Final grades: The 100th season was far from memorable

B

Bob McGinn

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By BOB McGINN

Here are my team grades for the 2018 Green Bay Packers in eight categories. Individual grades will follow next week.
PASSING OFFENSE (C)

Aaron Rodgers was healthy enough to start 16 games and play 94.2% of the snaps on offense. Other than Davante Adams, however, the key pieces in the passing game seldom did much damage. The Packers did throw the ball better than in 2017, but that’s saying very little. After ranking 25th in passing yards (197.9) a year ago with Brett Hundley playing 59.5%, Green Bay moved up to ninth (264.9). Still, the best way to gauge a passing attack is the metric known as “passing average.” It’s the result of net passing yards divided by passing attempts and sacks. Here the Packers were a disappointing 21st. Adams stood out with 18 receptions of 20 yards or more, Marquez Valdes-Scantling chipped in with nine and Jimmy Graham added seven. Adams tied for second in receiving touchdowns (13), tied for sixth in catches with 111, one shy of Sterling Sharpe’s club record, and was seventh in receiving yards (1,386). Rodgers finished 13th in passer rating (97.6), his lowest finish since he ranked 15th in 2015 (the NFL average was 92.5). His cautious, disciplined approach enabled him to break Damon Huard’s NFL record for lowest interception percentage (0.3%). Together with DeShone Kizer’s two picks, the Packers set a team record for fewest interceptions with four. On the other hand, Rodgers ranked 21st in TD percentage (4.2%), well above his previous career low ranking of 10th (5.4%) in ’15. His 62.3% completion percentage ranked an unseemly 26th. Rodgers was responsible for the most sacks (13), followed by Lane Taylor (8 ½). Also, Taylor allowed the most pressures (30 ½). In all, the yield of 53 sacks placed the Packers 22nd in sack percentage. There were just 30 dropped passes, the team’s low since ’13. Randall Cobb and Graham each had six. The Packers were 13th in red-zone efficiency, a drop from third last season, and slipped to 23rd in third-down efficiency, their second worst ranking since 1988.

RUSHING OFFENSE (C-plus)

The inclination was to elevate this grade but that’s hard to do when the coaches really never trusted the ground game. The league average for rushing (rushing attempts vs. passing attempts and sacks) was 41.2%. The play-callers, Mike McCarthy and Joe Philbin, combined to generate a run rate of 32.5%, the lowest both in the NFL this season and in club history. In just one game did the Packers rush more than 25 times. That came against Buffalo (32-141), and the 22-point margin of victory was Green Bay’s largest of the season. When healthy, Aaron Jones was a handful. Of running backs that gained more than 500 yards his average per carry of 5.47 was No. 1. His best game (15-145-9.7-2) came against Miami in the Packers’ lone game with more than 150 on the ground. Aaron Rodgers helped by finishing 12th among quarterbacks with the exact same rushing line that he posted in 2014 (43-269-6.3-2). In all, Green Bay ranked second in yards per rush (5.01), its best finish since the Ahman Green-led 2003 team averaged 5.05. But with strict emphasis on passing, the Packers were merely 22nd in yards (104.2). The only lost fumble by an RB on a carry was by Jones against New England, but it became the turning point of a 31-17 defeat. Jones converted all five of his attempts on third and 1 whereas Jamaal Williams went 1-for-2. The “bad” run (gains of 1 yard or less in non-goalline and short-yardage situations) rate of 25.2% was a slight increase over 2017 (23.8%). Corey Linsley was charged with a team-high total of 12. Utilizing a zone scheme for the majority of their 333 runs, the Packers pulled at least one lineman on just 48 runs (4.96). Last year, they had a pull blocker on 82 runs.

PASSING DEFENSE (C-minus)

Statistically, at least, the Packers did admirable work pressuring the passer. The coverage, after they established vertical control at mid-season, was adequate. What killed this grade was being almost bereft of interceptions. When the Packers brought back the 3-4 scheme a decade ago, they went on an interception binge with 30 in 2009 and 31 in ’11. In this season, they established a franchise record for futility with seven. Other than Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, whose total of three in seven games led the team (he had none for the Redskins despite continuing to play almost every down), no other safety had a pick. The linebackers and defensive linemen were shut out, too, and the cornerbacks accumulated only four. There were only nine dropped picks, with Tony Brown and Blake Martinez sharing the lead with two. The Packers improved from 29th to 12th (234.5) in passing yards allowed and from 29th to 21st in “passing average.” The paucity of picks, however, largely was responsible for consigning them to a 28th ranking in opponents’ passer rating (100.9), the second worst in club history. Eight receivers surpassed 100 yards, including Minnesota’s Adam Thielen twice. In the first nine games, foes feasted on the secondary deep with eight bombs of more than 35 yards. When Tramon Williams replaced Kentrell Brice in centerfield for the final seven games, that big-play total dwindled to two. Despite not having a dominating pass rusher the Packers managed to rank seventh in sack percentage, their fourth straight top-10 finish. Kyler Fackrell tied for 17th in the league in sacks with 10 ½ but finished fourth on his own team in pressures (defined as sacks, knockdowns and hurries) with 16. Kenny Clark, with 26 ½, became the club’s first defensive lineman to lead in pressures since Mike Daniels in 2013 and Aaron Kampman in ’08. The pressure total of 172 was 10 more than a year ago. The knockdown total of 34 was the lowest since ’13. With Dean Lowry and Nick Perry each registering four, the Packers batted down twice as many passes (16) as they did in ’17. Improvement was evident on third down (13th, up from 28th) and in the red zone (tie for 19th, up from 31st). Jaire Alexander gave up the most completions of 20 yards or more with 12 followed by Josh Jackson with seven. With the defense tying for 22nd in most TD passes allowed (30), the leaders were Brice with 5 ½ and Williams with 4 ½. Alexander led in passes defensed per snap with one every 50.7. Blake Martinez averaged one pressure every 5.0 blitzes, just behind team-leader Antonio Morrison (one every 4.4).

RUSHING DEFENSE (C-minus)

In the last 21 years the Packers have had one top-5 finish stopping the run. That was in 2009 when they led the NFL (83.3). This season, the finishes were customarily mediocre: 22nd in yards (119.9), 13th in yards per carry (4.30). Unlike Green Bay’s offense, the opponents patiently attacked with the run (43.9%); 11 times their rushing output was 100 yards or more. There was one similarity to that stubborn outfit in 2009; both squads yielded just two 100-yard individual efforts. Washington’s Adrian Peterson (19-120) and the Rams’ Todd Gurley (25-114) did it this year whereas Cincinnati’s Cedric Benson (29-141) and the Rams’ Steven Jackson (27-117) did it nine years ago. The most egregious sin was allowing five teams to drain every second off the clock, and four were close games. The Rams (1:56), the Patriots (3:48), the Seahawks (4:11), the Vikings (2:19) and the Lions (5:33) closed out the Packers, and in most cases Green Bay was impotent trying to halt the run. Last year, the Packers came up with 63 tackles for loss (sacks not included). This year, that total crashed to 36, the club’s low since 2008. Clay Matthews and Blake Martinez shared the team lead with four. Martinez led with 147 tackles in 1,049 snaps (one every 7.14), just a shade behind Antonio Morrison (one every 7.12). The 140 missed tackles by the defense was its highest total since ’14. Martinez led with 17, followed by Kentrell Brice with 15.

SPECIAL TEAMS (F)

After the calamity that ensued in 2018, it’s hard to believe Ron Zook’s units earned a B last year. Utter failure in this area marred Mike McCarthy’s tenure; only Carolina fielded worse special teams in his 13 seasons. Where to begin? Even though the special teams usually were awful under Mike Stock, Shawn Slocum and Zook, McCarthy’s force of personality kept the turnover differential in reasonable shape. In the first 12 years the Packers were just minus-2 in the kicking game. Then came the minus-4 of 2018 fueled by 11 fumbles, five of which were lost. The 11 fumbles on special teams were the team’s most since 1995; the five lost fumbles were its most since ’98. There were eight fumblers, too, paced by fill-in punt returner Tramon Williams (3-2). Ty Montgomery’s inexplicable decision to bring a kickoff out late against the Rams (he lost his fumble) cost the Packers’ offense a chance to win the game and Montgomery his job. Losing return ace Trevor Davis for all but two games was debilitating. The unexplained release of SS Jermaine Whitehead on Nov. 6 sent the Packers’ smartest and best core player to Cleveland. His loss was incalculable. Opponents fumbled three times, losing one. It occurred when James Crawford stripped San Francisco’s D.J. Reed and Raven Greene recovered. In a 10-category statistical breakdown of special teams the Packers tied for 28th. Their only top-half finish was opponents’ field-goal percentage (74.2%). Mason Crosby ranked 23rd in field-goal accuracy (81.1%); he was 1-for-3 in game-winning situations. JK Scott tied for 26th in net punting average (38.8). The longest returns for the lousy return game were 38 yards (kickoffs) and 24 (punts). Penalties on Antonio Morrison, Josh Jones and Korey Toomer wiped out kickoff returns of 66, 64 and 53 yards. The Packers had 26 penalties, their most since ’09; Tony Brown led with four. Crawford led in snaps (333) and tackles (13). Highlights were Geronimo Allison’s blocked punt for a touchdown, Greene’s 26-yard run on a fake punt and Fadol Brown’s stuff of the Bears’ fake punt. Lowlights were kickoff returns of 99, 51 and 46 yards, a punt return of 44, Rams punter Johnny Hekker’s 12-yard pass against an unwitting Kevin King, Miami’s blocked punt when long snapper Hunter Bradley blew the protection, Miami’s fake punt run for 14, the Jets’ fake punt run for 4 and Lions kicker Matt Prater’s 8-yard TD pass against an asleep Josh Jackson. There were just 20 missed tackles, a low since ’12.

PERSONNEL MOVES (D)

Team president Mark Murphy interviewed Russ Ball, Eliot Wolf and Doug Whaley before promoting Brian Gutekunst to succeed GM Ted Thompson. Alonzo Highsmith and Wolf promptly departed for Cleveland to join GM John Dorsey, who in the fall of 2017 wanted the job in the worst way but was never contacted. Within six weeks, Gutekunst said good-bye to Jordy Nelson, Morgan Burnett and Richard Rodgers, among others. Gutekunst signed five veteran free agents, all of whom had seen much better days: Jimmy Graham, Tramon Williams, Muhammad Wilkerson, Marcedes Lewis and Byron Bell. His four-year, $56 million offer to transition free agent Kyle Fuller was matched almost immediately by the Bears. When Gutekunst had another chance to deal the Bears a blow, his bid to acquire Oakland’s Khalil Mack on the eve of the season failed. When it did, the balance of power in the NFC North moved with Mack south to Chicago. Gutekunst made nine trades, shipping out Damarious Randall, Lenzy Pipkins, Brett Hundley, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Ty Montgomery in exchange for DeShone Kizer, Antonio Morrison and draft choices in the fourth, sixth and seventh (2020) rounds. Starting the draft with 12 picks, he made three trades and ended up with 11 players and the Saints’ first-round pick in April. His move ups were for Jaire Alexander and Oren Burks. Two of Gutekunst’s 11 choices were specialists; he cut all-rookie P Justin Vogel six days after the draft. The three who made solid contributions were Alexander, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown. The seven who offered considerably less were Josh Jackson, Burks, J’Mon Moore, JK Scott, James Looney, Hunter Bradley and Kendall Donnerson. Cole Madison, the fifth of the 11 picks, never reported for training camp. The best of the undrafted rookies was Tyler Lancaster. Helping were “street” free agents Ibraheim Campbell, Tony Brown, Jake Kumerow and Fadol Brown. WR Allen Lazard is a player to watch for 2019.

COACHING (D)

Minus his implacable firewall, GM Ted Thompson, Mike McCarthy positioned himself for Year 13 with greater authority within the organization than ever before. He did it his way, too, excusing veterans during the off-season, scheduling no joint practices during August like half the teams in the league do and running a no-live-tackling training camp. During the season, he canceled a few mid-week practices. Few sensed it at the time but McCarthy’s finest moment of his final season was the comeback victory over the Bears in the opener. It also was the only W over a team that finished with a winning record. With his team off to a 3-2-1 start, McCarthy appeared to boast when he said, “This is where the technique and winning the fundamental component of the game is even (greater). It will only increase as you go into November and December.” He was boastful on Oct. 22, saying, “I think we drop back and throw the football as well as anybody, ever. Period. I think that’s reflected in our two-minute drill.” Once again, McCarthy pinned the entire offense around Aaron Rodgers, who appeared to question strategy more than ever before. McCarthy also refused to run the ball. Then came the agonizingly narrow defeats on the road against favored teams Los Angeles, New England, Seattle and Minnesota. The end came after the 20-17 loss Dec. 2 to Arizona. As a 13 ½-point favorite, the Packers had never lost at Lambeau Field with the odds stacked so much in their favor. In a disrespectful, unnecessary move, Mark Murphy fired a coach that was the 25th winningest in NFL history within an hour of the defeat. Murphy’s actions placed McCarthy (135-85-2) in the same category as Gene Ronzani (14-31-1). That is, they’re the only coaches in club history to be canned during a season. Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin accepted the interim job, and was 2-1 before the 31-0 collapse at home to the battered Lions. There was little statistically to separate McCarthy’s 12 games and Philbin’s four. With 12 giveaways balanced by 12 takeaways in his last 12 games, McCarthy concluded his career with a turnover differential of plus-103 in 222 games. Vince Lombardi was plus-115 in 122 regular-season games. Lindy Infante remains the last coach invited to return in Green Bay after missing the playoffs two years in a row.

OVERALL (D-minus)

A few days before the start of the season oddsmakers installed the Packers in a fifth-place tie among teams to win the Super Bowl just as Aaron Rodgers was made No. 1 in the MVP race. Four months later the Packers had finished with the 21st best record in the NFL and Rodgers closed his poorest season knocked from the finale with a concussion. Winston Moss, a member of Mike McCarthy’s staff since 2006, took a shot at Rodgers in a tweet on Dec. 4 for being, in so many words, difficult to handle and was fired within 24 hours. With 6-9-1 coming on the heels of 7-9 in 2017, the Packers owned their first back-to-back losing seasons since 1990-’91. At least these Packers didn’t suffer the indignity of being the first squad from Green Bay to go 0-8 on the road. They finally got off the schneid Dec. 23 against the lowly Jets. Injuries, as almost always happens in Green Bay, were a problem. Fifteen starters sat out a total of 73 games just as 16 backups missed 89 more for a total of 31-162. In 2017, that number was 33-161. In 2016, it was 26-152. The Packers couldn’t win as an underdog (0-6-1) and they flopped in the NFC North (1-4-1) for a second straight season. The schedule (124-130-2) was more than manageable. Since a 6-0 start in 2015 the Packers are 27-30-1. Losing is the new reality in Green Bay. The 100th season in franchise history was a washout.



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ChampionshipBelt

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As I said all season, we need to run the ball more. 32.5%. That is absolutely ridiculous. I would say that is a big part of the reason we had 53 sacks. I know AR holds on to the ball too long at times but running the ball more would help with sacks and play action. (WR's getting open) Once again it proves how MM and his staff were all about riding AR.

I think we will see a change with LaFluer. At least closer to a 50/50 balance. That along with motion and different sets at the line of scrimmage, we hopefully will see an improvement offensively.
 

Packinatl

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As I said all season, we need to run the ball more. 32.5%. That is absolutely ridiculous. I would say that is a big part of the reason we had 53 sacks. I know AR holds on to the ball too long at times but running the ball more would help with sacks and play action. (WR's getting open) Once again it proves how MM and his staff were all about riding AR.

I think we will see a change with LaFluer. At least closer to a 50/50 balance. That along with motion and different sets at the line of scrimmage, we hopefully will see an improvement offensively.
I don't think we will see a 50/50 balance and I hope we don't. #1 depth at RB and #12 is far and away our best weapon. Rams were at 44.7% and thats with a stud TB. KC was at 39% even NE was I think 43%.
 

ChampionshipBelt

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I don't think we will see a 50/50 balance and I hope we don't. #1 depth at RB and #12 is far and away our best weapon. Rams were at 44.7% and thats with a stud TB. KC was at 39% even NE was I think 43%.
I agree, Pack. Not looking for 50/50 but it has to be closer then 32.5%. Especially when we are averaging over 5 yards per carry.
 

Cheesedog

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Pretty spot on again by McGinn..

The good thing is none of it matters for next year since GH is essentially starting over everywhere.....
 
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