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Success on defense must begin with Clay Matthews

Posted May 23, 2014

Packers fans prove they are winsome lions

Derek from Superior, WI

Are Vikings fans really coming on “Ask Vic” to gloat they are hosting a Super Bowl? Last I checked, the Packers have won four Super Bowls and the Vikings will have hosted two Super Bowls. I’m so jealous. Aren’t you?

It was like poking a stick into the lion’s cage. Packers fans are wonderfully predictable. Here’s the best part: Seventy percent of my inbox questions since yesterday’s column were directed at Bob, but not one of them used offensive language. Packers fans are winsome lions.

Rich from Grand Marsh, WI

In reference to Horicon, it’s a pretty nice course. The course runs through the Horicon Marsh, which I recommend checking out. Many different bird species to see on the course, from geese to pelicans to bald eagles. There are a lot of diehard Packers fans in the area and we would welcome the visit.

Road trip!

Sean from Chicago, IL

Vic, Wonderful Terrific Monds is indeed a great name, but the all-time No. 1 for me, and I believe you covered him for a year in Jacksonville, is Harry Colon. I mean, seriously, what were his parents thinking?

I made Harry my defensive player of the year for the Jaguars in their inaugural season, and I was criticized for my selection. “Give me someone better,” I would say, but they couldn’t. The 1995 Jaguars were formidable on offense, but bad on defense and Harry played as well as anyone. Plus, I would say, if I name Harry defensive player of the year, someone might remember it.

Matthew from Durham, NC

Vic, I’m confused on the point of measurables. I hear a lot of people talking about how fast and athletic someone like Lyerla is. Do these measurables actually make a difference in playing the game? I can’t imagine someone running a tenth of a second slower over half a football field is actually going to play a 60-minute game slower.

They make a big difference. A tenth of a second slower on defense is a touchdown for the other guys. Measurables first, intangibles second. You have to have both to be successful, but don’t even bother with the intangibles if the measurable aren’t there.

Derek from Eau Claire, WI

I look at defensive football differently today. Rush seven, drop four. Rush four, drop seven. It doesn’t matter, but you need to have the talent to cover on the back end. Sometimes your talent is up front, so you can use more bodies to cover the back end. I am changed. Thanks, Vic.

Play to your strength. Most of all, make sure you have one.

Lee from Markesan, WI

Vic, your complaints about the cold make you sound like a European soccer player. Us farmers all across Wisconsin had to face that same cold for longer than just a fill-up at the gas station.

I don’t know how you guys do it. I really mean that. Farmers are the most underappreciated people in American society. They shoulder all of the investment burden for a return of pennies on the dollar, even though they provide a product that is life sustaining and at the foundation of our existence. I couldn’t do what you guys do in the cold. I’d have to bring the cows into the house for the winter. I am much more suited to wear an asbestos suit on a hundred-degree day in the sintering plant. Heat doesn’t bother me. I can knock down 18 holes in July in Florida and never take a drink of water, but I invented new curse words this past winter walking from the car to the employee entrance at Lambeau Field. As I’ve written previously, I love walking through Lambeau Field to the Atrium for the pregame radio show, especially during the cold months, and seeing all of the fans dressed in their winter garb. It intrigues me. I imagine what it must be like to go out in that cold and just sit in it for three hours. Packers fans are amazing in that way.

James from Madison, WI

Why do the Packers try to use Lacy on the stretch play? He doesn’t seem to have that lateral speed that you want in a back in those types of plays, rather he seems more apt as a downhill runner with cuts in-between the tackles.

The stretch play isn’t about speed to the outside, it’s about the quickness, power and courage to find a gap and cut back into the face of the pursuit. When the Packers drafted Lacy, I wondered about his ability to succeed in a zone-blocking scheme. He played behind a road-grading scheme at Alabama. In training camp, I thought he struggled, but it didn’t take long for that to change. He became the perfect runner for a zone-blocking scheme. The touchdown run against the Steelers that you no doubt have seen time and time again is a classic example of cutting back behind your blocking. Ted Thompson and his scouting department did a great job of identifying a player that would be a perfect fit for their system.

Joseph from Raleigh, NC

Vic, you said linebackers are the stars of a 3-4 defense. When Capers was hired, he was asked which position was most important to his defense and he answered safety. If you were able to choose between having a great safety or great inside linebacker on your defense, which would you pick?

He said safety because that’s the position that handles the coverage calls. I’ll take a great player at any position, but if you’re going to run the 3-4, you must have a great pass rusher at one of the outside linebacker positions. He’s the player that defines the 3-4. A shutdown corner is good in any defense, but they tend to play a lot of squat technique in a 3-4, especially in Coach Capers’ 3-4. This defense must have a healthy Clay Matthews for 16 games. He’s the star.

Chai from Wiesbaden, Germany

Speaking of schemes, which coach do you feel has come up with the most long-lasting scheme?

Tom Landry’s 4-3 has certainly passed the test of time. He designed it to stop Jim Brown. Teams are still using it to stop the great backs of today.

Mike from Altona, Manitoba

I don’t want an 8-8 team to ever win the Super Bowl. It would start to look like a crap shoot.

I don’t believe you. I think if the Packers won the Super Bowl at 8-8 you’d be delighted and you’d then spend all of your effort justifying the legitimacy of the Packers’ victory.

Jason from Pine Island, MN

Vic, you answered that this is a passing league, then you compared the 2013 Seahawks to the 2011 Giants. It occurs to me that to have a great defense now you must disrupt at least one end of the passing game, either the passer or the receivers. Which do you think the Packers are closer to having after this draft, a secondary that can blanket the receivers or a front line that can get to the quarterback?

Rush or cover. If you can do one, you can do the other, too. The Packers have spent a lot of draft picks on defensive linemen in the past three years. They’ve also drafted an outside linebacker in the first round and signed Julius Peppers to a pretty pricey contract, as well as making Matthews the second-highest paid guy on the team. At the same time, they dropped a lot of cash on Sam Shields and then drafted a safety in the first round. Defense has been the squeaky wheel and it has gotten most of the grease. It’s time for all of that concentration on the defensive side of the ball to kick in, whether it’s up front, in the back or both.

Sam from Madison, WI

This may be a dumb question, but in a Bo Jackson-type scenario, what happens to the team that picked him the first time?

They have until the following year’s draft to either sign that player or trade his rights to another team. If they do neither, they surrender their rights to him.

Art from Williamston, SC

Vic, I don’t think everyone understands your explanation of everyone being eligible for the draft once in their life. I believe it is the year that you would have graduated from college. Am I correct?

If you didn’t play college football, which would affect your draft eligibility in different ways, you are naturally eligible for the NFL draft when four NFL seasons have elapsed since you graduated from or discontinued high school, or first attended college. You don’t have to apply to be eligible.

Ben from Indianapolis, IN

Vic, what is different about playing in the season and playing in the playoffs for the players? Example: Peyton Manning is, arguably, the best season QB of all time, but the playoffs seem to give Peyton trouble. Eli Manning never seems to be that great during the season, but when the playoffs begin, Eli becomes a monster QB.

I don’t like all of that nervousness at the line of scrimmage and in the pocket. I don’t like “Omaha” and all of the movements and calls in pre-snap, and then all of the feet pumping and twisting and wiggling while in the pocket. In my mind, those are all nervous ticks and the postseason preys on nerves. I want a quarterback who’s cool and calm. Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger are cool and calm, and so is Eli Manning. Why doesn’t he do all of that nervous stuff his brother does? They had the same teacher.

Evan from Costa Mesa, CA

Vince Lombardi had an interesting relationship with the press. He had what was known as the “five o’clock club,” an hour-long discussion with reporters conducted off the record. Can you tell us anything you know about this, or if you’ve ever had any similar meetings with coaches in your career?

Every head coach had a five o’clock club back then. It was during training camp. The second practice of the day usually ended at about five o’clock, and coaches and reporters would repair to an air-conditioned room in the dormitory where a keg of beer awaited them. At that point, notebooks stayed in our back pockets. It was a chance for coaches to direct reporters so that accurate information was advanced to readers. It was a chance for us to get information that helped us shape our stories. A linebacker coach might tell a reporter the undrafted kid is coming on and has a chance to push for a starting job. The head coach might let it be known that his quarterback is having the best camp of his life. The offensive line coach might divulge that he’s teaching some new techniques. I loved the five o’clock club. It was a great place to get information from scouts, too. Those days are sadly over.

Richard from Keokuk, IA

My favorite Lombardi quote is, “The only time success comes before work is in the dictionary.” Do you have a favorite Lombardi quote?

I like the “winning isn’t everything" quote, but he said he didn’t say it. What he said he said or meant to say is stiff and forgettable. I am fascinated by Lombardi. I read everything I can about the man. His ability to will men to greater heights is his real genius. I don’t view his quotes as all that exciting. I find them to be stiff and predictable. Nothing he ever said would’ve inspired me. It’s his personality that would’ve driven me. I would’ve both feared him and required his approval, which is the kind of twisted emotions my generation felt back then. Fear and approval went hand in hand. I think it was a father-son thing for my generation. We feared our fathers. Lombardi was able to sell himself as a father figure, and I think that’s what made Lombardi great. Wordsmith? No. Cliff Christl told me Lombardi rarely spoke to his players as a group.

Allen from Omro, WI

Vic, what is it? Do the Packers put a pass rusher at inside linebacker like Chad Brown?

It doesn’t matter where a player lines up. It’s what happens when the ball is snapped that counts. I saw Ziggy Ansah used out of an inside linebacker position last season. At the snap of the ball, he executed a blitz twist that looped him around the right tackle. It was very effective. Chad Brown used that same blitz strategy from the inside in Coach Capers’ “Blitzburgh” scheme. We’re too hung up on the inside linebacker thing. The Packers didn’t sit indoors all winter without creating a plan for what they’re going to do on defense next season. We have to wait to find out what they’re going to do. Be patient.



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