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3 Reasons to Smile...

3 Reasons to Smile...

packers-cowboys11161-200x1201

packers-cowboys11161-200x1201

Hold on everybody, the Packer roller-coaster season is only in mid-ride. Just when most Packer fans were ready to bail out of the car, the season swooped up to it's highest point so far. The amazing win against the formerly on-a-roll Dallas Cowboys has left Packer fans everywhere just a bit giddy.

 

 

 

 

So what changed? What was responsible for the 180 degree turnaround from the putrid performance in Tampa? Specifically, what three things put a smile on my face?

 

1. Mike McCarthy had a good game plan and called a good game - for a change. As critical as I have been of his coaching, I have to give him credit. Here are some of the things he did that I liked:

 

a) The running game. For once, Mike McCarthy ran the ball throughout the entire game, never abandoning it as he is so inclined to do. . The Packers running backs ran the ball 23 times for 90 yards, an average of 3.9 yards. You wouldn't call that great, but it was enough to help keep the Cowboys honest. A good number of draw plays were called, again to keep the Dallas defensive linemen from committing all-out to the pass rush. Seems like a simple concept, but one that often eludes the Packers head coach.

 

b) Screen passes: The Packers ran 5 screen plays, and while the average gain was not great, it would have been much better if the first screen to Ryan Grant hadn't been nullified by a penalty. Not to mention if Chad Clifton could just throw a block in the open field. On two quick screens to his side, Clifton had but one Dallas player to block and the Packers would have had large gains, as there were no other defenders in sight. Instead, he whiffed twice and the Packer running back was tackled for a loss or no gain.

 

And let me also add here that the Packers fool no one when they run a screen. They are very poor at disguising it. You can see the opposing players running to the ball carrier before the ball is even thrown. Perhaps if the Packers keep running it, practice will make perfect.

 

c) Blocking help: There were only 3 passes thrown to the tight ends this game, because the majority of the time, they were part of the protection package. When you are playing a team with a pass rush like Cowboys have, that's the right thing to do. While in many cases Lee and Havner were of help in protection, Lee was called for two holding penalties and Havner was slow to react on 2 plays, both resulting in sacks.

 

But despite that, I am at least pleased that Mike McCarthy didn't do what he has done in other games this year - left inexperienced players out on an island to deal with All-Pro defensive lineman on their own.

 

d) Short passing game: Mike McCarthy finally realized that no matter the advantage he thinks the Packers receivers may have against opposing secondaries, it does no good to try to hit the home run if Aaron Rodgers doesn't have time to throw it. The short routes and completions were plentiful. The slant route was back (despite Troy Aikman not realizing it had ever left). The screen pass, as discussed above, was back.

 

From my unofficial count after watching the game tape, 23 of the 35 passes thrown were passes of less than ten yards in the air. To me, this was the best-called game by Mike McCarthy in a long time.

 

e) Aaron Rodgers: Let's not give Mike McCarthy too much credit. Aaron Rodgers was given more responsibility for making line of scrimmage calls this past week. He managed the game well, and made an obvious conscious effort to get the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible. Rodgers threw the ball away three times to avoid a sack (one was penalized, but I applaud the thought, anyway). He also dumped the ball off 4 times to avoid a sack. These numbers may not seem earth shattering, but compared to his other games, it's a downright plethora of sack-avoidance maneuvers.

 

Rodgers also seemed to move a bit better in the pocket, avoiding a few sacks and only losing a total of 11 yards on the four times that he was sacked. For comparison, the Cowboys lost 34 yards total on the Packers' 5 sacks. Perhaps the Monday "Come to Jesus" meeting clarified everything for Rodgers. Evidently, in this no-holds barred meeting, a few Packer players called out Rodgers for holding the ball too long. Hearing it from his own teammates is probably what it took for him to see things in a different light and make a concerted effort to change things. I think he did a great job of it and showed his commitment winning and to his teammates.

 

2. Dom Capers finally let it all hang out.

 

Blitzes from the Edge. I've been calling for it all season: "Where is Matthews coming off the edge?", I have asked. Why do the Packers keep running the same crossover blitz with the inside linebackers over and over? What happened to the DB blitzing we saw against the Bears? Well guess what, all of that arrived last weekend, plus a whole lot more.

 

Watching the game tape, it was startling some of the blitzes I saw. Capers called some things you hardly ever see, like two defensive backs blitzing from the same side. Now, unless you're in a situation where you're blitzing eight, you just don't see that. Let me tell you, from one play to the next, Romo had no way to predict who was coming and from where.

 

As an example, lets just look at the first half. The Packers blitzed 13 times in the first half. Here's what occurred.

 

Blitz #1: Bigby

Blitz #2: Matthews

Blitz #3: Woodson

Blitz #4: Collins

Blitz #5: Matthews & Jones

Blitz #6: Collins & Bush (same side)

Blitz #7: Bigby

Blitz #8: Barnett & Hawk - inside crossover blitz - sack

Blitz #9: Matthews

Blitz #10: Matthews

Blitz #11: Matthews - sack

Blitz #12: Barnett & Woodson - inside crossover blitz

Blitz #13: Matthews & Jones

 

Eleven of the thirteen blitzes were from the outside. The first seven of the game were all from the outside, from six different players. When the Packers finally ran their inside crossover blitz on Blitz #8, it worked to perfection. No wonder! Suddenly the inside blitz was a surprise and not expected. This is what we had heard since the day Capers had been hired, that the Packers defense wanted to be unpredictable and confuse the offense. Looks like that day finally arrived.

 

3. T.J.Lang: Early on in training camp, word was that the Packers were going to give T.J. Lang a chance to compete for the right tackle job. I want the head of whomever decided to change that. T.J. Lang was very good against the Cowboys. Not just OK, actually VERY GOOD. He did not give up a sack himself, he neutralized Ware and Spencer on running plays and I saw him plant a few players into the ground.After the game, McCarthy commented on how Lang is more comfortable on the right side - I see, so that's why the Packers decided to slot him as a backup left guard and left tackle.

 

Of course, there were plenty of other reasons to smile;  Superman (AKA Charles Woodson), better kick coverage, shutdown run defense and more. But the three items above you could say were pleasant surprises, and I'm still smiling...

 

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You can find more of Jersey Al Bracco’s articles on several sports websites: Jersey Al’s Blog, Packers Lounge, NFL Touchdown and Bleacher Report.

You can also follow Jersey Al on facebook and twitter.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (28) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Asshalo's picture

Great stuff on the blitz. I remember our ILBs getting an unusual amount of sacks for a 3-4 in preseason. Puzzled with its return this late like everyone, but I welcome it.

Another reason to smile: on Facebook people call TJ Lang "Snowman" and "Ralphie".

Jersey Al's picture

They never stopped running the inside crossover blitz, so it's not really a "return" to it. It's just that for most of the season, it was the only blitz they were running. Predictability is bad in the NFL.

PackersRS's picture

"Another reason to smile: on Facebook people call TJ Lang “Snowman” and “Ralphie”."

But he'll allways be remembered by packers fans as CABBAGE PATCH! CABBAGE PATCH!

Stan's picture

It's worth noting that the Cowboys abandoning their run game early opened up our chances to blitz, and use a variety of them. Will we be able to do the same against the 49rs? considering Gore is there main man on offense.

Jersey Al's picture

What worries as much with Gore is that he is a productive pass catcher also. He could catch a lot of dump-offs if the Packers are in all-out blitz mode.

Manitowish Waters's picture

Good stuff, personally think #1 that the Pack is getting healthy at the utmost important time of the season. Getting Nelson and now Finley back is going to open up this offense. Kampman and Tauscher will be available, if you want to like that.

Jersey Al's picture

I'm not concerned about opening up the offense, personally. I don't mind them being a bit more conservative and a bit more ball-possession conscious. Especially with the limited time Rodgers has to throw.

Manitowish Waters's picture

I just want to see us sustain more drives and move the ball, even if it means dinking and dunking. Aaron hasn't had enough options.

Either way, it's a pass first league and MM isn't going to forget that, perhaps unforunately.

I think Finley as an option and being a big, athletic target will take the pressure off Aaron and the receivers, whether you're throwing short or 10 or more yards down field.

There has been a void in the offense since he was sidelined, it was highly evident against Minn and TB. Even when #12 did have time, there was somthing missing. Jermichel is athletic enough to get into a route fast and use his size accordingly anywhere on the field.

Sounds like just about everyone on the roster has a shot to play Sunday, which is almost unheard of. Being healthy this late in the year is huge.

Jersey Al's picture

Yeah. I had to laugh when I heard people criticizing the new Packers Strength and Conditioning coach just because a few guys were out a week or two ago. Compared to other teams, the Packers might be one of the most healthy. They haven't lost anyone of consequence for the year with serious injuries (knock, knock, knock). I think the new conditioning staff have done a great job with what they said their goal was - keep players on the field, rather than build them into monsters.

Greg C.'s picture

I would say that Jason Spitz is someone of consequence. He's gone for the season. Luckily, center is the position where we had arguably our best backup on the entire roster.

I personally think that injuries are mostly a matter of luck. Rock Gullickson was regarded as a savior in 2007, when the team had very few injuries, then the following year we had a bunch of bad injuries and Gullickson got the boot. I never heard it explained why he was so good one year and sucked so bad the next year.

Jersey Al's picture

Having Wells on the roster is why I don't consider losing Spitz a huge deal. I don't think he was playing that well anyway. Maybe his back was to blame, but still. It's not like last year when Jenkins and Barnett went down for the year.

Mark's picture

Great article, it was nice to see people flying around.

Jersey Al's picture

And hitting people. Look at how many Cowboys got hurt. It's usually the other way around.

RonLC's picture

Maybe this game will finally put to rest the MM theory that you hold back to avoid injury. Football is a violent game and the most violent will win. For once this season, it's the other team licking its' wounds. I want more!
_____
And transfer some of that to the offense. They still have a way to go.

Jersey Al's picture

Even the offense was laying some licks. I'm sure you saw Jennings splatter the CB, Jenkins...

I'm with you Ron, be the attacker and let the chips fall where they may.

Povertyrich's picture

Check out the video on Woodson's sack. He's right there with Matthews and Jolly as Jolly strips the ball from Jones. It pops into the arms of Matthews, who can't keep a hand on it.

Woodson apparently doesn't notice that Matthew's didn't swallow up the loose ball right away, because as everyone else turns to chase it, Woodson leaps over Jolly and Jones, then turns to the stands to celebrate while only five yards away, Matthews still hasn't secured the football. It's sort of funny.

Woodson is MVP of the team, if not the league.

Jersey Al's picture

Damn - I meant to mention that because I caught it too. He's pounding his chest and screaming out to the stands while, like you say, 5 yards away everyone's scrambling for a loose ball. I found it annoying, rather than funny, but I'm not going to say anything bad about Charles Woodson.

Povertyrich's picture

I thought I was annoyed at first, too. We could all be marveling at how Woodson leaped over Jolly and Jones, scooped up the football, and ran it into the endzone as Matthews pancaked Witten.

However, after all the times I've seen Packer defensive backs take teammates out of the play over the last decade or so (the most recent I can recall was in the first game against the Old Man of the Metrodome), Woodson might have just got in Matthews's way and allowed the ball to get out of bounds and in Dallas' possession. So I decided to think it was funny.

Plus, I have to give Woodson the benefit of the doubt because 1) even if Dallas managed to scoop up the ball while he danced on the sideline, it would have been 3rd and waaaaay long, and still one hell of a defensive play, and 2) Woodson kicks way more ass than can be quantified by humans.

Jersey Al's picture

Yes, Woodson gets a pass for that little digression and a few more, if he wants...

Aaron's picture

Give the guy a break - unlike Tripplete, he knew the rules and thought Choice was down, Celebration - on. It was awesome.

Jersey Al's picture

That was Felix Jones, actually. And I just read that according to Mike Pereira, NFL Vice President of Officiating, Dallas would have lost the challenge if it was able to be challenged. He says that Jones did not maintain possession.

http://www.star-telegram.com/332/story/1773359.html

Greg C.'s picture

Man, am I ever with you on the T.J. Lang thing. I thought he seemed like a rookie who could do well at RT, then they pulled him out of the competition at the beginning of training camp. Yet another black mark on this coaching staff's handling of the OL.

At least they finally corrected their error, although it had the feel of a blind squirrel finding a nut rather than a genuine insight.

Jersey Al's picture

Yeah, I wouldn't give the coaches too much credit. Your blind squirrel analogy is appropriate.

Franklin Hillside's picture

"BALL!"

Jersey Al's picture

"MINE!"

GreenBay Packer Nation's picture

All great points, Al. There are so many reasons to be extremely positive coming out of this win against the Cowboys. We finally got aggressive on defense and worked the ball methodically downfield rather than "taking our shots."

On the other hand, I would be hesitant to call this a 180 degree turn.

Not to be a kill-joy, but Rodgers still got sacked, we still had penalties, and, the coaching staff (in my estimation) has yet to prove they aren't going to abandon what works.

I would be less apt to consider this game the speed boat that has made a 180 and more apt to think of the Dallas game as a lumbering ocean liner making a 25 degree turn. We need to keep turning.

Come on Packers. Turn this thing completely around, get us into the playoffs, and then hit full throttle!

Jersey Al's picture

But you are being a kill-joy. Last week was negative week. This week is positive week. We've all been over the sacks and penalties multiple times. It's who the Packers are. I did see some OL improvement last week, so that's a positive. Penalties - 3 straight years of this should tell you that's not about to magically get fixed. If McCarthy can live with it, then fans will have to also.

I don't consider the 49ers an easy game at all. Can they play like they're backs are against the wall again?

Hopefully the Tampa debacle will be a constant reminder to them on what happens when you just assume you are going to win.

FITZCORE1252's picture

Good work Al! I think we have our future RT, not to mention the future pro-bowler in CM3 (he may get there this year). Just got a chance to watch the game again, the pass rush aspect seems to come very natural to Clay, and he is ALWAYS around the ball, once or twice... may be luck, but do what he did to AD and then do what he did against li'l d... can't teach that, that's lineage!

GBP 4 LIFE

GBP 4 LIFE

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