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Final Point: Defense

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Final Point: Defense

  • 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.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (34) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

PackersRS's picture

Our interior rush couldn't do anything for the most part. Couldn't push the pocket back, couldn't penetrate the gaps. Specially Jolly, no wonder why he got so many batted passes. He was never around the QB to make the sack, so all that was left to do was put his hands up. And Jenkins, I've explained before, was completely wasted during the later part of the season.

Raji in full form = moving the pocket back.
Neal+Pickett+Jolly+Wilson = fresh Jenkins = finesse rush from the inside.

nerdmann's picture

Agreed on Raji.

ZeroTolerance's picture

Lst's also hope Harrell can be of some help.

packeraaron's picture

I was trying not to jinx him. ;)

Asshalo's picture

Interesting points on the defense line depth. The DL got off to a great start in 2010, but their play declined slightly as the year went on. The woes of the secondary were consistently bad though against superior passers. Doesn't mean the two aren't correlated just that it isn't as clear in the numbers. Added push from the DL will naturally reduce pocket space, visibility and receiving options.

Graffin's picture

Out of curiosity, how many times has Favre beaten Capers?

NickGBP's picture

I think it's 8.

NickGBP's picture

In different capacities. I dont think they're all as DC.

NickGBP's picture

Yep. Just checked. It's 8 after the two Vike losses. Technically Capers has a win against Jet-Favre as a secondary coach with the Pats.

nerdmann's picture

Two of those are due largely to our offensive line last year, imo. Favre is not unbeatable.

Satori's picture

The DL depth is key for this year, as the starters all got tired late in games and late in season in '09

With regards to Jolly, I see the batted passes as a defensive bonus,it stops the play for no gain.

A batted ball can be a defensive adjustment to address the way the elite QBs elude the pass rush with quick slants and 2 second releases.

If the DL isn't going to get home, he can still kill the play at the LOS by keeping his head and arms up.


alex's picture

Cmon Aaron you couldnt leave us with a good play before you take a break!

NickGBP's picture

Seems like the focus for the line was to play stout against the run. They certainly were. But in Nickel situations (which is almost all the time now anyway) you need to be able to get pressure from the inside. I like Trgovac and I think he's done a great job. Hopefully the focus this year is on getting some push from them.

InFact's picture

Great work, Aaron, BUT I'm scratching my head because you wrote:

". . . the Tom Brady’s, Donavan McNabb’s and Brett Favre’s of the world."

There's more than one?

Why not?:
"such as Tom B., D. McNabb, and Brett F."

"Of the world" is superfluous and not needed and a plurality for each QB is incomprehensible.

NickGBP's picture

You're kidding right? Who says a player's full first name and abbreviates the last name? You're being a dick and your suggestion is horrible anyway.

nerdmann's picture

Remember when Grady Jackson fell out of the sky and saved our run defense that season? All those "too small" guys, along with Jamal Reynolds? Man, that sucked.
The first thing TT did when he got hired was sign Pickett, iirc. Man, what a great job he has done building depth on the Dline.
We had that one season where we were wiped out with injuries, but it's at least nice to see some depth there. Not to mention everywhere else.

Dilligaff's picture

I still think its more to do with the front 7 as a whole, our ILBs have to be a threat along with the OLBs, I don't think opposing offensive lines fear Hawk or Barnett as far as their pass rushing (blitzing) capabilities. Especially when Jolly and Hawk are on the field at the same time.

I agree the defensive line needs to collapse the pocket more and keeping everyone fresh will go a long ways.

Jones stepping up his game in second year will do a lot for our defense, I expect to see great things from him.

I still think we have more problems at the ILB positions than defensive line issues, a dynamic ILB that possesses a threat making the O-line nervous goes a long way.

Tom's picture

Nice article and I agree with it completely. It does seem a bit much to ask our heaviest players to get much push on the qb, especially later in the game, if they don't get spelled at least a little. However, I'll throw this in there, too - it also speaks some to our ILB's. They need to fight off blocks more on blitzes. Personally, I was craving to get Bishop on the field more.

nerdmann's picture


nypacker's picture

On Mike Neal's scouting report it says that one of his biggest skills is opening up blitzing lanes for LBs. I think he not only provides some push to the pocket this season but helps out guys like Barnett, Hawk, Matthews etc. make some plays. BTW did you guys see the LB rankings from Yahoo! I like that we're No. 3:;_ylt=AsnyLRT2hE0UTmG7MXxe9NRDubYF?slug=...

Ryeguy812's picture

Last year, MM and DC said their focus was on stopping the run and they were very successful in doing so but it came at the expense of their pass rush. This year they say their focus is getting a rush from the DL, I have to give them the benefit of the doubt and think they'll get that pass rush, but at the expense of what is the question

andrew's picture

i agree with this article for the most part.. but i also think that you need to be able to run your base package more often than you run your nickel package.. we should have a linebacker that is capable of running with a 3rd receiver of course this wouldnt be all the time and the nickle should be used.. but it limits your play calling and makes it a lot more difficult to apply pressure if you are stuck in nickle all the time.. i think you would have seen more pressure getting to the quarterback if capers was more comfortable stayin in our base defense on more snaps.. especially when our linebacker core is one of our strengths. but for the most part the packers have always been a team to rotate players in constantly but with the injury issues and players the coaches did not have a lot of faith in (harrell) it becomes difficult to rotate players as often. hopefully we will see it more often this season

PackersRS's picture

"we should have a linebacker that is capable of running with a 3rd receiver"

I can honestly only think of Patrick Willis that can do that, and with the slower receivers.

The zone defense allows you to have more flexibility in staying with your base personell against more spreaded formations, but it only goes so far...

andrew's picture

haha i am not saying the linebacker needs to be able to run with the fast wideouts.. but a 3-4 defense style is most effective in its base defense.. if you have 1 guy who can run with a 3rd string wideout it is a blessing.. obviously every team needs to run subpackages.. i just believe the packers came out of their base way to often and should find someone that they trust running with a 3rd wideout.. ideally.. its only for a few seconds. because the goal is to get a sack or a rushed throw.

PackersRS's picture

I think the more plausible move is to actually get more production from their sub packages. I completely get what you're saying about the base, but with the spread offense being the norm in the nfl, the sub packages are used more than the base. The Packers should be better prepared, and I expect them to be in their 2nd year under the same scheme.

Ruppert's picture

Good stuff.

A big grin crosses my face when I read the words "Final Point" on July 13th, though!

FITZCORE1252's picture

We've gotta get better push up the middle, Raji should really help playing the nose full-time and I'm excited to see what Neal brings to the table. Our ILB have to play better in-space (made a great point about it today on Total Access). If we can get better in those two areas it should really help when we get spread out.


Chris's picture

I don't think it's a D-line related issue alone. The 3-4 DEs are not really supposed to get preassure on the QB. Of course they should try to collapse the pocket more than they did last season, but I would suggest to give the guys another year to really grasp the concept.
In the end it was a new scheme for everyone on the defense. Let them grow. This year the standard we judge them by should be higher.

packeraaron's picture

"The 3-4 DEs are not really supposed to get pressure on the QB" - that's true in base, but when they go to their 2-4-5 sub package, they are def expected to at least collapse the pocket, something they rarely did last season. That said, completely agree with your point on the second season showing us a lot more.

Chris's picture

Some things I don't get in the first video:
1. Why is Brad Jones trying to sort of bullrush the RT? He is like half his size, he should go the speed way, eihter going outside (which is probably forbidden by the scheme as the QB can then just scramble for 10 yards or so) or try some spin move. I hope he learns quick.
2. Raji is not getting any kind of preasure on his opponent. He is far to slow out of his stance. Maybe Roethlisberger did a fabulous snapcount though ...
3. There is absolutely no surprise for the offense. All 4 player which show they will come rush the passer do so, and noone else. This will probably fail 9 times out of ten, if no major blunder by the O-line happens.

I am pretty confident that the D will be improved this year. Only thing that worries me is the secondary, especially the nickel corner if Harris can't make it.

CSS's picture

Agreed, the 3-4 is only base and few teams are in base even 60% of the time (sorry, no reference, only a number I've heard bantered about by the NFL talking heads). Every defense has so many different sub-packages. Remember, even Aaron Kampmann only had 3 of his 30 some sacks out of base, the rest were in sub. Point being, every defensive lineman needs to get vertical and make a QB uncomfortable when you have them in favorable down-and-distance. 3-4 ends need to get 'skinny' and move up the field.

PackersRS's picture

Really not true. The 3-4 from the 80's didn't demand the DL to bring in any pressure. Nowadays, if you can't rush the passer properly, you probably don't deserve to play in the NFL.

Yes, their FIRST assignment is to hold the point of attack. But it's ludicrous to think that, when rushing 4, you expect 3 guys to just hold the point so that the OLB will solely bring the pressure. Ratliff doesn't just hold the point, nor does Ngata, Dockett, Aaron Smith, Justin Smith...

Chris's picture

Ok, true, but I really can't put the blame wholly on the two down lineman in the above video. Yes, they can do better, yes, some elite passrusher might get through 2 opponents (and I am pretty sure it happened during the season a few times). But Just look at the video again. There is nothing fancy in the attack. The 4 rushing player show they would come, and go straight at their opponents. You can win this only if you are far superior or if someone makes a stupid mistake.

PackersRS's picture

The thing is, we should have the superior players with a well-rested Jenkins and a fully prepared Raji, as well as CM3 and a 2nd year Jones.

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