Game Preview: Denver @ Green Bay

Opening Statement

When I started my stat-based website (now at http://thequeue.webs.com), my main goal was to find ways to accurately represent each team with numbers that would help me decide which were the best teams and who was most likely to win the Super Bowl.

Last season, all of my stats pointed to New England or Pittsburgh as the AFC Champion and Green Bay as the NFC Champion.

While similar to my goal to predict the Super Bowl teams, I wanted to be able to use numbers to decide regular season or postseason games that appeared to be very close or with games with a perceived underdog that should be considered a slight favorite, at least according to the numbers.

Football is a very subjective game where the "human factor" is very difficult to quantify. Injuries also play a factor, and coaching is still one of the most underrated elements to championship caliber football. Luck can also play factor, as a bad bounce on one play can change the outcome of the season for multiple teams.

However, despite the great complexity of the NFL, there are some numbers that seem to do more than describe what has just happened. Before I discuss Denver's upcoming game this weekend, I will discuss some of the numbers that describe the 2010 NFL season.

Here are numbers from my stat-based website that describe 2010 regular season:

Top 5 Teams/Players in Quarterback Rating


Player Team Acc Tds Tos Sck YPA Rating
1 Tom Brady NE 65.9 37 5 25 7.9 107.9
2 Aaron Rodgers GB 65.7 32 12 31 8.3 95.3
3 Michael Vick PHI 62.6 30 9 34 8.1 94.5
4 Peyton Manning IND 66.3 33 18 16 6.9 89.0
5 Phillip Rivers SD 66.0 30 17 38 8.7 88.1

 

Not surprisingly, 4 out of the 5 made it to the playoffs, with San Diego underachieving again with a 9-7 season. Their combined record was 53-27. 

With quarterbacks becoming increasingly more vital to team success, its not coincidence that the top two quarterbacks in the NFL last season appeared to be on a path that would lead to a great offensive showdown in the Super Bowl.

 

There was only one problem - every team has to play defense as well as offense.

 

Top 5 Teams in Defensive Quarterback Rating


Team Acc Tds Tos Sacks YPA QBR
1 Green Bay Packers 56.2 16 24 47 6.5 55.0
2 Pittsburgh Steelers 61.2 17 24 48 6.3 61.4
3 Chicago Bears 62.4 18 28 34 6.6 63.4
4 New York Jets 50.7 26 19 40 6.5 64.6
5 San Diego Charges 58.4 20 17 47 6.4 66.5

 

While New England boasted the top passing offense, they were ranked 11th in the NFL and struggled at times to stop the pass. Their 30 turnovers in pass defense (interceptions and quarterback fumbles) were an NFL-best and masked their flaws as a defense.

On the other hand, the two eventual Super Bowl champs defended the pass better than anyone. While some might use this as an argument to say "defense wins championships", this is only one year, and both Pittsburgh and Green Bay have two great quarterbacks.

The combined record of these top 5 teams was 53-27, the same as offensive QB rating.

This would suggest that the best teams are the ones that perform well at both, even if they are not in the top 5 in both.

Top 5 Teams in Net Quarterback Rating


Team QB Rat Def QB Rat Net QB Rat
1
Green Bay Packers 95.3 55.0 +40.3
2 New England Patriots 107.9 70.9 +37.0
3 Philadelphia Eagles 94.5 71.3 +23.2
4 San Diego Charges 88.1 66.5 +21.6
5 Pittsburgh Steelers 82.3 61.4 +20.9

 

Again, Green Bay and New England appeared to destined for a showdown. They could throw well and defend the pass.

 

However, this does not tell the whole story. Every stat has a limitation. That is why I look at the big picture, using multiple statistics for analysis. I created a stat that measures the ability of the entire offense and defense. I included quarterback rating, a rusher rating, third and fourth down conversion percentage and the net points an offense scored and defense allowed.

Top 5 Teams in Net Unit Rating

The teams with the top 5 offenses were (in order): NE, PHI, SD, ATL and GB.

The teams with the top 5 defenses were (in order): PIT, GB, CHI, SD and the NYJ.


Team Off Def Net
1 New England Patriots 73.0 51.5 +21.5
2 Green Bay Packers 60.8 41.6 +19.2
3 Pittsburgh Steelers 58.1 39.2 +18.9
4 San Diego Charges 63.5 45.4 +18.1
5 Philadelphia Eagles 66.3 53.9 +12.4

 

Three things jump out immediately

  1. New England's offense was so good that they didn't need the best defense. However, much of their failures in the divisional round against the Jets were the result of an offense that struggled mightily to perform at a high level as well as a defense that could not get off the field on third downs. New England's offense masked a defense that ranked 13th in my unit rating.
  2. San Diego performed so well in many areas but made some of the most unimaginable mistakes that cost them at least two games last season.
  3. Despite what critics might say about stats, the two Super Bowl teams were in the top 3 of this one.

When the 2011 season ends, I can assure you the teams that do not register top 5 ratings in this stat or my net quarterback rating stat have almost no chance to make it to the Super Bowl.

Why? Because the best teams are the most complete teams and are almost always led by great quarterbacks and are almost always the best at defending against the pass.

What does this have to do about Denver @ Green Bay? Everything.

Denver has a front office that claims it is in the process of building a champion, and in week four, they face off against the 2010 NFL champion Packers. Hopefully, being on the road against a champion will help motivate this team to play like one.

 

DENVER OFFENSE vs. GREEN BAY DEFENSE

John Fox and the rest of the front office continue to stand by Kyle Orton as the starting quarterback.

Kyle Orton and Denver's offense ranks 23rd with a 61.2 rating. Green Bay has actually struggled to defend the pass much more than anticipated. They rank 18th with a 74.9 defensive quarterback rating.

If Kyle is going to have success, Fox and McCoy would be wise to try and test Green Bay's secondary. According to NFL.com, Denver has 7 passes of 20+ yards (t-23rd) and 1 pass of 40+ yards (t-18th). Green Bay has allowed 19 passes of 20+ yards (31st) and 2 passes of 40+ yards (t-16th).

In the running game, Denver has really struggled. In my offensive unit rating, they have the 27th rated rushing attack with a score of 38.2. Green bay has been excellent in stopping the run, with an NFL-best rating of 32.4. As bad as Denver has been at running the ball, running backs have had an even harder time rushing against the Packers.

According to TeamRankings.com, the Packers have allowed a touchdown on 30.77 percent of drives in the red zone (4th). For Denver to improve upon it's 11th ranked red zone offense (50.00 %), they will need to run more effectively on the goal line.

While Denver has improved in pass protection, with only 3 sacks allowed over the last two games, they will need to limit the number of hits as well. After 6 QB hits allowed against Oakland, Denver has only allowed 4 over the last two weeks.

This steady improvement is a good sign the offensive line is slowly coming together, but will have to play a great game against a Green Bay defense that has 10 sacks (t-4th) and 17 QB hits. Green Bay has also forced 7 turnovers.

For Denver to have any success, they will have to protect Orton and create running lanes for McGahee and Ball (and hopefully Moreno, too). While this may seem obvious, I believe the best way to attack the Packers is through the air first. If Denver can have some success on deep passing plays and stick with runs to balance the offense, Denver has a chance to get into scoring position more often and put some of the pressure on the defense.

Here are some more stats to chew on:

Stat
DEN Offense
GB Defense
Yards/Play 4.5
6.3
Passing YPG
210.3
359.3
Rushing YPG
76.0
55.0
3rd/4th Down %
46.3
42.9
Points/Game
17.0
22.3

 

The bottom line here is Denver is going to need to score more points than 17, and that starts with a more aggressive game plan.

 

DENVER DEFENSE vs. GREEN BAY OFFENSE

 

Aaron Rodgers is having a tremendous season so far that is rivaling Brady's 2007 season and Manning's 2004 season. He currently has a rating of 114.5 and is on pace to set the record for highest regular season completion percentage at 71.8. He also has only 1 turnover on 113 passes and runs.

Unfortunately for Denver, their defense is ranked 31st against the pass, with a 99.2 rating. I know most of MHR readers will look to Dumervil, Bailey, DJ Williams and possibly Marcus Thomas to bolster the defense, but so far, it has not been good.

Denver has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 67.7 percent of their passes for 7.6 yards per throw. This will need to improve against the most accurate quarterback in the NFL, who is also throwing for 8.9 yards per throw. Denver has been much better when they need to, only allowing 5 passing touchdowns (t-15th).

Denver has struggled to force negative passing plays so far this season, even if it is a result of injuries to key starters. Denver has only forced 1 turnover by a quarterback so far, on a sack-fumble by Von Miller against Tennessee.

Denver has also registered only 5 sacks and 7 QB hits, including two sacks and two hits on Titan's QB Matt Hasselbeck. This was the same Tennessee offensive line that allowed only 1 QB hit from the "vaunted" Ravens defense.

Pass defense is the only area that is holding Denver back from becoming a top-ten ranked unit. If they can begin to generate a better pass rush, more turnovers, shorter drives and fewer yards allowed will follow. Until then, they will struggle to force teams punt early on drives.

Denver has shown a drastic improvement from last season in run defense. Last season, they had a defensive rusher rating of 66.9, 31st in the NFL. So far this season, they rank 10th with a rating of 47.2.

Denver has only allowed 1 rushing touchdown and ranks t-13th with 3.7 yards per carry allowed but has allowed 4 rushes over 20+ yards and 1 rush over 40 yards. With the injury to Grant, Green Bay will most likely have to rely on RB James Starks, who has almost identical numbers as Grant.

The Packers run the ball effectively, even if it is not in volume. They average 4.2 yards per carry and 25.7 rushing attempts per game. Even though their passing game will do more than enough to win games, they have much more balance this year than they did in 2010.

For Denver to have any success against the Packer's offense, it starts with the edge rushers. If Dumervil and DJ Williams return, that add some great speed and athleticism to the front seven. It appears Vaughn and Goodman have really struggled in coverage, so the addition of Bailey would definitely be an upgrade. Again, the health of the entire defensive unit will play a huge role in how much they are able to limit the prolific Green Bay passing game.

Here are some more stats to chew on:

Stat
DEN Defense
GB Offense
Yards/Play 5.4 6.5
Passing YPG
234.7
294.3
Rushing YPG
100.0
109.0
3rd/4th Down %
34.9
47.4
Points/Game
20.7
30.7

 

The bottom line here is Denver is going to need to generate a better pass rush. Their front four are holding up well at the point of attack, but they are not generating enough pressure to force the quarterback into negative plays.

 

On Special teams, Denver has done very well so far. Prater has made 3 of 4 field goals (his 1 miss was 50+ yards) and he has 13 touchbacks on all 13 kickoffs. He is the only kicker that has over 80 percent.

Green Bay's kicker, Mason Crosby, has made all 5 of his field goals and he has 9 touchbacks on 20 kickoffs. He currently ranks 20th with a 45.0 percent touchback percentage.

On punts, Colquitt has been excellent in all three games, with the only blemish being a blocked punt in the home opener against Oakland. He currently ranks 4th with a net average of 43.7, including 6 inside the 20 yard line.

Green Bay's punter, Tim Masthay, has really struggled and has a net average of 27.8, last in the NFL and only two inside the 20 yard line.

Conclusion

Obviously, the numbers indicate that this game will be very difficult for Denver to compete in. The fact that it is on the road makes it an even tougher challenge. While I do believe that Denver has a good group of players on offense and defense, even if they are young or new to the team, I maintain the belief that leadership is the most important aspect of any sports team, just like it is in any other business.

This is on the coaching staff to prepare this team and put them in the best possible situation to succeed. It is tough to say that the only thing that matters in this game is wins, but at some point coaches need to be measured by the production of the group they are in authority over.

For Head Coach John Fox, that is the entire Broncos team. This means he is ultimately responsible for all of the successes and all the failures, whether that is fair or not. While Fox (and DC Dennis Allen) has had a positive influence on the defense, the offense has noticeably dropped off from last season. Whether that is on Fox or McCoy, the bottom line is an improvement needs to be made over the rest of the season.

Denver has the players to pull the upset, but Green Bay has far superior talent and great coaching to bring out the best in the players. If it was in Denver, I would predict a close 24-27 loss, but Denver has struggled on offense this year. So, I expect a 27-17 score that may be close until midway through the fourth quarter.

Thankfully, upsets can happen. Hopefully, we get to see one this weekend. Go Broncos!

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