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Defenses never catch up to balance


David from Campbellsville, KY

Vic, I read this morning that the Colts are not planning on making any special arrangements for handling Clay Matthews on Sunday. Is it more important to protect your QB and limit his options, or hope for the best and send out the receivers?

That's not exactly what Bruce Arians said. He said: "One of the things Dom (Capers) does so well is move players around. He's one of the best coordinators to ever be in this business, so he's not going to let you sit there and pick on a guy and double-team him. Where's he going to be? If I knew where he's going to be I'd say, yeah, we're going to double-team him." Arians has no doubt taken note of the many ways Capers uses Matthews. The real challenge for Arians is to impart his wisdom to his players in a one-week period, so they might be able to detect where Matthews will be and how his rush is being disguised. Capers will be moving Matthews around for the purpose of singling him on a blocker. The Colts will be trying to find Matthews for the purpose of chipping him with a back or tight end.

Greg from Sacramento, CA

Vic, my wife and I are attending our first game at Lambeau on Nov. 4. How's the weather that time of year in Row 40?

You don't want to be wearing your short pants, if you know what I mean.

Aaron from Seattle, WA

We are some kind of lucky to have Mike McCarthy as our head coach. On top of being a proven championship-caliber leader, he has got to be one of the classiest people in sports. After the way he handled the mess of the Seattle game, we now learn of the call he placed to that referee a few days after. He seems to not only respect that he is a head coach, but immensely respects that he is the head coach of the Green Bay Packers. Having covered the man, is this your experience, as well?

Some coaches want the big money, the fame, the exclusive club memberships, the yacht and all of the trappings that go with being a head coach. Some coaches want total control – you know, buy the groceries – and lock themselves into a power struggle with the general manager. Some coaches just want to coach. Mike McCarthy is one of those coaches. He loves coaching and he loves the esteem that comes with being the head coach of the Green Bay Packers.

Dani from Williamsburg, IA

Vic, a lot of stuff has happened in these past few weeks. There was the blown call, the outrage at Goodell and the league, the end of the ref strike and the win against the now 0-4 Saints. What's your take on everything that's gone down?

The call in Seattle is one of those "where-were-you-when?" events. Where were you when Kennedy was assassinated? Where were you when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon? Where were you when Bart Starr scored in the Ice Bowl? Where were you when they blew the call in Seattle?

Nick from Toronto, Ontario

Do you think the focus on player safety has, perhaps, been excessive and ruined the game?

I think in some ways it has either been excessive or misdirected, and in other ways the attempt has hit the target. For example, I think moving the kickoff line up five yards is a stroke of genius. On the other hand, I'm not sure the "defenseless receiver" rule has fulfilled its intent. In the old days, the danger associated with going over the middle created a reluctance in coaches to throw the ball over the middle. The "defenseless receiver" rule has extinguished that reluctance and we're seeing more over-the-middle throws than ever before, with the idea that the rule is going to protect the receiver, but the rule isn't protecting the receiver because it's impossible for defensive backs to do what the rule is requiring. As a result, I think we're experiencing a rash of dangerous over-the-middle hits. Here's an example of what I'm saying: A few years ago, Colts receiver Austin Collie was the victim of a savage blow in the left deep seam. The game was stopped for several minutes and there was great fear for Collie's well-being. So what play did the Colts run on the next play, after the frightening hit on Collie? They threw a pass down the right deep seam.

Jay from Sheboygan, WI

Vic, I'm trying to figure out why the Rams with Warner, Holt and Bruce were able to have the greatest show on turf, if defenses catch on that fast after a year. What is the biggest difference between their team and ours? No, it was not Faulk because they still went deep regularly with success.

Yes, it was Faulk, because his skill as a runner and out-of-the-backfield receiver required defenses to respect the whole field, and that opened it for Holt, Bruce and Hakim. Want proof? Check the difference in the stats of the first half and second half of Super Bowl XXXVI. Mike Martz made one of the big goofs in Super Bowl coaching history when he wrote Marshall Faulk out of the second-half script in that game.

Brett from Glen Rock, NJ

What should we think about the move to already announce Greg Jennings out for Sunday? I think whatever precautions need to be taken to get rid of this lingering injury need to be taken.

Rest is the cure, and that's the message in yesterday's announcement that Jennings will not play in Indianapolis on Sunday. Mike McCarthy has made it clear, at least on three occasions, that the Packers need to shut Jennings down until he's fully recovered. These recurrences of injury aren't good for Jennings, and they're not good for a coach to have to build a security blanket into his 46-man decisions.

Will from Oswego, IL

Vic, J.J. Watt is leading the league in sacks as a 3-4 defensive end. How does this happen?

It's rare that a defensive end is the premier rusher in a 3-4 scheme, but it's happened before. Bruce Smith was a 3-4 end. The bottom line is coordinators do what they need to do to use the talent that's available to them. Defensive ends in a 3-4 are usually two-gappers, which is to say guys that absorb and occupy blocks, but that doesn't mean they have to be used that way. If an end has extreme pass-rush ability, but you don't think he fits as a linebacker, you can get him into space in a multitude of ways. Have him play rush while another player, a linebacker, is assuming his run responsibility. Involve the end in twists and stunts, which are good for getting a rusher into space. Schemes must be adjusted to fit the players in them.

Greg from Austinville, IA

Do you think James Jones and Randall Cobb are going to become Aaron Rodgers' two main receivers?

Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley lead the Packers in receptions, but Cobb and Jones are close behind. Didn't everyone want to trade Jones?

Aaron from Washington, DC

We talk about run the ball, stop the run and how for decades it's been the staple of every NFL team; however, the new formula seems to be pass the ball, stop the pass. I am only in high school, so I have only really been paying attention to the NFL for about half a decade. Do you think there are any teams that have actually done both well?

The Lions are first in passing and ninth in pass defense. I'm not sure what that means at this stage of the season. The Giants are two and 19, the Saints are three and 24, the Ravens are four and 29 and the Cowboys are five and one. I don't get a consistent theme of success or failure when you study pass the ball/stop the pass rankings. Maybe it's too early in the season to look for trends. Let's revisit this question later in the season.

Tom from Livingston, MT

Vic, why don't the Packers use many bunch sets? What are the positives and negatives of using those kinds of formations?

I don't know that they do or don't use a lot of bunch formations, but I'll remind you that Coach McCarthy's offensive philosophy is rooted in the West Coast offense, and that's a spread-the-field attack. Bunch formations are traditionally used by teams that like to run the ball. If memory serves me correct, the 49ers used a lot of bunch sets in the opener. It concentrates a lot of manpower to one side of the field, which fits a team that wants to run the ball and use its receivers as blockers. Bunch formations also concentrate a lot of the defense's manpower to one side of the field, which opens the other side of the field to naked boots, reverses and such. It's just another scheme for which defenses have to prepare. There's no magic wand.

Kent from Appleton, WI

How are kicking balls different and what is the history and theory behind them?

I think they're juiced.

Mark from Winfield, IL

Vic, I think there's a life lesson somewhere in this discussion about learning concepts. Could you help me out here?

Having a baby is a play. Raising a family is a concept.

Kevin from Logan, WV

Vic, when you refer to "players, not plays," do you mean we don't have the right players to run a 3-4?

No, I mean X's and O's don't move, only players do, and bigger, faster X's will beat smaller, slower O's, etc. What I mostly mean is that "players, not plays" is a philosophy that demands accountability by the men who play the game, and accountability is something every coach must demand from his players, and that's why every coach I've ever known embraces the "players, not plays" philosophy. Good players embrace it, too. Good players don't blame the scheme for their failures; they blame themselves. Good coaches don't credit the scheme for their successes; they give the credit to their players.

Jeff from Saint Paul, MN

It seems defenses in this league have caught up with the Packers offense. If I'm not mistaken, you predicted that would happen eventually. I'm thinking that this is a good thing in the long run. As you said the other day, relying on the big play offensively and the turnover on defense is a risky formula come playoff time. I actually like the look of this team compared to last year.

If the current trend of balance between run and pass and the execution of sustained drives continues, defenses will never catch up to that one because you can't tilt the field to defend balance. At that point, it's about winning the one-on-ones and who has the best players.

Rick from Fountain Valley, CA

Hey, Vic, love your daily columns, but I also love your attending Packers fan rallies at road games. I just saw your plug for the Indy game fan rally. Please keep publishing this kind of info so those of us who will attend a road game can know where to find you and the rally.

In addition to this Saturday's pep rally in Indianapolis, "Packers Everywhere" will also conduct a pep rally in Houston on Saturday, Oct. 13. Here's the info on this Saturday's rally.

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