Should the Packers Cut Back on all the Pre-Snap Screwing Around?

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McCarthy and Rodgers
Will Packers coach Mike McCarthy give Aaron Rodgers a little less freedom at the line of scrimage in 2013?

The Packers are fortunate to have a very smart head coach, a quarterback who is as well-prepared as any in the game, and a defensive coordinator known for his innovation and scheme adjustments.

When Mike McCarthy’s offensive brilliance, Aaron Rodgers’ ability to read a defense and Dom Capers’ knack for confusing offenses all comes together, it’s a beautiful thing.

But there were times last season when I wondered if perhaps they were too smart for their own good.

Exhibit No. 1 is the all-too-familiar scene of two Packers defensive backs staring at each other in bewilderment and pointing after giving up a big play. This scene typically comes after the defense scrambles around pre-snap like a bunch of worker ants.

“You were supposed to be there!”

“No, you were supposed to take that guy and I was supposed to be here!”

Ugh.

What happened to just lining up, covering your man or your area, and beating the guy who lines up across from you or enters your zone?

Rodgers sometimes drove me a little crazy last season as well with all of his pre-snap maneuvering. Rodgers is the best quarterback in the game. He’s got a group of elite wide receivers and a freakishly athletic tight end.

Run the play that was originally called and let your talent carry you to victory. You don’t always need to try and create a mismatch in order to gain an advantage. Sometimes the mismatch is just there because you’re better than the other team.

Is this post over-simplifying the issue? Of course. I have no idea what the Packers are doing pre-snap. Maybe they’re talking about the latest episode of The Walking Dead and all that pre-snap activity is just a cover-up. I don’t know the Packers playbook, I’m not in their meetings and I’m not on the field.

However, I’m not saying that the Packers should morph into a predictable team that other teams can easily scheme against. All I’m saying is that it might be time for McCarthy, Rodgers and Capers to trust the Packers talent a little more.

You don’t always have to try and scheme to get an unblocked pass rusher. Line up and beat the guy across from you.

You don’t always have to try and get a receiver matched up against a linebacker. Line up and beat the guy across from you.

You don’t always have to try and predict what the defense is doing and change the play at the line of scrimmage.  Line up, run the original play, and beat the guy lined up across from you.

I think we’ll see the Packers’ pre-snap stuff simplified a bit in the upcoming season. I’m not saying the offense will consist of three plays — run right, run left and pass — but I think you’ll see Rodgers reigned in a little bit pre-snap and not given as much freedom to change the original call or try to create the “perfect” matchups.

I also think you’ll see more simplification on defense, especially if the draft or free agency yields more pass-rushing talent on the defensive line.

Whatever it takes to never see two defensive backs in green and white jerseys pointing at each other in confusion, I’m all for it.

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Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam\\\'s writing on the Packers here.

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  • Razer

    “Line up and beat the guy across from you…”

    There in lays the rub. Against the good teams, our O-line couldn’t beat the guy in front of them. The second item that I think needs to be part of this critique is our lack of running threat. If teams are leaning their defense against your formation and you are executing your play against a stacked defense, you try to adjust. Many teams simply ignored our run, played the pass and still beat the play calling.

    MM needs to start coaching, designing and calling a running game that keeps teams honest. This offense will be a monster if he commits to a serious run attack.

    • LA Cheese

      Well, I think you contradicted yourself a bit there. It doesn’t matter how much MM commits to the running game if the O-line and RBs aren’t good enough to be successful.

      I actually think that a lot of the “gyrations” are about finding ways to cover up the deficiencies of the O-line. As you say, they can’t blow anyone off the line, so they have to trick them. The solution is better talent. Hopefully they can upgrade during this offseason.

      • Razer

        Perhaps my writing isn’t clear. All of the problems exist with our offense. We don’t beat the guy across from us and we don’t practice, design or call an effective run game. I am not sure what we address first but I think that some coaching might help overcome some of the predictability of this offense. Simply getting rid of the zone blocking scheme may improve the run game. Who knows?

  • http://packerstalk.com John Rehor

    How much of the pre snap gyrations are done for the show for the defense, without ever changing the play or formation? That’s a question I’d like to know. And it’s not just the Packers that do it-all teams do it these days in an effort to get just the slightest glimpse of what the defense is planning for the upcoming play.

    By the way, I’m still laughing at “a defensive coordinator (Capers) known for his innovation and scheme adjustments.”

    • Ed Schoenfeld

      It’s kind of tough to scheme and formation your way around Eric Walden, no matter how good a DC you are. Just sayin.’

      • Razer

        So true Ed. People are more inclined to say ‘out coached’ rather than ‘out played’. We are at least a safety, linebacker and D-lineman short of a championship defense. And that is not too bad.

    • Adam Czech

      I think if you ask most NFL folks about Capers, you’ll hear the word innovation used often to describe him.

      I agree that Dom’s time may have come and gone, but you can’t discount everything he did in his early days and winning a Super Bowl with Charlie Freaking Peprah at safety and God knows who at OLB opposite of Matthews. He even came up with a few looks that made Howard Green effective!

      The wacky formations and clever blitzing was fun to watch back then. And definitely innovative.

      • Lucas

        Any coach looks brilliant when the players play well. Capers did a remarkable job with the lack of talent. They spent more time getting to know each other instead of learning to be a unit (jelling).
        Innovation? Who cares if you innovate failure? Paper and pencil, scheming, will only work so much. Capers is fine.

      • Scott 1956

        Adam, McCarthy is only brilliant with the passing game. He doesn’t want to run the ball. It happens every year, he loses a game in which he runs 10 or 11 times, then he says that we have to run the ball more. He’s calling the plays!
        As for Capers, did you watch last year when we played good teams? Either the players aren’t very good, the coaching isn’t very good, or both. I believe we have enough good players to not get killed. But it seems to happen way to often, and it should NEVER happen in the playoffs! Which it has three of the last four years. And we didn’t play a great offense in 2010!

        • Lucas

          Just had a thought (it can happen)… Is his lack of brilliance in the running game why MM went to the ZBS?

          I disagree, Scott. Capers said from the very beginning he needs stud OLBs to make this work. He has one. Give him what he says he needs, then pass judgement.

          • Scott 1956

            Is that all Capers wants? Just 3 more stud LB’s? I’ve always been told that a good coach puts players in position to succeed! If you give any Defensive coach 4 stud LB’s in the 3/4, I’m pretty sure that they’d be great. He’s been here 4 years. They players here aren’t rookies, they should know what to do. But you see Walden, Jones, Hawk, Francois and a couple of others go into games and look completely lost. If the players aren’t any good, it’s on TT, if the players aren’t getting better, but people say they can play, it’s the coaching! It’s one or the other.

            • Lucas

              A 34 uses 2 OLBs.
              A good coach does put players in position to succeed. When the player doesn’t succeed when put into that position, does the coach deserve the blame? Apparently you have been in the film room with the team to evaluate when the player/play call relationship.

              • Lucas

                …to evaluate the player/play call relationship to assign blame.

  • Ed Schoenfeld

    How many times last season were the ‘pre-snap’ adjustments done merely to get an extra pass blocker into a spot to help Newhouse and Saturday survive a defensive formation that was stacked against them?

    Razer was on the right track — if the O-line can stone the guys across from them, then the ‘skill’ player adjustments tend to increase the opportunities for the offense. If your adjustments are being made to keep your QB from being dismembered, not so much.

    To play the way you suggest, they need better players at OL and RB.

  • http://allgbp.com Charlie B

    Who is this “freakishly athletic tight end” of whom you speak? I know they had one a couple of years ago, but he got hurt and has had only a freakishly athletic mouth since then.

    • Adam Czech

      Oh dammit. I hope I didn’t accidentally start another Finley debate. We need more Finley discussion about as much as we need new episodes of The Mob Doctor.

      • Savage57

        Or as much as the Vikings need a trophy room.

      • JimR_in_DC

        We could always talk about A.J. Hawk. :D

        • steve cheez

          Pad level, anybody?

      • Scott 1956

        That’s funny Adam! But you could always bring up Finley if there is a slow week.

        • Adam Czech

          Never a slow week in Packer Land.

  • Tarynfor12

    When we lost the ability to stretch the field because of low pocket protection time,we became even more predicable in the short game and easier to defend.

    If the trench guys don’t get it done,predicability rises when the 2.5 second clock is constantly breaking at 1.5-1.75 seconds…no matter the number of pre-snap reads and adjustments.Although,we do seem to premeditate the use of ‘drive’ ender plays,i;e..3rd and 1-2 and it’s a 35 yd pass.

    As for the defense,it seems their collapse a pocket alarm doesn’t ring until 5+ seconds…if at all.

    • Stroh

      We were a victim og our own success last year. We lost the ability to get deep cuz teams played the safeties deep no matter what. The only way go change or influence the safeties out of 2 deep is to run the ball effectively. Until that happens we’ll see a steady diet of the 2 deep safeties. A running game will open the pass now no longer pasz to run.

      As for pre-snap movement… Thats all designed so the QB.can determine the D and what kinda coverage and so the offense can dictate matchups.

  • Ron LC

    There are serious talent issues on both sides of the ball. Much of the pre-snap gyrations are trying to cover for the weak links. Time for TT to fix the talent gaps on both sides of the ball and prepare for a SB run this year.

    AR is in his prime don’t waste it like Sherman wasted Favre’s best years. SB should be the goal for every year AR is there. No build from the bottom when they have the MVP at QB.

  • Savage57

    In today’s NFL, defenses juke and feint to try to confuse the QB. Offenses run out of differing formations with motion to confuse defenses. The difference is that offense is by rule required to reach that set point and hold it for a count prior to the snap. I would suggest that the Packers could really benefit from that ame idea – a set point for n amount of time prior to the snap.

    We’ve all seen what Adam describes as the worker ants milling about on defense right up to the snap, and as a result someone usually ends up out of position and getting smoked on his assignment.

  • Elo

    I agree with the notion that lining up “man to man” doesn’t always favor the Pack – our O-line was often overmatched. That said, I do think there is something to the point you are making Adam. If the coaches strategy is always to “out-scheme” the opponent, as opposed to just kicking his ass, it would mean that if a guy lines up wrong or misses his assignment the Pack is in big trouble.

  • Scott 1956

    The only reason to have the ZBS, is to run the ball. We don’t do that, so get a couple of nasty O-Linemen, and get after the running game. Not just give it lip service like McCarthy does every year. When you do that, the play action will be open all day.

  • Lucas

    The pre-snap reads are MMs and ARs putting the offense in good plays.
    Having the mentality of “line up and beat the person across from you” makes it sound like the game is simply physical. Why wouldn’t a team use intelligence advantages. Why stay in max protect against a three man rush, run the ball straight into a weak side blitz, or throw into an 8 man drop?

    • Scott 1956

      There is a lot BS going, on each side of the ball. It use to be that all you had to do was have a man in motion, to determine what a defense will do. But now most defenses won’t show what they are doing. Sometimes you catch them trying to be overly clever, but they are getting more sophisticated every year. There are fake blitzes that are fake and some that are real. Lots of moving around with the DB’s and LB’s.

  • Epy

    Part of the issue was health along with talent. Newhouse on the left side, missing Bulaga on the right, and over-the-hill Saturday in the center really stunts the run game potential and rodgers strength outside the pocket.

    If the pack can get some strength up front and spend some time running the ball i think the sky is the limit for the pack.

    • Stroh

      I agree… The injuries to Sherrod and especially Bulaga hurt the OL. Saturday was useful to help mentor EDS, and make the line calls, but he was poor in both run and pass blocking which put more pressure on Sitton and Lang. I think McCarren is right in that you can manufacture Centers if they have some skills. Wells and McCarren himself are proof of that. I think EDS will be much better than Saturday was. Newhouse is not a good run blocker, but he actually got a positive grade by PFF. Bulaga and Sitton make a good right side, so if we can get a little better at LT, either by Newhouse improvement or Sherrod the OL can become very solid if not very good. Not that a high draft choice wouldn’t help tho.

      • Stroh

        Newhouse is not a good run blocker, but he actually got a positive grade by PFF for pass blocking.

  • cincypackfan

    GB was last or near last in converting 3rd and short last year. if that doesn’t scream for a better running game, what else does?