Butler's Breakdown: Packers vs. Rams


With the St. Louis Rams coming up this weekend on the road, followed by a bye week and then a big game at Minnesota, the Green Bay Packers need these upcoming games to pull within reach of the Vikings and every potential Wild Card team.

By saying that, I'm looking at the big picture. Sure, we're all still disappointed that the Packers let one get away against the Kansas City Chiefs last weekend, but it's time to move on from that. And there's no better way to move on than to get a big win on the road in a tough environment.

The last time the Packers played at the Edward Jones Dome, Brett Favre had a rough day, throwing six interceptions as we lost in the playoffs.

This week, as I watched the Florida Marlins come back to beat the Chicago Cubs, and the New York Yankees come from behind against the Boston Red Sox, I started thinking about sports curses.

Favre is 12-20 all-time in domes, and I started to think that maybe I believed in sports curses and that Favre is jinxed indoors.

But even the losses of the Cubs and the Red Sox aren't enough to make me believe something like that, and even though Favre has struggled in domes in the past, that doesn't mean anything this week.

I've played with Brett Favre, and I've looked in his eyes. I know what kind of player he is, and I know what kind of leader he is. And that's why I think he's going to be the player of the game.

Favre knows what this game means to the Packers, and he certainly is going to want some revenge against the Rams.

Defensively, this Rams team looks very similar to the one that gave the Packers trouble two seasons ago.

Like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Rams line up in the infamous Cover 2, which is supposed to be the best defense to neutralize the West Coast offense.

The Cover 2 sets up with four rushers, while the other seven drop back. The corners cover the flat area, about 0-8 yards away from the line of scrimmage. The safeties stay back about 18-20 yards deep, making sure nothing gets past them. The middle linebacker looks to see that nothing comes across the middle.

With the four linemen looking to get to the quarterback, the outside linebackers are free to attack, especially if the quarterback breaks out of the pocket.

In general, the Cover 2 is a security blanket against confusing formations or great offensive speed.

The way you beat the Cover 2 is by putting a wide receiver in the slot and sending him down the middle where he has to be covered by a linebacker. The other way you can beat it is by going empty in the backfield -- which means no running backs -- and have five guys outside ready to run vertical routes.

In that case, the safety has to choose the most dangerous receiver and someone should get a good match-up against a linebacker.

The problem, however, is that to break free downfield and make a big play can take a good four seconds. If the defense has a good four-man pass rush, the quarterback won't have time to complete those passes.

That's why the Buccaneers run the Cover 2 so well, because they get such outstanding pressure from their front four.

That said, defensively the Rams will try to jam the receivers and tight ends at the line of scrimmage. They'll do everything they can to slow down the routes, because the longer it takes for receivers to get downfield, the more time the linemen have to attack the quarterback.

Thus, the key for Favre and the passing game will be patience. Sometimes guys just aren't going to be open, and Favre has to have the discipline not to force passes into his receivers trying to make something happen.

It would really help if Ahman Green can continue to abuse defenses like he has in recent weeks. For the Packers to win, Green needs to get about 140 yards on the ground and about 60 yards in the air.

Getting 200 total yards is asking an awful lot, but those are the kinds of numbers you need to win on the road.

The problem is that Cover 2 can be as tough to run against as it is to pass against. Even though the scheme calls for only four regular rushers, there are eight guys ready to stop the run, including both corners and two linebackers.

Strong safety Adam Archuleta (ankle) is questionable for Sunday, but if he plays he'll also come up to help stop the run.

The Rams have good speed coming around the ends, including linebacker Tommy Polley.

One thing they like to do defensively is run what we call an overpopulation blitz, where they bring more people to one side than the Packers have set up in the blocking scheme.

They're going to try and confuse Favre with some zone blitzes in addition to the traditional Cover 2.

Now, you might be wondering if the Cover 2 is so effective, why don't more teams run it?

Part of it has to do with personnel. You have to have the right guys in the system for the scheme to be effective. You have to have corners who can tackle and help stop the run, you have to have D-linemen that can create pressure on their own and you also have to have guys who are unselfish.

Cover 2 is a team concept defense, and if the players don't believe in the system, it won't work. It works well for the Rams and the Buccaneers because the have the proper personnel and they buy into it. They know it's their bread and butter.

Obviously the Packers offense has a challenge ahead, but if you think the defense had it tough last weekend against the Chiefs, you ain't seen nothing yet.

The Rams offense has a balanced attack that's scary.

Filling in for the injured Marshall Faulk, Lamar Gordon isn't as good of an all-around back, but he does hit the hole faster and he runs with power.

At the wide receiver position St. Louis has what is arguably the best tandem in the NFL in Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce.

Holt has outstanding speed and balance. Bruce is the best play-action receiver in the game. He runs a lot of deep over-routes across the field in play-action situations, and also runs deep comebacks, where he goes 25 yards downfield before catching it for an 18-yard pickup.

At tight end, Brandon Manumaleuna is most effective in the red zone and in trying to confuse defenses. The Rams like to switch him from side to side, split him out like a wide receiver, play him in the slot and line him up in the backfield.

They do all that to try and confuse the linebackers. But Nick Barnett, who is the top tackler in the NFC right now, has enough raw speed to overcome the Rams' confusing formations.

The keys to stopping the Rams this week are linebacker Na'il Diggs, cornerback Bhawoh Jue and safety Darren Sharper. Those guys need to produce for the Packers to win.

Sharper especially is key. He's a leader on defense and he has to keep his team cool when the temperatures start to rise in that dome. Green Bay will face adversity, and has to persevere.

The loss of Joe Johnson hurts the Packers' ability to put pressure on the quarterback, but that's been a weakness for Green Bay all season. Expect the Packers to run what we call 'exotic' blitzes, where you constantly bring different players.

One time the Packers might rush one linebacker and a corner, the next time they might have a lineman drop back and blitz two linebackers.

Even though Packers fans want to see quarterback Marc Bulger running for his life on every play, for these blitzes to work, the Packers have to choose their spots carefully or they'll get burned. It doesn't make much sense to bring a lot of heat if the Rams are lined up in max-protection.

The Packers will have opportunities to get to Bulger. The Rams' offense is built for speed and Bulger is a better passer on the fast track of a dome than he is outdoors. He has a quick release and he throws to spots, not to players.

If the Packers can get the Rams off-balance and somehow keep his receivers from being able to hit those spots in tandem with Bulger's throws, they'll be in good shape.

On special teams, the Packers can't afford to miss any field goals now that they're in the controlled environment of the dome. But Ryan Longwell has been sure-footed all season and that shouldn't be a problem.

Josh Bidwell needs to have a good day and pin the Rams inside the 20-yard line as much as possible. The offense will need to help by moving the ball, because field position will be very important.

The Packers want the Rams to have to go the distance to score. If St. Louis is taking over at midfield every time, it could be a long day for the Packers.

This week's game creates an interesting coaching match-up. Rams head coach Mike Martz looks to create mismatches and exploit them. To do that, he'll throw caution to the wind at times.

When most teams look to pound the ball up the middle on third-and-1, Martz will look for a 50-yard pass for a touchdown.

Packers head coach Mike Sherman and defensive coordinator Ed Donatell have to be ready for anything. And knowing those guys, they already are.

Having talked to several of the Packers players this week, I know they're focused in on the task at hand.

It helps that many of the guys weren't with the Packers the last time they played in St. Louis. Those guys won't be distracted whatsoever.

The Edward Jones Dome is a tough environment to get a win. But if the Packers want to break the temporary curse that seems to be hanging over them at the moment, they just have to go in there and execute their game plan.

The Rams play well at home, but they've been known to lose their composure if you jump on top of them early.

The Packers need to let the game come to them, be patient and remember that right now they're playing better football than their 3-3 record shows.

*LeRoy Butler played 12 seasons for the Green Bay Packers, helping them to two Super Bowls and earning NFL All-Decade Honors for the 1990s, before retiring in July 2002. This season Butler is providing exclusive analysis to Packers.com. Monday, Packers fans will be able to submit questions to LeRoy for his Tuesday column.

Butler's autobiography, 'The LeRoy Butler Story ... From Wheelchair to the Lambeau Leap,' is available on his website, leroybutler36.com.*

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