Despite their current undefeated status, much has been made of the Green Bay Packers’ pass rush, or lack of it, this season – all with good reason. Without consistent pressure, opposing quarterbacks have had the time to rack up some gawdy yardage numbers and complete a plethora of big plays on the Packers’ secondary.
We have all been in a quandry – wringing our hands and nervously rocking back and forth while mumbling to ourselves, “where’s the pass rush… where’s the pass rush…”
The main focus of course was on Clay Matthews. We kept reading about how Matthews is grading out so highly per the coaches’ evaluation, but where were the sacks and big plays? After seeing Matthews over and over engage with a blocker and then just pull up, without going any further, it became apparent to me CMIII just did not have the green light to go hog-wild after the QB.
At the other outside OLB, the common refrain was that “Walden hasn’t done anything” (which I fully disagree with). Walden has also graded out well on the coaches’ charts for handling his primary responsibilities. So were the Packers’ pass-rushers under performing this season as many thought, or just doing what they were told?
Much has been made of how much more Capers is blitzing this season than in years past. However, when Capers has blitzed out of the Okie (2-4-5), it’s been a straight linebacker dog or a defensive back off the edge. The DL rush patterns have been simply straight ahead – very vanilla stuff. Watching other teams generate pressure on Aaron Rodgers with a variety of DL and LB stunts, I continually would wonder why we weren’t seeing similar tactics from the Packers.
After many of these hand-wringing and chair-rocking sessions of my own, I became convinced the Packers players were just doing what the coaches wanted; play more of style where containment is the primary responsibility, the infamous bend, but don’t break mantra.
Well after the Packers did plenty of bending AND breaking against the Chargers, something had to change.
Charles Woodson was the first to sound the alarm, publicly wondering if the Packers should be doing more creative things to put their playmakers in a position to make plays. For his part, Dom Capers pointed to how much the Packers were blitzing this season to show that they were, indeed, trying to create more of a pass rush.
But quantity doesn’t trump quality. It has appeared to me all year that Dom Capers has had some tight reins on his OLB’s, and I believe that’s a big reason the Packers are playing so much better against the run this season. With the exception of the first Vikings game when Adrian Peterson sprung loose for some big gains, the Packers have successfully “contained” their opponents’ rushing attacks.
Many have speculated that Dom Capers has been holding back, not wanting to show all of his cards too soon in the season. Personally, I don’t buy that argument for a second. I simply think he lost a bit of his aggressive attitude.
The Chargers game was an embarrassment to the defense. You knew that Charles Woodson would be a man on a mission against the Vikings – the question was, would Capers get back to his “mad scientist” ways and dial up the creativity and quality of his blitzing schemes, as opposed to just running more?
The answer, of course, is that he did both. He obviously took the handcuffs off of Clay Matthews and allowed Charles Woodson to play the type of role I think he is destined for with the Packers – neither a traditional cornerback or safety, but rather a roving disruptor that is always around the ball.
Capers let Woodson set the tone on the very first passing play of the game:
Instead of coming off the edge, Woodson appears to be keying on Adrian Peterson, while approaching the line. As the ball is snapped, he hesitates, eyeing Peterson. The hesitation convinces the Vikings’ center to go help his guard with Ryan Pickett and as soon as Woodson sees that Peterson is not getting the ball he shoots the gap left by the center. Ponder is sent an early message with an unusual straight up-the-gut blitz by a cornerback.
A few minutes later, Capers calls for a a DL stunt combined with a blitz – just the sort of play that has been sorely lacking this season:
The three players you want to watch is Jarius Wynn at left end, Clay Matthews just outside him and Desmond Bishop lined up dead even with the center. As the ball is snapped, Wynn takes an exaggerated inside rush, heading for the area where the center was. He attracts the attention of right tackle Loadholt before he is picked up by the right guard. At the same time, Bishop circles behind Wynn on a blitz, again catching the eye of Loadholt. While all of this is going on, Matthews has been forgotten about, getting a free run at Ponder. Loadholt doesn’t know where to turn, but miraculously wheels at the last second to just get a hand on Matthews and Ponder does a great job stepping up to avoid the sack. This is a fantastic example of how you can give Matthews playmaking opportunities just by creating some havoc and confusion in the area next to him.
Finally, towards the end of the first quarter, Capers again goes where he has rarely gone – a six-man rush:
Before the play begins, you’ll see Jarret Bush on the near side make his presence felt as a possible blitzer, then drop off the line and back into a coverage position. Meanwhile, you can see Morgan Burnett on the far side creeping up for the blitz. As the ball is snapped, both Jarius Wynn and C.J. Wilson slant to the left, taking blockers with them, while Walden and Burnett blitz off the right edge. The intent here is to split apart the Vikings line, creating a lane for Clay Matthews, who circles around behind Wynn and Wilson. The gap is created, but Matthews is slowed down just enough to come up short. However, the overall pressure of the six man rush forces Ponder to get rid of the ball, and Woodson, who tracked Shancoe all the way from the other side of the formation, almost gets himself an interception.
By now, you’ve probably read the eye-popping blitz stats from this game. If not, here’s what ESPN Milwaukee’s Jason Wilde reported:
… the Packers blitzed on an astronomical 74.4 percent of Ponder’s drop-backs, the most they’ve sent five or more rushers in Capers’ 46 games (including playoffs) as defensive coordinator. After blitzing on 58.3 percent of pass plays in the teams’ first meeting – Capers’ previous high-pressure high – this was off the charts.
In addition, Capers blitzed a defensive back on 19 of 39 (48.7 percent) of Ponder’s drop-backs Monday, the Packers’ highest DB blitz percentage over the last four seasons. Ponder completed only 5 of 17 (29.4 percent) of his passes for 52 yards against those blitzes.
So yes, Capers went off the charts blitzing in this game – against a rookie quarterback. This is not something that he can or would want to try to do every week. But as I wrote previously, it’s not the quantity of blitzes, it’s the quality (and creativity). If he continues to do the unexpected, the confusion and resulting pressure will come. And then we can all stop nervously rocking back and forth…——————
Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.