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Of Weakness And Twitter Battles

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Of Weakness And Twitter Battles

All seemed quiet here at Cheesehead TV today, what with a congratulatory post residing atop the blog for the balance of the morning and early afternoon, an idle passerby must have thought "Aaron is no doubt taking a break from the weary work of bringing his unique brand of Packers analysis to Packer fans everywhere and taking some well earned time to pursue other endeavors, perhaps getting some work done at his day job, or even spending time with his family."

How wrong that passerby would be.

I have, in fact, spent most of my afternoon locked in mortal combat via Twitter with one Gregory Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The cause for our contentious exchange? This post from Scouts Inc. member Matt Williamson over at ESPN's NFC North blog. It's one part in a series of posts where members of Scouts Inc. look at what they perceive to be the greatest weakness of each team in the North as it stands now heading into the 2009 season.

My main point of contention with Williamson's analysis (a point, I might add, that Bedard seemed to completely discount in the battle that was to follow) is that it exists entirely in the vacuum of the 2009 offseason. Again and again Williamson gives us examples of how this and that is terrible for the Packers' defense...right now. Now, I understand the idea is to win now. It's well documented that I think this is exactly what the Packers will be doing this season. But more than that, the Packers are heading down a road on defense, a journey that began in earnest with the drafting of Raji and Matthews, which even Williamson concedes will greatly help the transition. Williamson also gives two throwaway lines to the most important aspect of the entire change - Dom Capers. If there's a defensive mind with the authority and the experience to take a 4-3 team and successfully mold them into the 3-4, it's Capers. His work both in Jacksonville and Miami with Nick Saban should dispel any doubts on that. It's also interesting to see Williamson call the switch of Aaron Kampman from end to linebacker 'criminal'. Funny, I remember lots of people, both in and out of football, saying the exact same thing about Miami moving Jason Taylor to linebacker before he went on to become the Defensive Player of the Year. Now, am I predicting the same trajectory for Kampman? Hardly. I'm just saying lets let the guy take a snap or two in the new scheme before anointing the switch a crime.

One final point on Williamson before I get to Bedard (don't worry Greg, I haven't forgotten you...) Scouts Inc. tells us that it:

...breaks down film of every NFL game, numerous college games and individual footage of college prospects, and our experts attend NFL training camps and both NFL and college games in person.

What it doesn't tell us is that one of it's 'experts' happens to have been a member of one of the worst scouting departments in NFL history. Who's that you ask? That's right ladies and gentlemen - before coming to work for Scouts Inc., Matt Williamson worked as a scout for the Cleveland Bowns under Butch Davis. If you're not familiar with the ineptitude that represents, go back and look at the draft classes during Davis' tenure in Cleveland, headlined by first round disappointments such as Gerard Warren and William Green, but more than that, simply one of the worst collection of professional football players ever assembled outside of Detroit under Matt Millen. (Other than Kellen Winslow of course, who the Brown's gave up a second round pick to the Lions in order to move up ONE SPOT to select.) This is a man I WANT not liking the defensive switch the Packers are making...

As for Mr. Bedard.

Greg took my pointing out the above and twisted it into a referendum on McCarthy's decision making, in effect lambasting McCarthy's decision to stick with Jim Bates' scheme when he was hired rather than moving to the 3-4 immediately after coming on board. Hidden (or not so hidden) in Bedard's critique of McCarthy's decision making is the implication that McCarthy was lying when he said, in essence, that he's wanted to run a 3-4 all along. Bedard points to McCarthy offering the job to both Gregg Williams and Jim Haslett, both of whom run a 4-3, before settling on Capers. He conveniently leaves out McCarthy's dalliance with Mike Nolan, who is currently installing the 3-4 in Denver, and who was McCarthy's first choice for the job.

I believe McCarthy when he says he wanted the 3-4 from the get-go. He walked into a situation where the coach before him had switched defensive coordinators three times in four years, changing schemes twice. According to Bedard, McCarthy should have completely discounted that when hiring his defensive coordinator. I think that's completely unrealistic. Yes, you have a clean slate when you're first hired, but you also have to face those players everyday. I'm sure not ripping up the defensive playbook yet again earned him some goodwill in the locker room. Sure, he may have pulled the rug out from some guys (Kampman, Jenkins) with the switch to the 3-4 now, but the previous scheme was not working, even when the team went 13-3. (A funny side note to this is that one of the biggest critics of the Bates/Sanders scheme has always been one Greg A. Bedard)

Speaking of the previous scheme, both Bedard and Williamson suffer from a bit of revisionist history when it comes to how the 4-3 scheme the Packers ran actually fared over the course of McCarthy's tenure.

Williamson states:

Two years ago, the Packers had an upper-tier defense while running the 4-3. The strength of that team was a very deep, talented and versatile defensive line. The Packers rotated big men in, stayed fresh up front and put an awful lot of pressure on opposing offenses for four quarters.

Bedard states:

Keeps scheme when hired, goes 13-3 and all is great, one bad season and he junks it.

One bad season? What about 2006 and 2008? Needless to say, they were not exactly putting an 'awful lot of pressure on opposing offenses for four quarters'. Quite the opposite in fact. And even in 2007, people tend to forget how much the defense, especially the defensive line, was worn down by the end of the year. Sacks that had been plentiful early in the campaign started coming with less and less frequency until the NFC Championship game where the only sacks the Packers registered were a coverage sack on a delayed blitz by A.J. Hawk at the end of the first half and a sack by KGB where the defensive end was most certainly offsides. A fearsome onslaught of pass rushing prowess it was not.

In the end, this comes down to McCarthy making the right decision for the Packers. I think he did, regardless of how he arrived there. The frustrating part is having to wait to see how it all plays out...

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (23) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

MC's picture

I like Capers, and as good a job as he's done in most places, he also has the blemish on his record of coordinating the 1-15 Miami Dolphins of 2007. That bears noting.

Rainman's picture

Good news though... we now have $12 million more NOT to spend on Free agents to help the transition. Anyone know our official number? Is it $41 million under the cap?

Rainman's picture

Although I guess we still have to sign our draft choices.

bomdad's picture

Switching to a 3-4 in 2006 would have required an even more drastic roster change.

Ron La Canne's picture

The switch to the 34 was and is the right move for the Packers. As much as I like the Capers hire, he can't get on the field. The Packers still don't have the depth in the front three they need. The LB's are all inexperienced in the 34 and I'm afraid some are experiments are distend to struggle, if not fail.

AJ and Barnett are not typical ILB's in the 34. Kampman is an unkown as a standup player and can he drop into coeverage? Mathews is a rookie, Popinga is Popinga, and Chillar might end up the starter. It sure would be nice if GB could pick up an old LB and DT FA to enhance their depth and give them some experienced backup.

Cletis's picture

My main point of contention with Williamson is that, like many others, his analysis seems to assume the Packers will line up in a Steelers or Ravens-style 3-4 100% of the time from day one. My understanding from the fan fest reports is that this defense will incorporate multiple fronts, with plenty of 4-3 in the mix. What percentage of defensive plays even feature a front 7 as opposed to a nickel or dime? I would say up to 20% of the plays from scrimmage in some games the Packers will have at least 5 DB's on the field. I think Kampman in particular is perfect for this type of cerebral, flexible defensive approach.

Alex Tallitsch's picture

This is a good post. Continue your reign as king.

WoodyG's picture

Everyone is hung up on 3-4 versus 4-3 & all the problems associated with the change. GB was unable to change-up with Sanders as DC. All GB knew & had was the 4-3. That was ultimately the problem. Caper's ability to change-up from game to game & within a single game is the key to GB's defense in 2009.
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Some of these 'pundits' need to simplify the game a little. You can label the defense as anything you want. The truth is that GB could have as many as 7 1st round picks on the field on defense at any given point in time. Add Capers to this level of talent & I smell success.

L.A.'s picture

A move to a strict 3-4 would scare the heck out of me.

I am more reassured that this scheme will work eventually because they have stated that they are looking to use more of a hybrid instead of a strict 3-4.

Schemes suck. Look at the ZBS for an example of that. You have to bring in particular talent to make it work. The reason all these schemes were ever invented was because a team had talent that wasn't working with a traditional setup...so you INVENTED A SCHEME THAT MADE THAT TALENT SUCCESSFUL!

That why adopting the ZBS (especially a strict ZBS as MM tried to do) is foolish...why bring in hybrid talent (Colledge) and devalue your conventional talent (Clifton)because that talent doesn't fit the scheme?

Finding talent to fit a scheme = stupid.

Adapting your scheme to fit the talent you have = smart

Rich Beckman's picture

What Cletis said.

buckslayernyc's picture

I read Retard...I mean Bedard's post this morning and had the very same reaction to it Aaron. In fact...what really struck me as funny is imagining Ted Thompson doing anything based on Popular opinion or to keep up with the Jones' That's hilarious. Fact of the matter is that the two main drivers of going to the 3-4 are that its much easier to find good LBs that can rush the passer than it is to find good DEs that can, AND the point that no one EVER makes is that finding a lights out coverage corner is about as easy as it is to find a franchise QB...much easier to mix coverages and find the right players. My guess is that if Capers was a guy with a 4-3 track record, we would be running the 4-3, which we should have. You hire a good coach with a good track record if he has the ability to mold the scheme to the players on the roster, or else you are just playing fantasy football anyhow.

Bedard is really good, his post was really poor this morning, not because it was critical, but because it was just not accurate or intuitive. Our defensive coaches have been awful for quite some time. By the way...anyone else fantasizing about how wonderful our offseason would be this year if our team was constantly being held hostage to a lingering biceps injury that may or may not have surgery to fix and may or may not therefor propel the QB this year to retire?

I am so glad he is gone. What a fricken white trash wanker.

bomdad's picture

Bedard is looking at this switch in a vacuum that does not consider the presence of Favre on the roster in 2006. You know Favre wanted Mariucci to get interviewed, who knows what kind of pressure he put on McCarthy to keep certain coaches, directly or indirectly. I can totally picture a scenario where Favre said (or texted since he can hide while doing it) that changing defensive scheme would be too much of a rebuilding project, this is BS and you need to take the end of my career seriously--keep the defensive scheme intact or I retire and bring a shit storm on your first year coach. I would guess most fans at that time would have felt the same way.

Jayme's picture

"Finding talent to fit a scheme = stupid."
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L.A., I have to disagree with you on this one. Each coach has a system that he's most familiar with. To tell him that it is his job to completely forget that scheme and create one from scratch that the players are best suited for is absurd. Yes, the coach needs to adapt his scheme to the talent he has, but just as importantly, the GM has to find players that fit the scheme that the coach is running.
---
Changing schemes without regard for the players on your roster is not always the best idea, but coaches need to keep themselves current. Football today is not the same as it was 10 years ago, much less 20 or 40. The best coaches must be able embrace change rather than resist it, so long as the change is part of the evolution of the team and not just change for the sake of change.
---
To me, switching to the zone blocking scheme was a mistake. It was a flash in the pan scheme that had success for a few teams over a relatively short period of time. The switch to the 3-4 however is different. Many teams have run the 3-4 with relative success. It’s been around for a considerable amount of time and many coaches have had ample time to experiment with it and find out what works and what doesn’t.
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The coach that the Packers selected to install this scheme was a pioneer in developing one of the most recent versions of the 3-4 and has successfully made such installs twice previously. Early on, the Packers will have to run a hybrid 4-3 and 3-4 defense, but as time passes and they are able to get more players that fit the scheme, they will be able to play a true 3-4. The move towards the 3-4 should be a good one for the Packers, so long as they don’t try to change too quickly.

WoodyG's picture

Just came from MJS Daily Blog.
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Geez, Aaron, sounds like Bedard doesn't care for you much. He's made some sly cutting remarks about you & your argument.
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Maybe you need to challenge him to a 'pissing' contest. You start a fire & see who can put it out the quickest.
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Best part about this is that the opinions of bloggers, so-called sportwriters, and fans will have absolutely zero impact on what GB does in 2009. Lucky for the Pack.

packerwatch's picture

Twitter: Reducing what would ordinarily be intelligent discourse to 140 characters or less since 2006.

packeraaron's picture

Woody - Bedard and I are cool. Always good to go a few rounds with someone who's opinion and work you respect.

WoodyG's picture

""Sorry, Aaron, but the whole "the Packers had eight defensive coordinators the previous two seasons so McCarthy had to keep the defensive scheme when he was hired or else the players surely would have revolted" is the dumbest argument I have ever heard. Really.""
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Dem's fight'in words to me !!!
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At least provide a video spot of the 'pissing match' for the readers. Thanks. LOL.

PackersRS's picture

I don't know if MM was thinking about a scheme from the get go. 3-4 or 4-3. What I think he was looking for was a proven DC, one known for being intelligent and capable of making his schemes fit the best of the personel (something Sanders couldn't do. He was sucessfull when the D-line could make pressure. As soon as it couldn't anymore, the whole D fell apart.). That's why he looked at Greg Williams, even though he's a 4-3 guy. I have a lot of faith in Capers. He only had 2 bad seasons AS DC (last one with the Panthers and in 2007.) and a lot of positive ones. In fact, everytime he took charge of a defense, it improved vastly IN THE SAME YEAR. So I fear not.

L.A.'s picture

Jayme, I know what you're saying, and please don't take what I say as being completely against the 3-4. I'm not.

You have to also remember that the ZBS was also the "keeping yourself current" trend about 5-8 years ago. But, as you say, it was a flash in the pan.

Any scheme comes down to one thing: can the other team stop it? The zone blitz worked for many years because no one had seen it. But, once teams faced it enough and adapted, it became part of an arsenal instead of a total scheme. The same can be said for the Packers' screen passes with the WCO in the 90's. Teams figured it out.

The 3-4 is working for now because offenses are still working out how to counter...and they will, just as they did in the 80's.

In the end, the game of football is pretty easy, and the more you bring the best talent to play the game the way it should be played, and execute whatever scheme you have consistently, that is what is going to win in the long run.

Ruppert's picture

Aaron, you make better arguments AND they are more well-written.

How many people were ripping McCarthy AT THE TIME for keeping the same scheme? Nobody that I recall. People would have ripped him for a 4th DC in 4 years if he had made the change. And I don't recall the likes of Capers being available at that time, either. He gave Sanders a chance to grow and get better as a D Coordinator and Sanders failed. So now McCarthy is doing what he wants to. I think it's really that simple.

L.A.'s picture

"How many people were ripping McCarthy AT THE TIME for keeping the same scheme? Nobody that I recall."

February 26, 2006
http://www.tundravision.com/2006/02/jagodzinski-knows-his-chicken.html

L.A.'s picture

Oops, read that wrong...I thought Ruppert was referring to the ZBS scheme change.

IPBprez's picture

L.A. - (or is that C.D.) ---
I tend to agree with you on the ZBS. When Jags left, after only one season, I was ready for MAC to just throw that junk in the trunk.
As for the revisionist history - that's been JSonline's motus for a long long time. Rarely do I ever see Articles that don't have such misgivings. Discounting evidence is a forte' with those guys at times.
Good Article, Aaron. Bedard's going to need some help it seems. Maybe you could get some Press credentials on the sly and beat him at his own game. I wish I had the time........

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