|Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press|
|The Packers navigated their way to the title by successfully mixing regulars with injury replacements.|
With the lockout in effect, NFL coaches have a lot more time this offseason to study tape and really research the trends in the game.
Super Bowl performances can alter trends in the game. Think back to the Denver Broncos blitzing Brett Favre in Super Bowl XXXII, the New England Patriots shutting down the St. Louis Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf" in Super Bowl XXXVI, the New York Giants' zone-blitz package against the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, and you will recall that those teams developed a blueprint for other teams to play against those great offenses.
The Packers' 2010 defense is being very closely examined by NFL coaches right now.
I have spoken to a number of coaches on both sides of the ball that told me that they really dug into the Packers' defense this offseason. The Green Bay defense fascinated many coaches, considering it got to the Super Bowl with eight defensive players on injured reserve (Nick Barnett, Brandon Chillar, Brady Poppinga, Justin Harrel, Morgan Burnett, Mike Neal, Brad Jones and Anthony Smith) and lost key defender Charles Woodson as well as Sam Shields during Super Bowl XLV. What system can weather that many injuries and still win a Super Bowl?
I got a chance to talk with a few of the Packers' defenders to try and understand what makes the defense so effective, no matter who lines up in it. To a man, the Packers' players credit defensive coordinator Dom Capers and his game-planning skills. Whether it's the 2-4-5 package (two defensive linemen, four linebackers and five defensive backs) that created confusion and left multiple offensive linemen with no one to block or the contain/decoy rush by Clay Matthews, which was designed to keep Ben Roethlisberger in what players referred to as "the well." That set up a blitzer while the offensive tackle was occupied with Matthews. Imagine you're in the most important game of the season and you take your best pass rusher and using him as a decoy, instead of constantly trying to set him up as the premiere rusher.
I asked one of the linebackers what happened to the game plan with Woodson went down with an injury just before halftime. He said, "We didn't change a thing, just asked the next guy to do the job."
How could that be possible? The answer was because in Green Bay every player gets reps in practice, not just the starters. That's how they overcame the injuries. That explains how linebackers such as Erik Walden and Frank Zombo plugged right in for the linebackers that were placed on IR.
So, what can other teams take from the Packers' game tapes and make work for them? Was it the defensive system, the installation of the system, or great personnel work that kept talent on the roster? Those are the key questions defensive coordinators around the league have to decipher.
I know the San Francisco 49ers' defense, now under the direction of former Capers disciple Vic Fangio, will be doing things that the Packers do. However, can the teams in 4-3 packages pull things from the Packers' base 3-4? According to coaches that I know well, the answer is yes.
As one head coach said to me when we discussed the Packers' defensive package, "We see the merit in the two down linemen front that occupies at least four offensive linemen and doesn't penetrate while other defenders pressure."
Another coordinator said, "We liked the amount of trail blitzing they do with their inside linebackers and plan to do more of that this year."
Trail blitzing is when one defender follows the first defender in on a blitz and works off the way the offense picks up the first blitzer.
One offensive coordinator said, "I looked at their stuff and it is interesting when so many players are standing around the making it tough to figure out who is coming and who is dropping, but when you see that look on second and six like the Steelers did from the Packers, we plan on running at it more than trying to throw."