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  • Will Aaron Jones break out in Matt LaFleur’s passing game? Not so fast
    by Peter_Bukowski on July 17, 2019 at 7:45 pm

    Aaron Jones is an electric back, but don’t expect Matt LaFleur to make him a staple of the passing game. | Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images Much has been made of Matt LaFleur potentially adding his running backs to the passing game in a way Mike McCarthy was reticent to employ. Would that even be a good idea? The clips inevitably go viral on Green Bay Packers Twitter. Aaron Rodgers gets to the top of his drop, doesn’t like what he sees, fires the ball to Aaron Jones who scampers for a first down. Why didn’t Mike McCarthy employ Jones more as a receiver? Why was Rodgers so reluctant to check the ball down instead of throwing it away or taking the sack? Such questions plague this offense under the previous administration, ones purportedly answered by play-action disciple Matt LaFleur. His former boss Kyle Shanahan is one of the most effective designers in the league at getting his backs big plays in the passing game. Problem solved right? Even after signing Dion Lewis and making him a major part of the offense however, the Titans rarely involved the running backs in the passing game on early downs. In fact, only two teams did it less often, the Texans and the 49ers, the second of which happens to be the brainchild of the aforementioned Shanahan (h/t to The Athletic’s Ben Baldwin for the stats). Using Estimated Points Added, or EPA for short, the 49ers were fourth in the league when they threw to backs on first and second down despite not doing it particularly often. The Texans were 29th and the Titans were 24th. In other words, despite being high efficient when the 49ers threw to their backs, they didn’t do it very often. This is both by design—shot plays to backs can’t be called that often—and necessity. Despite San Francisco’s relative efficiency here, throwing to running backs simply isn’t as efficient as throwing to receivers or tight ends. In fact, only two teams were able to match the average NFL EPA for receivers and tight ends when they were throwing to their backs. This may seem intuitive, but the numbers bear it out: If you’re going to throw it to someone, throw it to someone whose primary job it is to catch and run with it. The Packers under LaFleur will certainly throw it to Jones and Jamaal Williams on checkdowns and screens. There will also be some Shanahan wrinkles with running back seam routes and leak plays designed to create confusion on defense, leaving the back wide open for a big play. But it shouldn’t be the staple of the offense and, based on what we know about LaFleur along with his coaching pedigree, it’s also unlikely to be. Whether those are related isn’t relative to the outcome, though it’s an interesting question worth asking. Does a team like Green Bay, who employs in-house analytics staff, look at these numbers, ones that show throwing to the running back is simply less efficient than throwing to receivers and tight ends, and take that information and use it to create game plans? They should, but do they? This question becomes even more interesting considering the Patriots throw to their backs more than any other team in the league on early downs, yet they are one of the teams on the forefront of analytic usage. Here’s the fundamental truth of this conversation: what so many have called for, this author included, is not necessarily to incorporate Jones or Williams more into the passing game in a dedicated fashion. What they really want is for Rodgers to be willing to take his medicine went the deep shot isn’t there, check it down, and live to fight another down. There will be schemed plays to get the running back involved, potentially even shot plays. But don’t expect this offense to suddenly resemble the Steelers with Le’Veon Bell or the Andy Reid Eagles with Brian Westbrook. Based on what we know about running backs in the passing game, that’s the smart way to build this or any offense. […]

  • Packers 2019 roster predictions: Kyler Fackrell returns to backup role after breakout season
    by Jason B. Hirschhorn on July 17, 2019 at 5:00 pm

    Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports Despite recording double-digit sacks in 2018, Kyler Fackrell should see less work as the result of the Packers’ offseason additions at his position group. Since the conclusion of the 2018 season, the Green Bay Packers’ roster has changed significantly. A large group of free agents, draft picks, and undrafted rookies will come to training camp to challenge for roster spots and roles on the team’s 53-man roster. Over the next two weeks, Acme Packing Company will break down the roster position by position and reveal our compiled predictions for the 53-man roster. The arrival of head coach Matt LaFleur means a heavier emphasis on tight end than in the Packers’ recent past even if most of the personnel remains intact from a season ago. The team will likely continue turning over the position in coming years, but expect some familiar faces to see the majority of the action until that process unfolds. Starter: Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith Providing for health, Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith will enter the regular season as the Packers’ top edge rushers. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will shift either or both inside in obvious passing situations, so their status as starting outside linebackers is a bit misleading. Still, both Smiths will receive every opportunity to set the edge given the massive contracts they signed during the offseason. Backups: Rashan Gary, Kyler Fackrell, Reggie Gilbert Two of the Packers’ top backup outside linebackers underscore the improved depth at the position. Kyler Fackrell lead the team in sacks a season ago and Rashan Gary arrived in Green Bay as the No. 12 overall pick. In most circumstances, either would start or at least compete for the opportunity to do so. However, the arrival of Za’Darius and Preston Smith allows both to fall into reserve roles. Meanwhile, Reggie Gilbert seems decently positioned to take a spot behind them. *** Released: Kendall Donnerson, Greg Roberts, Randy Ramsey The trio of Kendall Donnerson, Greg Roberts, and Randy Ramsey each offer considerable potential despite entering the league as late-round picks or undrafted free agents. Donnerson scores as one of the best athletes in Green Bay at any position, Roberts offers a strong athletic profile as well, and Ramsey comes in with plenty of experience from his time at Arkansas. Accordingly, if any or all miss the final cut, they could realistically end up on the Packers’ practice squad. […]

  • Packers 2019 training camp roster: Za’Darius and Preston Smith anchor new OLB group
    by Jason B. Hirschhorn on July 17, 2019 at 3:00 pm

    Patrick McDermott-USA TODAY Sports No position group on the Packers experienced a larger makeover than the outside linebackers, which saw the departure of longtime pass rusher Clay Matthews and the arrival of two high-priced free agents and a first-round draft choice. Since the conclusion of the 2018 season, the Green Bay Packers’ roster has changed significantly. A large group of free agents, draft picks, and undrafted rookies will come to training camp to challenge for roster spots and roles on the team’s 53-man roster. Over the next two weeks, Acme Packing Company will break down the roster position by position and reveal our compiled predictions for the 53-man roster. Though the Packers poured a considerable amount of resources into refreshing their defense, no position group experienced more turnover than the outside linebackers. After a decade headlined by Clay Matthews, the edge rushers will now primarily feature two high-priced free agents and the team’s top draft pick from this past April. Such a shakeup would attract considerable attention on any roster. But for a franchise as steady as Green Bay, those additions represent a genuine sea change. Za’Darius Smith Experience: Four seasons2018 stats: 45 tackles (10 for loss), 25 QB hits, 8.5 sacksHow acquired: Signed as unrestricted free agent in 2019 As the headline addition of the Packers’ offseason, Za’Darius Smith finds himself tasked with improving a pass rush that ran cold at times in recent years. While not a household name -- Smith played a limited role during his first three seasons with the Baltimore Ravens prior to a breakout 2018 campaign -- he has the ability to pressure the quarterback from a number of places along the defensive front. That versatility not only attracted the Packers’ attention, but it bodes well for his ability to perform well in Mike Pettine’s defense. The Ravens frequently kicked Smith inside during obvious passing situations, allowing him to better exploit his quickness against less athletic interior offensive linemen. That trend should continue in Green Bay, where Pettine also likes to shift his pass rushers around to create mismatches and maximize his personnel. Preston Smith Experience: Four seasons2018 stats: 53 tackles (five for loss), 16 QB hits, four sacksHow acquired: Signed as unrestricted free agent in 2019 Like his more heralded new teammate Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith arrives after a promising but not consistently productive career in Washington. The latter Smith’s pass-rush production fluctuated over his four-year career, producing eight sacks during his rookie and third season while falling below five in his two other campaigns. The Packers apparently believe he can generate pressure more consistently in their defense and demonstrated that faith with a four-year, $52 million contract that includes $16 million fully guaranteed. The Packers officially list Smith as an outside linebacker. However, as with their other major free-agent pass rusher, Smith will also see a significant amount of work as an interior defender where his athleticism can overwhelm slow-footed guards. At times, Green Bay might play both Smiths inside with other players filling the voids along the edges. Rashan Gary Experience: Rookie2018 stats (at Michigan): 38 tackles (6.5 for loss), 2.5 sacksHow acquired: Selected in first round of 2019 NFL Draft The selection of Rashan Gary with the No. 12 overall pick surprised many observers. While Gary possesses top-shelf physical tools and pedigree, he never quite lived up to expectations during his career at Michigan. Part of that, at least according to Green Bay’s front office, results from the manner in which the Wolverines used Gary, but injuries also played a role. Gary enters the NFL with a shoulder injury that could eventually require surgery. While all those factors made Gary a head-scratching draft choice, he does fit what Pettine desires from his pass rushers. Gary’s size (6-foot-4, 277 pounds) and versatility should allow him to line up all across the defensive front and create mismatches. That should also help the Packers get Gary on the field with Za’Darius and Preston Smith at the same time, potentially creating a premium pass-rush personnel package that will keep opposing coaches up late at night. Kyler Fackrell Experience: Three seasons2018 stats: 42 tackles (12 for loss), 12 QB hits, 10.5 sacksHow acquired: Drafted in third round of 2016 NFL Draft After a quiet two seasons in the NFL, Kyler Fackrell delivered far and away his best year as a pro. His 10.5 sacks led all Packers defenders and more than doubled his career total prior to that point. That leap turned Fackrell into an unlikely fan favorite (as well as his “Sackrell” nickname). But that production might well prove misleading. Fackrell turned nearly all of his quarterback hits into sacks, a conversation rate that appears destined for a harsh regression. Fackrell also notched most of them during two games, each against putrid NFL offensive lines. In his 14 other contests last year, he produced just 2.5 sacks and 20 total tackles. Reggie Gilbert Experience: Three seasons2018 stats: 38 tackles (four for loss), eight QB hits, 2.5 sacksHow acquired: Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2016 Ignored for the first two years of his career, Reggie Gilbert became a preseason sensation in 2018 and earned a regular role in the Packers defense. He registered career-best marks in nearly every statistical category and appeared in every game. Still, Gilbert faces longer odds to make the 53-man roster again given the additions Green Bay made this offseason. Kendall Donnerson Experience: One season2018 stats: (None)How acquired: Drafted in seventh round of 2018 NFL Draft In Kendall Donnerson, the Packers have a low-risk, high-reward lottery ticket, one that spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad. If Donnerson can convert his robust athleticism into on-field ability, he could push for playing time down the road. Greg Roberts Experience: Rookie2018 stats (with Baylor): 33 tackles (eight for loss), three sacks, two pass breakupsHow acquired: Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2019 After a four-year wait, Greg Roberts finally became a featured member of Baylor’s defense this past season. His productivity, though unspectacular, suggests he could become an NFL backup and special-teams contributor. Roberts earned a spot on the 2019 edition of Acme Packing Company’s UDFA prospectus. Randy Ramsey Experience: Rookie2018 stats (with Arkansas): 32 tackles (seven for loss), three sacks, one fumble recoveryHow acquired: Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2019 Randy Ramsey arrives in Green Bay after starting multiple seasons for Arkansas. Though his physical gifts pale in comparison to the likewise undrafted Roberts, Ramsey has a much longer track record of production. He appeared in this year’s UDFA prospectus. […]

  • Wednesday Cheese Curds: Don’t count out Jimmy Graham
    by Kris Burke on July 17, 2019 at 2:40 pm

    Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports The veteran tight end could flourish under Matt LaFleur When the Green Bay Packers decides to bring back tight end Jimmy Graham for a second season, the move wasn’t exactly popular among the fans. That might seem kind of crazy when you look at Graham’s all-pro resume but last season was a disappointment for both him and fans who had expectations of him lighting up the scoreboard with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. He only caught two touchdowns, which tied for the lowest total of his career. Since so many thought he’d be a big red zone threat, this made Graham a somewhat popular cut candidate this offseason even after just one offseason. Now with Graham back in the fold and with a new offense being installed by head coach Matt LaFleur, there is actual reason for optimism regarding the veteran tight end. First, his returns bring some much needed consistency to the tight end position which has been in flux ever since Jermichael Finley’s neck injury in 2013. The Packers have tried various players at the position and Graham could have been the second one year wonder after the Martellus Bennett fiasco but general manager Brian Gutekunst decided to bring him back to see what he could do in LaFleur’s offense. It’s that new offense that is the other reason for hope that Graham will have a bounce back season. LaFleur’s offense stems from the scheme the Denver. Broncos ran under Mike Shanahan and that means Graham will he lining up all over the field. He could be in line, in the slot, out wide or part of a trips formation. He’s a big target for Rodgers and while his skill set may not be what it once was, defenses will still need to account for him and a healthy Rodgers should benefit the veteran tight end. You can read more on Graham’s 2019 season outlook plus a young marketing genius catches the eyes of law enforcement in today’s cheese curds. Countdown to Camp: Jimmy Graham’s return provides options at tight end— The tight end position is arguably in the best shape in years with Graham plus Marcedes Lewis, Robert Tonyan and rookie Jace Sternberger but make no mistake that Graham is TE1 and could be in for a comeback season under LaFleur. Preston Smith can look forward to making Washington regret not matching Packers’ offer— We here at APC are big fans of revenge games and a Preston Smith Revenge Game against Washington would be a great story. NFL Shop selling ‘inverted’ Green Bay Packers jersey—Packers Wire Anyone else think this should be the team’s third jersey? Throwbacks are cool especially for a history rich team like the Packers but this just looks too good not to see the field. Randy Moss helping train a Green Bay Packers receiver—The Viking Age Bitter Vikings fans are bitter that Randy Moss has spent time mentoring Marquez Valdes-Scantling. If MVS has the breakout season many think he could, would that change Packers fans’ perception of the hall of fame WR? Doubtful. Kid selling ‘ICE COLD BEER’ gets police attention—FOX 11 Glad the cops got to the root of the problem and didn’t punish the kid who likely has a future in marketing. […]

  • ILB Roster Predictions: Blake Martinez provides a steady hand at one starting spot
    by Shawn Wagner on July 16, 2019 at 5:00 pm

    Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images The veteran should help ease in a fellow starting middle linebacker this season. In 2019, the Green Bay Packers’ roster looks very different from how it appeared at the end of the 2018 season. A large group of free agents, draft picks, and undrafted rookies will come to training camp to challenge for roster spots and a role on the team’s regular season 53-man roster. Over the next two weeks, Acme Packing Company will break down the roster position-by-position and reveal our compiled predictions for the 53-man roster. As alluded to in the roster preview earlier today, the Packers’ inside linebacker unit has been in flux the past couple of seasons with injuries, late additions, and undrafted players influencing the position. While a last-minute acquisition could be in play again this summer, Green Bay’s current group of middle linebackers makes up one of the most inexperienced positions of any on the roster. One thing the Packers have going for them, however, is the return of Blake Martinez, a model of stability since the 2017 season. His veteran leadership should provide a steady hand to the youth on the roster, including a young player seeking a starting role. As APC’s roster predictions continue, the inside linebacker position keeps four potential contributors. Starters: Blake Martinez, Oren Burks No surprises here. Martinez returns for his fourth season in a green and gold uniform as one of the better defenders on the roster. His work in the weight room this offseason should help him only improve against the run after compiling 144 total tackles a year ago. A 32-game starter the past two seasons, Martinez has been a solid, steady player in the middle of a defense that added notable players both behind and to the sides of him via free agency and the draft. Is Burks ready for a starting job? On paper, he is the most likely inside linebacker ready to emerge into that role and the Packers could sure stand to benefit from an ascension into even a dependable depth role. The former third-round pick has the athletic traits to become a playmaker in time, and reliability from Burks in coverage and reading the field could help free Martinez to blitz the passer more routinely. If Green Bay cannot re-sign Martinez after this season, the 2019 season becomes even more valuable in Burks’ development. Backups: James Crawford, Ty Summers APC writers are banking on growth from year one to year two for Crawford to maintain his spot on the active roster. A core special teamer in 2018, Crawford’s time in the offseason should help prepare him for a larger role on the defensive side of the ball. While fans can count on safeties assisting in the box on passing downs, Crawford should also help provide depth inside. As a recent draft selection, Summers seems destined for a similar role as Crawford a season ago. The TCU standout fits the mold of former picks Martinez and Jake Ryan, but adds a higher level of speed and athleticism. His ability to help the special teams units while improving his knowledge of the defensive system will be imperative to earning a final roster spot. This site’s writers feel he will be able to do just that. Released: Curtis Bolton As of now, APC writers believe Bolton will be the odd man out in the final cutdown. However, Bolton is seemingly a prime candidate for the practice squad as a potential special teams contributor while he grows into a defensive asset. But if Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine is looking for a potential pass-rush specialist from his inside linebacker group, Bolton, a player who flourished in that role at Oklahoma last season, could win a spot with an opportunistic preseason. As in any year, training camp injuries and setbacks could also open a door for an undrafted player like Bolton to find a way on to the 53-man roster. […]


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