Monday, October 12, 2009

More Pressure Needed on Defense

As a Packer fan and a Brett Favre critic, last Monday night's game 30-23 loss to Brett Favre and the Vikings was about as discouraging as it gets. Aaron Rodgers was harassed and hit all night long, taking 8 sacks including a safety and a fumble, as well as an interception. He had lots of yards, but only two touchdowns, and he was battling from behind since late in the second quarter.

On the other side of the ball, Brett Favre was never sacked, rarely hurried, had no interceptions, and threw for three touchdowns. And all this in a game in which the Packers did a pretty good job shutting down Adrian Peterson.

So what gives? Obviously the two most glaring problems were the Packers' offensive line, and the fact that the Packers got no pressure on Brett Favre. The line is a problem, but one that may be on its way to improvement. According to the Packer Report, the week 1 line will be back intact this week against Detroit. This means that Chad Clifton will return at left tackle, and all the others who have shifted over will return to their original positions. Plus, the Packers signed Mark Tauscher. If he is healthy enough to contribute, he should provide extra depth at OT.

Other things that would help would include Rodgers doing a better job of getting rid of the ball (some of those sacks were attributable at least as much to Rodgers as to the shaky offensive line), and better play calling. Given a shaky line, it would be nice to see more roll-out plays and screen passes to take some of the pressure off. The Packers tried some of these, without a lot of success, but they should do this more.

The lack of pressure on Favre is another story. You would think that the Packers would have a lot of familiarity with Favre's strengths and weaknesses. Did the coaching staff just miss the fact that, for all his strengths, he does tend to make big mistakes when he is getting a lot of pressure? Not likely. When a guy like Charles Woodson makes note of the fact that something was missing from the defensive game plan, something must be going on. He was quoted in the Journal-Sentinel as saying "Well, I think we've got a lot of tools in our bag that we're not using. For whatever that reason is, I don't know."

Re-watching the game confirms that the Packers rarely tried to bring much pressure on Favre. Why? It makes no sense. I hate to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but the only reason I can think of is that they didn't want to take big risks with the resulting big downside. If they blitzed Favre, he might hit the home-run bomb, which would look really good on the highlight reels for Favre, and really bad for the Packers. So if they were unwilling to have Favre beat them with flashy big plays, then what? I guess they were content to try to stop the run, drop into coverage, and let Favre dink and dunk them to death, in the hope that he might make mistakes anyway, despite the lack of pressure. Well, he dinked and dunked them, and didn't make the mistakes, and won the game. If this was the plan, they need a better one come November 1.

One of the side-effects of locating and formatting all of my old articles is that I am re-living some of the great and not-so-great memories of past games. A recurring theme is soft coverage in critical situations. There are other examples, but the most egregious one was the 4th and 26 situation against Philadelphia in the playoffs. I am afraid that the Monday night Vikings game fits into the same category.

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