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Point of Veau: Masking Deficiencies Key to Returning to Elite Level

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Point of Veau: Masking Deficiencies Key to Returning to Elite Level

In baseball, almost every hitter has a hole in their swing. Either they're handcuffed by the inside pitch, can't reach the outside part of the plate or can't catch up to the ball high in the strike zone.

In football, it's the same concept. Every player has some sort of weakness, a part of their game that obviously subpar.

There are very few exceptions, Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews among them. If the Packers are missing either of those two players in the playoffs, they might win a game, but they probably can't win two.

But it's the role players that are the difference in being able to win those three or four consecutive games that it takes to win the Super Bowl. And the Packers need to figure out ways to minimize the impact of the deficiencies in some of their role players, and at the same time, maximize their strengths.

Credit the coaching staff for figuring out the formula for a couple of players.

With A.J. Hawk, he's coming off the field in the dime defensive package so he's not being asked to cover or blitz nearly as often. With Charles Woodson, he's been moved to safety where he's not matched up one-on-one with speedy slot receivers as much. With James Starks, he's rarely on the field on third downs so he won't have pass protect.

But there's still a couple of holes that need mending, physical limitations that have become apparent over the course of the current season and must be fixed if the Packers are going to return to Super Bowl glory.

A couple of the biggest concerns...

  • B.J. Raji's pass rush: Raji's sack production has declined from a career high of 6.5 in 2010 to three in 2011 to zero in 2012. No one expects Raji to get double-digit sacks, but he isn't even the threat he once was at collapsing the pocket and forcing opposing quarterbacks out of their comfort zone.
  • T.J. Lang dealing with elite edge rushers: Lang is a much better guard than tackle. He's a bulldog better confined to close quarters where his limitations in athleticism and arm length aren't quite as apparent.
  • Evan Dietrich-Smith containing the burst of interior linemen: There are times when Dietrich-Smith looks like he's on roller skates. Sometimes he gets beat with quickness. Other times he's simply overpowered.
  • Jerel Worthy holding his ground: When Worthy replaced an injured C.J. Wilson in the base defense against the Giants, the difference was night and day. Worthy rarely wins the leverage battle, can't anchor and gets pushed around with regularity.
  • Jeff Saturday's mobility: At 37 years old, Saturday just doesn't have the athletic ability he once possessed. Scott Wells was much better at getting to the second level and making reach blocks that take quickness.
  • Erik Walden's pass rush: Don't be deceived by Walden's two sacks against the Lions. Matt Stafford was flushed right into him. It's not as if Walden has played poorly in 2012. To be sure, he's gotten the occasional pressure. But for a player who's been on the field as much as Walden, he needs to be generate a rush on a more consistent basis.
  • Morgan Burnett's lack of big plays: Burnett has been better at coming down into the box and being a reliable tackler than ever expected. But for a guy who came out of college with a reputation of being a ballhawk, those skills haven't translated. Burnett plays almost 100 percent of the snaps. By now, you'd think he'd have at least gotten an interception by accident.
  • Mason Crosby's accuracy: Crosby seems to put more English on his kicks than the typical kicker. You never know which direction the ball is going to go.

So how do you fix these issues? There's no simple, clear-cut answer.

For some of the younger players, you hope they develop and pray that the light bulb goes on. For the veterans, sometimes it's like trying to teach an old dog new tricks. It's just not going to work.

Knowing there's not an elixir in this world that's going to cure all the Packers' ills, here's one man's suggestion about how to minimize the margin for error...

  • For Raji, play Mike Daniels more: Obviously Raji needs to play in the base defense, and he needs to be in the game in the nickel packages when there's still a good chance the opponent will run the ball. But Daniels is deserving of more playing time. He's been getting pressure in his limited opportunities, and he's only going to get better the more snaps he receives.
  • For Lang, give him help: Lang can't get help 100 percent of the time. He's going to have to win some one-on-one battles from time to time. But he needs help against the good pass rushers the Packers will see. Chip with a running back. Double with Josh Sitton. Line up a tight end more often to the right than the left. Mix and match.
  • For Dietrich-Smith, give Don Barclay a chance: Dietrich-Smith might be a center only. Certainly, Barclay would make some rookie mistakes but would he make any more than EDS is currently making?
  • For Worthy, use Mike Neal in the base defense: In a perfect world, Wilson comes back healthy and holds down the fort. But until he does, Neal might be the better option in the base defense. Worthy looks really overmatched right now.
  • For Saturday, grin and bear it: There no getting around the limitations. The Packers just have to hope a Super Bowl is the carrot at the end of the string that motivates Saturday to get through the rest of the season. They'll have to work on replacing him next year.
  • For Walden, rotate him and Dezman Moses once Clay Matthews returns: When Matthews comes back, he'll be playing every down. By shuttling Walden and Moses in an out of the game, they'll both be fresher and more effective.
  • For Burnett, play Charles Woodson exclusively at safety upon return: No more musical chairs with Jerron McMillian and M.D. Jennings, which will allow Burnett to get used to playing with one partner at safety all the time. Hopefully Woodson will be rested and ready for the stretch run after he comes back from injury.
  • For Crosby, play the wait-and-see game: Crosby's future is totally up to him. If he goes 2-2 on field goals next week, his job is safe. If he goes 0-2, however, the Packers may have to make a move. If he goes 1-2? Your guess is as good as mine.
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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (35) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Beep's picture

I hope the coaching staff is reading this because all ideas should be on the table after last night.

For Crosby, what about switching up the holder? Masthay has done a fine job (other than the horrible fake FG attempt), but maybe Harrell or Jordy can put it down slightly different to change how its coming off his foot?

Evan's picture

I sincerely doubt the holder is the problem - though I do love the idea of Cobb holding just for the fake possibilities.

Aaron mentioned a couple weeks ago that Crosby has been a mess ever since Slocum tinkered with his steps. I'd love to hear more about that.

Beep's picture

If I recall correctly, when Crosby couldn't connect from the right hashmark a few seasons ago, Masthay replaced Flynn as the holder.

Beep's picture

Correction, Kapinos replaced Flynn as holder.

Evan's picture

Brian - do you suggest or envision any o-line reshuffling (Lang back to LG with Barclay or even Datko getting a shot at RT)? Or is this the group they're gonna go with for the rest of the season, barring any injuries?

Brian Carriveau's picture

I don't anticipate the Packers making any moves. Like I wrote, I think it would be worth a shot trying Barclay out instead of EDS, but I don't think the Packers will do it.

Evan's picture

But you think Barclay at LG? I thought he was a tackle.

Chad Toporski's picture

He played both positions in training camp. I think Barclay is one to definitely watch next season.

Evan's picture

Ah. Thanks.

T's picture

With BJ Raji, I don't see him as a pass rusher. I see him as a run stuffer. Taking on two guys to free up others.

I also don't think a NT should be worried about sacks. That is the DE's job on the line.

Beep's picture

Raji has to stumble into a sack once and a while, just like Brian said that Burnett has to have an INT fall into his hands eventually.

I really think that Raji's ankle is still not 100% and may never be again with the pounding it takes on the interior line.

The poster formerly known as Bearmeat's picture

*May never be again (until 2013)*

Pack Fan in ATL's picture

Pretty sure he dropped at least one and didn't close his hands fast enough against the Lions.

Evan's picture

That's true, which is why his 2010 season was so damn impressive.

PadLevel's picture

This is what happens to finesse teams - Packers and Eagles are the poster boys. Finesse teams playing a brutal game like this will always have a disproportionate share of season-ending injuries. Besides that, Kansas City showed the league how to beat Packers' finesse game - by being physical with our receivers and McCarthy has never been able to adjust. McCarthy seems to forget that his is a finesse passing attack and calls plays suited for a physical run oriented offense - best example is the run play on 3rd and 1 by Alex Green. In the Superbowl vs Steelers, he wisely decided to pass his way to victory ("keeping the defense honest" can also be done by creative pass plays)

Rocky70's picture

It's already too late to fix the OL. Carrying only 7 linemen on the 53 going into the season was a major miscue. Especially when you have 5 TEs & 6 WRs on the 53.

I get it. I get it. STs are important but not at the expense of your OL. (Last year, the DL was short-changed) Protecting your elite QB is the most important task of any team who's fortunate enough to have an elite QB.

This all falls in TT's job description. I'm hoping it doesn't turn into a major fail.

Brian Carriveau's picture

Not sure how carrying seven linemen was a major miscue. Carrying an extra one doesn't prevent Bulaga's injury.

kennypayne's picture

Agree that carrying only 7 lineman was not in and of itself an error. However, when 1 of the 2 backups was a 1st year street free agent Tackle whom the team had no confidence inserting when a starting Tackle went down, that was a major miscue, the ramification of which are being played out before our eyes.

Rocky70's picture

Going with 8 OLineman out of TC means you have more than Van Roten & Barclay who have been around since game 1. There's no one on the street that's going to help GB's line problems. --- There's no one available at this late date.

I said nothing about preventing injuries. Only talking depth & numbers.

Jamie's picture

And who is this mysterious possible 8th lineman that would have saved our season??

Wow...some people just can't get out of the away of their own dumb thoughts.

Beep's picture

Valid point about who would the 8th lineman be.

Why the personal attack though? Way to flex those keyboard muscles.

Derek's picture

BJ Raji, bust?

Lou's picture

Outstanding analysis and recommendations, not the kind of filler you see on must packer web blogs, very refreshing and accurate. If the team gets Mathews, Jennings, Shields, and especially Benson back for the stretch run it would pay to sign either Longwell or Kaeding for the playoffs and if necessary keep Crosby on the roster if they really fear someone will pick him up and that they can get him on track later. As popular as McCarthy is if Crosby misses a game tying or winning kick in the playoffs or one to get into the playoffs he will be as popular as Brad Childress in the Twin Cities.

fubared's picture

Great analysis. I'm wondering, having watched some very good defenses why they do have a big fat supposely run stopper with the body of Raji.
The Vikes have Williams but he is tall, fast big and is a pass rusher as well as run stopper. Mr Capers, we need to pass rushers baby. What your doing now ain't working.
I don't think Manning got sacked once and was never really hurried into passing mistakes. He like a lot of QB's we faced had all day to pass.
Last, Mr McCarthy time to evaluate your talent or lack of. Can't let a Raji and Hawk keep playing when they aren't doing their jobs. Got to have the people in there who can to the jobs and quite trying to be everyone bud. Hawk sucks, Raji sucks, the O line, well your stuck there baby. I wouldn't plan for any long pass plays the next few weeks, Rogers won't have time.
Rogers, watch game film of 5'9 drew bree's. He rolls out on every play and can still pass. Better learn that trick before this weekend instead of being a sitting duck alone in the backfield.

cow42's picture

A team can only improve 3 ways...

1 - bring in better talent
2 - play with more effort
3 - be more prepared

nothing this Packer squad can do about talent at this point (especially on the oline).

the only way to get up off the mat after this haymaker is to study their asses off and turn their intensity dial up to the "pack of raging dogs" level.

if this team doesn't come out breathing fire next week you can stick a fork in 'em.

The poster formerly known as Bearmeat's picture

Wow Cow... I actually... completely agree with this.

Is hell frozen over yet?

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

I wouldn't want to be the queens. Seriously.

Mojo's picture

Agree. I would be very surprised if they don't blow the Queens out.

cow42's picture

not sure this Packer team will be blowing anyone out anytime soon. too many flaws for that.

i'll take a hard fought 17-10 win... i'm not asking for a lot. i just need to see them actually SHOW UP.

The poster formerly known as Bearmeat's picture

Cow - Have you ever read the Narnian Chronicles? You remind me of Puddleglum, the Marshwiggle so much it's uncanny.

When things are going well, you're as pessimistic as can be. When things are going badly, you turn into a cheerleader.

I don't get it.

Jamie's picture

Disagree on Raji lacking push. He's been consistently pushing the middle of the pocket. Could he be better? of course. Is he better than last year? much. Is he more consistent than the rest of our D-line? definitely.

He's not going to get many sacks...nose tackles just don't. But the push from Raji has been there. This is in large part to reduced snaps.

So I indirectly agree with Daniels (Neal and Worthy also) getting more snaps, but more as a further attempt to give Raji more breathers. But if we're gonna ask for more from someone with snaps essentially as needs to come from whoever else is on the field with Raji.....aside from the occasional sack.

woodson4president's picture

Being a mountaineer...I'd like to see Barclay do well.

dawg's picture

Being a PACKER, I'd like to see anyone do well!!! OL--DL the worst--UNBELIEVABLE!!
MM-TT, better have some answers!

dawg's picture

Very simple---SEE PASS RUSHER, BLOCK PASS RUSHER, This team needs to be coached up!

adroge's picture

Some extra points

Raji has been their best passrusher the past two games. He dominated the lions game. I rewatched every defense snap of that game and he was by far the best player in that game. He hasn't got a ton of rush this year because he is a 340 pound guy with a bad ankle. The only game he was healthy was the lions game. His run defense has been good. If he is healthy he is their best rusher outside of Matthews.

Putting Woodson as the full time saftey is probabley not a bad idea. It should help shore up the only real weakness of this pass defense, which is the middle of the field. It's also pretty clear Moses is their second best outside rusher. When Matthews comes back it's probabley not a bad idea to have him replace Walden in pass rushing situations. Or have him replace Hawk in the nickel and move Matthews and Walden around to confuse the offense. Other than that they just need Matthews back and they'll be fine. Just had a bad game.

As for the offense their are some simple fixes. Getting Jennings back is a huge plus. He's their best reciever and is good at beating cover 2 defenses. Another very simple solution is putting Cobb in the backfield more often. His presence in the backfielf will make teams rethink cover 2 against the packers. Third, get the ball to people other than wide recievers!!

The packers biggest problem on offense is their unwillingness to throw the ball to anybody other than a wide reciever. I don't know of any team in the nfl that throws to tight ends and running backs less than the packers. They have five tight ends and two very gifted backs (Cobb, Green) capable of catching the ball and they don't use them. Against cover 2 scemes it's very simple; if you use a two tight end - single back set, your two tight ends and running back are all man to man against linebackers. Your run your recievers down the field take the defensive backs out of the play and exploit the linebackers underneath. It's not that hard and the packers have the personel to do it.

The packers offensive line is not going to be able to give them the ability to run well and throw down the field against cover 2's. They need to change their offensive sceme to exploit defenses in other ways. Crabtree is averaging 25 yards a catch and is only targeted maybe once a game. Cobb is averaging about 14 yards a carry and gets one maybe two carries a game. Finley who was once the packers top target is constantley single covered (in the case of th lions game not covered) and maybe is getting 3 or so targets a game. Green who is a good reciever out of the backfielf maybe gets one or two targets a game. It's pretty simple really. You take the tight ends and backs out of New England or New Orleans pass games and they don't have much left for offense. Get creative Mccarthy. Do something different!! For some reason it usually takes Mccarthy a while to fix things. The good news is he usually always fixes things.

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