Letters To LeRoy Butler

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Hey Leroy. That was a great job of Ben Steele to fight the ball away from the Vikings' Ross on the fumble. How often does the football change hands underneath the pile on fumbles? Also what do players say to each other when they are on the bottom of the piles? - Aaron (Brandon, SD)

What a lot of players yell when they're underneath the pile is "Green has the ball" if you're a Packer, or "White has the ball" if you're a Viking in that situation, trying to get the other team to think the officials have already determined who has the ball.

There's a lot of other stuff going on under that pile that would have to have a "Parental Advisory" warning if I were to tell you everything that happened in those piles. There's a lot of screaming, yelling, poking, punching - whatever you have to do to get the ball.

There's no telling how many times the ball changes hands in those situations, but once the referee determines who has the ball, you can get up. I had a lot of people ask me about the Vikings player coming out of the pile with the ball, but Ben Steele had already been determined to have recovered that fumble.

How do the Packers and other NFL players memorize all those plays? How many plays do they need to know each week? - John (Northfield, IL)

That's a good question. This is another reason for you young players to stay in school and work hard on your study habits. Studying doesn't only pay off when you take tests in the classroom, but it's also one of the most important parts of life as a player in the NFL.

You have to know your playbook inside and out and you have to study it constantly. There could be anywhere from 50-plus plays every week that could be called. You have to know every formation, what your assignment is in that formation and on that play, and you've got to know what to do without being able to stop and think about it, since everything happens so fast out there.

Not only do you have to know your responsibility, you have to know what everybody else is doing too. So much of how you play is how you work with your teammates and you have to know what they're going to do before they do it. You also have to study your opponents very thoroughly and know what they do in certain situations.

The 3-4 defense had been abandoned for many years by the league (except for Pittsburgh). Now it seems to be making a comeback. Why kind of personnel does a team need to make this defense successful? And which scheme do you prefer? The 3-4 or the 4-3? - Kevin (Kenosha, WI)

I'm kind of torn, but I like the 3-4 because you can always drop eight people into coverage. To run the 3-4, you've got to have quick, strong linebackers and a very good nose guard to be effective. You also have to have two very physical cornerbacks.

The problem with the 3-4 is that you only have three people on the line and the offense has five men to block them, so sometimes there can be some big gaps in the running game. One team that is running the 3-4 really well is the Steelers, and they're doing a great job of filling every gap to make it difficult to run against them.

On the other hand, if you have four outstanding defensive linemen, the 4-3 is the way to go. If you can generate a consistent pass rush with those four guys and drop seven, that is a very effective defense.

It doesn't matter what defense you run unless you have the personnel to pull it off. For the 3-4, you've got to have tough, quick players, and for the 4-3, you've got to have smart, reliable players.

Great column as always Leroy!!! I have a couple of things I was hoping you could comment on. 1) What made Al Harris so effective against the Vikes. His play was amazing. 2) Why was there a change in the approach of the D in the last 10 minutes? It seemed like there was a lot more blitzing. Thanks for a great column!! - Matt (Houston, TX)

I think Al Harris wants to be known as a shut-down cornerback and Sunday was his opportunity in a nationally televised game to do that. He can be the kind of corner where if you give him a guy to cover, he can lock him up. That's what he expects from himself and that's what is expected of him.

That's also exactly what Harris provided against the Vikings as he pretty much took Marcus Robinson out of the game. I think the Vikings threw the ball his way 10 times and Robinson only had two catches for less than 40 yards.

As for the last 10 minutes, the Green Bay Packers have never really believed in playing a prevent defense. I think the philosophy is to be aggressive at times when the opposition thinks they are going to be in a soft zone coverage.

What are the differences between an Offensive play call, and a Defensive play call. Often when you hear a miked up Coach or QB there is so much information there in the call you cannot make heads or tails of it, I wonder if there is equal amount of complexity in the defensive huddle, or if not, how complex can it get? With the amount of pre-snap motion by the defense it seems more improv then play calling. Thanks for your great work then and now LeRoy! - Russ (Madison, WI)

The offensive call is so complex because you have to tell all five eligible receivers - two running backs, two wide receivers and a tight end - what they're going to be doing on each play, regardless of whether they're going to be getting the ball or not. You also have to go through the protection for the offensive line.

Then, if you audible, you've got to change all of that.

Defensively, once you get the front set - determining if you will have a three-man or four-man line - there's seven or eight people behind those linemen, and it's pretty simple.

Usually, you have a gap to play in, and you will stay in that gap. If the offense changes formations, then your gap may change. Defense is a little less complicated on defense, and is a lot of time dependent on what they see lined up across from them.

Hey LeRoy! Great victory for the Pack! My question is this: The defense has been exceptionally good on third down situations. However, when it comes to third down and 15 why does the defense consistently give up the big play? The general consensus is that the linebackers do not drop back far enough into coverage to disrupt the pass play. This dates back to last year's playoff loss to Philly. What's your take on this reoccurring problem? - Al (Downers Grove, IL)

That is the one real concern I have with this Packers defense - third and long. It's something that Bob Slowik has been looking at and will get it corrected.

I think the defense will start to be more aggressive when the offense is backed up into a long-yardage situation instead of sitting back in some of the zones. It seems like when some of the guys get in zone, they relax a little bit and the offenses have taken advantage of that.

A lot of teams like to run blitzes in these situations which cut down on the quarterback's time to decide on where to throw the ball. A lot of other teams choose to sit back in zone coverage and try to force a shorter throw and then come up and make the tackle.

I agree with the philosophy of being aggressive on third and long and bringing a blitz. That gives the quarterback less time to think and less time to complete a long throw.

Mr. Butler, Thank you for your responses, I think your personal emails are a great tribute to the fans. My question is: Do players get caught up with who is scoring and who is not? With Manning and the Colts throwing for so many touchdowns, does a player like Edgerrin James get a little frustrated that his number is not called to score? A. Green had around 150 all purpose yards but didn't score - does this frustrate him or is the win more important? - Mike (Hammond, WI)

Some players on some teams might get caught up with who scores the touchdowns, but I know for a fact that is not an issue with the Green Bay Packers. The Packers are a very unselfish team.

You can see that in the fact that two of the most prolific wide receivers in team history are playing together - Donald Driver and Javon Walker - and none of the receivers are complaining about not getting the ball enough. That's the way that receivers coach Ray Sherman coaches those guys.

Brett Favre could care less how many yards he has or how many touchdowns he throws, there's only one number that matters to him and that's one win at the end of the day. The same goes for Ahman Green - that's what Coach Mike Sherman teaches, and that's why he's one of the better coaches in the league.

He teaches unselfishness on offense, defense and special teams. It doesn't matter who's getting the accolades, the only thing that matters is winning the game.

After watching this weekend's games, and especially the Dallas-Philly contest, I am wondering about the state of defensive backs in the NFL. Since you were one of the best, can you tell me what has happened? Is there a huge talent gap between receivers and DBs, are offenses better coached, are the officials to blame, or is there something else keeping DBs from making plays? And what can be done to improve defensive back play? Thanks. - Tom (Houston, TX)

I think a lot of it - and I'm not trying to make excuses for the defensive backs - but a lot of it comes from the fact that the rules have changed to where you aren't allowed to make any contact at all after five yards from the line of scrimmage.

Essentially, you've got to let them run around and you've got to almost play defense like you're playing basketball. It's almost like man-to-man defense in basketball where you can't make contact, but you have to stop the receiver from getting the ball.

If you think about it, if you have someone running full speed at you and you're backpedaling - he's going to run past you before you can even turn. You either have to already be turned, or you have to be physical in that five-yard area where you can make contact and try to disrupt the timing of the offense.

Another reason why I think the defensive back play in the NFL has declined in quality is that a lot of the young DBs don't study as much as they need to. You've got to know what the other team is going to run out of certain formations and have an extra step on the offense based on your studies. I think that the younger guys aren't as prepared as they need to be and they are often surprised by what the offenses are throwing at them on Sundays.

*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 again providing exclusive analysis to Packers.com beginning with training camp and later with a breakdown of the upcoming game on Saturdays, followed by a column and Q&A session on Tuesdays during the preseason and regular season.

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

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