Letters To LeRoy Butler

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Thanks for answering my DB question a couple weeks ago. This week I have another one. Several local Texans fans have mentioned to me they were very impressed by "the guy with the hair" who was "everywhere." Al Harris had a pretty good game last night too, limiting Torry Holt and being on top of the fake kick. Does Al Harris get enough credit for the job he does for the Packers? - Tom (Houston, TX)

I try to give him as much credit as I can every week because he's been playing some great ball, but I guess nowadays people look at how many interceptions you have or how many pass break-ups a cornerback has.

But you've got to look at the overall game. Right now, Al Harris is playing as well as any corner out there. If you look at Champ Bailey, he's been giving up some big plays like you saw if you watched the Broncos and Raiders play in the snow Sunday night, but people still say that he's the premier cornerback in the league.

Not only have you seen great coverage from him this year, but we also saw Al run down Isaac Bruce against the Rams. He's got great speed and I hope you guys take the time to go to NFL.com and vote for Al Harris for your Pro Bowl team.

LeRoy, can you please explain the difference between the dime and nickel defense backs and how each is used and for what scenarios? Thank you. - Maggie (Reedsburg, WI)

A nickel defense is when you have four linemen on the field, two linebackers, and five defensive backs. That fifth defensive back plays kind of like a linebacker. He plays closer to the line of scrimmage. His responsibility is to play the run and the pass.

In the dime defense, there are four linemen, one linebacker, and six defensive backs. This is used when you are almost 100% sure that the offense is going to be passing the ball.

Down and distance really predicts which defensive package is going to be on the field for any given play. Another factor in which defense is going to be out there is the formation that the offense is using.

If you are playing a team that uses a lot of three-receiver sets on early downs, the nickel defense is going to be on the field a lot that day. You generally will put your best cover cornerback over the slot, the two linebackers will play the run and the four linemen will rush the passer. Then you have four defensive backs to cover the two outside receivers.

Everything is predicated on down and distance and the offensive personnel. Usually one of the coaches in the box upstairs is responsible for watching who is coming on the field for the offense and relaying that information so the coordinator can the right defense.

It's kind of like a chess match. For every receiver the offense has out there, you want to have at least one defensive back to cover him.

Hey Leroy. Throughout the past 3 to 5 years, the Pack has had difficulties containing scrambling quarterbacks in the NFL. (i.e. Culpepper, Vick, McNabb, etc) When these teams play the Packers it seems almost a given that these QBs lean on that option within seconds of dropping back. T. What must the Packers do to put some sort of fear in them so they will think twice about scampering for first down yardage when all the receivers are covered? Go Pack Go - Steve (Koontz Lake, IN)

Remember this now, a quarterback can throw the ball further than he can run in that same time. It's OK if a guy occasionally scrambles to pick up a first down, there's really not a whole lot you can do to stop a great athletic quarterback from getting some yardage running the ball if that's what they want to do.

You just have to make sure they don't hit you for big plays in the passing game. If you run up and leave your man to try and stop the quarterback from running the ball, he's just going to throw it over your head for an even bigger gain or even a touchdown.

What you try to do is have the defensive linemen contain the quarterback and keep him in the pocket, which is often easier said than done. Every now and then, the quarterback will get out and pick up a first down or two.

If the quarterback's running is a serious problem for the defense, sometimes one player, usually a linebacker, will be assigned as a "spy" to follow the quarterback wherever he goes on the field and cut down on his running options. The thing about that is, though, that's one less guy in pass defense and opens up more of the field for receivers to run free.

LeRoy, Brett Favre has only been sacked 5 times this year. Over the last 3 seasons he has been sacked on average about 20 something times a year. What are the Packers doing differently this season? - David (Springfield, MO)

I think offensive line coach Larry Beightol should get a lot of credit for the play of the Green Bay line. His system is very good and the players are very good.

I think the Packers have one of the best tackles in the league in Chad Clifton - another guy I think should go to the Pro Bowl - and that helps. But Beightol has a very good scheme, and not to mention that Brett Favre gets rid of the ball when he has to. He's hard to sack because he's such a competitor, so I think it's a combination of things that is keeping the sack numbers down.

I noticed that Coach Sherman didn't cover his mouth with his play sheet when he called in plays to Brett. Is there a reason why some coaches cover their mouths and others don't when they talk to their QBs? - Stan (Moose Lake, MN)

A lot of it is superstition and paranoia. Jon Gruden and other coaches do it because they think people are going to watch them and read their lips to get an advantage on knowing the play coming in.

I think the thing about Coach Sherman is that he's not as wrapped up in all of that stuff, he's just focused on getting the play into Brett and get ready for the next play to come. The coaches who are that superstitious are sometimes too involved in the other things and not focused enough on getting the plays called quickly.

Plus, when you're calling plays into #4, it wouldn't matter if the defense knew what play was coming, Brett would still get the job done.

Always great to read your answers to our questions! I've always wondered...how do NFL players keep momentum/stay fired up during the many commercial breaks of a game? It's seems like it would be distracting, but maybe that's why I watch the game from my couch instead of a sideline. - Pete (Milwaukee, WI)

It can be a distraction because they have a minimum of four commercial breaks every quarter and sometimes when you have momentum and there's a turn of events like a big turnover and they go into a break, it can kind of put the fire out.

Sometimes when you need to gather yourself though, those TV timeouts can come in very handy especially if you're on defense and have been on the field for a long drive.

I guess that's one bad thing on playing on national TV - the networks have got to get the money from the advertisers, but it's just part of learning how to play in the NFL.

Hi LeRoy - Great column and I enjoy your insightful comments on the Packers and football. Question: quite often you can see the QB and/or center pointing across the line of scrimmage just prior to the snap; what are they pointing at and why? Are they also yelling out anything to teammates? They really get quite animated at times. Thanks! - Rich (Gwinn, MI)

When they point at the defense right before the snap, they are usually alerting everybody to a blitz they think is coming. They have to let the running backs and the other offensive linemen that this guy is coming and which protection scheme they want to use to pick up the blitz.

You try to set your protection based on the front the defense is showing and based on where the middle linebacker is lined up and if one of the safeties has moved down to bring eight men near the line of scrimmage.

If the safety walks down and makes it an eight-man front, the quarterback normally will check into a passing play. It's all about communication, which is such a key part of being a winning football team.

LeRoy, miss seeing you on the field! How long did it take you to get used to playing in the cold? - Jay (Beaumont, TX)

Knowing that it was going to be to my advantage to play in the cold, it didn't take very long for me to get used to it and hope for the cold-weather games, even coming from Florida. I think by the end of my rookie season I was used to playing in the freezing temperatures and used to seeing opponents come into Green Bay and not want to play in those conditions.

It also helped me because receivers who would be running 4.3 or 4.4 on a regular, dry field, they were slowed down running on the frozen field and I had more experience in the conditions and could stay with them more easily.

I loved the cold-weather games and I still love to see it when the temperature gets down below 30° since a certain quarterback who wears the #4 is almost unbeatable in Lambeau Field when it's cold.

*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.*

LeRoy serves as the host on the new DVD, 'Brett Favre - On and Off the Field'. Click here for more information on the DVD.

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