Ballhawk Index: The Packers Can't Get to the Football
As part of our continued efforts to provide Packers fans with advanced stats to better understand football, let’s take a look at where Green Bay’s defense ranks on the Ballhawk Index at the halfway mark of the season.
The “ballhawk” stat measures how often a defensive player is around the football in a quantifiable way. Here’s the formula:
Ballhawks = interceptions + passes defensed + sacks + forced fumbles
We like this stat because it shows who’s making the most statistically meaningful contributions. There is a blind spot in the stat towards players who are assignment sure but don’t necessarily put up big numbers or get their hands on a lot of footballs, and it also weights the contributions of defensive backs more than defensive linemen and linebackers.
But generally speaking, we think this number does a good job of showing who’s making life difficult for defenses, especially through the air. Three of the four numbers tracked as part of the ballhawk stat are directly related to the passing game.
Ballhawk Index as of Week 9
Here’s who’s leading the way for the Packers through the first half of the season:
1. Damarious Randall: 7 ballhawks
Randall was a non-factor in terms of getting his hands on the ball through the first month-plus of the season, but since the first Chicago game, he’s been reliably around the ball. Even if he’s not the only reason a turnover play happens, he still needs credit for being in the right place at the right time.
2. Josh Hawkins: 5 ballhawks
He’s tailed off a bit recently, but Hawkins has been one of the surprise success stories of the season so far. He’s always been overflowing with athletic gifts, and now he’s showing he can contribute once he gets some playing time.
3. Clay Matthews: 4.5 ballhawks
This is where things get a little bit depressing. All of Matthews’ ballhawks so far have been sacks save for one pass breakup against the Cowboys. That’s fine for an outside linebacker. The depressing part is how high he ranks. The Packers need more help.
4. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix: 4 ballhawks
Clinton-Dix’s total ballhawks this season (4) are less than the games in which he hasn’t touched the ball at all (5).
T5. Kentrell Brice and Nick Perry: 4 ballhawks
Good: Kentrell Brice managed to contribute in pass defense in a somewhat meaningful way. Bad: He’s done for the season. Worse: Another outside linebacker making an appearance on this list.
What we’ve learned
It’s clear the Packers have a defense-wide problem getting their hands on the ball, but this data puts things into a quantifiably bad light and points out some especially disappointing players.
Coming off a Pro Bowl season, the Packers needed Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to take another significant step forward and so far he hasn’t. He’s the only starting member of the secondary to not miss time due to injury this year, but he’s only been involved in four plays that qualify for our index.
As a team, too, the Packers are not putting up the sort of numbers we’d hope for. Compared just to their NFC North counterparts, the Packers are miserable at getting their hands on the ball. Only Damarious Randall ranks in the top ten among NFC North players in the index, and only Randall and Hawkins make the cut for the top 20.
It’s unclear what’s to blame for this lack of production. In this week’s podcast, we touched briefly on how Dom Capers’ scheme may not be the best fit for the modern NFL, but it’s hard to call that the sole reason for such poor execution.
Injuries, too, could be a factor, but even the healthy players on the Packers have not put up much.
Perhaps as the season goes on and rookies Kevin King and Josh Jones begin to fit more firmly into the defense, things could turn around, but in the meantime, the Packers’ inability to get to the ball will remain a key part of their defensive struggle.