A brief word on pressure, the Packers defense in 2013, and now
In our upcoming season previewin’ September issue of the magazine, we looked at what we think could be the most important aspects for the Green Bay Packers, both offensively and defensively, in 2014.
Okay, for the defense we admittedly looked at a few things. The systemic nature of breakdowns, how one problem or miscue on a given play can impact everything else, new personnel and schemes. But there is one variable we came back to in the end: pressure – creating it and using it in a way, even as bad things happen elsewhere, that masks weaknesses.
Most NFL teams will probably say pressure is an important trait for their defense. In Green Bay it is paramount, essentially akin to our reliance on coffee first thing every morning from Monday to Friday. We used other information and invaluable statistics from Football Outsiders in the aforementioned columns, but the good folks over there just keep churning out delicious knowledge. Think of this as a precursor. (And also stuff we didn’t see until after deadline.)
In this particular case we’re talking about Football Outsiders’ numbers on pressure plays generated by NFL defenses in 2013. You can read about these stats – the percentage of time a team generated a sack, hurry, or forced scramble; the difference in performance with and without those pressure plays – and get a more detailed explanation (without any Packers mentions) from author Scott Kacsmar, who lays it all out right here.
But to boil it down, here is the diagnosis for Green Bay’s defense a season ago: Almost no team had its effectiveness rely so heavily on generating pressure. Additionally, just as crucial to that, was the fact that there was only one team (the Jets) with a lower rate of pressure in 2013; the Packers defense conjured up a pressure play on 21.3 percent of their downs.
According to these numbers, on average Green Bay allowed six more yards on plays without pressure than with. (Actually, when they got to the quarterback they were in the top half of the league, allowing just 2.2 yards per play.) And again: They weren’t forcing very much pressure by league standards. That, in short, is not a great combination, and this not a wonderful equation: Infrequent pressure plus one of the biggest gaps between yards allowed when the Packers had and didn’t have it equals, well, it equals what you probably remember it equaling.
These numbers are always interesting to us in what they reveal in relation to what we can actually see and watch. Obviously it brings back some not very fond memories, here. But – and once more, we’ll go in-depth on this coming soon – in the context of the changes made in Green Bay this offseason, if these pressure plays can almost only increase, if this tweaked defense’s attack rebounds like we think it could, so to should their overall play. Pressure isn’t everything. For the Packers, though, it would be one of the clearest places to start re-establishing some roots, changing the way the rest of the defensive system in 2014 works from there.
(And yes, because it is late August we are finding optimism even in the grimiest of last season’s numbers. We are not ashamed of this at all.)