16

January

Lovie Smith, 4-3 Defense Not Right for Packers

Lovie Smith

Lovie Smith and the 4-3 defense for the Packers? I don’t think so.

There has been a lot of talk among Green Bay Packers fans regarding Dom Capers and his future as the team’s defensive coordinator. Saturday’s postseason loss to the San Francisco 49ers was the anvil that broke the camel’s back after a 2011 season of defensive agony, despite their overall improvement in 2012.

Tangential to this discussion is the consideration of who would take Dom Capers’ place. Some people brought up Rob Ryan’s name, though apparently the St. Louis Rams have already snatched him up. There are other gurus of the 3-4 defense, though, that could still be candidates, as well as the option of “promoting from within,” which the Packers are fond of doing.

Meanwhile, some fans are calling for a complete overhaul of the defense. They’d rather see a return to the 4-3 scheme that Green Bay ran before hiring Capers. Names like Lovie Smith have been tossed around as options, and some have even offered up way to reposition the current players to fit the scheme.

And I just can’t help but be dumbfounded by these opinions.

I understand the desire for a change. (Really, I do.) But there are a number of reasons why switching back to the 4-3 or hiring a coach like Lovie Smith just won’t work for this Packers team. Here are a few major ones:

1) No More Clay Matthews

Despite drafting some players in 2012 that appeared to be better suited for a 4-3 scheme (Worthy, Perry), the best player on the defense would lose his effectiveness. Clay Matthews is a 3-4 outside linebacker, and he has been training his entire professional career to become a damn good one. He makes his money on the speed edge rush, which wouldn’t be nearly as effective coming from a defensive end position with his hand in the dirt. Likewise, though Matthews is good in pass coverage, moving him to a 4-3 OLB position would remove him from the pass rush (excepting blitzes). And why would we take him away from his greatest asset?

As Zach Heilprin said on Green and Gold Today during Monday’s show, Matthews would essentially become the Aaron Kampman of a scheme switch – a great player whose best qualities wouldn’t fit the new scheme.

2) Missing a Tampa 2 Middle Linebacker

19

December

Around the NFC North in Week 16

Around the NFC North

Around the NFC North in week 16

With just two games left in the 2012 regular season, there is a full slate in the NFC North this week.  Each game carries its own significance as far as the playoff race is concerned as at least one team in each matchup is fighting for better playoff seeding and some are fighting to just get in, period.

Let’s take a look at the implications in each matchup.

Atlanta Falcons (12-2) at Detroit Lions (4-10)

The only reason this game is listed first is because it is the lone Saturday game and takes place before all others.  Beyond that, it all comes down to a very complete Falcons team coming into Detroit to face arguably the most disappointing team in the NFL this season.

Last weekend, Detroit was manhandled by the Arizona Cardinals 38-10.  Arizona had previously lost their last nine straight games.  The Lions have succeeded in one thing this season:  finding many ways to lose a game.  While they won’t be appearing in the postseason this year, they will have plenty of time during the offseason to figure out why.

The biggest question in Detroit right now is who will still be with the team in 2013?  Head coach Jim Schwartz will surely be the topic of those conversations during the winter.

While Atlanta has wrapped up the NFC South and currently has the best record in the NFC, they have yet to secure the first or second seed in the postseason.  They have their eyes set on being the top seed and therefore also securing home field advantage throughout the playoffs.  The Falcons can do so by winning their last two games, regardless of what any of the other contenders do.

However, a loss by Atlanta would begin to open a door for both the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers, who currently hold the second and third seeds, respectively.

While the Lions have pride to play for and certainly fit the bill of a team that could be pesky during these last two weeks, I don’t expect that pride to get them anywhere near Atlanta’s level this week.  Detroit’s best chance of success this week will probably be the 50% odds they have in winning the opening coin toss.

3

January

Big Changes Coming in 2012 for Packers’ Rivals to the South

Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz resigned on Tuesday.

There may not be drastic personnel changes for the Chicago Bears in 2012, but two of the more recognizable faces in the team’s organization won’t be around next season.

On Tuesday, the Bears announced that both general manager Jerry Angelo and offensive coordinator Mike Martz will not be back with the team in 2012. Shane Day is also out as the team’s quarterbacks coach.

Head coach Lovie Smith will be retained for next season, however.

Angelo had just finished his 11th season as Bears’ GM, one that saw Chicago start 7-3 but nosedive to an 8-8 finish after both quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Matt Forte were lost to season-ending injuries. Angelo did little to remedy the Bears’ situation at quarterback after Cutler went down, instead trusting in Caleb Hanie to get the Bears back into the playoffs for the second-straight year.

Hanie lost all four games he started and was later replaced by Josh McCown, who hadn’t started an NFL game since 2007. The Bears scored 21 or fewer points in each of their final six games of 2011.

Angelo’s failure to lock up Forte over the long term may have also factored into his firing. Forte, a free agent this summer, was unable to come to terms with Angelo over a new contract. The dispute turned public after Forte declined an offer during the 2011 preseason in the range of $13-14 million guaranteed and the entire matter was a lasting issue into the regular season.

News trickled out later that Martz, the Bears offensive coordinator over the last two seasons, had resigned from his position because of philosophical differences with the organization. Day, the Bears quarterback coach who was hired the same day as Martz, is also walking away.

Previously the mastermind behind the Greatest Show on Turf in St. Louis, Martz often took criticism in Chicago for his handling of Cutler and the offense. Under Martz, the Bears offense never ranked higher than 17th in points scored or 22nd in total yards during the two years.

The Bears will begin the hunt to find replacements for each, but former Colts GM Bill Polian has been rumored for Angelo’s position and offensive line coach Mike Tice could be promoted to coordinator.

22

September

Jermichael Finley Needs to Kick Down the Door Against the Chicago Bears on Sunday

If Jermichael Finley has a big game on Sunday, the Packers will be 3-0.

Through the season’s first two games, Jermichael Finley has been knocking on the door. But in the words of Bum Phillips, he has yet to kick the son of a bitch in. That needs to change on Sunday against the Bears.

I had an 800-word post drafted on how the Packers offense should attack the Bears and their Cover-2 defense, but I scrapped it because overanalyzing this game is a waste of time. Whenever the Packers play the Bears recently, all of us armchair QBs try to come up with intricate strategies to beat Lovie Smith’s defense, but nothing seems to ever work.

The game plan for Sunday should be to get Finley the ball early and often. If he has a big game, and the Packers finish long drives with TDs, Green Bay will win.

Easily.

Finley had nine catches for 115 yards the last time he was on the field agaisnt the Bears. The Packers used him to carve up the Bears cover-2 defense and would have won the game if not for 18 drive-killing penalties and a couple of silly turnovers.

I realize the Packers beat the Bears twice last season without Finley, but moving the ball in both of those games was a chore. Packers tight ends managed only two catches for 19 yards in those contests.

Tight ends are usually successful against the Bears. Lovie Smith’s cover-2 defense prevents big plays from WRs and allows TEs to catch the ball underneath. Finley needs to take advantage of this early and open up the offense for Aaron Rodgers, James Starks and the WRs.

Finley has shown flashes of breaking out through the season’s first two games. If he breaks out against the Bears, the Packers will be 3-0.

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Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam's writing on the Packers here.

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20

January

A Cold Shower for Overly Excited Green Bay Packers Fans

I can’t remember ever feeling this good about a Green Bay Packers team. I liked their chances against the Eagles, I was very confident they would beat the Falcons, and I have a good feeling about Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears.

This feeling of positivity just does not seem right. I’m not sure how to handle it. Usually I’m pessimistic and grumpy to a fault. I expect the worst and wait for everything to come crashing down with another last-second Mason Crosby clank off the goalpost, Mike McCarthy clock kerfuffle or Aaron Rodgers sack/interception.

I feel I need to channel my old pessimistic self, so that is exactly what I am going to do now. There are many reasons why the Packers will not win on Sunday. For those overly excited Packers fans like me, consider this a cold shower.

It’s the Bears. It’s Soldier Field
That about says it all doesn’t it? Very little has gone right for the Packers at Soldier Field recently. Too many penalties, blocked field goals, special teams meltdowns. You name it and it has gone wrong.

And how about that turf? If you dumped a can of green spray paint on a gravel road in Menomonie, WI you would have a better playing surface. That mess of a field neutralizes any speed advantage Bears’ opponents might have and forces you to muck it up and play their slop brand of football.

If I was a prison warden, I would not even allow my prisoners to set foot on that disaster of a playing surface.

Devin Hester
Led by Hester, the Bears average 17.1 yards per punt return. I said 17.1 yards per return! How many times have the Packers gotten 17 yards on a punt return this season? Not very many. The Bears get it almost every time!

Sure, Tim Masthay and the special teams unit contained Hester in week 17. Big whoop. They were just delaying the inevitable. Lovie Smith probably looked at the matchup on special teams and immediately instructed team officials to start making plans for Dallas.

Jay Cutler is super talented
Cutler’s physical tools are unbelievable. Sometimes he throws these deep balls where he appears off-balance, yet somehow manages to flick a perfect strike to one of his streaking wide receivers.

7

January

Ditching the Dink and Dunk Approach Paid Off for Packers vs. Bears

I meant to do a post on this topic earlier in the week, but work got the best of me and I also got sucked into this documentary about the White family of West Virginia on one of my free nights (I could not decide if it was sad, disgusting, fascinating, or all of the above).

Anyway, I have been thinking about the Packers approach on offense in Sunday’s win over the Bears. It initially bugged me that the Packers did not stick with the short passes that moved the chains so effectively in the first Bears game, and appeared to be working fairly well early on Sunday. The Packers also showed brief flashes of a competent run game, so I also wondered why they didn’t stick with it a bit more, especially with James Starks in the second half.

I am usually not one of those people that nitpicks at playcalling (unless it’s the fullback dive), but I do like to try and look at the big picture after each game and decide if I liked the approach or not.

In the week three loss, the Bears were content to sit back, let the Packers move down the field, and wait until drives imploded via penalties, turnovers or other miscues. Under no circumstances were they going to let the Packers start connecting on their trademark deep passes.

This is what the Bears do and they do it well. They do it well against almost every team they face, but especially against the Packers.

Early on Sunday, the Packers game plan looked similar to week three. They were moving the ball, and it seemed like only a matter of time before the yards gained through short passes and the occasional run started resulting in points scored.

Then Donald Driver fumbled and everything started looking like week three again.

Instead of sticking with the dink-and-dunk/grind-it-out approach in the second half, McCarthy went back to what the Packers do best: Chucking the ball downfield. Some people might consider that decision impatient or stubborn. Others might call it a necessary adjustment. It is probably a bit of both, but added together, it was the correct move.

How would Packers fans have survived the offseason if Sunday’s game mirrored the week three defeat? If the Packers were going to go down, it was best they went down playing to their strength instead of trying to be something they were not because of who they were up against.

4

January

On Tilt: The Psychology of Lovie Smith’s Texas Hold ‘em Showdown Against the Packers

In poker there is a psychological phenomenon called tilt; basically tilt occurs when player becomes too emotionally invested in the hands that he plays. Usually this occurs after losing a big hand, and instead of taking it as “losing the battle but not the war” the player adopts a more aggressive and less optimal strategy in order to make up for the loss.

Unfortunately this almost always backfires, being on tilt often results in making bad decisions; which then loses more hands, which then snowballs until players make incredibly stupid decisions on the chance that one hand can bring them back.

What does this have to do with football? Lovie Smith went on tilt with the Chicago Bears against the Green Bay Packers and lost, and it might cost them more than just this game. (If you know nothing about Texas Hold’em I recommend checking out this wiki article or none of this allegory is going to make sense)

The Deal: Lovie Smith gets dealt a pretty bad hand, his team has already qualified for the playoffs and with the Atlanta win against Carolina in the morning, they are also locked into the 2nd seed in the NFC, essentially making the Packers game a meaningless one.

The only reason to even play is that the Packers happen to be the bitter rivals of the Bears, and knocking them out of the playoffs would be a little bit of vindication after getting swept by the Packers last year.

However, the risk of hurting a player is quite high (see Wes Welker last year), and common sense dictates that regardless of the emotional victory beating the Packers would be, the starters should be pulled quickly to avoid getting stuck in a bad position.

The Bet: Love Smith announces publicly that his starters will play a significant part of the game, even though it means nothing to them. In my opinion this was a bluff, ironically more for his own team than for the Packers. The Packers had to win in order to qualify for the playoffs so it really didn’t matter who they had to play.  For the Bears, if the starters thought that they had to be ready for a full game then perhaps they would be more driven and focused during the week and during the game.