Good stuff here from Railbird Central in regards to the much-maligned zone blocking scheme and it's continued residence in the Green Bay Packers' playbook. Fans have come to loathe the very mention of the scheme, but color me mystified as to why. Is it frustrating at times? Sure, especially when the same mistakes keep getting made (see: backside cutoff. I'm looking at you Clifton...) But overall, McCarthy, Philbin and Campen have done an impressive job of installing their version of the scheme and developing it as their players grow and mature. My podcast co-host's protestations not-withstanding (and Corey is more right than wrong that the offensive line is Thompson's blackest mark personnel wise since his arrival - however, in Thompson's defense, even the lines weakest link is serviceable. Look at this play where Tony Moll executes a perfect kickout block on the defensive end from his right tackle position. That's a textbook block. Now if he could just improve his pass blocking...) the offensive line, more than anything else, needs to stay healthy and start playing together for an extended period of time. The constant shuffle along the line last year really seemed to take it's toll in the running game much more so than the passing game.
My hunch is that the running game as a whole will greatly benefit from the added responsibility reportedly being given to Rodgers at the line of scrimmage. One of the things that really helped Grant and company in 2007 was Favre's ability to get the offense out of bad situations by recognizing when defenses were over-committing to defend the pass. Favre would switch to a running play and Grant would take advantage of some wide lanes and find quick cutbacks to large swaths of daylight. In 2008, for whatever reason, those patches of real estate seemed to shrink, except in one game. The Bears, for whatever reason, went into their first match up with the Packers last season as though they were deathly afraid of Jennings and/or Driver beating them deep. They constantly kept two safeties back, (As it happened, Urlacher audibled out of the one of the few fronts that didn't have two safeties deep and proceeded to pick Rodgers off...going deep to Driver) something they rarely did for any other game in 2008. It was as though Lovie Smith couldn't get the visions of how the Two Deep shell had comepletley shut down the Packers in the second half of the game at Lambeau in 2007 and refused to believe McCarthy would adjust.
The Bears learned their lesson and came with many more single deep safety looks in the second match up at Soldier Field. That's not something I think the Packers will see a whole lot of in 2009, at least not right away. Teams will want to play coverage and make the Packers prove that they can get the job done on the ground before they make the decison to start bringing players down into the box. The onus will be on Rodgers to take advantage of defenses ready to stop Jennings and company.
The other main component, of course, is who will actually be carrying the ball. McCarthy has indicated that Grant is the feature back and I think we have to take him at his word. I found it interesting that McCarthy, one breath after confirming Grant as the 'primary runner' chose to use the phrase 'But I think there's a lot of competition' That's good news for fans that want to see more of Jackson, Lumpkin or Wynn. My misgivings with Grant are well documented. He's a try-hard back, but nothing special. He can take a good angle, but he can not, for the life of him, make a safety miss and I'm sorry - he's getting paid at the make-the-safety-miss rate. He took advantage of his opportunities in 2007 and was never quite the same guy in 2008. The thinking within the organization seems to be that 2007 was the real Grant, much like they seem to think 2007 was the real Packers. But it's good to know McCarthy is, however remotely, open to the idea of some competition at the position of starting running back.
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