Sunday, August 9, 2009

To Hide or Not To Hide

An interesting blog discussion broke out between Brian Carriveau at Railbird Central and Aaron Nagler at CHTV in regards to how much Dom Capers should let loose in the preseason.

From Brian:

[McCarthy said], "We were going to play the defense that we ran in the first seven installs. The volume was cut back. The focus was to let the players line up and play. I did not want a lot of motions and shifts from the offense. The volume of pressures was cut back, because really tonight's emphasis was on evaluating our players. But as we go through it, there's certain things we'll rep in training camp, and there's targets that we'll hit with our defense. But what you show and what you don't show, that's obviously for us to watch in the future." I think hiding things is overrated. It's not like anything the Packers would have done as far as blitzing would have been something any team in the NFL hasn't seen before.

Which earned this response from Aaron:

This is true to some extent. However, what the NFL HASN’T seen before is how Capers chooses to use his personnel, which players will be used how and in what packages. Capers has no history whatsoever with any of these players, so opposing offensive coordinators will be unable to key on what, say, Brandon Chillar and Desmond Bishop coming into the game at the same time means, at least not for the first few weeks. That alone is reason enough to keep things vanilla before Week One, which is what I fully expect to see starting next Saturday against the Browns.

Good opinions from both sides, and in my own, both have merit.

The element of surprise is critical in the NFL, and I've spoken many times about how important it is to try and catch a team off guard. Offensively, I've always liked the West Coast Offense because it keeps defenses off balance with misdirection. In many ways, with the Packers essentially have a blank slate defensively with the conversion to the 3-4, and we should play up that advantage as much as possible (think of the Big Five formation, and how that took defenses out of their comfort zone at first).

But, as Rick Cina at PackerChatters has mentioned to me many times over the years, so much of your success on the field comes simply from execution. The success of your coaching, your schemes, and even your talent is predicated on proper execution. A lesser team with great execution can beat a better team that doesn't execute. ("That's why they play the game....")

The best example of this is the offensive line of the early 2000's, when Mike Flanagan would come to the line of scrimmage and tell the defense what play they were going to run. And then, they would run it and gain 11 yards with Ahman Green running the ball. There were no secrets, and as Brian states, it's not like there's a whole lot NFL coordinators (and players) haven't seen before.

Oh, sure, there's always a nutty thing that comes along every so often...the Big Five, the Wildcat Formation, the Zone Blitz. But teams figure out ways to combat it after they see it, and the tricky formations become just another bullet in the arsenal. And that is the key.

For the Packers to surprise the offenses consistently, it isn't going to come down to unveiling some exotic formation in Week 4 that sends the offensive coordinator scrambling. Once you run it, every OC in the NFL now has it on tape and will start planning for it. That's one play in one game. What about the other sixty-three?

No, the Packers have to execute everything well. That is the most critical attribute of the success of Dom Capers' 3-4. Whether the OLB drops in coverage or blitzes, whether the safety helps over the top or replaces a blitzing linebacker, whether the DE pulls a stunt or pushes outside...what matters is that the Packers have many things they can do well.

There's nothing in Capers' arsenal that hasn't been done before, and it is still the Packers' defense that are at the disadvantage. Every offense they face this season will have played against a 3-4 more times than the Packer defenders have played in it. The Packers must know what they are doing on the field when the regular season starts, and the more they hold back now, the less experience they have to rely on when it counts.

No, I don't think they will come out against Cleveland and throw everything and the kitchen sink at them. But there's no reason to hold back, either. The veterans don't have the fallback of last year's scheme, and what's changed are more than wrinkles.

In the end, you want the offense to know all the possibilities that could be coming at them, and to guess wrong, or better yet, just plain get beat. In order for that to happen, the Packers have to execute like they've been playing in the 3-4 for years.

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