Analysis: Pack secondary a key in SB XLV

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Analysis: Pack secondary a key in SB XLV

Feb. 1, 2011NFL PAGE Ray Didinger
Comcast SportsNet

We were watching tape of a Green Bay-Chicago game and NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger hit the stop button.

Look at that, Brian said. Where do you throw the ball? There is nothing there.

The Bears had five receivers in the pattern and all five were covered. Not just covered, but blanketed.

If youre Jay Cutler, where do you go with the ball? Brian asked. Whats he supposed to do?

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Brian kept stopping the tape and pointing out the same thing. Green Bay had everything shut down. Offensive coordinators talk about finding windows to fit the ball through. There were no windows. There wasnt even a keyhole. The Packers took it all away.

We watched a lot of tape this season but we didnt see any secondary play as well as the Packers. Linebacker Clay Matthews got quite a few sacks because the pass coverage was forcing quarterbacks to hold the ball.

In the game we were watching, the final game of the regular season, Cutler threw 13 balls to Devin Hester and Johnny Knox. He completed only one. The Packers defense took the two wide receivers totally out of the game and won it, 10-3.

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That will be a major factor in Sundays Super Bowl. The Steelers have changed from a running team to more of a passing team -- they threw the ball 55 percent of the time in Ben Roethlisbergers 12 starts this season -- but the Packers have the personnel to match up with the Pittsburgh receivers.

The Steelers have a lot of weapons with speedy Mike Wallace, veteran Hines Ward, tight end Heath Miller and talented young receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown. Most teams dont have enough quality defenders to cover all those guys, but the Packers do.

What makes the Green Bay pass defense so good?

Two things: speed and scheme.

The Packers have the NFLs fastest deep seven -- that is, linebacker corps and secondary. The Pittsburgh linebackers and the Green Bay linebackers have similar speed and range, but the Packers are faster in the secondary, which gives them the edge overall.
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That speed ties directly into the scheme because it allows defensive coordinator Dom Capers to play aggressively. He has cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Sam Shields in press coverage, almost a bump-and-run, underneath. They get on top of the receivers, jam them at the line then run with them stride for stride. It is rare to have two corners who can do that.

The swift development of Shields, a rookie, was one of the biggest factors in Green Bays defensive improvement. When Shields, the nickel back, proved he could cover like a true corner, it allowed Capers to use Charles Woodson, last years Defensive Player of the Year, as a combination cornerback, safety and blitzer. It added yet another dimension to the defense.

Toss in safeties Nick Collins and Charlie Peprah and linebackers A.J. Hawk, Desmond Bishop and Erik Walden and it easy to see why Capers is willing to play the entire game in a nickel defense. Sometimes he will line up with only two defensive linemen. He puts a lot of pressure on his linebackers, but they are so smart and so disciplined they make it work.

On a typical play, Williams and Shields lock up their receivers and cover them step for step. The inside linebackers, Hawk and Bishop, drop into the middle zones while Collins and Peprah take away the deep stuff. Woodson may cover a receiver or come on a blitz. A defensive lineman may drop off to cover the flat area as B.J. Raji did in the NFC title game when he intercepted a Cutler pass and returned it for a touchdown.

REVIEW: Pittsburgh stats roster injuries depth chart

Roethlisberger is a very resourceful quarterback who excels at making things happen when the original design of a play breaks down, but even he will have a devil of a time working the ball down the field against this defense.

The Packers were second (to the Steelers) in scoring defense, sacks and interceptions in the regular season. They held six opponents to seven points or less, quite a feat in a year when touchdowns were scored at a record pace.

In the post-season, the Green Bay defense has been excellent, recording 10 sacks and six interceptions in wins over Philadelphia, Atlanta and Chicago. In each of those games, it was a clutch interception that either ended the contest or turned the tide.

The more guys you have with speed and explosion, the better chance you have of getting the ball turned over, Capers said. It has been one of our strengths, taking the ball away.

It is one of the main reasons the Packers are in the Super Bowl and it is one of the things they need to do Sunday if they hope to bring the Lombardi Trophy home to Green Bay.

Casspi thanks Kings after trade to Pelicans: 'Definitely isn't easy'

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USATSI

Casspi thanks Kings after trade to Pelicans: 'Definitely isn't easy'

The Kings traded Omri Casspi to the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday, prompting the forward to post a heartfelt message on his Instagram account.

I want to thank the Sacramento Kings organization for the opportunity to play basketball in front of the great fans of Sacramento. My wife and I felt in Sacramento like being home and this is something we both will cherish for ever. This definitely isn't easy for me and my family to leave, and you all know how much I love our city, organization and fans but the time has come. I want to wish nothing but success to my Kings. I will definitely will follow and cheer from afar. 
Always a big part of my heart, 
Omri #18

Casspi, 28, averaged 5.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 18 minutes per game for the Kings this year.

A's spring training Day 7: Rosales readies himself everywhere

A's spring training Day 7: Rosales readies himself everywhere

MESA, Ariz. — Adam Rosales has a real simple plan for which infield position he chooses to try to get work at.

“Wherever there’s less guys, I go over there,” he explained with a smile.

The sun came out and the A’s finally got on the field for their first full-squad workout Monday after being rained out Sunday. That meant Rosales, back for his second go-round as an Athletic, got his first chance to prepare for what figures to be a super-utility role, which is how he’s carved out a nine-year major league career.

All indications are that he’ll be the primary backup infielder, capable of spelling Jed Lowrie at second base, Marcus Semien at shortstop, Trevor Plouffe at third and even fill in at first base or left field in a pinch.

Though Rosales, who spent 2010-12 with Oakland and re-signed in January on a one-year $1.25 million deal, is well-versed in preparing himself all over the diamond, one position in particular is one that he says is most difficult to master in limited time.

“Shortstop,” he offered without hesitation. “There’s a lot more going on there, a lot less room for error. At shortstop, especially with a guy like Mike Trout running, you’ve got to be in good rhythm, good timing, get rid of the ball and make an accurate throw.”

Depending on how the A’s prioritize their 25-man roster, Rosales could very well be the only backup infielder. That means fellow infielders Joey Wendle and Chad Pinder would start in the minors if the A’s were to keep a fifth outfielder or third catcher. But because the A’s have some players who can fill in at multiple spots, there’s numerous ways they can choose to configure the roster when it comes time to pare it down.

Rosales, 33, said walking back into the A’s clubhouse for the first time made him “feel like I’m back home.” So much of the support staff — equipment guys, clubhouse guys — are the same as when he was here before. He was also happy to see former infield mate Mark Ellis walk through the door Sunday. He says Ellis, a teammate from 2010-11, instilled in him the importance of being a great defender. Ellis is working as a part-time spring instructor.

“He told me, the No. 1 reason he was in the big leagues was because of this,” Rosales said, holding up his glove. “I was such a young player then. I’d always work with him, how to turn double plays. Just to have him around is awesome.”

NOTEWORTHY: Sonny Gray and Kendall Graveman were among the pitchers who faced hitters for the first time this season. Bruce Maxwell caught Gray, his first time behind the plate with Gray other than the one inning Gray threw in an abbreviated start at Anaheim toward the end of last season. Maxwell said Gray’s changeup in particular looked good.

Manager Bob Melvin has been very impressed early on with Graveman’s command. Graveman said he’s trying to improve his changeup, in an effort to induce weak contact from righties and get them on the their front foot, which could then make him more effective on the inside corner.

CAMP BATTLE: There could be a good fight for the seventh and final spot in the bullpen, and it would seem being left-handed could give someone an edge. Sean Doolittle is the only lefty currently projected among the A’s top six relievers. Melvin had good things to say about Daniel Coulombe, a lefty who made 35 appearances in relief last year and also saw a bit of time with Oakland in 2015. Coulombe posted a 4.53 ERA last season but struck out 54 in 47 2/3 innings.