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Question of the week: How do you beat 'cover two'?

Posted Nov 28, 2012

OK, no joking; Tom Coughlin wasn't trying to run up the score

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers versus the New York Giants

Adrian from Jakarta, Indonesia

Do you think the result would’ve been different if the injured key players from the Packers had played against the Giants?

No, I don’t. I think that’s an excuse and it flies in the face of the accountability Mike McCarthy is demanding from his team this week.

David from Wheaton, IL

With all this talk about Jason Babin, it got me wondering how easy it is for a veteran pass-rushing defensive end to learn how to play outside linebacker in the 3-4? I know we tried that with Aaron Kampman a couple of years ago. Are there any good examples of a veteran player successfully making that transition?

It can be done, as long as the player is as good with his feet as he is with his hands. Kampman was naturally suited to play defensive end because the strength of his game was his skilled usage of his hands. He was a player of expert technique and upper-body strength. He was a player best-suited for tight quarters because that allowed him to get his hands on the blocker before the blocker could get his hands on Kampman. When he was moved to linebacker, he had to play in space, and that means being able to use your feet to beat your man, and that wasn’t Kampman’s strength. Osi Umenyiora has the ability to do both. I think Jason Pierre-Paul has that dual ability, too. But just because a guy is a small defensive end doesn’t mean he can make the move to linebacker. It’s all about his quickness and ability to maneuver in space.

Dave from Germantown, TN

One of my concerns is that Rodgers seems to hold the ball a long time. It seems to me at some point Aaron needs to throw the ball up and let our receivers go out and make a play.

When you’re playing against a secondary that has clogged the passing lanes with seven defenders, the open spaces are smaller and fewer, and you need more time to allow your receivers to come open. There’s no way around this problem other than to block the rush. It has to be done.

Kris from Green Bay, WI

Do you really think anyone watching that game on Sunday believed the Packers had a chance with eight minutes left to score 31 points?

It was a joke, Kris. It was an attempt at humor, to lighten the mood of a dark and angry inbox.

Al from Arvada, CO

If you were Mike McCarthy, what would be the best next step you would take to improve offensive line play to give Aaron Rodgers time to pass?

He made reference during his press conference yesterday to giving help to those that need help. If that’s the direction he’s going to go, then the onus will fall more decidedly on the receivers because the Packers will have fewer receivers in the route tree. That’s the result of max-protect schemes, but if that’s what has to be done to protect Rodgers, then that’s what has to be done. The rush must be blocked. It’s possible the Packers will go to more of a true “West Coast” type of attack, which takes shorter drops and gets rid of the ball more quickly with timing-type passes, but that’s at the cost of explosiveness and it means having to drive the ball for 10 and 12 plays, which means having to make a lot of plays without committing a penalty or a turnover. It can be done, and if that’s what it’s going to take to protect Rodgers, then it’ll have to be done, because the quarterback must be protected.

Mitchell from St. Johns, MI

Mason Crosby was an excellent kicker last year. How can one’s performance change so dramatically in one season? Can we trust this guy in the playoffs?

One missed kick will do it. Gary Anderson once talked to me about the pressure a missed kick creates. He said all of a sudden you’re seeing faces on the uprights, and the faces are laughing at you. It’s not about the kick, it’s about the pressure. The same two-foot putt a pro golfer grinds over to win the U.S. Open is a putt he knocks in one-handed on the practice green. Pressure changes everything. Crosby will make a kick soon that will break the grip of his slump, and then everything will be fine again.

Dave from Los Angeles, CA

Vic, I lost a morsel of respect for Tom Coughlin when the Giants attempted to pass for another score late in the game. I had respected his old-school style and the comparisons to Mike McCarthy's coaching style, but I have observed countless times when the Packers took knees when victory was imminent and the leads were smaller.

Taking a knee with five minutes to play in the game would’ve been embarrassing for the Packers. That would’ve been worse than honoring your opponent with effort. I can remember a game in Detroit from late in the Jaguars’ inaugural season in 1995. The game was so lopsided the Lions quarterback took a knee late in the third quarter. It was a crushing embarrassment for an expansion team Coughlin was trying to get through the season and be able to say it was competitive in all of its games. He was mortified. Taking a knee is something coaches limit to victory formation, which means the other team is helpless to do anything more than watch the clock tick off its remaining time. I think we’re spending too much angst on this. The Giants began that drive at their 14-yard line with 14:16 left in the game. Coach Coughlin’s challenge to his offense was that it execute a long, sustained, game-clinching drive, which the Giants did. I would’ve kicked the field goal, but it doesn’t bother me that he didn’t.

Billy from Bloomington, IN

It seems the Packers have trouble overcoming the dreaded “cover two.” Assuming they cannot establish a running game, how then do they beat that scheme with just passing?

This appears to be the hot question this week: How do you beat “cover two”? First of all, “cover two” is a pass coverage, not a rush scheme. It’s what the defensive backs play, not the defensive linemen. The Packers’ problems weren’t with the defensive backs, it was with the linemen, just as it was the previous week in Detroit, where the Lions also played a lot of “cover two.” Why did the Giants and the Lions play “cover two”? Because they could. Only a fool wouldn’t load the passing lanes with defenders it didn’t need at the line of scrimmage to get a rush on the quarterback. Why use five or six rushers when you only need four to do the job? When the Packers give Aaron Rodgers time to throw and create a comfortable pocket in which he might operate, the completions will rain down on those defenses and they’ll be forced to commit more men to the rush, and that’ll necessitate the need for more aggressive defensive schemes. This is nothing new. It began in Kansas City last year and it has been a recurring theme, but the problem isn’t in the back, it’s up front. Again, it is the source of my greatest frustration that all of this scheme talk is only causing fans to be distracted from the obvious.

Chris from Milwaukee, WI

I often hear the Packers referred to as a finesse team, unable to compete when they have to play perceived physical teams such as the Giants. Is there any truth to this in your opinion and could it derail the team come playoff time? Isn't this in essence the same makeup of the team that won the Super Bowl two years ago?

It’s essentially the same offense and the same scheme. What’s changed is that the opponents have gone to work on stopping it and they have found the remedy. Does every team have the ingredients to employ that remedy? No. The Giants and 49ers are two teams that do have those ingredients, however, and that’s a problem. The Packers are not what I would label a pound-the-ball, knock-your-jock-off type of team. They are what I would call an execution team, which is a way of saying they’re more about executing the play than physically dominating their opponent. If that’s a finesse team, then so be it, but no team can execute its plays without being physical. Mike McCarthy talked about it in his postgame press conference. He talked about his team needing to be more physical. I agree.

Ray from Blaine, MN

Isn't it time for the NFL to consider expanding rosters to allow for some additional depth for teams so they aren't decimated by a rash of injuries?

They have eight practice-squad players in that locker room. They’re being trained in the Packers way and according to the Packers playbook. They can be signed to the active roster in a moment’s notice, which effectively gives every team in the league a roster of 61 players. How many guys do you need to play a football game? When was the last time you saw a team have to play an emergency quarterback or a defensive lineman at offensive tackle because it ran out of offensive linemen? Why do fans think more players are the answer? More players aren’t the answer, better players are the answer. Better players are always the answer. It’s what every team is trying to do at all times: find better players. NFL games aren’t tryouts. Tryouts are on Tuesdays.

Rodrigo from Mexico City, Mexico

Is a healthy Cedric Benson coming back in time to help Rodgers?

According to McCarthy’s remarks on Tuesday, that will not occur this week.

Dan from Pittsburgh, PA

Vic, does victory against the Vikings start with stopping the run or gaining such a lead that the Vikings must abandon the run?

You get it. It’s probably one or the other. Adrian Peterson is scary.

Graham from Lake Cowichan, BC

How about the screen pass against the four-man rush?

Against seven defenders? The screen is something you use as a gotcha play against a loaded front. The Giants’ front wasn’t loaded. The reason we’re all struggling with this is because we’re trying to find ways to beat the Giants with scheme. You don’t beat them with scheme, you beat them by blocking them.

John from Saint Augustine, FL

What do you think of the way the game is changing? Is it really safer for the players or will all of the changes to the culture just turn it into a different game, while all the injuries continue?

That’s a good question. I wish I had a good answer. I will say this: In lobbying to get rid of two-a-days and padded practices, the players didn’t make the game safer, they made it easier.

Daniel from Greenwood, IN

If a defensive player intercepts the ball, then fumbles and loses the ball back to the offense, does that count as one turnover, two turnovers or no turnovers?

It counts as a turnover against each team, and it counts as a lost opportunity to win the Super Bowl. Ask Marlon McCree.

Nick from Peterborough, Ontario

Vic, what do you think about having three division games to open the season and three division games to close, rather than five in the last seven weeks?

Even though I wrote the defending point of view in yesterday’s point-counterpoint about loading the late-season schedule with division games, the one thing I don’t like about that kind of scheduling is that it more harshly penalizes a team for getting a key injury at the wrong time of the season, especially if it’s the quarterback who’s injured. I don’t like, however, division games in September. I don’t think any division games should be played before October because they’re too important to be played when teams aren’t at their best, and I don’t think anybody is playing their best football in September. I’d like to see division games spaced out over the final three months of the season.

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