Giants-Packers: Mixing personnel groups

We spent a fair amount of time during the regular season tracking how the Green Bay Packers utilized and implemented their stable of offensive skill players. As their postseason begins, now seems a good time to look at a few aspects and consider how they might impact Sunday's matchup against the New York Giants. Our friends at ESPN Stats & Information have been particularly helpful in that regard.

First, I want to pass along the final playing time numbers for the Packers' top six pass-catchers, figures that evened out a bit after receiver Greg Jennings sprained his knee and missed the last three games. Tight end Jermichael Finley was on the field more than any other Packers skill player, but Jennings' snap count was on the same level before his injury. Otherwise, the Packers distributed time on merit in a way that probably could have been predicted in the preseason.

(Hat tip to Katie Sharp for mining the database to find those numbers).

Rotating six skill-position players so aggressively led the Packers to use 237 different personnel groupings this season among their skill players, according to video tracking by John McTigue. That counts receivers, running backs and tight ends but doesn't reflect shuffling on the offensive line or at quarterback.

That total was the third highest number in the NFL. For context, consider that the Oakland Raiders led the NFL with 290 combinations and the Baltimore Ravens were last with 81. The league average was 157.

The Packers used so many different combinations that their most popular group was on the field together for only 117 plays, or 10.8 percent of their total offensive snaps. For those interested, that group included Jennings, Finley, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson and James Starks.

The second chart breaks down the number of personnel groupings the Packers used in each game, from a high of 41 in a Week 5 victory over the Atlanta Falcons to a low of 23 in their relatively meaningless Week 17 victory over the Detroit Lions. So what does all of this mean, both in the big picture and for Sunday's game? A few thoughts:

  • The Giants didn't face many teams this season that mix things up the way the Packers do. When they did, they did not fare well. The Giants were 1-5 in games during the regular season when teams used 24 or more offensive personnel combinations. The Packers used a season high of 39 against them in a 38-35 victory in Week 13.

  • One advantage of changing personnel groupings is that it requires a longer scouting report and more studying of tendencies. Consider it this way: At any given time, the Packers could put one of 13 players on the field who has scored an offensive touchdown this season, including defensive lineman B.J. Raji but not backup quarterback Matt Flynn. That's a lot to think about.

  • To me, this is just another example of the innovation and flexibility coach Mike McCarthy wraps into his offense. Remember, last year at this time, we were discussing the wide spectrum he had established between five-receiver sets on one side and a heavy wishbone formation on the other.

  • It's amazing when you realize that Nelson caught the third-most touchdown passes in the NFL this season (15) while playing less than 60 percent of his team's offensive snaps.

We know that Jennings will be on the field a lot Sunday. The same goes for Finley and probably Nelson. After that, and in what combination, is anyone's guess. Which is just the way the Packers like it.