- The Packers Will Count On A Deep Defensive Line Rotation
Earlier in the offseason, I got caught in my own proverbial chicken-or-the-egg scenario. What was/is the Packers biggest issue when it comes to the defense and its problematic pass coverage? Initially, I stated the pass rush would fix a lot of the teams woes. A few months later, I decided that maybe the secondary was a bigger problem.
But as I wrote shortly afterward, I was right the first time.
More than anything else, Dom Capers has got to find a way to generate pressure on the better quarterbacks his squad will face in 2010, the Tom Brady's, Donavan McNabb's and Brett Favre's of the world. It's all well and good to blitz Jay Cutler or Tony Romo. Capers won those matchups more often than not. But as has been well documented, Capers' unit had major difficulties getting home against the likes of Warner, Roethlisberger and Favre. (In fact, Capers has never beaten Favre - ever.)
There's an old adage when it comes to defending veteran quarterbacks. Conventional wisdom says you should err on the side of playing coverage whenever possible. You can tell Capers follows this edict, almost to a fault. When presented with a proven, veteran quarterback and a third and medium or long - Capers prefers to play coverage. The problem is, when he does this, unless one of his outside backers (usually Clay Matthews) gets by the offensive tackle, he doesn't have anybody up front to apply any pressure to the quarterback whatsoever. This point was perfectly stated on Thursday nights episode of Cheesehead Radio when the crew had a guest call in (sorry, missed the name) and contend that the outside backers weren't the problem but that the main point of contention was the defensive line providing any push up the middle. He went on to say that the likes of Jenkins and Jolly were asked to play too many snaps throughout the year (something I agree with and have written about).
Take a look at the play below, which perfectly illustrates what we're talking about. It's not a 3rd and long, but you get the point. Man coverage across the board with both safeties back, rushing four. Matthews, Jenkins, Raji and Jones get absolutely nowhere initially, leaving Big Ben plenty of time to stare down his first read, Hines Ward, pump fake to Ward on an 'Out and Up', look back over the middle, drift to his right, and then find Ward working back toward the quarterback for the first down.
Watching at home, many fans might see the above and complain about Tramon Williams' coverage, when in fact Williams plays the route perfectly. He turns his hips at the perfect time as Ward makes his turn up the field. He just loses Ward when the receiver is given the time to work back toward the quarterback. My one real nit-picky complaint would be that you can see Williams relax ever so slightly at the top of the route, thinking "Job well done". But overall, its an excellent job of coverage - he's just asked to do it for too long.
If Capers is going to continue to call a conservative game against the veteran quarterbacks on the Packers 2010 schedule, he's going to need his defensive line to start getting some push on passing downs. That means keeping guys fresh with a deep, quality rotation. Interestingly enough these lines, buried in a piece back in June by Dan Graziano over at Fanhouse, drop a bit of hint on this front:
Capers said he's counting on his linebacker group to produce in pressure packages in passing situations, but he specifically mentioned ends Mike Neal and Cullen Jenkins as vital to what the Packers are planning for those situations in 2010.
While they go on to talk about Jenkins standing up and playing linebacker, it's the inclusion of Neal in the section above that interests me. I think Thompson and company saw what we all saw when it came to the pass rush - linebackers flying around the ends...with plenty of space for the quarterback to step up in the pocket. The hope is not only that Neal can provide a bit of push himself but that his being able to play quality snaps in the rotation will keep Jenkins and company fresher when it comes time to rush the passer as well.