In Year 2, Capers has Packers sold on his 3-4 philosophy
Nov 26, 2010 ~ by Steve Wyche, NFL.com senior writer
~There are reasons why Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews — the NFL sacks leader with 11.5 — is having a special season, why recently little-known cornerback Tramon Williams might be playing better than most cornerbacks in the NFL, and why an injury-depleted Green Bay defense has allowed just 10 points over the past three games.
Those reasons might also lead the Packers to the Super Bowl.
“Everyone has bought in,” a Packers team source said.
This isn’t the same old football-speak about everyone being on the same page. The translation is that in Year 2 of defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ version of the 3-4 defense, players understand their roles. They know that in certain cases they have to occupy two blockers so Matthews has an unimpeded path to the quarterback. Williams and fellow cornerback Charles Woodson have to be incredibly efficient in man coverage at times to allow disguised stunts to work effectively.
To pacify egos, something Capers and his staff found out last season, those who sacrifice stats and making plays also have packages designed for them to flash. That’s a huge deal because if players don’t feel like they’re being put in position to succeed, they won’t always give you premium effort (see Albert Haynesworth).
Last season, a lot of players in Green Bay were reluctant to embrace the change from the 4-3 front because it marginalized their playmaking skills. Outside linebacker Aaron Kampman‘s showed displeasure with having to move from defensive end to outside linebacker, a change that did not play to his pass-rushing strengths. Several other players weren’t pleased about the switch either, but that’s changed now.
“Guys weren’t always receptive, but now they understand that there is a role and packages for everybody,” the source said. “Guys are playing so unselfish, and they’re realizing that when they do their jobs so someone else can make a play, it’s just as rewarding.”
Green Bay is second in points allowed (14.6) and 12th overall in yards allowed (323.4). They’ve forced 21 turnovers, including 15 interceptions — three of those returned for touchdowns.
Players also trust Capers.
In the Packers’ 31-3 victory over the Vikings last week — Brad Childress’ last game as head coach — Green Bay’s game plan worked as it was drawn up. Early on, the Packers dared Brett Favre to throw by stacking the box to stop Adrian Peterson and locking up the wide receivers on the edges in man coverage. Nothing new compared to what most teams do. They held Peterson to 72 yards.
In obvious passing situations, Green Bay also ran zone blitzes that applied pressure to the defense’s left — Favre’s right — because Favre prefers to break containment in that direction, and his mobility moving back to his left isn’t what it was, the source said. Pressure also was schemed to be applied up the middle because Favre isn’t as comfortable on the move, the source said. Adding to things, Green Bay’s defensive backs were able to knock Minnesota’s receivers off their routes.
Also playing into things, the Vikings’ offense wasn’t overly diverse, the source said. The same could be said for the 8-2 Jets, who were shut out by the Packers on Oct. 31.
That won’t be the case Sunday when Green Bay travels to Atlanta to face the 8-2 Falcons in what could turn out to be the game of the week. Not only are the Falcons nearly unbeatable at the Georgia Dome (QB Matt Ryan is 18-1 as a starter at home), they have the best offense the Packers have seen this season, the source said.
“They have plays they can run two ways, they have run-pass options on so many plays,” the source said. “They have so many looks. (Offensive coordinator) Mike Mularkey has put together some serious stuff. The quarterback is really comfortable, and he gets rid of the ball. They are really good.
“The offensive line is really good, collectively. Individually, there isn’t a Pro Bowler there, but as a group they block through the play, they’re tough and they work really well together.”
And then there’s wide receiver Roddy White.
“He’s a complete player,” the source said. “He’s doing things like catching the curl and hook routes he wasn’t so good at a few years ago and his yards after the catch, he’s really good once he gets the ball in his hands.”
Based on what Green Bay has done at times this season, I’d expect Williams to tail White for most of the game, which won’t be easy because the Falcons use White from every receiver-eligible spot on the field.
The Packers are looking forward to the challenge, which leads us to the main reason why the defense is playing at such a high level.
“On Victory Monday (this week) there wasn’t an empty meeting room,” the source said. “Guys were in there watching film and really preparing. That’s been the most incredible thing about this, the way guys have taken to preparation and film study on their own. They really want to be good.”
The contagious work ethic can’t be taken lightly. How else can you explain why a unit that has been hit hard by injuries is arguably playing its best with several frontline players on the shelf?
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