In a copycat league, coaches are not afraid to steal elements from successful game plans designed by their counterparts. And with the way Kansas City throttled Green Bay's offense in Sunday's 19-14 upset, defensive coordinators around the league are certain to take a few ideas from Romeo Crennel's plan. Here are a few elements that I believe will make their way into future game plans:
1. Dare the Packers to run. Most defensive coordinators build their game plans around stopping the opponent's run, but Green Bay's explosive aerial attack makes slowing down Aaron Rodgers the obvious focal point instead. This means heavy utilization of seven-man boxes (with two deep safeties) or nickel personnel to limit Rodgers' opportunities to attack downfield on early downs.
Kansas City had success with these tactics due to the Packers' refusal to stick with the run despite gaining 5.7 yards per rushing attempt. With Mike McCarthy calling only 18 runs all game, the Chiefs were content to sit back in pass-first defenses without their safeties near the line of scrimmage. This discouraged Rodgers from taking deep shots, which forced the Packers to resort to playing small ball against an aggressive defense that eventually blanketed short and intermediate routes.
2. Treat Jermichael Finley like a WR. Trying to identify the right strategy for neutralizing the Packers' most versatile weapons ranks as one of the biggest challenges in building a game plan, but the Chiefs appeared to get it right by using a defensive back on Finley for most of the game. Travis Daniels, the Chiefs' nickel back, excelled in that role while holding Finley to only three receptions. The key to success was Daniels' aggressiveness at the line of scrimmage, which disrupted the timing between Rodgers and his top target. Although the Chiefs would occasionally use a bracket or double team with a safety, Daniels' ability to stay with Finley was a major reason the Packers' offense sputtered for most of the game.
3. Challenge the Packers' WRs at the line. Green Bay has routinely torched opponents who have allowed their receivers to have free access into their routes. The Chiefs, however, jammed receivers at the line and made them work through aggressive tactics to gain separation at the top of the routes. Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr, in particular, were tenacious challenging Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Donald Driver early in routes, and their aggressiveness certainly disrupted the Packers' quick-rhythm passing game. As a result, the trio only tallied six receptions for 55 yards.
4. Attack the Packers' protection scheme off the edges. Rodgers' spectacular play has masked some of the Packers' offensive line woes, but the Chiefs were able to expose their vulnerabilities on the edges. Tamba Hali and Justin Houston had success running past Bryan Bulaga, Derek Sherrod and Marshall Newhouse on speed rushes, and the constant harassment prevented Rodgers from getting comfortable in the pocket. Hali, in particular, abused Newhouse repeatedly on the way to three sacks and numerous pressures. With their young left tackle suddenly struggling to hold up in isolated matchups, the Packers should expect defensive coordinators to relentlessly attack Rodgers with an assortment of edge pressures from the defensive right.
5. Use three- and four-man rushes. The Chiefs primarily pressured Rodgers with three and four men. Operating out of an exotic package that features one defensive lineman, four linebackers and six defensive backs, K.C. routinely feinted blitzes prior to the snap before sending three or four rushers on an assortment of stunts and twists. The Chiefs made the tactic more effective by instructing Derrick Johnson to blitz-peel on the running back (Johnson would rush the quarterback if the back stayed in to block or lock onto the back if he released into the route). This forced the Packers' offensive line to count him as a potential rusher, which left Hali or Houston in isolated matchups on the edges. The Chiefs also incorporated spy tactics to keep Rodgers from fleeing the pocket on QB draws and scrambles.
Here are four teams with the personnel to follow the Chiefs' blueprint:
1. San Francisco 49ers: The NFL's No. 1 scoring defense has all the key components to implement the tactics used by the Chiefs in their win. They have a pair of pass rushers -- Justin Smith and Aldon Smith -- capable of winning their individual matchups without the assistance of blitzing. In fact, their chemistry and effectiveness on the T-E twist (defensive tackle and defensive end twist) is unrivaled in the NFL. With Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown emerging as a formidable lockdown tandem, the 49ers' defense has all the ingredients to keep the score down in a battle of NFC contenders.
2. New Orleans Saints: Ignore the Saints' defensive ranking, because gutsy coordinator Gregg Williams is the reason for their inclusion on this list. He is unafraid to throw the kitchen sink at the opposing quarterback, and his talented lineup gives him the flexibility to attack the Packers with pressure or coverage. Roman Harper is the X-factor as the designated rusher from his strong safety spot, but Will Smith is also capable of providing pressure off the edges. Although Patrick Robinson, Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter have had their issues in coverage, they certainly have the athleticism to shadow the Packers' receivers in space.
3. Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens are the ideal nemesis for the Packers with their rugged front seven and rangy secondary. Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata are problematic for opponents with their power and explosiveness, and the Packers' ailing offensive line could have problems handling the duo. Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb have the length and athleticism to challenge Greg Jennings and Co. on the outside, with Ed Reed floating in the back end to snag errant throws over the middle. If Ray Lewis is able to provide a spark as the defensive centerpiece, the Ravens could pose a serious challenge for the Packers.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers: Don't let Rodgers' remarkable performance in Super Bowl XLV cloud your opinion on the Steelers' defense: It is a deeper and more talented unit in 2011. The infusion of young talent along the front seven -- Cam Heyward, Ziggy Hood and Jason Worilds -- has bolstered one of the league's most feared defenses. Troy Polamalu provides a possible solution to Finley, while Ike Taylor has blossomed into the kind of No. 1 corner capable of handling a prime assignment against Jennings.