Christine Michael Is a Perfect Fit for the Green Bay Packers

Michael, a two-time Seattle castoff, can right the Packers' run-game ship.

When it comes to fashion, I consider gym shorts and a T-shirt just as complex a button-down and slacks.

Due to this, it’s no surprise to me that I learned a lot getting a new suit tailored the other week. I went into the store to find something that would work for me and tried on a bunch of options off the rack.

The tailor mournfully explained to me, though, that even if they just adjusted the ones I tried on in-store, they weren’t right for my broad chest and long torso.

There are just different cuts that fit different bodies better.

An NFL player’s fit with his team is a lot like getting a suit tailored: even if they’re coached up, learn the playbook, and get practice reps in, sometimes their style just doesn’t fit the team they’re on.

The union of running back Christine Michael and the Green Bay Packers seems to be a perfect fit, however. While it may seem like the Packers scrambled to claim him because they simply need warm bodies and kept him inactive for Week 11, this is both the best possible landing spot for his production and the exact right move for the Packers.

Nothing Suits You Like a Suit

When a suit fits poorly, you cannot blame the suit; it’s the responsibility of the person wearing it to realize that the sleeves are way too long for them, and that’s exactly what Christine Michael’s presence on the Seattle Seahawks has seemed like over the last year and a half.

The Seahawks drafted Michael in the second round of 2013’s NFL Draft to be the heir apparent to Marshawn Lynch's power-running ground attack. In the four years since, however, they have shifted to being a much less run-centric team and instead have focused their offense around the stylings of star quarterback Russell Wilson.

The table below shows Seattle’s play-calling data from the “Skittles Era” of the team -- with Lynch as the focal point -- and its progression to the 2016 season, which is prorated to 16 games below.

Year Pass Plays Rush Plays P/R Plays
2010 579 385 1.50 1034
2011 557 446 1.25 1092
2012 438 536 0.82 1068
2013 464 509 0.91 1051
2014 496 523 0.95 1095
2015 535 501 1.07 1106
2016* 594 380 1.56 1058

When Lynch first arrived as a member of the Seahawks in 2010, they were a team centered on the pass. They steadily developed their offense into a rushing juggernaut until the power-run’s zenith from 2012 to 2014 in this franchise, rushing more than once per passing play in each year. It was during this ground game heyday that Michael was envisioned as a one-to-one replacement for Lynch.

It wasn’t until 2015, however, that Michael started to see some run with the Seahawks’ starters -- and only down the stretch. That same period of time -- from Week 10 onward -- is when the passing game really started to click, and they went from 235 passing yards per game to about 280 yards through the air per game.

We can see, too, that the current play calling pace of the Seahawks’ offense will be the most pass-heavy since before Marshawn Lynch and have the fewest rushing attempts.

The trajectory of the Seahawks’ offense is a terrible fit for the 5’10” and 220-pound Michael, who has the build and mindset of a classic power runner. But the Green Bay Packers -- who have been desperate for offensive balance -- will be thrilled to see him.

A Camel Through the Eye of the Needle

Through 10 weeks of the NFL season, the Green Bay Packers ranked just behind the Jacksonville Jaguars in terms of pass-to-run play call ratio. But if too heavy of a pass presence is our issue for Christine Michael’s misuse in Seattle, why are we okay with Green Bay’s nearly 2:1 pass-to-run ratio?

The thing is, Green Bay’s play calling has shifted significantly from after Week 6 this season, when starting running back Eddie Lacy went down with a season-ending injury. The team clearly went into panic mode and had to adapt, so how did this affect the team’s rushing production?

The table below shows the split between Weeks 1 and 6 and Week 7 through 10 in terms of play calling and numberFire’s Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which measures contextually-relevant value added to the game.

How has the Packers’ offense changed over the last month?

Weeks Pass/G Rush/G P/R Ratio Adj NEP/P Adj PNEP/P Adj RNEP/P
1-6 38.00 25.60 1.48 0.11 0.12 0.01
7-10 51.25 18.50 2.77 0.11 0.11 0.10

Prior to that Week 6 game, Lacy saw the vast majority of touches out of the backfield, but since then, the Packers have cobbled together a rushing corps consisting mainly of wide receivers, fullbacks, and undrafted free agents.

Obviously, due to the lack of skill and experience, the Packers’ rush attempt volume dropped by nearly 25 percent over the past month as they accounted for Lacy’s loss.

Interestingly, the Packers’ rushing value by schedule-adjusted Rushing NEP per play increased drastically from Week 7 onward, but much of that is due to the nature of Rushing NEP: running the ball is inherently inefficient, in terms of Rushing NEP, so the big chunk gains the Packers got in small volume outweigh the consistent ground production in high volume they got from Lacy.

In addition, spreading the defense out to run and trick plays are inherently more efficient on a per-play basis than classic up-the-middle rushing attempts against standard seven-man fronts. This apparent rate improvement is, likely, misleading.

The table below helps illustrate this comparison, in terms of both NEP production and standard yardage on rushing attempts directionally labeled as “middle.” This eliminates the end-arounds and jet sweeps that the Packers have relied on for the last month, and instead looks at their traditional rushing usage.

Week Rush Att/G Rush Yd/Att Rush Yd/G Rush NEP/P Rush Success Rate
1-6 6.60 4.39 29.00 -0.02 54.55%
7-10 3.00 5.83 17.50 0.21 41.67%

As with the overall, the efficiency of inside runs appears to have increased for the Packers without Lacy, but the contextual factors put a damper on that impact: the volume of these interior rushes dropped drastically (meaning big plays factor more into the latter group than the former) and current usage indicates easier defensive fronts and trick plays.

What confirms this suspicion is that the Rushing Success Rate (the percentage of plays that went for a positive NEP gain) of inside runs also dropped over the last month. The Green Bay backfield production from Week 7 onward has been reliant much more on a few big plays, rather than consistency.

The Packers' offense is missing a lot, but one of the key reasons they’re flopping is a lack of consistent interior rushing production. Christine Michael can provide that.

Suit You, Sir

Christine Michael has easily produced more as a rusher than anyone not named Eddie Lacy among the Packers with a minimum of 20 rushing attempts. The table below illustrates that, including their marks from Week 11, when Starks netted a Rushing NEP of -1.80 on 9 carries and Montgomery added just 0.10 total on 4 carries.

Name Rush Rush NEP/P Rush Success Rate
Christine Michael 117 0.01 41.03%
Eddie Lacy 71 0.08 40.85%
James Starks 40 -0.31 22.50%
Ty Montgomery 28 -0.20 39.29%

When we consider that the Seahawks have a ninth-ranked 11.1 percent stuffed rate (percent of plays on which their running backs were stopped for a loss or no gain), while the Packers’ 8.1 percent rate is among the ten lowest in the NFL, it’s feasible to imagine that Michael may surpass Lacy’s 2016 production with the Packers.

Adding a strong inside runner to their team will only add to the Packers’ offensive dimensions.

For Michael, the Packers represent an increase in volume of attempts (Lacy had 14.2 rushes per game, Michael 13.0), an improvement in efficiency due to a better offensive line, and a sturdier commitment to establishing a balanced offense.

This move fits both parties like a glove -- or a perfectly tailored suit.