The League

Doug Farrar
Writer

Doug Farrar

A FootballOutsiders.com staff writer

The Pack is Back

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While most people would take the winner of the Dallas-Philly game as the most likely candidate from the Wild-Card round to go all the way, I'm a bit more interested in the improvements going on in Green Bay. In my most recent Smarter Stats article for The League, I detailed the Packers' enormous late-season turnaround as marked by Weighted DVOA -- per Football Outsiders' stats, they're the best team in the NFL down the stretch.

There are several reasons for this, and the most prominent has to be the change in pass protection. In their first eight games, the Pack gave up 37 sacks, and many wondered how quarterback Aaron Rodgers was going to last an entire season -- even when he wasn't getting sacked, he was getting hit in the pocket on just about every play. But in their final eight games, Green Bay gave up only 13 sacks. The line got better, key linemen returned from injury, and Rodgers displayed a better sense of when to get rid of the ball. As a result, Green Bay's Passing DVOA went from 27.6% in the season's first half to 40.9% in the second half -- from 11th to sixth in the league.

That improved offensive line really shows up in another stat -- in the second half of the season, the Packers ranked first overall in rushing DVOA. This is the secret element of the recent offensive improvement -- because Rodgers is one of the great young quarterbacks in the league and the team doesn't have a marquee running back, the Packers are thought of as a finesse-y passing team when they're actually very balanced.

The Pack also rose from seventh to second in overall Defensive DVOA in the second half of the season with an improved pass rush and the best turnover differential in the NFL by a fairly wide margin. Green Bay's defense has picked off 27 passes and recovered 10 fumbles, while the offense has given up seven picks and eight fumbles. That +22 margin is seven more than that of the Philadelphia Eagles, who rank second in the league. Winning these efficiency battles in the playoffs, where the altitude is higher, air is thinner, and there's no tomorrow -- that's how teams go to and win Super Bowls. And I think the Packers have what it takes to do that.

By Doug Farrar  |  January 8, 2010; 12:15 PM ET  | Category:  Green Bay Packers Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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You east coast hacks - make sure the Pack win their first playoff game in AZ in God knows how long before you proclaim them as being back.

In other news, the Cards will beat the Pack. You media types in the East Coast SEVERELY underestimate what the Cards can do. Their running game is much better than you think, and Beanie Wells is a much better runner than Ryan Grant is. They can score on ANY team and their defense is good enough for the Cards to win.

Posted by: homersimpson10 | January 8, 2010 1:50 PM

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