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Packers use Monday report cards to assess productivity

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By Lori Nickel
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
October 9, 2013

GREEN BAY--Mike Neal had his best day so far as a converted linebacker when he had six tackles, a sack and a quarterback hit against Detroit. But this is what he said after the game Sunday:

“I haven’t had a losing performance since I’ve been playing outside linebacker.”

He’s not talking about the Packers’ 2-2 record, or making some kind of affirmation speech in the mirror of the weight room.

He’s talking about his grades.

The Green Bay Packers have developed and enhanced a grading system that they’ve been using for years that takes all of the guesswork out of individual performances and puts them on a chart, like a balance sheet for positive and negative contributions.

Every Monday, the Packers get their personal grade sheet, their most complete indicator of how they’re doing in the eyes of their coaches. After watching every player on every play, position coaches give a plus or a minus, and those are tallied at the end, with the goal of achieving at least 80 percent, and hopefully 90 percent, positive plays.

This year the Packers have added a new offensive category — the playmaker stat — as well as a new award, the Big Dog Award.

These new indicators help break down the ultimate team sport so that no performance gets lost in the crowd.

“We have a lot of stats,” said receiver James Jones. “The main thing you get out of it is mental. As a receiver, it makes you more hungry. When they show those stats in front of your teammates, you don’t want it to say, ‘0-3 in playmaker opportunities.’ You want to let them know you’re out there making plays for them.”

The playmaker stat is different than drops or targets or average yards per catch. It’s pretty straightforward but now it is there, on a chart.

“It is basically when you have a one-on-one opportunity,” said Jones. “Say Aaron Rodgers throws the ball up and it’s a jump ball. It may not be the perfect pass, it may not be the perfect route, it may not be the perfect play called. But you have the opportunity to go make the play. It’s either you or him.”

Randall Cobb beats two Lions defenders and makes a brilliant one-handed grab for 22 yards. He gets that playmaker plus. Johnathan Franklin takes a hit right to where he’s carrying the ball and loses the fumble to his quarterback. He lost that playmaking opportunity.

That information, along with explosive plays (12-14 or more yards), and stats like YAC (yards after the catch), turnovers and drops, are all recorded and tallied.

“It’s really detailed,” said tight end Jermichael Finley.

While Jones lost a playmaker stat when he fumbled a touchdown catch over the pylon, he got a winning grade on his touchdown in Cincinnati when he saw Rodgers scrambling, came back to the ball, beat the defensive back and made the play.

“Our receivers coach Edgar Bennett is on us about it all the time,” said Jones. “‘Win your playmaker opportunities.’ That’s how you make your name. Anybody can catch a wide-open pass; this is your opportunity to make a playmaker play. Go make it.”

Now, it might seem crazy to add another stat, but a heightened awareness helps some players.

“It’s a goal,” said Finley. “That’s the main thing they’re trying to push, playmaker and yards after the catch. Get the ball and then make the first person miss. I’m a competitive guy, so if I ever get a minus, we’re going to talk about it. I need to know what happened. He’s got to really detail it out for me to tell me what I did wrong.”

Other Packers don’t really see the need to indentify something that has been ingrained in them.

“It’s more for the coaches than it is for us,” Cobb said. “They’re here a lot, so they need something else to do, something else to grade us on.” He laughed.

“Pretty much,” chimed in receiver Jordy Nelson.

They were kidding, but they aren’t quite sold on the need for all the data.

“We don’t get caught up in it,” said Nelson. “Last year, without this, I still knew when I had an opportunity to make a play and I didn’t. Now, they’re just keeping track of it, I guess.

“As a player, I would hope you would approach every game, and every play, the same. That’s why I’ve never been a big fan — which we don’t do it — of if you drop a ball, it’s $100 drop in the jar. Well, it’s pointless. I don’t need to be out there, ‘I better catch this ball or I’m going to be out $100.’

“I better catch this ball if I want to have a job.”

A win or a loss, and the game film — that’s all Nelson really needs to know. Not that he’s been above campaigning to the coaches to change a grade if there are a few little minuses but an overall productive day in other areas, like blocking. Still, he’s his own toughest critic.

“You might get a positive grade on a play, but when you watch it, you think to yourself, ‘Man, I could have run a better route than that,’” said Nelson.

But Nelson is a veteran with a Super Bowl ring. These indicators might be best for the younger Packers as motivators or simple reminders of their goals.

The Packers have not left out the linemen, either. They don’t have nearly as many stats and with the nature of the game, not nearly as much individual recognition for their achievements.

“Our stats are all purely negative,” said left tackle David Bakhtiari. “The pressures we give up, how many sacks we give up — those are kind of the numbers that everyone keys on. We just basically try to be as quiet as possible. How long we can go without people talking about us — I guess that could be a stat.”

So this year, the Packers also introduced a new team-only award: The Big Dog. Defensive end Mike Daniels was the first to earn it after the Washington game. The Packers even gave him a T-shirt and a football with his name on it.

It was a big deal to him. The football went in his trophy case in the basement of his home, next to the game ball he got last year for scoring a touchdown against Detroit, the gloves he wore when he made all of his sacks and pictures of some of his best plays.

“It brings some attention to the big uglies,” said Daniels. “We do a lot of the dirty work up front and the team can’t go without the line. A lot of times, that goes unnoticed. It’s always nice to recognize the whole team.”

The Big Dog Award is symbolic and it is motivating.

“That’s exactly what it is,” said Daniels. “Let me get some more of them. Let me fill this thing up.

“Make me have to get another trophy case.”



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