Monday, December 18, 2017

Ratings Bonanza Helps Panthers Past Packers

By Eric Goska
Ray (Scooter) McLean was the coach the last time the Packers’ defense finished last in defensive passer rating.
(photo courtesy of Lee Lefebvre)

The Green Bay Packers of 2017 have something in common with the winless Lions of 2008.

Neither team will ever be associated with great pass defense.

Sunday, the Carolina Panthers became the latest to attack the Packers through the air. Cam Newton unleashed four touchdown passes as the Panthers strafed Green Bay 31-24 at Bank of America Stadium.

Newton’s numbers – aside from his four TD passes—don’t look particularly imposing. The jumbo-sized quarterback completed 20 of 31 passes for 242 yards and no interceptions.

What Newton may have lacked in quantity (mega yards) he made up for in quality (high rating). The seven-year veteran turned in a passer rating of 128.0, a mark that has earned a victory for 29 of the 32 individuals who have hit or exceeded it this season (minimum 20 attempts).

As efficient as he was, Newton removed some of the guesswork for Green Bay. He completed passes to just five receivers. Tight end Greg Olsen (9 catches) and running back Christian McCaffrey (6) accounted for all but five of the Panthers’ completions.

But even knowing Newton’s preferences didn’t help the Packers much. On passes directed to Olsen or McCaffrey, Newton was 15 of 19 for 189 yards and two scores (143.2 rating).

True, the Packers are banged up. Defensive backs Kentrell Brice (ankle), Quinten Rollins (Achilles) and Kevin King (shoulder) are on injured reserve. Cornerback Davon House (back) did not play against the Panthers and linebacker Nick Perry (ankle) left early and did not return.

But this high flying aerial circus didn’t start with Newton. It got underway in Week 2 and it might not end until records have been broken.

The Falcons’ Matt Ryan (108 rating) was first to exceed 100 against Green Bay. He was followed by Andy Dalton (124.1), Dak Prescott (105.2), Matthew Stafford (132.4), Ben Roethlisberger (106.8) and Jameis Winston (112.8).

Throw in Newton and that’s seven who have topped 100. That ties the Packers’ single-season record set in 2016, and two games remain to be played.

Ryan and the other six have all helped to push Green Bay’s defensive passer rating for the season above 100. As with a fever, anything in triple digits is cause for concern.

Prior to this season, 24 teams wound up with defensive passer ratings of 100 or more for a season. All 24 missed the playoffs and only one – the 2016 Lions (9-7) – finished with a winning record.

The 0-16 Lions of nine years ago are prominent on that list. Their rating of 110.9 is second worst in NFL history behind the 116.2 of the 2015 Saints.

This season, four clubs are above the century mark: Cleveland (102.7), Oakland (101.7), Green Bay (100.5) and the Giants (100.3). The Browns (0-14), Raiders (6-8) and New York (2-12) all have losing records.

Being in that foursome, the Packers face the very real possibility of finishing last in defensive passer rating. If they do bottom out, it will be the first time they’ve done so since 1958.

That year, Green Bay allowed opponents a rating of 86.1, nearly two points higher than the second-to-last Redskins (84.3). The team (1-10-1) had the worst record in the league as well.

That rating under coach Ray (Scooter) McLean is not the poorest in franchise history. That distinction belongs to the 2004 team (99.1).

In 2004, six passers hit or exceeded 100 against the Packers. Green Bay went 3-3 in those games and finished with a 10-6 record and a playoff berth.

Defending the pass has always been important, even in the days when the running game was more prevalent. In winning three straight championships (1965-67), the Packers were also home to the league’s lowest defensive passer rating three years in succession.

Packers’ opponents earned ratings of 48.2, 46.1 and 41.5 during that run. In those three years combined, Green Bay surrendered 31 TD passes while snagging 81 interceptions.

That’s impressive. But that was a different era, and the game has changed.

Asking a team to produce a defensive passer rating below 50 in this day and age is not realistic. However, asking a defense to clock in below 100 is not only reasonable, it should be demanded by coaches and players alike.

Defenseless Passer Ratings
Seasons in which the Packers’ defensive passer rating wound up being greater than 90.

Rate       Season   Record
100.5      2017       7-7
99.1        2004       10-6
95.9        2016       10-6
95.9        2013       8-7-1 served as a reference for this story.

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