If you want a recipe on how to beat the Green Bay Packers, the Kansas City Chiefs came up with it. What they did shouldn't be a surprise. The fact it took so long for a team to figure it out and execute it is.
The Green Bay Packers have thrived on the Big Play for as long as I can remember during the McCarthy Era, and the Super Bowl/Undefeated Packers are no different than those formative years for Aaron Rodgers back in 2008. While skyrocketing to a 13-0 record, the Packers have thrived on the prolific arm of Aaron Rodgers on offense, eschewing the methodical boredom of a running game. It's paid off for the most part: Rodgers has gone downfield on 23% of his throws this year, and leads the league in adjusted yards per attempt. Its a major reason why Packer opponents have found themselves trailing in games early.
And, on the other side of the ball, a struggling defense has been propped up by the Big Play, easily leading the entire NFL in interceptions (as well as touchdowns from those interceptions). In many ways, the Big Plays on both sides of the ball have baited other teams into a losing strategy.
If there's one thing that the Packers do well, they are opportunistic and make you pay for a mistake. So, you send some extra guys at Aaron Rodgers on the pass rush? Boom. He throws a ball to Jordy Nelson on the sideline where no one else can make the catch. Soon, points are on the board and the other team finds themselves feeling foolish for taking a chance.
So, what do they do to dig themselves out of the hole? You guessed it. They throw the ball into coverage while trying to make up the difference on the scoreboard, and no one will make you pay more often than the Packers. And it has been incredibly effective, going all the way back to last year and that incredible six-game run to the Super Bowl...a run that came down to the wire time and time again, requiring a Big Play from the defense to seal the deal.
But it was okay, because the Packers kept winning.
Until yesterday, when the Chiefs cracked the code. You see, the Packers lived by the Big Play, but they never died by it. Teams that tried to match them with risky, aggressive play paid for it. You can't beat the Packers at their own game. You really think you're going to get an interception against Aaron Rodgers? You think that you can keep throwing the ball downfield and not end up eventually getting it picked off by Charles, Tramon, and Co.?
So what happened?
Well, the Packers came in and didn't play well, for one. But that wasn't the first time the Packers didn't play well, and still won games. But the Chiefs went into the game and, essentially, played it safe. They never gave the Packers an opportunity to make the Big Play against them.
Offensively, the Chiefs looked downfield and only attempted long passes when the receiver was wide open. You didn't see any forced passes by Kyle Orton all day. He had time in the pocket, and made the Packers pay by finding wide open receivers, instead of trying to make something happen. It was boring. We laughed at first, congratulating our Packers for holding them to a field goal. But then they did it again. And again. We kept waiting for that key interception, the pick-six that would turn the momentum of the game completely around.
It never came.
Defensively, the Chiefs dug deep and, thanks to a depleted offensive line, managed to keep pressure on Rodgers without investing heavy blitzing packages. It had to be tempting, especially as Bryan Bulaga and Derrick Sherrod left the field, to start overloading the box and send seven guys. But they didn't. They stuck to their guns and, thanks to around ten dropped passes, held the vaunted Packer offense in check.
At times, Ryan Grant was more productive on the ground, but that isn't the McCarthy Way. The McCarthy Way looks for the big play, but the Packers were unable to come up with more than a couple. When the finally got their act together on their final drive, it was too late.
The morale of the story is that, once the Packers were stripped of their big play ability, the weaknesses underneath were exposed and vulnerable. The defense gave up major yards because they couldn't get pressure on the quarterback. The offense couldn't sustain a drive without being able to get a huge chunk of it through the air.
The Chiefs didn't beat the Packers with Big Plays. They simply prevented the Packers from making their own. And yesterday, that was all they needed.
Does things give other teams, particularly in the playoffs, a blueprint to follow on how to beat the Packers? Not really, as much of it comes down to execution. The Packers didn't execute, and the Chiefs did. But if the Packers struggle in future games, don't look for opposing teams to go for the jugular anymore. Look for them to methodically take the Packers out of the game, denying them opportunities to capitalize on mistakes.
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