15

December

Packers vs. Cowboys: Keys to the Game

Tony Romo

This guy needs to be on the Packers defense’s most wanted list this Sunday

The Green Bay Packers return to the site of their most recent Super Bowl victory this Sunday: Dallas, Texas and AT&T Stadium (Texas Stadium).  This Packers team looks quite a bit different than the one from three years ago, the biggest difference being that Aaron Rodgers won’t be at quarterback for the Packers.

It was announced on Friday that Rodgers has been ruled out for this week’s game.  Matt Flynn will get another start for the Packers.

As much success as Green Bay has had, as a franchise, over the past two decades, this is a venue that has brought a lot of pain and heartbreak.  The last time the Packers beat the Cowboys in Dallas, Brett Favre was still in college.  So was Emmitt Smith.  It was December 24, 1989, Troy Aikman’s rookie season.

Since then, Green Bay has lost nine straight in Dallas.  Favre never won in Dallas in a Packers uniform.  Rodgers has only played in and appeared in one such game, in late 2007.  Rodgers came in for Favre, who was hurt and played nearly the entire second half.  It was Rodgers’ “coming out” party and even though the Packers didn’t win, they saw what they had in their young backup.  Less than a year later, Favre was a New York Jet and Rodgers was Green Bay’s starting quarterback.

While these are vastly different teams that travel to Texas, I have to wonder how much the mystique of such a long losing streak has on a team.  Just look at the Detroit Lions when it comes to playing at Lambeau Field.  And that’s a divisional matchup to boot!

Somehow, and despite not winning five of their last six games, the Packers are still very much alive in the race to win the NFC North.  With just three games left and a half game between themselves and the Lions and Chicago Bears, Green Bay can’t likely afford many more losses.  I’m speaking purely from a mathematical standpoint there.  In theory, they need to win all three from a record and a confidence point of view.

With Rodgers out, the Pack face another uphill battle to get a tough road win.  Let’s look at the areas that likely factor into this week’s outcome.

8

December

Falcons vs. Packers: Keys to the Game

Steven Jackson Eddie Lacy

Which of these running backs would you rather have? It was a valid question for the Packers earlier this year

After a 10-day layoff, the Green Bay Packers return to action this Sunday at Lambeau Field against the Atlanta Falcons.  This game was originally scheduled to be a Sunday night matchup, but after the early decline of the Falcons and the recent plummet of the Packers, the NFL wisely flexed this game into a Sunday afternoon time slot.

Atlanta is 3-9 and has already been eliminated from postseason contention.  Their sole purpose now is to ruin everyone else’s party.  It’s hardly a party in Green Bay, however.  The Packers, once 5-2, have not won in five straight games and sit at 5-6-1.  But the Packers always seem to be in the thick of divisional races down to the wire and despite their horrid play over the past month, are still just a game and a half out of first place.

The big question this week is whether or not Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be cleared to return.  As of Wednesday, Rodgers was practicing with the team (in pads), but still had not been cleared to return to game action.  Matt Flynn was taking reps with the starters in practice and will start if Rodgers can’t go.

Earlier this week, I dubbed this game the “Horrible Bowl” and I stand behind that moniker.  Whichever team emerges the loser this week can officially call themselves “horrible”.  It would give the Falcons double-digit losses for the first time since 2007 when they finished 4-12.  It would drop the Packers to 5-7-1 and with eight wins the highest total they can achieve this season.  It would be the team’s worst finish since 2008 when they went 6-10.

This could be the shortest “Keys” post to date by simply stating “Score more points than the Falcons” but let’s attempt to dive a little deeper into this contest and what we will likely see.

Green Bay’s Offensive Line Health

Missing practice this week for the Packers were center Evan Dietrich-Smith and left tackle David Bakhtiari.

13

October

Packers at Ravens: Keys to the Game

Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs

Ngata and Suggs remain as standout holdovers from last year’s Super Bowl championship team

The Green Bay Packers will hit the road again and head to Baltimore to face the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens.  The Packers have yet to have back-to-back home or road games this season and they will alternate home and road games until early November.

Winning on the road in the NFL is never easy, regardless of the opponent and the Packers have shown a tendency to win the hard way when away from Lambeau Field.

The Ravens entered this season having lost some of their salty veterans, but were still favorites to compete in the AFC in 2013.  The Packers were also among the NFC favorites and are looking to take another step towards solidifying that notion with a big road win.

While it has been close to eight years since Green Bay visited Baltimore, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was there.  It was his rookie season and he saw some playing time that Monday night.  Unfortunately that was because the Ravens were pounding the Packers and then-quarterback Brett Favre.  Rodgers was sacked three times and had an interception in relief of Favre.  On ESPN’s “Tuesdays with Aaron” show this week, Rodgers recounted that game, showcasing more of his innate memory skills.

While Baltimore has had their share of struggles with a shaky offensive line and a lack of playmakers in the passing game, they are still the defending champions and they have not lost at home yet this season.  If the Packers are going to emerge victorious, they will need a top-flight performance all around and mistake-free football to get it done.

Let’s look at this week’s keys to the game.

Pressure On

On defense, the Packers will be without linebacker Clay Matthews and they will need to find a way to keep pressure on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.  Flacco has been sacked 14 times already this season and the Baltimore offensive line has struggled overall.  Last week, the Ravens traded for Jacksonville Jaguars starting left tackle Eugene Monroe to help solidify the line, and Monroe is expected to make his debut on Sunday against Green Bay.

Last week against the Detroit Lions, the Packers were able to keep pressure on quarterback Matthew Stafford with outside linebackers Nick Perry and Mike Neal.  Both are expected to start on Sunday and an equally productive performance will be needed this week.  Green Bay could be very thin on the outside, as rookie Andy Mulumba is nursing a knee injury and has not practiced this week.

4

October

Packers defense: Where will it go from here?

CB Tramon Williams and S Morgan Burnett fight for an interception against the Saints

CB Tramon Williams and S Morgan Burnett fight for an interception against the Saints

Through three games, the Packers defense looked good. Not great, but good.

This past Sunday, however, was a different story. Saints quarterback Drew Brees carved up the Green Bay defense for 446 yards and three touchdowns. For Brees, it was like stealing candy from a sleeping baby.

Just six days earlier, the Packers gave up only 130 passing yards–106, if not for a certain 24-yard play to end the game. But Sunday’s soft defense brought back some painful memories from last season, when the Packers’ leaky pass defense was continually bailed out by its unstoppable offense.

So, why did the defense look so much worse this week?

Well, for one, Brees is really, really good.

But also, Capers tends to err on the side of caution in regards to his play-calling, rushing only three and dropping eight into coverage, especially against top-tier quarterbacks like Brees. And again on Sunday, his “bend-but-don’t-break” philosophy hurt the team.

In a matter of four plays on Sunday, the Packers pushed the Saints backwards on 1st and 2nd down, but then allowed New Orleans to convert a 3rd-and-17, and a 3rd-and-14. The Packers failed to put any pressure on Brees, allowing him to sit back in the pocket and step up to make timely throws to his receivers.

The extra men in coverage were no problem for Brees, given the fact that he is one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the game. As long as he has time, he can put the ball wherever he wants.

Let’s take a look at the 3rd-and-17 conversion to Marques Colston.

Now, let’s examine the Saints’ 3rd-and-14 conversion on the same drive.

New Orleans was only able to muster up a 27-yard field goal on the drive, giving the Saints a 27-21 lead over the Packers. But for the defense, getting off the field on 3rd down is the name of the game.

And clearly, Sunday’s strategy of rushing three and dropping eight wasn’t working.

Sure, the Saints have a lot of weapons on offense, so it’s understandable that Capers would try not to get burned by the blitz. But will this “soft defense” continue to plague the Packers throughout 2012? It very well could.

3

October

Packing the Stats: Release Times of Brees, Rodgers

As expected, the showdown between the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers on Sunday was a high-flying affair between two Super Bowl MVPs. Both defenses had a difficult time stopping the pass prowess of Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, who put up a combined 765 yards and 7 touchdowns through the air.

A lot of Packers fans were extremely frustrated with the Packers’ secondary, which seemingly regressed in soft zone coverage after two games of playing a more aggressive man-to-man style. While this has been the scapegoat for fans, Tom Silverstein of JSOnline.com had this explanation:

The big reason was because the Saints used a lot of bunch formations. The Packers had some rules for how to play them when their splits are a certain way. When the splits were narrower than usual, they went to zone so they didn’t get picked. Wider, they went to man-to-man. The Saints are really good in dissecting defenses and making them react to the Saints. With the size of their receivers, you can’t let yourself get picked all day long or you wind up giving up even bigger plays. The problem was no pass rush.

Providing some statistics to back up this claim is ProFootballFocus.com, who mentioned the following in their Re-Focused Game Review: “After being pressured on 53 drop-backs through three games, Brees faced pressure on just six of 56 drop-backs (10.7%) against the Packers.”

Now, I consider the Saints offensive line to be one of the better units in the NFL. Both guards Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks represented the NFC in the 2012 Pro Bowl, and tackle Jermon Bushrod was a reserve player. When stating this recently on a comment thread, another poster brought up the quick releases of Drew Brees.

With that as the impetus for my research, I took to NFL Rewind with my stopwatch to time the releases of both Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. While there is some human error in the process, I did time each throw at least twice. (The span of time recorded is from snap to release.)

Here is the raw data, split by drive:

BREES RODGERS
2.7 COMP
1.4 COMP
2.2 COMP
1.9 COMP
2.6 INC
1.7 COMP
2.4 INC
4.9 SCRAM TD COMP
1.2 COMP
19

September

Packing the Stats: Coverage Sacks and Pressure Interceptions

It’s a rare thing to witness a quarterback get sacked seven times and intercepted four times all in one game. In fact, the last time it happened was back in 2002 when Washington Redskins quarterback Patrick Ramsey faced the New Orleans Saints. But that’s exactly what happened last week when the Green Bay Packers defense seemed to rise up from the ashes and completely stifle the Chicago Bears offensive attack.

ESPN’s Stats & Info blog covered some of the problems quarterback Jay Cutler had when under pressure that evening. Here is the meat of the article:

Cutler struggled on throws traveling more than 10 yards downfield, going 2-for-11 for 35 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.

Last season Cutler ranked among the best quarterbacks in the NFL on passes of that length, as noted in the chart on the right.

How did the Packers defense attack Cutler?

They sent five or more pass rushers on 13 of Jay Cutler’s 35 dropbacks. Against such pressure, Cutler was 2-for-9 for 24 yards with two interceptions and was sacked four times. Cutler’s 22 percent completion percentage against more than four rushers is lower than the Packers allowed in any game last season.

After last season, it’s been a relief to Packer fans – even if only momentarily – to see the kind of pressure they were able to get on Cutler during Thursday night’s game. But what made this possible in large part was the ability of the defensive backs to blanket the receivers, leaving no options for the quarterback to get the ball out.

Below is a breakdown of each sack and interception forced by the Packers defense that night:

 

SACKS

No.

Play Time

Pressure Speed

Rushers vs. Blockers

Receivers

Sack Credit

1

Q1 13:37

2.6s

6 vs. 8

2

D. Smith

2

Q1 4:32

2.8s

(4 vs. 5)

4

C. Matthews / E. Walden

3

Q2 9:12

2.6s

(5 vs. 6)

3

C. Matthews

4

Q4 9:07

4.3s

4 vs. 6

4

M. Daniels

5

Q4 8:04

4.2s

(4 vs. 5)

4

C. Matthews

6

Q4 4:09

4.2s

4 vs. 7

3

J. Worthy

7

Q4 3:49

2.4s

5 vs. 6

4

C. Matthews

 

Some notes:

18

September

Clay Matthews Video: Better Speed Pass Rusher from the Right Side?

Clay matthews vs. 49ers

Clay Matthews celebrates a sack of Alex Smith

When the news came this off-season that the Packers would be moving Clay Matthews back to the right side, I did a little jig (ok, since I’m Italian, it was more of a tarantella).

Watching Matthews speed rush the passer from the left side the last year, there was something missing. The initial explosion was still there, but once engaging the right tackle, something strange was happening – usually one of two things. Either Matthews would get stood up and lose momentum, or lose his balance and end up on the ground. In either case, Matthews was easily handled and posed no threat to the quarterback.

Fast forward to this season and Matthews’ speed rush from the right side includes not only speed, but a violent punch, low pad-level and much better balance.

So is Matthews just a better speed rusher from the right side? Um, maybe…

In his rookie season, when Matthews played right outside linebacker, he recorded 10 sacks, despite not starting until game four. In 2010, the Packers’ Super Bowl Championship season, Matthews was moved to the left side and finished with 13 sacks in 17 games, with another four in the playoffs. As we all know, Matthews’ production fell off in 2011, with only six over the course of  the season.

But what didn’t fall off was his quarterback hits and hurries. in fact, they increased over 2010. This happened despite the fact that Matthews was given more responsibility in other areas in 2011. He played more in coverage, had more run game responsibilty and even was asked to shadow or provide contain on some of the more mobile quarterbacks the Packers faced. When he did get to rush the passer, Matthews was still generating pressure, but he just wasn’t completing the final task of dis-engaging from the right tackle. He basically wasn’t winning enough one-on-ones.

Lets take a look at some videos from last season’s Packers – Giants playoff game. In this first video, you’ll see Matthews looking to execute an outside speed move, but he’s never able to get any kind of punch or get under the tackle. Instead, he’s easily forced wide at arms length, and ends up losing his balance and slipping to the ground.