Posted Sat Oct 1st by Monty
BT exchanged interviews with Green Bay Packers blogger Andy Tisdel this week to discuss their upcoming game against the Denver Broncos. Check out Andy’s work at Oak Creek Patch.
BT: The Packers lost in back-to-back weeks to the Lions and Patriots last year to fall to 8-6 and on the precipice of the playoffs. They haven’t lost since. What do you attribute to the turnaround?
AT: Well, last year Aaron Rodgers was the difference-maker. He went out with a concussion in that loss to the Lions, didn’t play against the Patriots and then carved up the Giants upon his return. The team stifled the Bears in the season finale and never looked back. The talent in the passing game had been there all along, but I thought the offensive line really put it together over the final few weeks. They opened holes for James Starks in the running game and kept Rodgers upright, and that’s carried over into the early part of this season. Having one of the game’s best offensive minds (in my opinion) as your head coach helps, too.
An early undefeated record can mask a team’s faults. What do you see as the Packers’ greatest weakness?
Well, it’d be easy to point to the pass defense, and that’s certainly a huge problem right now. All-Pro safety Nick Collins is out for the year, and both the pass and regular defense are ranked 29th in the league. Obviously that’s unsettling, especially since we’ve been so good in the last two years. My biggest problem, however, is the pass rush. We have basically one legitimate pass-rusher on the roster and that’s Clay Matthews. You look at the NFL.com stats and they say we’re fourth in the league, we have ten sacks, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. One of those came from Matthews forcing Cam Newton out of bounds. One was a busted play that the Saints screwed up near the goal line that ended up as a 13-yard loss on 3rd and 1. One came when the Bears completely screwed up their blocking scheme and let Jarius Wynn through to Jay Cutler. The point is, we’re not getting nearly as consistent pressure on the QB as we probably should be, and that contributes to our giving up so many yards and points.
Because Matthews is the only legit rusher, he gets double-teamed on about half of all plays, which obviously doesn’t help us. When the Packers let Cullen Jenkins go in free agency, they let go their best rusher on the line (he has four sacks in three games in Philadelphia). B.J. Raji is amazing for a nose tackle, but you can’t count on consistent pass-rush from a NT. Mike Neal, who was supposed to replace Jenkins at DE, is out indefinitely with a knee injury. Stopping Matthews is difficult, but if you can manage it, you stop most of the Packers’ pass-rush. There’s always good, creative blitzing with Dom Capers, though.
What is it about Jermichael Finley that makes him so good? How do you stop him?
Two big categories. The first is physical gifts. He’s huge (6’5″), he runs like a 4.5 40-yard dash, he’s a very good route-runner and he has excellent hands. He catches everything. Secondly, unlike some guys who have a ton of talent, he’s an extremely hard worker. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel just ran a story about him. He had a knee injury last year and had to go through this extremely grueling rehab, and he worked so hard at it that he was running and cutting two months before he was projected to. He has this incredible work ethic, which is part of what makes him dangerous.
Well, the Chicago Bears have no idea! He caught three touchdowns last week and beat both their safeties (on different plays) and Brian Urlacher to do it. Double coverage is one way. He’s too big to jam at the line, so most teams play zone against him, but he’s very good at finding the soft spots in the zone. You’d have to commit a cornerback to him or shade a safety over the top. If you try to cover him with a linebacker, you’re just asking for trouble, because very few linebackers can run with Finley.
I could ask you the same question about Aaron Rodgers. Instead, tell me about the differences you see in Rodgers in 2010 and 2011 compared to his first few years as a starter.
The thing that comes to mind immediately is how comfortable he is in the pocket. Rodgers was sacked something like 80 times in his first two seasons, and a lot of those were a direct result of Rodgers being uncomfortable in the pocket. He’d hold the ball forever and a day. Like, he’d hold the ball for 4.5 to 5 seconds and then the pass-rushers would break through, and then it was just a matter of time before they got to him. You look at him now, and he’s so much more comfortable. His awareness is so much better. He knows exactly where to scramble, when to get rid of the ball and so forth. It doesn’t hurt that the offensive line has improved since Rodgers took over, either. He’s also become much more comfortable at going through his progressions and finding the open man. His touch on the deep ball has improved, although he was good at that from Day 1. Over time, he’s learned to throw the deep comeback routes exceptionally well. I’ll say this about Rodgers: he has one of those personalities where he’s just never content. He’s constantly working to improve every aspect of his game. That in itself makes him a very dangerous opponent.
Green Bay’s defense is loaded with talent. Who would you singularly peg as your defensive MVP?
Man oh man, that’s a tough one. You could point to at least four players and say ‘This guy is absolutely vital to our defense, and what’s more, he’s playing at a Pro Bowl level’. After review, though, I would have to say Charles Woodson, because he’s what makes the whole defensive scheme work the way it does.
Woodson is 34 and he’s lost some speed. He’s one of those older players that gets by based on his smarts. Dom Capers essentially runs a 2-4-5 defense, where Woodson plays at the line of scrimmage or over the slot receiver as a nickel corner. From that position he can blitz, he can play the run, he can cover the slot man. It’s clearly where he fits best at this stage of his career. That position, as sort of a hybrid cornerback-safety, allows the Packers to be much more creative and versatile with their blitzing.
And even besides that, Woodson can still just line up and play corner. He was lined up outside against the Panthers when Tramon Williams was out. Yes, Smith had 150+ yards, but Woodson picked off two passes intended for him and recovered a Smith fumble. He creates turnovers, he’s one of the best players in the league at forcing fumbles, and he just plain knows how to play. If pressed, I’d go with Woodson.
Can too much confidence be a bad thing? Is this a trap game for the Packers?
Honestly, I doubt it. Mike McCarthy is pretty good at keeping the team focused on this week’s opponent. I don’t think the team is looking ahead to Atlanta, although some of the fans might be. McCarthy’s mindset so far has been “Hey, we won, that’s great, but we’ve got a lot to work on” and they really do. Ging by the newspaper quotes, the players are thinking in a similar way. They’re not going to go into any game thinking “Hey, we’re going to blow these guys off the field” and then get upended. I’d be very surprised if they were thinking that way.
What will you be watching for, in terms of individual matchups, on Sunday?
Absolutely Marshall Newhouse vs. Von Miller/Elvis Dumervil. Our regular right tackle, Brian Bulaga, went down last week with a knee sprain; he should be out a few weeks. Newhouse is the next man up. He looked good against the Bears, but he struggled in camp when asked to play RT, and it makes me nervous that the Denver staff has a whole week to think of ways to attack him. Also, Finley versus old pro Brian Dawkins should be fun to watch, and if Champ Bailey plays, he and Greg Jennings will be a good matchup.
What’s your predicted final score?
I’m going to say 34-20 Packers. I think the Packers will have trouble with Brandon Lloyd, and Kyle Orton was always a pesky opponent for the Packers to contend with. I think we’ll get good pressure on Orton, though, and the Green Bay offense will do what it generally does at home.