There's two statistics in the NFL that are the biggest barometers of success, or lack thereof––whether it's one particular game or over the course of an entire season.
One is turnover differential, which we've already examined in-depth this season, and the other is passer rating differential. And both tell the story of why the Packers are 5-4, on a two-game losing streak and on the outside looking in at the NFC playoff picture.
The Packers currently rank tied for 23rd in the NFL with a negative-four turnover differential, in large part because they have an NFL-low three defensive interceptions this season.
But for as much as the running game has taken on new importance in Green Bay, passer rating differential still does an incredibly good job of which teams win and which do not.
It's largely because passer rating differential takes into account not only how well one team does passing the football but also how the defense does at stopping another team's passing game.
Passer rating is influenced by either success or failure. It's impacted positively to a great extent by throwing touchdown passes and a lesser extent by simple completions.
On the other hand, it's impacted negatively to a greater extent by throwing interceptions and to a lesser extent by tossing incompletions (that aren't intercepted).
The result speak for themselves. The Packers are 4-0 when they have a passer rating higher than that of their opponent and are 1-4 when the opponent out-performs the Packers quarterbacks.
The only time the Packers won this season despite their adversary having the higher passer rating was against Baltimore when Joe Flacco had a rating of 112.6 while Aaron Rodgers had a rating of just 84.8.
Here's a quick look at how the Packers' passer rating compared to their opponent on a game-by-game basis this season:
- Game 1 loss: SF 129.4, GB 102.6; Differential: -26.8
- Game 2 win: WAS 104.2, GB 146.0; Differential: +41.8
- Game 3 loss: CIN 105.5, GB 64.5; Differential: -41.0
- Game 4 win: DET 89.8, GB 106.8; Differential: +17.0
- Game 5 win: BAL 112.6, GB 84.8; Differential: -27.8
- Game 6 win: CLE 48.6, GB 117.8; Differential: +69.2
- Game 7 win: MIN 86.4, GB 130.6; Differential: +44.2
- Game 8 loss: CHI 90.7, GB 57.8; Differential: -32.9
- Game 9 loss PHI 149.3, GB 74.5; Differential: -74.8
Green Bay ranks 17th in the NFL in passer rating differential this season, according to ColdHardFootballFacts.com, with a positive rating of 0.46.
The past two games in particular have been disheartening, as the Packers lost Aaron Rodgers to a broken collarbone one possession into the Bears game.
Since Rodgers has been gone, the Packers have expectedly gotten inferior quarterback play from backups Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien.
What's come as unexpected, however, is the play of the Packers defense, allowing the Bears' Josh McCown and Eagles' Nick Foles to play at a Pro Bowl level.
The play of Tolzien this past Sunday, no doubt, was encouraging, but expecting him to reprise Rodgers would be foolish.
While Rodgers wasn't immune to poor outings, such as he had against Cincinnati this season, they come few and far between.
Tolzien might be able to keep the Packers competitive, but the Packers are going to win very few games unless they get some help from their defense, and it has to be a team effort.
The onus falls largely on the secondary to grab interceptions, but the job becomes much easier if the front seven is providing a steady pass rush, something they haven't done with regularity in 2013.
No win is going to come easy as long as Rodgers remains out. Tolzien must keep the Packers in game by limiting turnovers, but the defense simply has to be better.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].
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