NFC North: Mark Twain
December, 5, 2009
By Kevin Seifert | ESPN.com
AP Photo/Matt LudtkeThe Packers have been stout against the run so far this season, allowing just 89.1 yards per game.One of the NFL’s top-rated defenses is making final preparations to appear on "Monday Night Football." It ranks second in total yards, second in takeaways and fourth in third-down percentage.
I’ll tell you what. Those Baltimore Ravens are always so consiste.…
While the Ravens' defense has remained strong this season, it is the Green Bay Packers who carry those lofty Week 13 rankings into Monday night’s game at Lambeau Field. The Packers’ statistical standing has risen quietly through the season, and even some of us who follow them regularly were surprised when they emerged last weekend with the No. 1 overall defense (based on total yards allowed). The New York Jets overtook them Thursday night, but the three-day stretch was significant nonetheless. In fact, it was the first time Green Bay had climbed atop the defensive rankings for any amount of time since Week 3 of the 2001 season.
We rely heavily on numbers on this blog, but every now and then I’m reminded of the old Mark Twain quote: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” I’m not sure if Twain foresaw the NFL’s methods for measuring team defense, but I think it’s fair to at least debate whether the Packers have built a legitimately dominant 3-4 defense or whether the ranking supersedes their true standing.
I think we all can agree that the Ravens will provide us an important litmus test Monday night. Their defense might have slipped a bit since its apex earlier this decade, but it continues to bring an intense and aggressive mindset. Their offense, meanwhile, has grown into a balanced attack that is no longer the stepchild of this team.
So let’s consider both possibilities and then spend the rest of the weekend hashing it out, using the charts as a guide.
The case for:
- After a slow start in September, the Packers have shut down the run during the past two months. Only one of their past nine opponents has netted more than 100 yards. That stretch includes holding Minnesota tailback Adrian Peterson to 152 yards on 50 carries over two games. Overall, the Packers are limiting opponents to 89.1 yards per game, the fourth-best mark in the NFL. The emergence of defensive linemen B.J. Raji and Johnny Jolly has played a big role in that success.
- Coach Mike McCarthy transitioned to the 3-4 in part because he wanted to generate more turnovers. The Packers have responded better than all but one team in the NFL. Green Bay has scored 99 points off its 27 turnovers. Both marks rank No. 2 in the NFL.
- The Packers have an interception against every team they’ve played except for Minnesota.
- Defensive coordinator Dom Capers is making excellent use of his best player, cornerback Charles Woodson. Recognizing Woodson’s blitzing ability, Capers has actually used more “sub” packages than he has a base 3-4 this season, according to McCarthy.
- Not everyone agrees that total yards are the best barometer of team defense. Ultimately, it comes down to how many points you give up. On that count, the Packers have been good but not elite. They rank No. 12 in the NFL, the one significant category where the Ravens outpace them.
- The Packers are 1-3 this season against teams with winning records. In the three losses, they have given up an average of 366 yards and 33 points per game. Those opponents -- Cincinnati and Minnesota twice – converted 54.8 percent of their third-down attempts. You could argue the Packers’ defense failed in three of the team’s four toughest games this season.
- With linebacker/defensive end Aaron Kampman lost for the season, the Packers don’t have a designated pass-rusher. In reality, Woodson is their best threat to sack the quarterback. Capers is heavily utilizing added pressure to get to the quarterback, blitzing with the ninth-most frequency in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Still, Green Bay’s 23 sacks rank No. 20 in the league.
Where do you fall in this argument? You’ve got until Monday night at about 8:30 p.m. ET to figure it out.