Friday, November 25, 2011


Our turkey doing a Lambeau Leap onto the bar.
It was a pretty typical Thanksgiving at the Trigg household -- a twenty-pound turkey, dinner for 14, and a Packer victory over the Lions.  Like in past Thanksgivings, cooking such an ambitious meal while simultaneously watching the Packer game posed an added degree of difficulty.  In fact, when Rodgers hit James Jones for a 65-yard touchdown the bird accidentally got impaled on my hand as I pumped my fists in excitement.

I don't normally like leading off my post-game analysis with the opposing team, but the Packers have just become so... predictable.  Seems like every week goes down the same way:

  • Rodgers throws for 300+ yards, multiple touchdowns, no interceptions and a 110+ QB rating
  • Somewhere between 12 and 27 Packers receivers catch passes
  • The defense gives up 17 miles of yardage but manages to minimize the scores and gets multiple take-aways
  • Packer players are chillin' and cracking jokes on the sideline by midway through the fourth quarter

Where's the excitement?  Where's the adversity?  Where's the drama?  Fortunately, we had Ndamukong Suh stomping on Evan Dietrich-Smith's arm to keep things interesting.  I actually can sympathize with Suh.  Not only did he get beat on the play by a second-string left guard, but it was by a guy with a hyphenated name.  On national TV.  How humiliating.

Suh's dirty play has drawn all the media attention, and deservedly so.  It was a pivotal play in the most critical moment of the biggest game at a key point in the season by their best player.  The full cost of that play probably won't occur to Suh till later -- not only costing his team this game, but potentially hurting them for multiple games (if he's suspended, as most expect he will be).  Furthermore, in addition to the monetary fine he'll need to pay, he likely lost millions in endorsement dollars now that he has provided visible evidence of the "dirty player" reputation he already had.  The only thing more preposterous than the stomp itself was his feeble attempt to explain the incident in his post-game interview.

But Suh's action was really just indicative of a Lions team that was out-classed on Thursday.  The danger for a high-energy, pumped-up team playing on the big stage against the Super Bowl champs is that they let their emotions get the better of them.  And that's exactly what happened to the Lions -- committing 11 penalties for 82 yards, many, like Suh's, at critical junctures.  Combine that with 3 interceptions by Matthew Stafford and you can stick fork in this Thanksgiving showdown.

It really starts with Jim Schwartz.  Anyone who starts a backyard brawl over a post-game handshake is a lame ass.  The Lions are a good team.  The city of Detroit needs them to be a good team.  Hell, they deserve a good team.  But they need to evolve beyond chip-on-the-shoulder bravado to be real challengers.  And after going 2-4 their last six games, they seem to be fading.  We'll see them again in week 17, but by then it may not matter.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Just How Hard Is a Perfect Season?

Another week, another win.  Even though they kept it competitive, the Bucs never really felt that threatening today at Lambeau.  Nobody picked them to win, and, in the end, you could sense they didn't expect to themselves.  But underdogs do win sometimes.  In the Packers perfect season, it's easy to lose sight of that fact.

Today marked an interesting milestone: the 16th win in a row for the Packers dating back to last year -- or the equivalent of a full regular season.  It begs the question, just how hard is that to do?  What are the odds of winning 16 in a row?  What are the odds of going undefeated this season?  What would a mathematician put our odds at?  Why am I asking so many questions?

The reality, statistically speaking, is that the Packers will eventually lose a game this season.  I hope it doesn't happen.  I don't expect it to happen.  But from a strict, numerical, probabilistic, algorithmic standpoint, it is likely to happen.  Before proceeding any further in this article, I should warn the reader that I am about to attempt math.  You'd think with a last name like Trigg (o-nometry), this would be a forte of mine.  Not so much.  So be warned, someone could get hurt.

A US quarter: AKA the "Manitowoc Abacus"
Let's start with a baseline.  There are two teams in every NFL game.  If the contest is perfectly evenly matched, each team has a 50% chance of winning -- same as the flip of a coin, 50/50.  Hopefully, I'm not going too fast for anyone.  If you assume a 50% chance of winning in every game, then going undefeated over a 19-game season (16 regular season games + 3 playoff games) is 0.5 to the 19th power.  (That's that little superscript "mini-me" number that always screwed you up in algebra and I can't figure out how to do in HTML).

Now 0.5 to the 19th is a small number.  I know that because when you get the little "E" thing in Excel instead of actual numbers, it means it's a really small number.  How small?  (Hold on, Manitowoc, I'm about to blow your mind!)  It's a 0.0001907348% chance, or 1 in 524,288, that an average NFL team goes undefeated.  If, like most red-blooded Americans, you don't believe in math, try flipping a quarter 19 times and getting heads every time (then try getting tails 19 times, and call me in about 35 years once you've finished).

Now, you say, "yeah, but the Packers have better than a 50% chance of winning every week."  Of course.  That's what good teams do.  They improve their chances of winning slightly above the 50/50 baseline odds.  How much more likely are the Packers to win, on average?  Maybe 60%?  70%?  80%!?!  It's hard to imagine anyone other than the most aggressively optimistic or inebriated Packer fan asserting an 80% chance of the Packers winning every week, against every opponent, for an entire season.

But here's where that "19th power" thing really messes with your brain: even at 80% odds of winning each week, the odds of winning an entire season is only 1.441151881% or 1 in 69.  Don't believe me?  Check out my handy cheat sheet.  Excel doesn't lie, although it does drive you freakin' crazy when you're trying to get the IRR function to work at 2AM.  No wonder Vegas sports books are so good at taking everyone's money.  The actual likelihood of unlikely things is hard for our simple brains to get their cortexes around.

Occasionally Rodgers throws an interception.  Once in a while, opposing running backs break 7 tackles on the way to a 54-yard touchdown run.  Sometimes desperation onsides kicks are recovered.  In short, in the wise words of a baseball hat I once saw at a shop up in Door County with a plastic turd on the brim, "Shit Happens."  Once again this week, all you need to do is look around at the fate of some other top teams -- the Giants losing at home to the 3-6 Eagles, or Jay Cutler breaking his thumb and likely out for the season -- to remind yourself how fortunate the Packers are to be sitting at 10-0.

An undefeated season certainly won't be easy.  And if it happens, it would likely be a once-in-our-lifetimes event.  But although it's not probable, anything is possible.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Defense Finally Delivers in Viking Drubbing

That was the performance we've all been waiting for from the Packers' defense this year -- constant pressure, creative blitzes, three sacks (two by Matthews), an interception, forced fumble and multiple 3-and-outs.  Woodson was a beast with 8 tackles, two blocked passes, and two near interceptions -- one of which he would have taken to the house.  If not for Randall Cobb's muffed punt (we'll give him a break since he already spotted us 6) it probably would have been a shut-out performance.

A new use for the Viking horn.
This was the defense we became accustomed to seeing last year, but was off to a slow start through the first half of the season.  Could this be the turning point after which we can expect to see this kind of defense on a consistent basis?  It's difficult to say against a wobbly offense with a rookie starting QB.  But even Adrian Peterson, the Vikings only real weapon these days, was held to only 51 yards rushing.  Meanwhile, the offense was obscene, as usual.

At the very least, we could be ushering in an era of dominance over the Vikings.  We may have finally found a convenient use for that tiresome horn on the side of their helmets -- all the easier to manhandle them by.  If they just added a cup holder and a remote control caddy to the Vikings' helmets, they could become the perfect couch accessory.

The Packers' dominant win came against a backdrop of mediocrity this week.  The Lions embarrassed themselves with 6 turnovers against the Bears.  With Jahvid Best out they can't run, and Matthew Stafford apparently has an injured finger.  The Eagles' season is over.  After losing to the Cardinals at home to drop to 3-6, and potentially losing Vick for a few weeks to two broken ribs, you can stick a fork in that bird.  The 49ers appear to be legit, but it's hard to give them too much credit -- after all, they play in the atrocious NFC West and two of their most impressive wins (on the road against the Lions and Eagles) maybe weren't that impressive after all.  The Saints are good, but any team that can lose to the Rams can't be that good -- plus we have the tie break against them.  That leaves the Giants and Cowboys in the NFC East -- two teams the Packers owned last year.

There are still 7 games left, so it's too early to start speculating about the post-season too much.  Look at the Houston Texans -- with Matt Shaub done for the year, they could quickly drop from the #1 seed in the AFC over the remaining weeks.  Always best to take it one week at a time as the Packers are preaching.  But a convincing win tonight makes me optimistic that things are going exactly according to plan.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Packers’ Peprah Picks a Pack of Philip’s Passes

Unfortunately, he also got burned numerous times for touchdowns.  While his prolific picks may have been prophesized by some, I doubt his poor pass protection was also part of that premonition.  Midway through a still undefeated season, the Packers enigmatic defense continues to be… an enigma.

On the one hand, they’re really good.  They are tough in the red zone.  They lead the league in interceptions with 16.  They took away 3 on Sunday, two for touchdowns and one to ice the game.  As impressive as the Packers’ offense was, it was the Packers’ key defensive plays that won the game.

On the other hand, they stink.  The are the 30th ranked defense in the league, allowing an average of 400 yards per game.  And their points allowed, which was respectable for a while, is now only mediocre – ranking 15th in the league at 22.4 points per game.

You have to assume that the Packers drop off this season in defensive performance is due primarily to the loss of two key players.  On the line, Cullen Jenkins is definitely missed.  His ability to both shut down the run and get pressure on the quarterback is unique.  His absence has resulted in more double teams on Matthews, and reduced sacks overall.  The Packers have only 19 sacks on the season, 17th in the league.

The "WTF!?" shoulder shrug as diagrammed in the Packer playbook
In the secondary, the loss of safety Nick Collins for the season is clearly causing communication breakdowns in coverage.  Both Morgan Burnett and Charlie Peprah have been consistently out of position, biting on routes and letting receivers get by them at critical times.  They don’t seem to be confident about where each other is on the field – as evidenced by their frequent “WTF!?” looks and accompanying shoulder shrugs.  The combined impact of a lackluster pass rush and miscommunications in the secondary is allowing opposing offenses to rack up both points and yards.

The 14-game winning streak and national media hype is obscuring the defensive lapses that are an increasingly concerning weakness about the 2011 Packers.  So far, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers NFL-leading 34.4 points per game on offense are glossing over the poor showing on defense and keeping the Packers in the win column.

But sooner or later the offense will struggle to put up points.  Though they fared well Sunday against the Chargers 7th-ranked defense, the Packers really haven’t faced any formidable defensive teams so far this year.  All their other opponents rank 14th or lower in total defense with the Saints 15th, Panthers 18th, Bears 25th, Broncos 22nd, Falcons 14th, Rams 23rd, and Vikings 20th.

The defensive deficiencies were something many thought would be shored up after the bye week, following the pattern of last year.  But the Chargers’ 38 points and 470 yards of total offense Sunday proved there is still cause for concern.  The record may be perfect, but the play on defense has been far from it.  And any talk of 16-0 will go out the window if they don’t get it cleaned up.