Packers Vs. Saquon Barkley and a Look At First-Half Differential.

The Packers will have their work cut out for them against Saquon Barkley on Sunday. Plus, a look at the importance of first-half point differential. 

It is becoming an annoying trend -- the Green Bay Packers struggle at stopping the run. They switched defensive coordinators a season ago. They used both of their 2022 first round picks on defensive players, an inside linebacker and an interior lineman. They signed defensive tackle Jarran Reed. All to no avail. Joe Barry's unit is allowing five yards per carry through the first four games of the 2022 season, which ranks 24th in the NFL. They are also 22nd in  rushing yards allowed per game (126.8 yards/game). Not to mention, they are one week removed from allowing 167 yards on the ground (5.1 yards/carry). And to boot, they will face their toughest test yet when they face off against Giants running back Saquon Barkley across the pond on Sunday (8:30 AM CST kick-off on NFL Network). 

The Penn State product has been one of the best running backs, if not the best, in the NFL through the first four games. He leads the league in yards from scrimmage and in rushing yards (463). For running backs with at least 50 carries, Barkley is second to only Browns running back Nick Chubb in Expected Points Added (EPA) per play. He is also second in rushing yards over expectation with 133. The fourth-year pro is coming off an incredible performance in Week 4, one in which he carried the rock 31 times for 146 yards. And while one might look at the box score against the Carolina Panthers from Week 2 and think that Barkley struggled, it was a tale of two halves. He did not gain a single yard on five carries in the first half, but he amassed 72 yards on 16 carries in the second half (4.5 yards/carry) en route to a 19-16 victory. 

Truth be told, the Packers cannot afford to allow Barkley to break tackles due to the explosiveness and breakaway speed he has exhibited in the open field through the first four games. The problem is that Green Bay has missed far too many tackles thus far. They have 25 missed tackles on the season, according to Pro Football Focus, and linebacker De'Vondre Campbell is responsible for almost a quarter of those missed tackles (6). One way that the Packers can possibly keep Barkley at bay is by getting off to a faster start, particularly offensively. In other words, if the Giants are playing from behind much of the game, that might force them to catch up through the air. Advantage, Packers, because quarterback Daniel Jones may be hampered by an ankle injury suffered against the Bears last week. Not to mention, the signal caller is 30th in expected points added on pass attempts (3.0) and is 23rd in passer rating (81.9). 

However, Matt LaFleur's offense has yet to prove they are fast starters this season, averaging only 11.3 points per first half (17th). On that note, one of the marks of a great team is their first-half point differential. The logic, or at least a part of it, is simple: it is much less taxing playing with a lead than playing from behind. Moreover, as former NFL executive Michael Lombardi wrote in Sports Illustrated in 2008, "it forces the opponent to play a near-perfect second half. It also requires the defensive play-caller to not make one mistake, lest he limit his ability to be creative in attacking the passer. ... [W]hen a team falls behind and is concerned about not allowing the big play on third down, this reduces their blitzing and makes the game much easier on the quarterback."

First-half point differential is not the end-all, be-all though, at least on a micro level. Take the Dolphins-Ravens game earlier this season, for instance. The Dolphins were down 21 points at half, thus leaving them with a -21 first-half point differential, yet rallied for a 42-38 victory. But over time, the cream rises to the top and the better the team's cumulative first-half point differential is later in the season, I reckon that team will be in contention for the Lombardi Trophy. As referenced in the aforementioned article, the Patriots, who lost to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII, led the league in first-half point differential (+196) for the 2007-08 season and the Chargers were second (+104), who lost to the Pats in the AFC Championship Game. The Packers were 7th (+56; they lost to the Giants in the NFC Championship Game), and every single team in the top-10 of first-half point differential made the playoffs. 

I took a sampling of the "top" 16 teams through the first four full weeks of the season -- the Packers, Giants, Chiefs, Eagles, Bucs, 49ers, Rams, Bills, Dolphins, Vikings, Ravens, Cowboys, Bengals, Jaguars, Titans, and Browns. 

The Eagles, the lone undefeated team left, are head and shoulders above the group with a first-half point differential of +57. The 49ers and Ravens are next, each with a differential of +39, followed by the Titans (+31), Chiefs (+28), the Rams (+17), Cowboys (+13), Browns (+9), and the Packers (+8). (Green Bay was down 17 at the half in Week 1, up by 17 in Week 2, up by 11 in Week 3, and trailed by 3 last week.) The Giants own a differential of -11. 

Will the Packers start fast, or will they be forced to step up in the second half and have to deal with the potential reckoning of Barkley? For all of our heart rates, I surely hope it is the former. 

__________________________

Rex is a lifelong Packers fan but was sick of the cold, so he moved to the heart of Cowboys country. Follow him on Twitter (@Sheild92) and Instagram (@rex.sheild). 

4 points

Comments (21)

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Lphill's picture

October 07, 2022 at 12:20 pm

I remember when the Packers were gonna get run all over by Derrick Henry and they didn't, this is all on Barry he has the right pieces of the puzzle to contain Barkley , if Barry plays two down lineman and two high safeties then we are in trouble.

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Fubar's picture

October 07, 2022 at 12:27 pm

Your putting faith in Barry the hack? Good luck with that

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Untylu1968's picture

October 07, 2022 at 12:49 pm

As long as we don't have to put any faith in you, having anything insightful, positive or intelligent to say, all should be well!

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murf7777's picture

October 07, 2022 at 04:24 pm

So, tell me how many times did he play 2DL against NE when it wasn’t an obvious passing situation and NE had 4W.

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NickPerry's picture

October 07, 2022 at 07:45 pm

Hey Murf... He played quite a bit of it, especially on those 2 consecutive scoring drives in the 2nd half. They'll have say Clark and Reed, Smith and Gary on the edges, and Campbell and Walkers playing the middle right behind them and BOTH safeties back.

THIS is the defense Barry wants to play...PERIOD, mostly because with Campbell and Walker they feel like they can match up with just about anyone. The Pats had 6 O-Linemen on the field much of the time and Clark, Reed, Lowry, or fill-in-the-blank were having problems. Can't occupy them all AND keep Campbell and Walker clean.

This week more so than last week even, the Giants WRs don't scare anyone. Sheppards out, Galloway is in the doghouse, and Toney is battling injuries AND in the doghouse. Barkley MUST be stopped or at least limited and they can't let Jones run. Bad ankle or not he might still be able to run some.

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murf7777's picture

October 07, 2022 at 09:17 pm

That’s just not accurate. I mapped out every play while watching all 22 to check on this. On the second TD drive when they had 6 OL they play 7 and sometimes 8 man front. NE also didn’t have 6 OL most of the time. They did it for a series and maybe two. Sometimes you just get outplayed and that is what happened. On my count, they only had 2 DL on 6 plays the entire game when it wasn’t an obvious passing down, mostly when NE was 2nd or 3rd and long and NE had 4 wide.

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pack69go's picture

October 07, 2022 at 05:41 pm

I agree, it's on Barry! does not put players in position to be their best. Having our font seven talent and getting run al over is pathetic. Having the man to man cover people we have and playing so much zone where they leave people wide open is really sad. f I remember correctly our Db coach filled in for Barry last year and did well, Barry should be shown the door. Barry's Bad Game planning and the lack of effective in game adjustments is unforgivable!

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PatrickGB's picture

October 07, 2022 at 12:20 pm

The turnover differential is important too. They have often stopped promising drives. It’s hard enough trying to score with new receivers and linemen coming back from injuries. But to then have to overcome a turnover is brutal.

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Fubar's picture

October 07, 2022 at 12:25 pm

Daniels is going to play so watch out, a team with a QB in place. LOL
Hopefully Barry the hack, can come up with a pass d for a team missing all their top receivers.
I still see a close game.

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marpag1's picture

October 08, 2022 at 06:50 am

Charlie Daniels? Jeff Daniels? Jack Daniel's?

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PeteK's picture

October 08, 2022 at 07:56 am

How could you forget our own Mike Daniels. LOL

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marpag1's picture

October 08, 2022 at 08:12 am

Nah, I didn't forget. But if ImaPayne knows who Mike Daniels is, then that would mean he knows at least one thing about football, which doesn't seem likely. So I'm pretty sure he wasn't thinking of Mike Daniels.

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PackAttack4155's picture

October 07, 2022 at 01:42 pm

With Daniel Jones nursing an ankle injury, and many of their receivers out for the game, its going to be a lot of "fun" watching the Packers defense continue to play two-deep safeties while the Giants run, and run, and run.

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murf7777's picture

October 07, 2022 at 09:24 pm

They have there 3 starting WR’s out of the game and just take a guess how many catches they have over 4 games? 3, that’s 3 in total for all 3 receivers…..so, not a big deal on that issue.

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jont's picture

October 07, 2022 at 03:52 pm

My neighbor is a long suffering Giants fan who knows as much about football as he does about beer (he actually likes Bud Light) and he says the Giants are going to get killed.

The line is still GB by 8.

I think this is a tough one to call. The Packers will almost certainly win, but by how much? Given the season so far, 'ugly' will probably describe it, but this does look like a good game to get it all together and wrap it up in the 3rd quarter. I'm going with that: GB by 13-17 points.

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jannes bjornson's picture

October 07, 2022 at 06:08 pm

The Pack is a relatively young team. Go with the deep ball.

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murf7777's picture

October 07, 2022 at 04:22 pm

Good analysis, but keep in mind, it’s only been 4 weeks and who you played has something to do with that. We played a tough 4 game schedule. The eagles on the other hand have played an extremely week schedule, 3 patsies and one tough one. They played the lions and barely beat then, beat the Vikings at home and than beat Washington and Jags. Hardly a tough schedule. I don’t put much weight on 4 games.

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rex.sheild's picture

October 07, 2022 at 05:19 pm

There is a lot of season left without a doubt, and my intention re: point differential was not to acknowledge that the pace will continue for the Packers - or any other team for that matter. Rather, it was to illustrate the important of first-half point differential. Thank you for reading!

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marpag1's picture

October 08, 2022 at 07:10 am

Yeah, Barkley certainly is very good, and he's a pretty scary player, but on the other hand here are the teams the Giants have played so far, followed by their performance vs. the run.

Bears - dead last in rushing yards allowed, and it's not close (733) and 3rd worst in yards allowed per attempt.

Cowboys - 7th most rushing yards allowed, 8th worst in yards allowed per attempt

Panthers - 9th most rushing yards allowed, and 21st in Y/A.

Titans - 16th most rushing yards allowed and 13th worst in Y/A

Admittedly, some of these bad defense numbers may have been caused by the fact that the Giants are good at running, but the point remains this is not exactly a murderer's row of run defenses.

Also, the Giants defense has been statistically WORSE than Green Bay's against the run.

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PeteK's picture

October 08, 2022 at 08:10 am

All of this is true, but the Pats are 7th worse against the run and with a 3rd string QB almost beat us at home. I'm also surprised that the O line is playing subpar to the dominance I expected. Hopefully, this will be the game that we put it all together and play up to our potential both on D & O.

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wildbill's picture

October 08, 2022 at 11:36 am

We always seem to play down to the competition, wish I were a drinking man as that would really come in handy

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