Friday, January 15, 2010

Dear Ted, Can You Please Get A Free Safety This Offseason?

Dear Ted,

Hey, just wanted to express my condolences on the loss last Sunday.  I know its a tough loss after such high hopes and ups and downs in the season.  The Defensive Player of the Year honors for Charles Woodson had to be a bit of a pick-me-up, though.

Anyway, let's be straight here.  I know you and I haven't always seen eye to eye.  I mean, I've never (ever) been a part of any of the tactless "Fire Ted" movements, but I have never been a part of the "Bronze a Statue of Ted in the Atrium" movements, either.  I've offered my criticisms and praises, each when deserved.

I'm here to offer you a little piece of advice for the offseason, one that I've offered before but has seemed to fall on deaf ears.  I'm hoping the Pittsburgh and Arizona games have perhaps made you a little more open to new ideas now.

I know you have a lot going on right now.  I mean, you have to be strategizing two different gameplans on whether or not there is a Collective Bargaining Agreement, evaluating your coaches, looking at your roster, scouting talents in the bowl games, deciding whether or not to put that franchise tag on Aaron Kampmann.  But it's time that you face the facts.

It's time to bring in the next Eugene Robinson.  The Packers need a free safety.  A real free safety. 

Oh, I know your former-linebacker mentality.  You love having tough, strong, interchangeable safeties back there.  Bigby, Rouse, Bush, Manuel...all strong-nosed guys who can hit hard and can be a force in run support, but don't have that knack for seeing the whole field and struggle in coverage.  Nick Collins is another one in that mold, but he's managed to do a serviceable job at free safety over the past two years.

But you know that Collins is miscast.  Oh, sure, he makes a ton of great plays, but one out of every ten plays or so, he makes a gaffe that's glaring and costly, and invariably, they are the kind of plays that a good FS needs to be able to make.  Maybe it is taking the best angle to the ball, choosing the right route to play over-the-top in coverage, seeing the decoy routes and picking the right receiver to cover.

I'm guessing you know that, which is why he's still working on a rookie contract despite making the Pro Bowl two years in a row.  You're still "evaluating" him in some way.  And, let's face facts...he's a strong safety trying to play free safety.  He doesn't have the vision or the awareness that a free safety should have.  His physical freakishness allows him to compensate for it...maybe nine times out of ten. 

But it is that one play out of ten that really hurts the team.  And it showed on Sunday.

For all that is ballyhooed about Dom Capers' great defense, ranked #2 in the NFL this past season, a good quarterback can easily crack the code:  work the ball in the middle of the field.  This has been a problem for the last several years, Ted.  You've tried to compensate for it.  The 3-4 put more big bodies in the middle of the field.  Capers unloaded defensive schemes that tried to place more DBs in the backfield.  Three of your four first-round picks have been defensive players.

But, when you are hoping that adding Brandon Underwood and Jarrett Bush is going to be the solution on defense, it brings new perspective to the term, "Psycho". 

The problem isn't the scheme or even the linebackers.  It's making the adjustments and the right angles when the offense shows you sets that multiple plays can be run out of.  And when you don't have a quarterback in the defensive backfield who can recognize what to do, get people where they need to go, and then make the right decisions himself...well, you leave yourself open for what Big Ben and Warner did to us. 

Eugene Robinson wasn't some great physical specimen.  He was just smart.  He could be trusted in the backfield by himself, making those adjustments and taking the most efficient angles to the ball.  It allowed the strong safety, LeRoy Butler, to playing closer to the line...and more in the middle of the field.

When Robinson left the team, Butler bemoaned the loss of his security blanket.  He now had to play more in the backfield, because the new young FS, Darren Sharper, couldn't do it all himself.  That's how important a good free safety can be.

I know you love those physical strong safety types, but opposing offenses, particularly the ones that we will have to face in playoff games, have cracked the code in beating the Packers.  More linebackers and more safeties-that-play-like-linebackers aren't going to help.

I've been pressing you for years to get a guy like this.  I nearly threw my remote through the television two years ago at the draft, when you traded out of the first round and passed up a chance at Kenny Phillips, who went #32 to the Giants.

We both know that free agency isn't going to be the answer.  For one, you tend to blow smoke, but in the end, you're not going to invest the kind of money that FAs are going to ask for, even moreso this year.  If there is no cap, the top FAs will be off the market and the remaining ones will be asking for even more inflated prices.

So, I'm going to give you a name to highlight on your draft board:  USF's Nate Allen.  I know a lot can fluctuate between now and then, but right now he's slated to go as a second or third rounder.  As Railbird's Brian Carriveau reports today, however, an influx of underclassmen will likely make this one of the deepest drafts in a long while, and could push a guy like Allen well into the third round.

But don't overlook him.  Consider what he brings to the table, according to draftcountdown:

Classic centerfielder who is renowned for his playmaking ability --- Possesses solid physical tools and exceptional intangibles --- Leader of the secondary who functions as an extension of the coaching staff --- Profiles as a starter in the NFL.

No, he's not blessed with freakish athleticism or mad speed.  But Eugene Robinson proved years ago that you don't necessarily need that to be the quarterback of the defense.  He has what our safety position sorely lacks:  instincts, vision, zone coverage skills, excellent awareness of all that is happening in front of him.

In some ways, he's the opposite of Nick Collins, an athletic freak who lacks those intangible skills.

In getting a guy like Allen, you kill many birds with one stone.  The free safety position is improved, perhaps not from an experience or pure talent standpoint, but with a guy whose skills fit the needs of the position.  As a result, the strong safety position improves, because Collins is allowed to do what he does best:  play closer to the line in run support and become a headhunter in the middle of the field.  Finally, having a free safety who can recognize what the offense is running at them allows for smarter called adjustments of the corners and linebackers, and then he can make the better angles in over-the-top coverage or playing the ball.

I know I've said this before, and I'm saying it again.  I'm trying to help, really.  Talk to Dom and Mike about it.  For the most part, we've got the running defense figured out.  It's time to fix our pass defense, and in an offseason that looks like it is going to be difficult to make a lot of moves in, this could be an easy (and effective) upgrade.

Yours truly,

CD Angeli

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