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MrBobGray

TEs in the McCarthy/Rodgers System

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I see a lot of people contend that Graham is done, and his performance last year is proof.  Personally, I don't think the tape shows that; he looks about the same as he always has, with the edges sanded off a bit by time.  No, he's not quite as quick or explosive as he was early in his career, but honestly he really hasn't lost much of a step since 2015.  He's a big body TE who can sink his hips when he wants to and knows how to use his frame, hands, and vertical ability to box out defenders and bring the ball in downfield.  Those have always been his biggest strengths and he still has those.

I think the biggest reason his production was underwhelming is the same reason every TE who comes to Green Bay has underwhelming production. I think the Rodgers/McCarthy offense just did not use TEs well.  The Packers had three TEs rank in the top 10 in receiving yards in a season during McCarthy's tenure as HC: 

  • Donald Lee, 2007 - 575 yards, 9th
  • Jermichael Finley 2009 - 676 yards, 10th
  • Jimmy Graham 2018 - 636 yards, 9th

In terms of receiving yards per game by a TE, from 2006-2018 the Packers best year by a TE in terms of receiving yards per game is Jermichael Finley in 2009, at 52.0.  That ranks him at 81st, and it's the only Packers season in the top 100.  Other Yards/Game notes:

  • Jared Cook could only average 37.7, good for 19th in the league in his ten games.  That's the 3rd worst mark of his career.  His very next year in Oakland it was up to 43.0, and last year jumped up to 56.0.  
  • Jimmy Graham's 39.8 is also the 3rd worst mark of his career, and 2nd if we're not counting his rookie year where was only a rotational player.  It's also 14 YPG below his career average.  
  • Martellus Bennett (yes, I'm including Bennett) managed 33.3; the worst mark of his career since becoming a starter and a full 10 YPG below his 2016 year with the Patriots.
  • Lance Kendricks had the two worst years of his career with Green Bay, and he played a three year stretch on the 30th, 28th, and 32nd ranked offenses in the NFL.
  • Mercedes Lewis.  I mean I assume I don't even really need to go on from here.

Every TE that comes to Green Bay experiences a sharp and significant downgrade in their production, and the only TE we have data on after he left experienced an immediate resurgence.

And to close it up, let's look at targets.  The Green Bay Packers don't have a single TE in the top 100 most targeted seasons from 2006-2018.  Their best is Finley in 2011, who clocks in with a whopping 92 in 2011 (T-109th).  Graham's 89 in 2018 were 5th in the league, but only 16 more than MVS.  The Packers targeted a 5x Pro-Bowl, 2x All-Pro with a $10 million salary once more per game than a 5th round rookie receiver in a season where they struggled to find rhythm.  

The Packers simply did not get production from their TE position in a consistent way under McCarthy.  There's a lot of reasons for this, and admittedly injuries were a big part.  But even when their TEs were healthy they simply never produced up to their level of talent.  They seemed to largely be an afterthought in the scheme, mostly relegated to the checkdown or flat option when they weren't attempting poorly designed TE screens, which is strange for a man who once kept five on the 53 man roster. 

The point of this off-season nonsense is that I don't believe that we've seen the best of Graham in Green Bay.  There's still some very elite tools in that man's toolbelt, and on his good plays last year he got to show them.  Whether or not LeFleur can make better use of them than McCarthy did last year remains to be seen, but I remain optimistic.

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McCarthy ran the WCO. The TE was key to the WCO. McCarthy strayed away from the key pillars of the WCO and tried to make his own.

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20 minutes ago, MrBobGray said:

The Packers simply did not get production from their TE position in a consistent way under McCarthy.

excellent write up, thx
In your stats, you looked at the production of the individual TE, my question is what did the production of the overall Offense look like with a talented TE ?
I've read comments here from others that raved about the 2011 passing offense and suggest at least a part of that was having Finley running free
Did the presence ( not production) of a talented TE help the other WRs by keeping a Safety occupied ?

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7 minutes ago, Fox_NFLs_GG said:

McCarthy ran the WCO. The TE was key to the WCO. McCarthy strayed away from the key pillars of the WCO and tried to make his own.

We weren't running a pure WCO since like the first half of Rodgers' first season.

Nobody was running a WCO with a QB like Rodgers. Come on. 

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Just now, Shanedorf said:

excellent write up, thx
In your stats, you looked at the production of the individual TE, my question is what did the production of the overall Offense look like with a talented TE ?
I've read comments here from others that raved about the 2011 passing offense and suggest at least a part of that was having Finley running free
Did the presence ( not production) of a talented TE help the other WRs by keeping a Safety occupied ?

It's borne out somewhat by the stats, at least at a surface level.  Rodgers' best seasons (and the offense as a whole) by far are 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014, and 2016.  He had Finley in 2009, 2011, and 2012, and Cook in 2016.  2014 only had RichRod, but that offense really worked off PA to Lacy with Nelson downfield and the lack of a receiving TE was less of an issue.  It's worth noting that in 2016, Rodgers level of play didn't seem particularly determined by Cook being on the field or not.  He put up very good numbers even when Cook was injured.

Whether or not that actually holds true when you look at the film I can't say.  2009, 2011, and 2012 also coincide with having an elite downfield receiving corps in general, which Rodgers has always worked best with.  2016 as I noted Cook was on the field, but the offense actually jump-started four weeks before his return.  The only real way to answer this for sure is to do a deep dive into the film and I just don't have the time for it.

My guess is that this probably is somewhat true but not as relevant as people think.  A TE presence in the middle of the field condenses the defense, leaving the edges of the field more open and that's where Rodgers' heart lives anyway.  I honestly think if he could get away with it he'd throw nothing but sideline routes.  But there's a difference in making it easier for your star QB to do what he wants to do anyway and actually improving the offense.  I think over time teams realized that the Packers didn't really target the TE as often as they should, and consequently they stopped putting as much emphasis on the coverage there.  But take all this with as big a grain of salt as you can find, because I just don't have the time for the research to answer this properly.

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In 2015 Richard Rodgers had 58 catches. Jimmy Graham has a shot at a better season.

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Posted (edited)

Numbers are numbers. 

But it sure seemed to me that Graham had fumble-fingers with the Packers, and dropped a bunch of balls that a good receiver could have caught.  Whatever MM's system did or didn't provide, there WERE opportunities for Graham to have caught more than he did.  You can blame it on McCarthy; but I think Graham just missed some opportunities.  And that included games prior to the broken finger issue, which presumably amplified the problem.  

Hopefully this year a whole bunch of things will go better.  Maybe the scheme will create even more opportunities, and some easier-catch opportunities?  HOpefully Aaron will throw the ball with better accuracy and make some of the catches less difficult?  Aaron being healthier could facilitate that?  And hopefully Graham will catch more of the catchable balls?  Being healthier could help there?  

But we shall see.  

Edited by craig

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9 minutes ago, craig said:

Numbers are numbers.  It sure seemed to me that Graham had fumble-fingers with the Packers, and dropped a bunch of balls that a good receiver could have caught.  Whatever MM's system did or didn't provide, my recall is that there WERE opportunities for Graham to have caught a bunch more passes and accumulated a bunch more yards.  You can blame it on McCarthy; but I think Graham just missed a bunch of catchable balls.  And was missing catchable balls well before he was playing with the broken finger issue, which presumably amplified the problem.  

Hopefully this year a while bunch of things will go better.  Maybe the scheme will create even more opportunities, and some easier-catch opportunities.  HOpefully Aaron will throw the ball with better accuracy and make some of the catches less difficult.  Aaron being healthier could facilitate that.  And hopefully Graham will catch more of the catchable balls.  Being healthier could help there.  

But we shall see.  

Fox has him with 3 drops on the year.

TSN has him with 1. 

I don't have the PFF number, but I can't imagine it's high. 

+++

Graham wasn't dropping balls this year. Confirmation bias is a *****.

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Amen! He didn't use them much! He always said how important the position was but talking and doing are two different things.

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1 hour ago, AlexGreen#20 said:

Fox has him with 3 drops on the year.

TSN has him with 1. 

I don't have the PFF number, but I can't imagine it's high. 

+++

Graham wasn't dropping balls this year. Confirmation bias is a *****.

Graham is getting knocked for a lot of "drops" that were him being unable to haul in desperation passes from Rodgers.  Yes, Graham could and should have caught passes he didn't, but that's true of almost every receiver and Graham didn't get nearly as many on target on time passes as he should have.  Dropping the occasional combat catch isn't an issue period, but it stings even less if you're putting up 8 for 80 on the days when you don't instead of 1 for 4.

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Posted (edited)

Jimmy Graham broke his thumb against Seattle in November and was the new cog in a weirdly hard to break into offense. 

RELAX

Di(k Rod had 58 catches a couple years ago. Graham is gonna be fine. Mark it down. 

Edited by boratt

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Just checked some numbers in PFR and career targets for Aaron are:

  • To Wide Receivers: 3627 targets (67.4%), 63.7% catch rate, 8.53 YPA, 7.14% TD Rate
  • To Tight Ends: 886 targets (16.5%), 66.4% catch rate, 7.72 YPA, 5.87% TD Rate
  • To Running Backs: 745 targets (13.8%), 75.7% catch rate, 6.16 YPA, 2.42% TD Rate
  • To Fullbacks: 122 targets (2.3%), 77.9% catch rate, 5.16 YPA, 7.38% TD Rate

I was honestly surprised to find TEs are almost as low as RBs, and we know how much Aaron is criticized for avoiding RBs in the passing game. I would like to obtain league wide stats to see how they compare, will see if I can find them.

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15 hours ago, AlexGreen#20 said:

We weren't running a pure WCO since like the first half of Rodgers' first season.

Nobody was running a WCO with a QB like Rodgers. Come on. 

They were running a hybrid since Favre. But the main pillars were still there. Rodgers was the prototype WCO QB. McCarthy slowly stopped using the TEs and FBs and when both happened the offense fell apart.

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Posted (edited)
22 minutes ago, Fox_NFLs_GG said:

They were running a hybrid since Favre. But the main pillars were still there. Rodgers was the prototype WCO QB. McCarthy slowly stopped using the TEs and FBs and when both happened the offense fell apart.

If we were running so much WCO with Favre and early Rodgers, why are the targets to TEs so low every year of McCarthy with no discernible pattern of them falling?

Rodgers is the stereotypical every kind of offense QB from a physical stand point. Man can do it all from a physical standpoint.

But, he hates checking down and throwing short. Both key aspects of the WCO.

Edited by AlexGreen#20

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