How the Green Bay Packers Will Tweak Their Play-Calling in 2009

Ryan CardarellaCorrespondent IMay 26, 2009

GREEN BAY, WI - JULY 28: Head coach Mike McCarthy of the Green Bay Packers watches his team during summer training camp on July 28, 2008 at the Hutson Center in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

While the Packers offense returns their talented core in 2009, the maturation of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and other key players in the offense should allow head coach Mike McCarthy more freedom in his play-calling.

Play-action passes and bootlegs that utilized Rodgers' athleticism resulted in big plays for the Packers last season, and that should continue in 2009.

Those plays allowed Rodgers to find open space and hit wide receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver down field, easing his transition into the starting lineup.

However, teams had success disrupting Rodgers with pressure at times a year ago.

Outside of buying Rodgers time by moving him out of the pocket, the offensive line will have to give Rodgers that extra half-second to hit the big one on a more consistent basis.

Rodgers throws more outs and go-routes as opposed to the quick slants that Favre favored toward the end of his Packer career, meaning that pass-protection is more critical to his success on those deeper patterns.

Another year of development for the Packers' still-maturing line should help the unit improve in 2009, as will the addition of versatile guard Duke Preston from Buffalo, and some draft picks that should add depth.

The play-calling will only be as aggressive as the blocking allows, and the Packers have the potential to be explosive if they can protect Rodgers effectively.

Green Bay will also have the ability to spread out opposing defenses with their excellent depth at receiver.

2008 second-round draft pick Jordy Nelson came on at the end of last season and gives the Packers an opportunity to run five-receiver sets with Nelson, Driver, Jennings, Ruvell Martin, and James Jones as viable threats.

With that kind of talent at receiver and another year of seasoning along the line, Rodgers should have more time to find seams in opposing defenses and build on his excellent season of 2008.

Tight end Jermichael Finley also showed some promise last season and will likely be featured with starter Donald Lee in some two TE sets.

While they won't be mistaken for Keith Jackson and Mark Chmura anytime soon, the set has long put immense pressure on opposing defenses.

As far as rushing the ball goes, starter Ryan Grant is more of a grinder and is not the ideal fit for the Packers' zone-blocking scheme.

He excels at running downhill, and the coaching staff adapted a bit near the end of last season by allowing him to plow ahead instead of reading and reacting.

Look for the shiftier Brandon Jackson and his 5.5 yards-per-carry average to get more carries this season, while the Packers use Grant to wear out defenses with his bruising, straight-ahead style.

The league is gravitating toward the two-back system, and Jackson will be that guy, if he can stay healthy.

Defensively, the switch to the 3-4 will cause significant shifts in play-calling and style.

The 3-4 calls for a lot more zone coverage by its corners, meaning that cornerbacks Al Harris and Charles Woodson will have to adapt their play from the extremely physical press coverage featured by previous coordinator Bob Sanders.

It remains to be seen how the Packers aging cornerbacks will acclimate to playing zone after shutting opposing receivers down with their physicality over the past few seasons.

If they lack the foot-speed to zone cover, Capers will have to adjust his scheme.

The shift of Aaron Kampman to outside linebacker will also represent some changes defensively.

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers likely sees Kampman as a Kevin Greene or Lamar Lathon-type of physical, pass-rushing threat, but he will have to protect his side in coverage while Kampman adapts to his new role.

Kampman lacks the lateral quickness to excel in coverage, and opposing offenses will look to exploit that.

A.J. Hawk will stay on the inside, where he played a lot more instinctively a season ago following Nick Barnett's season-ending injury, and should work well with Barnett to shore up the interior of the Packers D.

All of the Packer linebackers struggled in coverage a season ago, as manning up on opposing tight ends has long been an Achilles' heel for Green Bay.

Look for Capers to use athletic rookie Clay Matthews in coverage, and some exotic blitz packages to keep quarterbacks guessing.

Especially in Capers' 3-4 defense, the best pass coverage is often a ferocious pass-rush, and he will need to be successful getting pressure to avoid allowing his linebackers too many one-on-one match ups with elite tight ends.

Capers will send any of his linebackers, mix in some zone blitz packages, and hope for some interior penetration from rookie anchor B.J. Raji and veteran Ryan Pickett as well.

In an additional wrinkle, safety Atari Bigby is physical enough to be sent on pass and run blitzes to disrupt offenses, so long as he can stay on the field after an injury-plagued 2008.

Capers loves his hard-hitting safeties, having deployed excellent safeties like Carnell Lake and Donovan Darius in his previous stops.

The role of Cullen Jenkins will be one to watch, with the pass-rushing 4-3 end probably shifting to the more physical 3-4 end role, while also lining up on the edge to provide additional pressure.

Capers' defense is predicated on pressuring the quarterback, and Kampman and Jenkins will have to produce in new roles for the switch to be successful.

Expect the Packers to be more aggressive on both sides of the ball, as they look to return to the playoffs in 2009.


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