Once burned, twice learned?
Packers have done their homework on the read option
Friday, July 19, 2013 7:00 PM
GREEN BAY - The week leading up to Green Bay's playoff loss at San Francisco - the one some players said featured next to no work against the read option - did feature some odd comments.
The game prior, in the Wild Card round, the Packers faced Joe Webb.
Webb, many assured, prepared them for Colin Kaepernick.
"When you look at similarities in quarterbacks, you have Christian Ponder, you have Webb, you have Kaepernick, they all do similar things with their feet," defensive end Mike Neal said. "It won't be anything different. We had a plan for Ponder if he played. Then Webb played and he was bigger, more physical and a little bit faster, too. We just have to do what we did last week."
Added now-former linebacker Erik Walden: "He's a great athlete. There's no doubt about that. But we've played a lot of quarterbacks like that this season. I feel like games prior to this one have prepared us for this game."
The reality is Green Bay's players and coaches weren't ready for the one-man tornado waiting in San Francisco. The read-option offense, particularly, caught them off guard. So this year, the Packers spent hours upon hours with college coaches breaking the offense down. The trip to Texas A&M and various conversations with other college coaches could help the Packers. In all, 99 of the 181 rushing yards came out of the option. Thus, defensive coordinator Dom Capers has also been quick to note that Kaepernick did a lot of his damage on scrambles, too. Plays broke down and he took off.
Fair enough. In general, the Packers must do a better job against mobile quarterbacks.
An athletic, smart defense up front will be a necessity. The Packers face Kaepernick and Washington's Robert Griffin III right out of the gate. There's a pair of games against the mobile Ponder, one against Philadelphia's Michael Vick and potentially more athletic match-ups in the postseason, too. Seattle's Russell Wilson could be a threat for years.
A freakish athlete at quarterback sent the Packers packing last year. Are they ready this year?
Here's what's happened since the San Francisco meltdown.
Capers and his staff stays. Three of the last four seasons both ended in misery for the Green Bay defense. Against Arizona, New York and San Francisco, the Packers surrendered a combined 133 points and 1,530 yards, while forcing just three turnovers. Mike McCarthy is counting on Capers' staff - full of former players - to develop some green talent this summer. This still is a proven group that won a Super Bowl in-between those playoff defeats. As the defense as a whole transitions to a younger group, the assistant coaches will play important roles.
Youth served at safety. Green Bay tried to extend Charles Woodson's career at safety. It didn't work. Woodson wasn't immune to embarrassment at San Francisco either, burnt on a 45-yard pass to Frank Gore. Under Ted Thompson, the Packers trend to youth. Though far, far less experienced M.D. Jennings and/or Jerron McMillian are more athletic counters to the Kaepernicks and RGIIIs of the NFC. They'll just to develop - quickly.
Brad Jones/AJ Hawk stay at ILB. For months, it was assumed by many outsiders that Desmond Bishop was exactly what the Packers needed against the mashing 49ers and Atlanta Falcons of the world. The Packers, apparently, disagree. Jones and Hawk remain the starters.
Datone Jones/Nick Perry arrive. Bishop isn't walking through that door. But the Packers do welcome two new faces. Jones and Perry were both drafted in the first round to get after the quarterback. If either flops, the defense will suffer. If both are as advertised - strong, athletic playmakers - Green Bay's defense improves again without needing to reach on any veterans in free agency. This duo is the key to the defense.
Mike Neal factor. One point Wisconsin's new defensive coordinator, Dave Aranda, made in explaining how to defend the option is the defense must create "change-ups." Much like a secondary disguising coverages to confuse the quarterback, a defensive line can't tip off their techniques. Mike Neal could be one such a change-up, a DE/OLB hybrid. How prominent his role will be remains unclear.
Is that all enough? You be the judge.