Weekend notes: Packers must adjust
How does Green Bay game plan to stop the Cowboys’ pressure?
Of all the games Sunday in the NFL, the Packers-Cowboys matchup intrigues me from a game-planning perspective because of the deficiencies in the Green Bay offensive line. We can't sit here and spin it any way we want, or point blame at whomever we want, but the bottom line is that the Packers go into tomorrow afternoon’s game with a major issue in stopping the Dallas pressure.
Green Bay has given up 37 sacks through eight games, and a week of “corrections” after watching film isn’t going to turn this offensive line into one of the top units in the league. The Packers are not going to find a magic formula that’s going to change the way they play up front in one week. Their offensive line is and will be an issue for the rest of the season.
But the Packers can adjust how they attack Dallas offensively by attacking the same pressure that Dallas is winning with.
We know the Cowboys are going to bring pressure because that’s who they are as a defense. As we saw last week in their matchup with Philly, the ‘Boys shut down Donovan McNabb and the multiple weapons the Eagles have because of their ability to win one-on-one matchups up front and get to the quarterback — preventing the long developing deep routes of Andy Reid’s offense. McNabb ended up throwing two picks, and the Eagles offensive became stagnant because the deep ball was taken out of their game plan.
And that’s why, if I’m calling plays for the Packers on Sunday, I script a game plan that can work against pressure teams. For example, the screen and draw — especially on early downs — the three-step passing game and all the routes that come with it (slant, hitch, fade, out), and the bubble, or wide receiver, screen.
Anything that gets the ball out of quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ hands quickly and into the hands of his playmakers.
One thing we have to understand with Dallas is that because of all the pressure they bring, they are a heavy man-to-man team in the secondary. Those exact routes I just talked about are big when it comes to using the talents of wide receivers Donald Driver and Greg Jennings against man coverage — and those same routes can be converted, depending on what looks Rodgers sees on the outside.
A pressed corner? Convert the hitch to the fade, or run the slant. A corner playing off-man coverage at a depth of seven yards? Run the hitch and the out route. But don’t get away from what you know works well against a pressure defense. Because against man-to-man teams that bring pressure, there’s always an opportunity for receivers to gain big yards after the catch, and I’ll take the matchup of Driver and Jennings against the Dallas secondary when it comes to man, and man-free defense.
And if the deep ball is needed, or if the Packers want to take a shot down the field, max protect and run two-man routes — usually deep crossing routes — that keep eight men in protection. But even then, don’t deter from a game plan that’s conducive to playing a pressure defense.
But know what you’re playing against. Offenses can succeed against pressure teams because they know how to attack them. Yes, the game plan will have to change, and they may become more simplistic from our vantage point, but allowing Dallas to bring six- or seven-man pressure against the Packers’ offensive line is not going to translate into a win if Rodgers is using the five- and seven-step drop passing game. Those routes take too long to develop, and Rodgers will be forced to eat the ball.
Green Bay is a desperate team right now, and it needs to win against NFC opponents to stay in the wild-card hunt with Atlanta, Philly and the Giants. Chicago has already taken itself out of contention by its performance Thursday night in San Francisco, and Green Bay will join the Bears if it comes up short tomorrow at Lambeau.
However, even with that talk, the offensive game plan will still be the catalyst for the Packers if they’re going to continue to stay relevant when we talk playoffs.
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