People usually think of toughness as some intangible trait, something that can’t be measured by an actual set of skills or statistics. People also use the word toughness as an adjective, a cliche to just throw out there when they really can’t explain why their favorite team can’t make a tackle, catch a pass or win a game.
I hate using words just to use words. Words mean things. And if you use a word, it better mean something.
If the Packers want to avoid another one-and-done in the postseason and beat the Vikings on Saturday, they need to get tougher on defense. Here’s what toughness means in the Packers’ case:
- Doing things you’re not comfortable doing. This is for Tramon Williams. I know you’re not comfortable tackling. Maybe it’s your shoulder, maybe it’s something else. Either way, you need to get tougher and tackle. Packers fans applaud your toughness when you clamp down on Calvin Johnson or Brandon Marshall. That’s great. But you’re a No. 1 cornerback. Playing the other team’s top receiver is what you’re supposed to do. True toughness comes when you take on Peterson and bring him down before he reels off another big gain on your side. Teams win championships when players do things they’re not comfortable doing and do them well.
- Owning your gap. The Packers looked very conscious of gap assignments against Peterson Sunday. They seemed to get the concept of maintaining gap responsibility, but had no idea what to do when Peterson came into their gap. If you beat your blocker, or at least fight him to a draw, standing in the gap flat-footed is not good enough against Peterson. You need to own your gap, not just hang out in it for a while. If Peterson comes into your gap — the gap you own! — you need to be in a position to make a play and bring him down. Standing flat-footed and reaching with your hands won’t do it. You also can’t wait for your teammates to come help you out. Peterson gets his big yards when he runs through your feeble attempt at a hand grab and cuts back to where your teammates used to be before they came to help you. Peterson runs aggressively. If you want to stop him, you have to at least match that aggressiveness.
- Linebackers playing like linebackers. The Packers are down to their third-string middle linebacker, A.J. Hawk isn’t much of a playmaker, and whoever is on the other end of Matthews is hit or miss. Nonetheless, Packers’ linebackers need to step up if they want to hold down Peterson. There’s no other way around it. Jones and Hawk, I’m looking at you.
Those are all measurable things that the Packers can do to improve their toughness. Toughness isn’t about yelling loud or beating on your chest. It’s not about wearing short sleeves in freezing temperatures or talking trash before the game.
Toughness is about stepping out of your comfort zone, going above and beyond your assignment, and getting the position group on your team that is supposed to tackle to actually, you know, tackle.
Of course, the Packers could do all of those things and still get run over by Peterson. He’s that good.
But if they get tougher on defense, something tells me there will be at least one more week of Packers football.——————