Sunday, September 30, 2007

Beating the Packers

For the past week, anyone even remotely interested in the Green Bay-Minnesota game today at the Metrodome has focused on what could be the two most important elements in determining the outcome of the game--the Packers' passing game and the Vikings' pass defense. Given Packers' quaterback Brett Favre's resurgence this year and the Vikings' continuing difficulties shutting down the pass, that's understandable.

Of course, a failure to shut down the pass has not precluded the Vikings from staying in the game against the arguably more offensively formidable Detroit Lions'--a team the Vikings would have beaten on the road but for a late missed field goal attempt.

All of which begs the question of whether too much is being assumed by those who consider today's game Green Bay's game for the taking?

For all the talk about Favre and the potent Green Bay offense, few have bothered to break-down that offense. Though ranked sixth in the league in passing with 817 passing yards, the Packers have nearly 200 fewer passing yards than do the Lions. Moreover, despite the team's lofty status among the passing leaders of the league, the Packers rank much lower in overal offense--18th in the league to be precise--thanks to an abysmal rushing attack that has contributed a league-worst 57 yards rushing per game. That's the kind of imbalance that makes even an uneven defense look better against the pass.

Packer backers will note that, in spite of the low rushing totals, the Pack remain among the league leaders in scoring--the measure, they will correctly note, that tends to matter more than rushing yards gained for determining the outcome of a game. Through three games, the packers have scored 82 points, good for a 27.3 average and tying Green Bay for sixth best in the league, just ahead of the Lions.

There are at least two misnomers in that line of reasoning, however. The first is that marrying a productive passing attack and limited running-attack that can score points equates to victory in the long run. While the Packers currently stand undefeated, their extant formula for success is doomed to failure against teams that have a better balance on offense as well as a respectable defense. When offenses tied so exclusively to the pass falter, there is no recourse but the three-and-out. And that plays particularly well into the hands of a strong defensive team like Minnesota, regardless of its pass-defense warts.

The second misnomer is that the Packers' offense has been the key to its success this season. That's not necessarily the case.

Although the Packers have averaged 27.3 points per game, they still face outlier issues going forward. Is the 16 point result against the Eagles an abberration or the norm? What of the 35 points against the Giants and the 31 points against the Chargers? While the Eagles rank a modest thirteenth in the league in points allowed, the Chargers are a less respectable 23rd and the Giants are an abysmal 30th.

There is also the fact that, of the Packers' 82 points scored on the season, the offense has produced 66. The result is a less-gaudy points-per-game average of 22 versus 27.3.

The maxim in the NFL is that teams not named the Colts require a modicum of success running the ball to win on the road, particularly indoors. That seems to disfavor the Packers at the Metrodome today.

Of course, the other maxim is that to win, a team must outscore its opponent. If the Vikings' continue to run an offense that caters to the throwback desires of their head coach rather than conforming to the dictates of the modern game and, more important, to the game being played, it won't matter if some of what the Packers have achieved this season has been a consequence of who they played and when they played them rather than simply the transformation of the Packers into a legitimate contender.

Up Next: Post-game.

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