I live in the heart of Packer Country and I’m not a Packer fan; if you read the blog you know I’m a Colts fan (we’ll see who’s laughing when April twenty-something comes around). I have become convinced recently that I am one of the few sane NFL fans left in Wisconsin. I watched as the state wept after Favre’s season-ending interception and subsequent retirement. I heard every word of the Favre/Rodgers controversy. I observed as fans tried to shrug off Brett the Jet while the Pack struggled to 6-10. I witnessed the schism of Favre-haters and Thompson-haters when Bret went to Minnesota and went to another NFC Championship game while the Packers exited in the first round after a less-than stellar season. I was inundated with the Packers hysteria last year when they went on the ridiculous (and misunderstood) run that took them to a Super Bowl victory. And now this year I have had to deal with a unilateral feeling of invincibility. Blind to the fact that their fate rests with a single man, I believe many Packer fans honestly think they are fans of the best team to ever play. Enough is enough. This is how to beat the Packers and give them a much-needed measure of reality. By the way, it’s green BAY, not GREEN bay. Emphasize the Bay. And it’s not wis-CON-sin, it’s WIS-con-sin.
Plan A: Operation Mr. Rodgers’ Neighborhood
The Packers continue to win because of the ridiculous play of Aaron Rodgers. Every one of his games this season has been great at the least, most of them hovering around perfect. They can’t run the ball, can’t play defense, and don’t really have anything special on special teams. So to defeat Green Bay, you simply have to keep Aaron Rodgers from playing his best game. Even if you can contain him to a good game, you have a reasonable chance. For this to happen, he must be pressured, have nowhere to run, and no one to throw to. Easier said than done, but achievable. To do that you must follow these steps:
1. Disguise coverages and blitzes with new schemes. This is how the Jets beat the Patriots last season in the playoffs. They threw a completely different defensive scheme at Brady and Belichick and the Patriots couldn’t recover in time. You must play a defense that Rodgers is not prepared for and has no film to study. If that means implementing a completely new defensive scheme, do it. That doesn’t mean it has to be overly complex or creative, just different. Mike McCarthy is a good coach (not a great coach). Belichick is a great coach, and if he can’t react to a new defensive scheme in time, McCarthy won’t be able to either.
2. Pressure Rodgers with a variety of linebacker blitzes. Rodgers has been able to have such success
this season because he hasn’t been pressured enough. So far this season he has been sacked 33 times, which is 11th most in the league, but the problem is when he isn’t sacked he gets away a good throw or runs for a first down. Just pressuring him is not enough; you have to put him down, and put him down often. His internal clock has to be sped up with the fear of another sack coming. If that means all out blitzing every once in a while, do it. However, Rodgers has shown to be good at leaving the pocket and running for a first down, and he sometimes even runs untouched for ten yards on what looks like a super-delayed QB draw. In order to prevent this, he needs to face plenty of QB spies (a linebacker who has the job of just mirroring the quarterback and making sure he doesn’t run).
I can already hear the Green Bay fans: “Go ahead, all-out blitz, we’ll just put four wide receivers out there and throw quick slants all game!” I already planned ahead for that.
3. Create havoc in receiving corps. If the receivers can run their routes, and Rodgers can get a clear throw, you can’t defeat this team. Stopping the Packers pass offense is mostly about stopping Rodgers, but Rodgers isn’t much if he has no one to throw to. In order to make step two work, you need to do three things. First is play press coverage on the wide receivers. In order to buy time for the blitz, the cornerbacks must keep the receivers off balance and make it difficult just to get down-field. They need to make the best use of the first five yards as they possibly can. This will wear the receivers down and buy time for the blitzers to get to Rodgers. Secondly, the moment Rodgers leaves the pocket, the corners need to find the nearest receiver and put him on the ground or run him out of bounds. That’s legal as soon as the quarterback is outside the tackles. Make Rodgers run, and trust the spy to stop him. Remember, his running lanes will be limited with 5-7 pass rushers running at him, so his gains should be minimal. Rodgers is a good runner, but he’s no Michael Vick; if you’re going to take away one thing, take away the pass. Rodgers is outstanding throwing on the move, but if all of his receivers are down he’ll have no choice but to run. Third, safeties must be clear on every play what their assignment is and who they are helping in order to avoid giving up the big play. It might be inevitable that Rodgers throws a few for 30 or more, but those must be limited, and they must be kept from going for long touchdowns. If a few short passes (the Packers are good at throwing short, but don’t run the greatest screens and neither of their running back really scare me coming out of the backfield. Also, they won’t be able to release running backs for passes if the blitzers are pressuring Rodgers, because he’ll need all the help he can get) get past, so be it. If his offense is continuously running into third and mediums or third and shorts, McCarthy might call a run, which is precisely what you want.
4. Do not commit stupid penalties….. If you are flagged for pass-interference because you are simply playing as hard as you can, so be it. There is no excuse for letting emotions or silly mental mistakes cost you.
5. …especially on Third Down. The game plan to defeat the Packers is to limit how many points they can score. If you can limit the chances they get to score, that will help you immensely. Any time that you have a chance to stop them on third down, you absolutely cannot commit a stupid penalty that extends the drive. Nor can you afford any sort of mistake on third down. When you have a chance to get Rodgers off the field, take it.
6. Do not let the GB defense bail themselves out with turnovers. Without a doubt, the play of the Packers-Giants game was the Clay Matthews interception return for a touchdown. The Packers lead the league in interceptions this year, and that has been a big reason why opposing offenses have been able to gain ridiculous amounts of yards, but have been unable to score enough points to win (they have the 31st best defense for yards allowed, but 15th best for points allowed). This is a weak defense, but they do create turnovers. To win a high-scoring game with these guys, you need as many quality offensive possessions as you can, and not turning the ball over will be major help. GB very well could have lost to Carolina Week 2 if they hadn’t intercepted three passes.
7. Create at least one turnover. The Giants were able to get back into the game against GB largely because of the interception by Blackburn. Just one turnover against the Packers is huge. We have seen several teams this year (Giants, Chargers, New Orleans) score a ton of points but just get outscored, largely because they didn’t limit the Packers opportunities to score with turnovers.
Are the Packers really good? Yes. Are they invincible? No. I would take the field over Green Bay for the Super Bowl right now, but not with a ton of confidence. I think this plan would have a strong chance of succeeding if implemented correctly, but that is easier said than done. It may require more unconventional means…..
Plan B: Operation Lambeau Creep. Coming soon.
What do you think about Operation Mr. Rodgers’ Neighborhood? Is there a team that could make it work? Should the Packers be Super Bowl favorites? I’ll argue about Green Bay all day. Let me know. Like, comment, subscribe, post to facebook, email the SneakyGoodSportsGuy at firstname.lastname@example.org.