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The Green Bay Packers run defense has been insanely dominant this season, allowing just 1.99 yards per carry and 157 rushing yards through four games. Since 1940, only one team — the 1995 49ers — have allowed fewer rushing yards through four games. And Green Bay is the first team since 1953 to allow less than two yards per carry through four games!

Making this all the more remarkable is that the Packers run defense was bad last season, ranking in the bottom half of the league in both rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, and 29th in yards per carry. From a snap count perspective, LB Nick Perry (76%), LB Jake Ryan (73%), DT Mike Daniels (64%), and LB Blake Martinez (52%) are the only front seven defenders to have appeared in at least 50% of the team’s plays! In other words, it’s not like guys like Clay Matthews (47%) and Julius Peppers (44%) are having monster seasons.

Frankly, I haven’t watched enough of the Packers defense to weigh in on what’s going on — I don’t know if Perry or Ryan is having a breakout season.  So instead, here’s what I’ll do.  The graph below shows the percentage of running plays against the Packers that have gone for X yards, and also against the rest of the NFL.  Here’s the key: the Packers have been incredible at dropping opposing carries for a loss (28%) compared to the rest of the NFL (13%).  Meanwhile, 11% of all runs against the other 31 teams have gone for at least 10+ yards, compared to just two percent of all runs for the Packers (with a long of just 14 yards).

packers-run-d

So what’s the takeaway? Does this graph make you think the Packers’ run defense success is more or less fluky (given that there’s always a large amount of flukiness present in such an outlier result)?

  • Wade Iuele

    So far the Packers have played the Jaguars, Vikings, Lions, and Giants. In terms of rush yards per game, those teams are currently ranked 30th, 32nd, 23rd, and 27th respectively. With such a small sample of games, all four of the Packers’ opponents finishing in the bottom third of the league could be the result of the Packers’ amazing defense. I dug into the games a little deeper:

    The Jaguars have been terrible running the ball all season. They rushed for 48 yards against the Packers, 69 yards against the Chargers, and 48 yards against the Ravens, before exploding for 136 yards against the Colts in London. The major factor in these games was game script. The Jaguars (aside from a brief lead in the second quarter week one vs Green Bay) have trailed constantly in these low-rushing games. Against the Colts the Jaguars were ahead by a mile until halfway through the fourth quarter, so they were able to amass more rush attempts.

    The Vikings are the worst rushing team on the NFL so far, totaling 65, 30 (against the Packers), 58, 104, and 96 rushing yards in their games. I think the primary reason is because they’ve lost significant starters on offense: QB Teddy Bridgewater, T Matt Kalil, T Andre Smith, and RB Adrian Peterson are all on injured Reserve. The Vikings are figuring out how to compensate for their new players on offense, and the rushing totals are increasing, but they were not well prepared to run the ball week two against the Packers.

    The Lions rushed for 116 yards and 137 yards the first two weeks of the season, but Ameer Abdullah injured his foot in the week two game and went on IR; the Lions rushed for 50 yards the next week against Green Bay, then 66 yards and 80 yards the following weeks. The Packer defense benefited from Abdullah’s absence.

    The Giants were good running the football week one against Cowboys, gaining 113 yards. Since then they’ve totaled 64 yards against the Saints, 78 yards against the Vikings, and 43 yards against the Packers. They did manage a 120 yard rushing day against Washington in week three, but the Washington rush defense is the third worst in the NFL in terms of yards per game. The common element in these bad rushing games is Rashad Jennings’ injury. Jennings was a reliable runner week one (18 attempts for 75 yards). Since then, without Jennings, the Giants’ run game is flaccid.

    So, after looking a bit deeper, I think the Packers are definitely a good run defense (as compared to a team like Washington). But I think the historic nature of their run defense statistics is a blip. They’re benefiting from facing weaker-than-average opponents with injured squads.

    • Good stuff, Wade. Thanks, and that makes a lot of sense. I don’t think you can set records (to the extent that’s what we’re calling what they’re doing) without some help.

      I certainly don’t expect this to continue. I do think that the breakdown above is a bit fluky, too. What really moves the YPC need are long runs and negative runs. I think GB’s got a very disproportionate percentage of those, and I doubt that’s all that sustainable. But who knows — that’s why they play the games!

      • Wade Iuele

        Looks like history will have to wait.

  • sacramento gold miners

    In today’s NFL, stopping the run isn’t as important as decades ago. It’s still good to be strong versus the run, but passing has taken over.