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.

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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.

Myers: 'It's painful' that Kerr not able to treasure being in NBA Finals

Myers: 'It's painful' that Kerr not able to treasure being in NBA Finals

OAKLAND -- Warriors coach Steve Kerr is no closer to resuming full-time duties than he was a week ago, or even a month ago.

Out since April 23, when he announced he was taking a leave of absence to address chronic pain in the wake of multiple back surgeries nearly two years ago, Kerr has been a constant presence the past two weeks but not on the bench during games.

“He’s doing everything but coaching, but at this point, he’s not able to coach,” general manager Bob Myers said Thursday after practice. “I wish could say that he was. I’m sure he wishes he could as well. But that’s where we are.

“If something changes and he feels better, I’ll sit here or, better -- he would sit here -- and tell you. But right now, I can’t say that he’s going to be coaching.”

Though Kerr did not address media Thursday, he indicated earlier this week that he would be comfortable going into the NBA Finals, which begin June 1, with acting head coach Mike Brown at the helm.

“We’re 12-0,” Kerr told NBCSportsBayArea.com. “I feel great about where the team is. I know we can play better. I think the challenge we’re about to face, one way or the other, is going to take us to another level.”

The Warriors under Kerr finished the regular season with a league-best 67-15 mark, earning the No. 1 overall seed for the playoffs. Kerr coached Games 1 and 2 of the first round against Portland before surrendering head coaching duties to Brown.

The Warriors are 10-0 since Brown took over, 27-1 over their last 28 games since March 11.

Still, they would like Kerr to regain health and join them in their quest for a second championship in three years.

“It’s hard for me; I’m kind of in this basketball mode,” Myers said. “But he’s a person and he’s not feeling well. And that’s what makes it hard. More than how it reflects on our team is how he’s feeling that makes it very difficult to have to sit here and say that the man that’s hugely responsible for us being in The Finals for three years in a row, in a moment that he should be treasuring, can’t do it.

“It’s painful. And I know it’s painful for him, more than anybody. And I wish and he wishes and I’m sure you guys do, too, that there was something that could get him there. But right now, we’re not at that point.”

Giants notes: 'Disappointing' road trip; Nuñez hopes to return Friday

Giants notes: 'Disappointing' road trip; Nuñez hopes to return Friday

CHICAGO — As they packed up at AT&T Park eight days ago, the Giants talked of taking their momentum on the road. It sounded pie-in-the-sky given the way they had played in April and on the previous trip, but when they took the first two in St. Louis, players started to believe they had finally turned the corner. 

And then came a Sunday loss, and three of four at Wrigley Field. There was no happy flight Thursday. The Giants lost 5-1, again looking flat against a less-than-elite pitcher, and ended up with a 3-4 trip. They’ll finish the first two months of the season without a winning road trip. They're 9-19 away from AT&T Park. 

“It’s disappointing,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “Once you win the first one here, you’re hoping you get greedy and take the series, but we didn’t. That’s disappointing.”

The Giants entered the road trip with a 6.62 starters’ ERA on the road, but pitching wasn’t the issue. Sure there were too many meatballs — most of the 10 Cubs homers in this series came on pitches left right over the fat part of the plate — but the starters did their job. The lineup couldn’t keep up. The Giants had just five hits Thursday and finished the trip with 24 runs in seven games. They started the trip nine games out in the West and finished 11 back of the Rockies, their largest deficit since 2013. 

“You come here and take the first game with our (top) guys throwing after that and you’re hoping for a better result,” Jeff Samardzija said. “We started out good and that St. Louis series puts you in a good spot to salvage the trip. We’ll go home now with six solid games on our home turf and they’re six big games for us.”

The Braves and Nationals come to town. The Giants will see Jaime Garcia on Friday, followed by Mike Foltynewicz and R.A. Dickey. 

--- Samardzija’s run without a walk ended at 154 batters when Ian Happ drew a free pass in the seventh. The streak was the best of Samardzija’s career. 

--- Eduardo Nuñez said he got treatment on a tight hamstring throughout the game and he’ll go in early Friday to continue treatment. He hopes to start Friday. 

--- Christian Arroyo was hitless in three at-bats, dropping his average to .191. Before the game, Bochy talked at length about Arroyo’s recent struggles and the plan with him going forward. 

--- If you missed it earlier, I took a tour of the visiting bullpen here. After going in there, I talked to some more pitchers about what they don’t like. It seems to mostly be the fact that you’re separated from the game. One said some of the relievers who pitched Monday had no idea it was raining because they had been getting loose inside for several innings. Seems like there’s a pretty easy fix here: The Cubs can just turn part of that Under Armour wall into a chain-link fence, or have some sort of window that opens up to the outside but doesn’t interfere with outfielders. Maybe next year …