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How do you practice against the read option?

Adrian Peterson caused Packers to play more base defense


Charlie from Morgan Hill, CA

Vic, you talk about courage for quarterbacks and how their vision remains focused downfield while surrounded by chaos. When I watch Eli Manning, he does a lot of throwing and immediately ducking, turning away, etc. Does this affect your view of his courage or is this a smart way to play?

It's the one thing about him I've always disliked. It's a bad habit and it can happen to a guy whose arm is so strong that he can throw off his back foot and still get the ball there. In one of the practices last week, Aaron Rodgers completed a pass to a receiver in the front-left corner of the end zone. It was a nearly identical play to the Roethlisberger-Wallace touchdown on the final play of the game in 2009. Rodgers threw off his back foot – he was being flushed – from about 25 yards away and the ball got there on time and on a line. That's pure talent. That's the kind of arm strength that allows a quarterback to do things when he can't play by the numbers. It's a classic example of playing above the X's and O's. Manning can make that throw, too, but it's not the type of throw you want him to make. Like all quarterbacks, Manning is at his best when he uses proper mechanics. For him, I think it's critically important because he has a chuck-and-duck habit. Some guys are so talented they can make it work – Brett Favre made it work. It's not about courage for Manning or Favre; I've seen plenty of examples of their pocket courage. It's just a bad habit. Watch the eyes. They must stay downfield.

Allen from Zephyrhills, FL

What you like about running football doesn't describe running quarterbacks as I see it. Running quarterbacks run in open space and go out of bounds or fall down, which is even less exciting than those precision passes. That's what makes me wrinkle my nose.

I think you're confusing a scrambling quarterback with a running quarterback. A scrambler runs to avoid trouble; a runner runs to gain yardage. Colin Kaepernick and RG3 are runners.

Jason from State College, PA

Like you said in your opinion piece, the Packers need to prepare against the read option in order to successfully defend it. When would we know whether the Packers spent much time practicing the read option? Will we see it in training camp, or will we only see it as a wrinkle before the Week 1 game at Candlestick?

There might be reasons to hide what you plan to do against it, but I think it's more important to get reps against it in training camp, even if it means getting those reps out of basic looks the 49ers have seen and expect to see. What's most important is to give your players the feel for playing in space that they'll have to have to stop the read option. I expect to see the defense spend some time on it in training camp.

Zak from Madison, WI

I listened to the current McCarthy press conference and heard a familiar voice. It was a classic Vic Ketchman question. I don't think coach was ready for your question but his answer shed light on something that made sense to me: The Packers also throw because of the speed of the game. Running takes time and maybe in the old-time NFL the game was a little slower. This could be one of the reasons the Packers have been so dominant in recent years.

The game has changed. The question essentially was asking how much has the game changed. The answer told us how much. Now, within all of those plays and all of those "punches," the running game must find its own place of importance. If it does, it will open the field for Aaron Rodgers and the yards and points will flow like wine.

Jeff from Washington, DC

Do the weapons analogies involved in football bother you at all? Are they a reflection of the militarization of society of the post-911 era or a time-honored tradition of the game?

It's not a result of 911. When I was a kid, special teams were referred to as kamikaze units and bomb squads. Coaches have long referred to the "real bullets" of games. I understand that these are just metaphors and for that reason they don't bother me. Football is not war. When the Chuck Bednarik generation of players returned from World War II to resume their football careers, football was a party compared to what they had just experienced. I think it's also important to note that West Point has long considered football to be an important part of the Cadets' curriculum, because football engenders a lot of the esprit de corps the Army promotes. Eisenhower played for Army. MacArthur is famous for this quote, which appears at Michie Stadium: "Upon the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that upon other fields, on other days, will bear the fruits of victory." It sounds as though MacArthur thought there was a connection.

Jay-Bird from Cedarburg, WI

If you're the Bears or Vikings offensive coordinator, where do you attack the Packers defense?

I don't know what I'd do if I was the Bears' coordinator, but I know what I'd do if I was the Vikings': Give it to Peterson. That's how you win time of possession and that's the time-honored way for limiting the number of "punches" a great quarterback can throw. It's not always about attacking a weakness. It's mostly about utilizing your strength, and Peterson is the Vikings' strength. How much of a strength is Peterson? Well, Dom Capers said the Packers played more base 3-4 last year than they had in any of the previous years he had been the Packers' defensive coordinator. Why? "Peterson three times," he said. When you have a true strength, you make the other guys react accordingly. If a team doesn't have a strength, then it doesn't matter what it does.

Chris from Bayport, MN

What does a coach look for in an inside linebacker vs. an outside linebacker? What gives a player the ability to play both?

In a 3-4, inside linebackers are thumpers and outside linebackers are chasers. If you can thump and chase, you can play both.

Steve from Stoke on Trent, UK

Vic, with all the talk of bigger, stronger and faster, I love the story of the guys who may not have been the biggest but had fantastic instincts and just made plays. So, which player have you covered who had the best instincts as a player, and just had a nose for a play?

Tony Dungy immediately comes to mind.

William from Savannah, GA

In your opinion, how would our society be different without football?

We might not be as aggressive. Some would say that would be a positive, but we might not also be as determined or as resilient as we are. If you played a sports association game that required you to name one sport for each country, football would be the sport most people would associate with America. Football is us. It's all through our personality as a people.

Damon from Bolivar, MO

What are you looking forward to the most from training camp? What player are you most excited to see with the pads on?

Eddie Lacy is the player. I want to see to what degree he can impact this offense.

James from Houlton, WI

What would Lombardi have thought of the Internet if it had been around in his day?

He would've been alarmed at the information on his team the Internet distributed. He would've likely tried to control the flow of that information and failed, which would've frustrated him and caused tension between him and the media that covered him. Today's coaches are in a tough spot. They have to control the flow of information without obstructing the media's role in providing information to the game's fans. I know a lot of fans are media haters, but the simple fact of the matter is that without the media, there's no game. There's a very delicate balance between team and media that must be achieved, not only for the team's sake but for the league's sake. The league wasn't as determined to control that flow of information years ago because the challenge wasn't as daunting. The old PR mantra was: "Any ink is good ink; just spell the name right." In those days, the league was just looking for coverage. PR directors thanked you for the story you wrote, even when it wasn't especially complimentary. Times have changed, but Lombardi would've changed, too.

Josh from Iowa City, IA

Vic, I read your opinion piece about the read option. It left me feeling as if it's nearly impossible to defend against it if it is run correctly. At what point does a team accept the fact that yards will be piled up by an opposing read-option offense and the solution is to produce at least one better drive by your own offense?

That's ridiculous. Defense has always found a way to defeat offense, and then the league has had to change the rules again. This too shall pass. What can't be defeated is talent. Talent will ultimately win.

Mitch from Stevens Point, WI

Vic, I was pleased to read that the defensive line passed the eye test. My other big concern is the offensive line. Thoughts?

It's everyone's concern because it's undergoing major change. The offensive line will be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, story of training camp.

Ronald from Monteverde, Costa Rica

How do you practice against the read option when your own quarterback doesn't run it?

Newness can cause strangeness, and that's one of the advantages to running the read option. You force your opponent to possibly carry a player on its roster or practice squad who can run the read option on the scout team. Wide receiver Alex Gillett was a running quarterback at Eastern Michigan. He could probably play the role of a scout team read-option quarterback. I doubt that it would offer the same demands as practicing against Aaron Rodgers in a conventional passing attack, and that's why newness is often effective. I'll also tell you that newness eventually becomes oldness and oldness causes familiarity. Again, at the end of the day, it's about talent. The Packers' real challenge in defensing Kaepernick is finding players that can win the one-on-one confrontations in the open field. Tackle him.

Jackson from Casselberry, FL

I remember in the '90's when they were first discussing using instant replay to be sure the call was accurate and the league was hesitant for fear of slowing the game down. Now that it's used so often, are you concerned about the run time of games?

The league has always been concerned about two times: actual play time and length of game. Play time was a major concern in the '70's, when everybody was running the ball and the clock kept running through the huddle. Play time dipped beneath six minutes, I believe, and the league knew it had to do something to favor passing. It did; the rules changes of 1978. Length of game became a major concern in the '80's, as passing increased and so did TV commercial breaks. Frankly, I think length-of-game concerns were unnecessary. I think people would sit in front of a TV and watch an eight-hour game. So, no, I'm not concerned about length of game.

Sebastian from San Jose, Costa Rica

I keep hearing people talking about leadership when discussing certain players. Does this really help a team win? Isn't it kind of like pep talks? You'd think that professional athletes can perform without having some other player encouraging them, right?

There's nothing wrong with it. We all like to know we have the support of our teammates and co-workers, but every man has a role to execute. He has a gap or coverage responsibility, a man to block or defender to beat and in that role each man is all alone. The way all of those roles fit in the grand scheme is about teamwork, but the execution of those individual roles is a very personal thing. It's your job and nobody can do it for you. Whatever it takes.

Kevin from Watertown, SD

What would you say is the biggest thing Lombardi contributed to the game?

His spirit.

Corey from Maxville, FL

Can the Jaguars just borrow a few players from the Packers for a few games this season, just to get the ball rolling? We'll give them back, I promise.

You don't need a few players, only one, and you can't have him. If you have "The Man," everything else immediately becomes good enough.

Adam from Odessa, Ukraine

Where does an obviously talented, Heisman-winning, record-breaking quarterback like "Johnny Football" end up? In truth, his 6-1, 200 is more like 5-11 185. Isn't he just too small for success in the NFL?

Years ago, he would've likely ended up at wide receiver. These days, he'll probably end up as a player selected high in the draft to play quarterback. The game has changed.

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