.
Inside linebacker Blake Martinez missed a team-high 11 tackles, but as a percentage of his tackle attempts, his season wasn’t that poor. Martinez tied for the NFL lead in tackles with 144, which means his percentage of missed tackles came out at 7 percent.
Compare that with cornerback Quinten Rollins, who missed 29.6 percent of his tackles (8 of 27) or cornerback Josh Hawkins, who missed 15.5 percent (7 of 35).
Here are some notable missed-tackle percentages:
11.2 – Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
7.8 – Cornerback Damarious Randall.
5.7 – Defensive tackle Mike Daniels.
7.8 – Safety Josh Jones.
8.0 – Linebacker Jake Ryan.
4.2 – Safety Morgan Burnett.
17.9 – Safety Kentrell Brice.
After getting penalties under control for a couple of years, coach Mike McCarthy’s team is back to losing the war against the yellow flag.
The Packers committed 118 penalties, 96 of which were accepted for 789 yards. The accepted penalties are down from 100 in 2016, but the trend has gone up since it dropped to 86 in 2013 and 92 in ’14.
The last three years have been 96, 100 and 105.
As usual, rookies make up a good portion of the penalty perpetrators, but they’re not the only ones.
Here’s a look at the leaders in flags drawn:
8 – Safety Josh Jones (7 accepted).
6 – Defensive tackle Mike Daniels (5).
5 – Center Corey Linsley (2), linebacker Blake Martinez (4), defensive tackle Kenny Clark (4), cornerback Davon House (1).
Here are the leaders in yardage walked off:
91 – Cornerback Josh Hawkins.
42 – Defensive tackle Mike Daniels, safety Marwin Evans.
40 – Safety Josh Jones.
30 – Defensive end Dean Lowry.
26 – Tight end Martellus Bennett.
Assessing dropped passes is a subjective exercise, but one thing that was clear this year is that the Packers had too many of them.
And the worst offenders were the tight ends.
Free agent Martellus Bennett had at least a half dozen, but since several of the plays were nullified and the drops had no consequences he was assessed four. Still, that means he dropped a whopping 14.3 percent of catchable passes.
It gets worse.
Richard Rodgers dropped three passes, which means he dropped 20 percent of his catchable passes. Lance Kendricks also dropped three, for a 14.3 percent drop rate.
At the end of the season, the coaches seemed to be handing out drops like candy, probably as a way to protect Hundley from criticism for all his poor play. But the tight end drops were legitimate.
It’s also legitimate to blame Hundley for some of the other drops since his accuracy was poor.
A perfect example was the interception that bounced off Williams’ hands against Detroit. Sure, Williams could have had it, but if Hundley leads him like he should, it’s a probably caught.
Williams was assessed a drop nonetheless.
Here are the other drop leaders and their percentage of drops based on catchable passes:
5 – Receiver Davante Adams (6.3).
3 – Receiver Randall Cobb (4.3).
3 – Running back Jamaal Williams (10.7).
3 – Receiver Geronimo Allison (11.5).
3 – Receiver Michael Clark (42.9).
2 – Receiver Jordy Nelson (3.6).
Tails never fails
The Packers were consistent all season, calling tails on every coin flip, including two on the road against Cleveland because of overtime.
On the nine times they called tails, they won five times.
Here’s their game-by-game record (with their ongoing season coin-flip record) and their decision whether to receive or defer.
1-0 Seattle – Seahawks call tails. (HEADS). Packers defer.
2-0 Atlanta – Packers call tails. (TAILS). Packers defer.
3-0 Cincinnati – Bengals call tails (HEADS). Packers defer.
3-1 Cincinnati OT – Bengals call tails (TAILS).
3-2 Chicago – Bears call tails. (TAILS).
4-2 Dallas – Packers call tails. (TAILS). Packers defer.
4-3 Minnesota – Packers call tails. (HEADS).
4-4 New Orleans – Saints call tails. (TAILS).
5-4 Detroit – Lions call heads. (TAILS). Packers receive.
6-4 Chicago – Packers call tails. (TAILS). Packers defer.
6-5 Baltimore – Ravens call heads. (HEADS).
7-5 Pittsburgh – Packers call tails. (TAILS). Packers defer.
8-5 Tampa Bay – Buccaneers call tails. (HEADS). Packers defer.
9-5 Tampa Bay OT – Buccaneers call tail (HEADS). Packers receive.
9-6 Cleveland – Packers call tails. (HEADS).
9-7 Cleveland OT – Packers call tails. (HEADS)
9-8 Carolina – Packers call tails. (HEADS)
10-8 Minnesota – Vikings call heads. (TAILS). Packers receive.
11-8 Detroit – Packers calls tails. (TAILS). Packers defer.
By the numbers
1,327 – Yards rookie running back Aaron Jones would have gained if he averaged 15 carries a game and had maintained his 5.5-yard per carry average.
18 – Rushes of 20 or more yards Jones was on pace for if he had received 240 carries. The NFL leader had 12.
1,114 – Snaps safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix played (including special teams), most on the team. Center Corey Linsley (1,048) and linebacker Blake Martinez (1,036) were next.
1,993 – Snaps the Packers’ 2017 draft class played last season, the most since the ’14 class played 3,218.
136.7 – Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford’s passer rating against the Packers.
405 – Yards receiving the Lions’ Golden Tate and Marvin Jones Jr. totaled against the Packers (on 25 catches with four touchdowns).
18 – Sacks the Packers’ backup offensive linemen allowed (out of 51).
15 – Sacks for which Brett Hundley (10) and Aaron Rodgers (five) were responsible.
6 – Times rookie running back Jamal Williams lost yardage on one of his 178 touches.
9 – Times rookie running back Aaron Jones lost yardage on one of his 90 touches.
0.5 – Sacks linebacker Clay Matthews had on the 58 snaps in which he was a defensive tackle in the dime package.
16 – Starters who missed games due to injury.
52 – Games starters missed due to injury.