- Run Early To Counter Crowd
I whole wholeheartedly agree with my Packer-blogger bretheren over at PackerGeeks that McCarthy should run the ball early and often against the Saints on Monday night, despite the temptation to spread things out and throw it around the yard against an injured and talent-depleted secondary. There will be time for that as the game progresses. But initially, McCarthy would be wise to use Grant (and Jackson) early. The biggest impediment to the Packers running game getting going early will be crowd noise and the offensive line's ability to get off at the snap of the ball. No doubt the Packers will need to use a silent count, at least early. But slicing through the Saint defense on a time consuming drive would be a great way to deflate a crowd that will be absolutely ravenous by kickoff. They haven't had a home game in over a month due to scheduling quirks and the crowd will be at a fever pitch the first time the Packers have the ball. McCarthy should take them out of it slowly and methodically by using lots of multi-tight end sets and running over his right side with Spitz and Tauscher. The Packers should want nothing to do with Clifton vs. Will Smith in the run game.
- Shorten Splits For the Offensive Line
OK, forgive the football wonkery, but watching the Viking game again (as painful as that was) produced a very important discovery - namely that the offensive line's distance from each other, known in football parlance as "splits", was pretty wide. I can't say for sure if this is indicative of the season as a whole, but Offensive Line coach James Campen would be wise to tell his young charges to "tighten their splits" on Monday night. This will help the line get off on the snap of the ball at the same time, especially on passing downs, where early in the game they will most likely be using their peripheral vision in place of being able to hear the snap count. A lot of the problems I think they encountered in Minnesota were due to having Tauscher and Clifton using extra-wide splits, no doubt to counter Allen and Edwards' rush on the outside. The problem is any defensive end has a better view of the ball being snapped than any tackle. The offensive player is dependent on the man next to him, who is reacting off of the man next to him, etc. Allen being able to see the ball on a silent count worked to his advantage in a big way. If the Packers can tighten up Clifton against Smith, perhaps they can avoid the speed rush problems that plagued Clifton in Minnesota. It's a very small thing, but every bit helps and could be the difference between a functioning passing game early and pressure problems.
- Don't Get Caught Up Trying To Stop Reggie Bush
Bush might very well play on Monday Night. It doesn't matter. This Packer defense matches up extremely well with the Saints offense. I think you'll see a minimal amount of blitzing and a lot of Nickel defense with straight-up man-to-man bump and run defense, much like we saw against the Colts back in October. Of course, Bush is a talent - you can't just forget about him. But there's no reason to slight your defense in other areas to compensate for a great, mythic halfback who doesn't exist. Even when he was healthy, Bush was doing more damage as a kick returner than he was from scrimmage. This offense has some real weapons, chief among them being quarterback Drew Brees' quick decision making and release. If the Packers play disciplined, gap control defense, they can handle Bush. If he splits out wide, Tramon Williams or Charles Woodson should be able to take him. The real trick will be for the defense not to get frustrated early. The Saints will move the ball. The key will be tightening once they get in the Red Zone. Most of Bush's touchdown's from scrimmage come on bubble screens or swing passes out of the backfield once they get into the Red Zone. Bob Sanders and his crew will need to stay disciplined and play fast, physical straight up defense, but I think they may surprise people on Monday night.