Friday, January 7, 2011

Wild Card Weekend Pregame Thoughts

This is the oddest and most interesting stat I have heard in some time: the Packers never trailed, in any game all season, by more than 7 points. (Source here.) They are the only team in the NFL for which that is true, and the Packers as a team have never done this since the NFL-AFL merger. This might be less surprising if the Packers were 13-3 or 14-2, but for a 10-6 team? Almost unthinkable. So when we say that the Packers' defense is good enough to keep them in contention in every game, I guess I frankly did not realize how true that is. The flip side is that the Packers are losing a lot of very close games, but I think that is something we already realized.

I watched the abbreviated NFL Network version of the Week 1 Packer win over the Eagles last night. When Kevin Kolb was knocked out of the game, the Packers were obviously not prepared for Vick to be the full-time quarterback, as opposed to running a few wildcat plays here and there. Interestingly, they did not put that much pressure on him, blitzing on only a handful of plays. I have to think that this is more the result of not having a game-plan for Vick, rather than a return to the 2009-style Packer defense, where opposing quarterbacks (mostly the elite ones) were treated with kid gloves. In the 15 games since, the Packers have put lots of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, including the elite and the not-so-elite. So I don't think there is any doubt that the Packers will come after Vick on Sunday with some specially-designed, Michael Vick pressure plays from Dom Capers. That is not necessarily all good, since Vick has scrambling abilities that most opposing quarterbacks do not. But my hunch is that the pressure will cause more problems for Vick and the Eagles than it will for the Packers' defense. Vick was getting knocked around quite a bit in the last month or so of the season, and I doubt if he is 100% going into the game. He is probably a little less nimble, and a little more anxious about getting hit, than he would be if he were fully healthy.

The best news is that the Packers seem to realize that sitting back in coverage most of the time will not cut it. In the 2010 season, my perception is that the Packers blitzed more frequently than in 2009, especially against the elite quarterbacks. I am sure somebody keeps these year-over-year stats, but I have not seen them, so I am relying on my perception. But this week I saw some quotes from Charles Woodson that suggests the players (and, by extension, the coaches) are well aware of the need for more pressure than they applied last year:

“(Being aggressive is) very important. We know what we’re going up against,” said Woodson, who blitzed more than a dozen times last Sunday against Chicago’s Jay Cutler and finished with a sack, eight tackles and three pass deflections. “We know that dynamic that Vick is. He’s a very big part of what they’re doing right now. He makes a lot of plays with his feet, but we’ve got to make sure we stay aggressive and make him run if he has to and make sure that we do our job in the back end. But aggressive, that’s the way we like to play.

"I don't think anybody on our team believes we played aggressive enough (against the Cardinals). We kind of took what they gave us. So this year is not going to be that way."

Now that is music to my ears.

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