Sitting atop the AFC with a 9-2 record, the New England Patriots travel to Lambeau Field to face the 8-3 Green Bay Packers for the marquee matchup of the season. The two teams are strikingly similar to each other in makeup and performance, so finding a matchup advantage for either team is difficult. Some digging through the data reveals how the Patriots could be reading the Packers numbers.
More than just their uniform numbers, the two elite quarterbacks have compiled some similar statistics through Week 12:
Rodgers holds the decisive lead in most statistical categories, claiming the top spot in yards per attempt (YPA), touchdown percentage (TD%), interception percentage (Int%), and passer rating. Rodgers has also posted his numbers while throwing 18% fewer passes than Brady, which makes Rodgers the more efficient passer.
The most striking difference between the two quarterbacks is the disparity in YPA. This reflects a difference in styles and personnel. Rodgers’ two main targets, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, account for 53.8% of his targets and 63.7% of his passing yardage. Including Davante Adams boosts those figures to 65.6% and 73.5%, respectively. In contrast, Brady’s main targets are Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman, and their collective share is 46.1% of targets and 49.7% of passing yards. When Brandon LaFell is included in the mix, the numbers rise to 64.8% and 70.9%, respectively.
Edelman’s substantial share of Brady’s passing targets reflects the difference in styles. As a slot receiver, Edelman is often used on screen passes and short crossing routes, so his 10 yards per catch (YPC) is lower than both Gronkowski’s (14) and LaFell’s (13.6). For Rodgers, Nelson’s 15.7 YPC leads the Packers, and Cobb’s 14.6 is second with Adams third at 10.6. Brady also uses running back Shane Vereen as a fourth receiver, with 64 targets and 8.2 YPC. Vereen’s Packers counterpart, Eddie Lacy, has 36 targets and 11.6 YPC. The numbers show that Rodgers tends to go downfield and to his top receivers more often, while Brady spreads the ball around to more receivers and for shorter distances by design.
While Rodgers sports a league-leading 119.2 passer rating, in four of his games he has posted a rating below 100, losing three of them. In each of the three setbacks, the Packers’ opponents found a way to limit his impact on the game.
Week 1 in Seattle, Rodgers passed for 189 yards ‒ his third-lowest output this season ‒ and one touchdown. Early in the third quarter the Seahawks’ Byron Maxwell intercepted a pass intended for Jordy Nelson and returned it to the Green Bay 8-yard line, setting up a 20-yard field goal by Steven Hauschka. Later in the third quarter, Michael Bennett sacked Rodgers and forced a fumble that OL Derek Sherrod recovered in the end zone for a safety. The Seahawks followed up with a touchdown drive for a commanding 29-10 lead in the fourth quarter.
In Detroit during Week 3, Rodgers had his second-lowest output of the season with 162 passing yards, albeit no turnovers. On the Packers’ first drive of the game, the Lions’ Nick Fairley induced Eddie Lacy to fumble, with Don Carey returning it 40 yards for a touchdown. Later in the first quarter, pinned at the one yard line, Rodgers handed the ball to Lacy, who was tackled for a loss and a safety. The Lions held Lacy and James Starks to a combined 74 yards on 19 rushes for the day and dominated time of possession, controlling the ball for nearly two-thirds of the second half (19:47 to 10:13).
By contrast, Week 8 in New Orleans Rodgers threw for a season-high 418 yards. On the opening drive, he connected with Randall Cobb for a 70-yard touchdown. With Green Bay threatening to take the lead early in the third quarter, Rodgers’ pass to Andrew Quarles was picked off by David Hawthorne at the 2-yard line, leading to a Saints TD drive. Then Rodgers threw his second interception at the start of the fourth quarter, leading to seven more New Orleans points that put the game out of reach.
Win the Turnover Battle
The Packers lead the NFL in turnover margin at +15: posting 23 takeaways against 8 giveaways. Their defense has 15 interceptions (tied for second in the NFL) and 8 fumbles (tied for 10th). However, in the three losses profiled above, the Packers offense fumbled twice, threw three interceptions, gave up two safeties, and allowed Rodgers to be sacked nine times.
The Patriots trail at managing turnovers with a differential of +11, second in the NFL (20 takeaways and 9 giveaways). In both of their two losses New England surrendered the ball multiple times. They will need to be careful with the ball against the Packers because a single turnover could ultimately cost the Patriots the game.
Brady and Rodgers happen to be the top two quarterbacks of all time in touchdown-to-interception ratio. Asked about it during Wednesday’s press conference, Brady commented on the significance of that statistic:
”Not throwing interceptions and not turning the ball over is hugely important to the success of the team. How many touchdowns you throw, I think that’s [overrated]. If you’ve got 50 touchdown passes, obviously you’re scoring a lot of points, which is a great thing and that’s obviously going to help your team win. And if you had … 80 touchdowns, and 40 were rushing and 40 were passing, it would be the same if you had 80 [passing touchdowns]. They all count the same. To score points, you need a lot of consistent effort over the course of the game. If you’re throwing it or running it in, it’s not a big difference in terms of the score at all, obviously.
“But turnovers limit your scoring. That’s the problem with turnovers. You can’t score if you’re turning it over. It’s like a punt. If you go out and you punt 12 times, you’re not scoring points. That’s not good. So, when you turn the ball over and throw interceptions, you’re giving the other team more opportunities and your team less opportunities. Not that they’re going to take advantage of it every single time, but the odds are they’re going to take advantage of it more than they’re not.”
Focusing the topic specifically on Rodgers and the Packers, Brady continued:
“[Green Bay has] the highest percentage of scores after [their opponents] turn the ball over … That’s a big reason why they’re getting ahead at home because they get ahead of you, you start to press, you turn it over, they convert into more touchdowns, and it just piles on. You’ve got to keep the game close and keep it competitive, and I think Aaron has done a great job in his career of not turning the ball over. He’s got all the ability in the world.”
Putting Points on the Board
Here’s the distribution of touchdowns for each team:
* Blocked FG return by Chandler Jones against the Vikings.
Reading the Packers numbers for this highly anticipated matchup at Lambeau Field reveals the potential for an exciting game. Two elite quarterbacks lead high-powered offenses against opportunistic defenses. Rodgers, Nelson, and Cobb will test the Patriots secondary, while the balance of Brady and crew will stretch the Packers defense. This could be a high-scoring game with a key interception making the difference in the outcome.
Follow Douglas Storms on Twitter @stormsorama.