Stop if you’ve heard this before: A tweet demeaning the Green Bay Packers has caused a stir.
Last week, football analytics guru Warren Sharp — who moonlights for NBC and The Ringer — released a clip promoting his annual NFL season preview.
The subject of this clip: the Packers’ defense.
In his commentary, Sharp points out the high volume of rookie, backup or injured quarterbacks the Packers faced last season, and that the team went 8-0 in such games.
In games he deemed the Packers to be facing a sturdy starter, the team finished only 5-5.
His argument: the Packers’ defense will not be as good as you think.
Here’s who Sharp included in his rookie/backup/injured QBs:
last year the Packers played 8 games against rookie, backup or injured QBs
they went 8-0 in those games
but went only 5-5 in their other 10 games (including their lone playoff game)
every team loves facing bad QBs but the Packers D got more than their share last year pic.twitter.com/yJzkO9Wqml
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) July 30, 2022
There’s plenty of optimism concerning the Packers’ defense this season, as the unit’s pedigree is among the best in the NFL. How many groups can boast seven former first-round picks?
ESPN’s Mina Kimes went as far as saying the Packers have the NFL’s second-best defense entering 2022.
Sharp, in his “predictive analysis,” is the zag to many’s zig.
To be clear, it’s perfectly OK to have question marks regarding this defense. The Packers have fielded a lot of investment-heavy defenses before that fell short of expectation.
This specific stance, though, completely ignores context.
Because of COVID-19, the last two NFL seasons have been weird. Game postponements, positive tests from important players, etc.
A lot of teams — not just the Packers — have benefitted from facing quarterbacks who’d normally be on the bench.
Couple that with the inevitability of starting quarterbacks who get hurt and backups forced into action, it’s silly to single out the Packers for this perceived luck of opponents.
Why Kyler Murray — who played 99% of that Week 8 game completely healthy and despite that was dominated by the defense — was included on this list is beyond me.
On the flip side, Matthew Stafford and Jimmy Garoppolo reportedly had significant injuries entering their games against the Packers — Garoppolo’s shoulder issue continues to complicate his exit from San Francisco — yet Sharp fails to consider those notes.
Not only is his analysis here subjective, it’s inconclusive.
Perhaps most importantly, there’s no mention of how the Packers fared against quarterbacks considered top tier.
We’ve seen plenty of Packers defenses get fat off bad quarterbacks, only to struggle against the Pro Bowl-quality arms. That was Dom Capers’ career in Green Bay in a nutshell.
In those instances in 2021, the defense was actually quite good. In four games against Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Stafford and Murray, Green Bay held those passers to six touchdowns and a 87.35 passer rating, while intercepting five passes. One, via a throw from Stafford, was returned for a touchdown.
The Packers went 3-1 in those games, the only loss coming in Kansas City without Aaron Rodgers.
Considering this year’s slate of quarterbacks is probably worse, is last year’s schedule really that informative?
The Packers’ top challenges will certainly be road visits to Tom Brady in Week 3 and Josh Allen Week 8. The Packers then host Dak Prescott Week 10 and Stafford Week 15. Those will be the team’s toughest tests.
Other than that, though, it’s a very unimpressive slate — Kirk Cousins, Justin Fields and Jared Goff twice apiece; then presumably Mac Jones, Daniel Jones, Zach Wilson, Carson Wentz, Ryan Tannehill, Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa.
Not exactly a murderer’s row. And that’s without considering a few will likely be injured or supplanted due to poor play.
This is all to say that there’s only so much to glean from 2021. Recall that it was Joe Barry’s first year running the defense, and that most of the season was played without top cornerback Jaire Alexander.
Those intangibles, whether it be more experience in the playbook, the return of an All-Pro and the possible regression of last year’s standouts (can we really expect repeat production from De’Vondre Campbell and/or Rasul Douglas in 2022?), can’t be quantified.
Is the Packers 2022 defense all it’s cracked up to be? We’ll find out soon enough.
Know this though: Those 2021 performances, whether against Mahomes or Mannion, are irrelevant concerning what’s to come this fall.