Saturday, November 9, 2013

3 comments The Usually Reliable Bob McGinn Thinks the Packers Would Be Fine Without Aaron Rodgers Because Seneca Wallace Can Cover the Spread

I like Bob McGinn. Generally he knows his stuff, especially about the Packers. He has written an article for the "Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel" where he says the Packers could win without Aaron Rodgers. When he wrote this column the loss of Rodgers for a few weeks was a hypothetical and now it appears to be a reality. I agree in a way, the Packers could win a few games without Rodgers, especially against some of the teams the Packers play on the back end of their schedule. Still, I don't think the Packers could sustain winning and I don't think the Packers would be fine without Rodgers if they made the playoffs. Bob McGinn thinks the backup quarterback, Seneca Wallace, would step in and play fine because he's really good at beating the spread. Yes, he's good at beating the spread and apparently this is part of being a successful quarterback. I think this is a lesson to learn that while Seneca Wallace is a competent backup, the difference between a great quarterback and a competent backup is going to be a big difference. Thanks to Eric for emailing this article to me. I think it's interesting that McGinn wrote this column and then that night Aaron Rodgers got injured. He's definitely a jinx. I started writing this post that Monday evening and then the very next day the hypothetical Rodgers injury had become a reality.

It's a simple yet pervasive line of thinking in the event that quarterback Aaron Rodgers should suffer an injury sidelining him for most if not all of the season.

The theory goes that it makes no difference what players might be behind Rodgers. If No. 12 goes down, all hope is lost — the Green Bay Packers would be finished.

They wouldn't be finished. The Packers schedule had the Bears twice, then the Eagles, Giants, Vikings, Lions, Falcons, Cowboys and Steelers. It's not an easy schedule, but there are a few teams struggling in that list of future Packer opponents. 

We've seen Mike McCarthy, Ted Thompson, their staffs and the players overcome more injuries in the last four seasons than any National Football League team. Time and time again they've lost key players only to plug in well-prepared backups and keep on winning.

There is a huge difference in plugging in a backup offensive lineman or a backup wide receiver and plugging in the backup quarterback. A new quarterback changes the entire way a team runs its offense, especially a backup quarterback like Seneca Wallace who has a different skill set from Aaron Rodgers.

Losing Rodgers to major injury would be the nightmare of all nightmares. He makes everyone's job easier.

Yet, no organization would be better equipped to handle it than Green Bay.

I don't know if Seneca Wallace is the best backup quarterback in the NFL. That's essentially what this statement means. The Packers are best equipped to handle an injured starter, which means the Packers backup quarterback is the best backup quarterback in the NFL. I don't think the fact the Packers have handled other injuries well means the Packers could handle an injury to Rodgers well. Losing the starting quarterback is such a different problem from losing a wide receiver or a safety.

Bob McGinn is about to argue because the Packers have sustained injuries to key players before then they could do it again if Aaron Rodgers gets hurt. It's so much different when the starting quarterback gets injured though. It's not like inserting a backup safety into the starting lineup or being down to the third-string running back. A new quarterback can change the way the entire offense is run. 

What I'm doing is taking a close look at the disaster plan that the Packers have rehearsed countless times behind closed doors. Lack of preparation is inexcusable, and these people didn't play the second half of the 45th Super Bowl without eight starters and still win by being unprepared.

Which is why the Packers cut Vince Young (the only backup quarterback on the roster at the time) out of training camp and then signed Seneca Wallace on September 2. Preparation is key and Wallace has had the entire season to get ready but hasn't taken real game snaps or preseason snaps with the Packers team until Monday evening. So while I admire the Packers ability to fill an injured player's spot, I am a little bit quizzical about how prepared they are if they did lose Rodgers for the season. 

The Packers have been immune at quarterback for 21 years, but it doesn't represent the unthinkable for them. They're paid not just to meet catastrophe, but to conquer it.

Seneca Wallace is 33 years old and has a career passer rating of 81.3. He's not bad, but I really think Bob McGinn underestimates the decline in talent in going from Aaron Rodgers to Seneca Wallace. Aaron Rodgers makes the players around him better, while Seneca Wallace needs talent around him to play better. It's a totally different look to go from a quarterback who is Aaron Rodgers and a quarterback who needs to manage the game and doesn't make everyone around him better. Eddie Lacy won't find as many holes running the ball, the receivers don't get the ball where they are used to getting it, and the Packers defense would have to play slightly differently not knowing whether the offense can put up 30+ points per game. 

the guess here is that even if the Packers were to lose Rodgers early Monday night against the Chicago Bears they'd find ways to finish 11-5.

Maybe the Packers would "find a way" to win 11 games (whatever that means exactly), but I really think that McGinn is underestimating the move to Wallace from Rodgers. 

That probably would earn them one of the top three seedings in the NFC playoff field. Then Green Bay would be a tough out.

I don't think the Packers would be a tough out though. They would have a home playoff game, but the explosive Packers offense would be gone. For his career, Rodgers averages just below 9.0 yards per attempt, while Seneca Wallace averages just below 6.5 yards per attempt over his career. Even though he averages more yards per attempt, Rodgers has never had a completion percentage below 63.6% in a season where he's started a football game for the Packers. Wallace's career high completion percentage in a season where's started a football game is 65.0% and during the season with the largest sample size there is of Wallace starting games (8 games in 2008) his completion percentage was 58.3%. I'm not cherry-picking data either, I promise. Wallace is a different quarterback from Rodgers and a lot of the explosiveness of the Packers offense that makes them so tough would disappear with Seneca Wallace as the starter.

A great example of this is Wallace's performance against the Bears. Simply because the Packers offense is explosive doesn't mean Wallace will suddenly become an explosive quarterback in the Packers offense. Wallace was 11-19 for 114 yards and averaged 6.0 yards per attempt. Rodgers averaged 8.8 yards per attempt on the season. Wallace will run the Packers offense different from how Rodgers will run it and I think this will cause a lot of the Packers explosiveness to go missing.

Each Labor Day weekend, it's my assignment to rank the final 53 players not on how good they are but on their importance to the team. The perceived depth behind a player raises or lowers his ranking.

Right, and there is very little quarterback depth behind Rodgers. Wallace is it and he had not taken a snap with the Packers in any kind of game until the game against the Bears on Monday night. 

We're seven games into the season and already two of the top three on that list, four of the top six and six of the top nine have missed games due to injury.

Yep, the Packers have suffered a lot of injuries. I don't know how this means Seneca Wallace could win games in place of Aaron Rodgers. 

Morgan Burnett, the No. 3 man on the list, had to sit out the first three weeks. No. 5 Eddie Lacy missed almost two full games. No. 6 Randall Cobb has been out for 2½ games and could miss at least seven more.

Again, I know Bob McGinn is smart enough to know a safety, running back, and wide receiver getting injured is completely different from a team's starting quarterback getting injured. A team's quarterback has such a large impact on the team and any change in that position will affect the offense as a whole. 

Neither Bryan Bulaga nor running back DuJuan Harris made the rankings because they were lost in August. Bulaga would have been in the top 15 and Harris was regarded as the starter by the coaches.

Wait, so Eddie Lacy was the fifth most important Green Bay player, but he wasn't even the starter? So DuJuan Harris would have been the fourth most important Green Bay player if he were healthy? I'm taking my eye off the ball here and letting Bob McGinn distract me. 

It begs the question: Is anyone in Green Bay irreplaceable?

Yes, Aaron Rodgers. He is irreplaceable. He can not be replaced with another quarterback on the Packers roster or who is a free agent with any type of expectancy the Packers offense will run in the way it did with Rodgers as the starting quarterback. 

Should what some regard as a death knell strike at quarterback, the Packers would grieve, they'd cope and my feeling is they'd come together as an even more unified force.

Because we all know the key to the Packers success with Favre and Rodgers as the starting quarterback was the team being a unified force and the team's success wasn't based on having consistently high quarterback play. Sure, Seneca Wallace is an average backup quarterback, but the team all likes each other and will "come together" to magically make Seneca Wallace turn into Aaron Rodgers or some close semblance of Rodgers. This should be made into a film. We can call it "Angels at Lambeau."

Certainly, there is potential for a team to suffer some loss of hope without its leader and greatest player.

Yes, perhaps the Packers would miss the best quarterback in the NFL. I'll have to think about it though, because it doesn't seem like a certainty. Sure, the Packers will miss Rodgers for a few weeks, but they are a unified force.

As talented and committed as Rodgers is, and as rule changes increase the value of the quarterback position, the Packers are all but guaranteed no fewer than nine or 10 victories if he lines up 16 times.

I'd see it going the other way. This team is thinking Super Bowl all the way now, and to that end one could foresee a collective groundswell of emotion and effort with the express intention of proving the doomsayers wrong.

Remember this was written BEFORE Aaron Rodgers got injured against the Bears, so maybe Bob McGinn will be correct, but only based on the competition the Packers face and not because Seneca Wallace can cover the spread or the Packers team has become a unified force. I can see the Packers winning a game or two with Seneca Wallace as the starter, especially against the lesser teams on their remaining schedule, but wanting to prove people wrong doesn't necessarily make a team play better nor will Wallace elevate the team if he had to start in the playoffs. It doesn't work that way. 

Injuries haven't touched either line. Largely because of that, this team can run the ball and stop the run, maybe the best friends a backup quarterback can have.

Part of the reason the Packers can run the ball is because defenses have to be conscious of the fact that Aaron Rodgers is standing in the backfield and is capable of hitting a receiver for a long gain if the defense pays too much attention to the Packers running the football. Obviously Aaron Rodgers isn't the only reason the Packers have run the ball well, but defenses don't respect Seneca Wallace's arm as much as they respect Aaron Rodgers' arm so they can focus on stopping the Packers from running the ball more. Rodgers' presence on the field can open up the running game for the Packers. 

On pace to score 485 points, the Packers with Rodgers have a chance to challenge their 2011 scoring record of 560.

And without Aaron Rodgers the Packers don't have a chance of challenging their 2011 scoring record of 560. I'm a little sure the Packers could win a game or two without Rodgers, but they wouldn't be nearly the team to be feared in the playoffs with Seneca Wallace as the starter. 

Which brings us to Seneca Wallace, 33, whose career was on life support before the Packers beckoned him Sept. 2 to supplant Vince Young and B.J. Coleman as Rodgers' backup.

And why was his career on life support? Because he's so good at being a backup quarterback? Because playoff contenders couldn't wait to line up to have him backup their franchise quarterback? 

Nothing against Wallace, he's a fine backup. But he's a backup and he isn't Aaron Rodgers. He will go .500 at-best as the starter, but that's not good enough for a team who was looking at 10-12 wins this season. 

"He's a great person," said left tackle David Bakhtiari. "But he's never really been in the huddle for a game so I don't know how he'd react in a game situation."

It's clear from this quote the Packers have well-prepared Wallace to start games this season and the Packers team is a unified force that has complete confidence in Wallace. 

Wallace, however, does have 1,573 regular-season snaps under his belt. Most of them came in Seattle, where coach Mike Holmgren and Thompson drafted him in the fourth round in 2003 because they wanted Matt Hasselbeck's backup to have an entirely different set of skills.

Wallace wasn't terrible during the 2008 season. He went 3-5 as the Seahawks starter while throwing for 11 touchdowns and 3 interceptions with a 87.0 rating. Not terrible, but at every stop when he could have gotten a chance to be the full-time starter his team has chosen to go in a different direction. But now I am expected to believe the Packers will be just fine with Seneca Wallace replacing Aaron Rodgers despite having been on the Packers team for only two months. Sure, I believe that. 

After backing up Hasselbeck and Trent Dilfer for two years, Wallace moved up to No. 2 in 2005 and then started 14 games for an injured Hasselbeck from 2006-'09.

He was traded to Cleveland in March 2010 for a seventh-round draft choice and given a $2 million signing bonus a year later. In two seasons for bad Browns teams, he started seven games.

Again, notice how the Seahawks traded Wallace to the Browns and then the Browns had Wallace start seven games for the Browns and then released him. He was out of football during the 2012 season and then cut by the Saints and 49ers before being signed by the Packers. He's a JAG. Just a guy. 

Wallace's 6-15 record as a starter includes an 11-10 record against the spread.

NFL games are not played against the spread and so Wallace's 6-15 record is his record as an NFL starter and what he has done against the spread is irrelevant. Unless Bob McGinn is concerned the Packers aren't going to cover the spread, Wallace's record against the spread is very, very, very, very irrelevant in regard to his ability to play the quarterback position well and sufficiently replace Aaron Rodgers as the starter. 

Thirteen of the teams that he started against finished with winning records, and 10 made the playoffs. His team was favored five times in those 21 games.

Great, so Wallace will be great news for gamblers, but bad news for Packers fans who want to see the Packers win 10-12 games this season with Wallace starting the rest of the season (which he hopefully won't have to do). 

Wallace stands 5 feet 11½ inches and weighs 206.

"If you have (height) requirements you just move on from him," Scot McCloughan, Seattle's director of college scouting in 2003, said at the time. "But he's a quarterback that's a winner. Whatever it takes."

I don't like using a quarterback's record as proof of very much, but when referring to Wallace as a "winner" I hope Scot McCloughan knows Iowa State went 14-12 with Wallace as the starting quarterback (I guess that is theoretically "winning) and I hope Bob McGinn remembers Wallace's record as an NFL starter is 6-15 when quoting someone else calling Wallace a "winner." If you are going to be annoying enough to call a quarterback a winner, that quarterback should at least won significantly more than 50% of his starts on the college and NFL level. That's just my position. 

The Seahawks saw Wallace pick up Holmgren's complicated West Coast system after diligent application, throw better deep balls than Hasselbeck and consistently slip and slide to avoid rushers and run for first downs.

Great, unfortunately he doesn't throw a better deep ball than Aaron Rodgers and Aaron Rodgers has great mobility as well. Rodgers can pretty much do whatever Seneca Wallace can do, other than play occasional wide receiver of course. 

Besides height, the reason scouts say Wallace was never handed a starting job was indecision and lack of patience in the pocket together with average overall accuracy.

Oh that's all? So Wallace would have had the starting quarterback job in Seattle if he just was more accurate, was more patient in the pocket, and could be more decisive. That's all he had to improve upon. Sounds like he is just like Aaron Rodgers. 

"He was in a very similar offense to Green Bay's for a long time," one personnel man said. "I think that's what Green Bay was counting on when they signed him."

"He knows the offense." 

This is the basest, most elementary reason given for signing a quarterback. Sure, he isn't talented, but at least he doesn't have to work hard to know what plays the coaches want run. It's kept Derek Anderson and various other quarterbacks employed past their expiration date, so what could be wrong with this reasoning? 

Last week, two scouts for AFC teams were asked to judge Wallace against the 31 other No. 2 quarterbacks.

The first preferred Wallace to 19 backups, took five over him and rated seven as a tossup. The second favored Wallace over 15 and the other 16 over him.

So Wallace is about an average backup quarterback. The Packers are going from the best quarterback in the NFL (fine, maybe the second or third best) to the 45th best quarterback in the NFL. It's not hard to see why McGinn's optimism for the Packers if Rodgers is out more than a few weeks is a bit questionable to me. Yes, the Packers can win games without Rodgers, but they can't simply slide Wallace into the starting spot and expect a slight fall-off like could be expected when Morgan Burnett gets injured or when Eddie Lacy misses a few games. The Packers could win a few games, but they won't nearly be the playoff-caliber team they were with Rodgers. The comparisons being made by McGinn to the Packers absorbing injuries at other positions is irrelevant when it comes to an injury at the quarterback position. Again, quarterback is such a different beast when it comes to bringing in a backup.

"His arm isn't bad," the second scout said. "What hinders him is he's not the tallest guy. But he can throw on the run and get out of trouble. I'd take him as a backup."

And yet, Wallace was out there for the taking during the 2012 season and this scout's team didn't take him as a backup. Weird how that works isn't it? 

"As a backup you need to feel you can go in and lead the team at any time the same way that 12 would lead the team," said Wallace. "Would it be pretty? No, we knew it wouldn't be pretty. There's going to be some timing issues and things like that.


"But I know...guaranteed, weeks went on and I had to play back-to-back games, it'd be a lot better."

Does it sound like the disaster plan for Rodgers getting injured has been rehearsed countless times behind closed doors as Bob McGinn claims? It sounds to me like the Packers know it will be rough, but they are hoping if Rodgers misses more than a few weeks that Wallace could win a few games after he gets a few games under his belt. Basically, they are hoping the hypothetical (and now real) injury to Rodgers doesn't cause him to miss more than a few games. Bob McGinn knows the Packers organization better than I do (obviously), but it seems the disaster plan isn't as rehearsed as he states it is and Wallace isn't as confident in his own abilities as McGinn seems to be. 

The Packers passed on Matt Flynn to keep preparing Wallace. After examining his résumé and listening to him review his career, I can see why.

Because Matt Flynn isn't a very good quarterback? I think the fact the Packers chose to sign a quarterback who wasn't on an NFL roster last year says more about Matt Flynn then it does Seneca Wallace. 

If Aaron Rodgers weren't available, the Packers possess the coaching, the personnel, the chemistry and the backup quarterback to win.

"To win" is a pretty vague statement. If the Packers do win it's not because of Seneca Wallace's ability to win games against the spread. As was seen Monday night, Seneca Wallace was correct that there were timing issues and it wasn't pretty when he had to run the offense. I simply can't be as confident about the Packers ability to win games without Rodgers because Wallace hasn't shown he can stretch the field with his arm the way Rodgers has shown he can do. 

Bob McGinn is much more confident than I am in Seneca Wallace's ability and I don't think the fact he is 11-10 against the spread in his career as a starter means very much. The Packers have the Eagles, Giants and Vikings over the next three weeks so they could go 2-1 over that stretch and Bob McGinn will feel like he is correct. I'm not so sure. If the Packers did have to play the rest of the season without Rodgers I don't know if I see them as a Top-3 seed and I certainly don't think they would be feared. The Packers can plan all they want, but losing Aaron Rodgers is different from losing any of the other currently injured Packers players.


Snarf said...

One thing...

Even though he averages more yards per attempt, Rodgers has never had a completion percentage below 63.6% in a season where he's started a football game for the Packers.

I think your point here would make a little more sense if you discussed yards per completions rather than yards per attempt as completion percentage is a driver of YPA (holding other variables equal, mainly yards per completion, an increase in rate of completion will increase YPA). Same result, though. In a season in which he started at least one game, Rodgers has never had a Y/C of less than 11.6 yards. Conversely, Seneca Wallace has never had a season with a Y/C greater than 11.3 in a season in which he started a game.

Bengoodfella said...

Snarf, quite possibly it would have been better if I discussed yards per completions. I'm glad the result is the same though. Either way, the Packers have admitted the backup situation isn't good, so I have no idea why Bob McGinn is confident when the team isn't.

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