Return Of The Chedi: Rodgers and His New Defense Look To Desimate All

Casey Mabbott@@oregonsportsguyContributor IAugust 29, 2009

After extensive looks at the other teams in the conference, I don’t see any reason why Green Bay should not be mentioned along side the teams being predicted to represent the NFC in the 2009 Super Bowl. In order to prove this is more a mathematical approach rather than just one fan’s opinion, I will let the numbers do the talking, along with some Star Wars references to keep you entertained.

    Last year the pack fizzled after a stellar 13-3 2007 campaign that ended with a Brett Favre interception in overtime of the NFC Championship game. 6-10 is no way to follow up being the no. 2 team in your conference the previous season, but several factors influenced the change.

In 2007, the defense was ranked 14th against the run, giving up 102 yards per game and forcing 8 fumbles. The 12th ranked secondary only allowed 210 yards passing per game, along with 19 interceptions. That’s 312 yards per game and 27 takeaways over 16 games for the no. 11 (6th in the NFC) ranked defense in the league. To sum, the Pack were better than 21 of 32 teams at stopping opposing offenses. Better than 65% of your competition? That’s good enough to be elected to office.

The offense was ranked number two, falling short only because the record setting Patriots reeled in the top spot. Being number two behind the best offense in the history of football is pretty sweet. Brett Favre and his troops rolled up over 370 yards and 27 points per game. The number two offense in America also gave up 15 interceptions and 7 fumbles, good enough for a +5 turnover margin. Several wins (5 to be precise) were decided by 7 points or fewer. To compare, 8 wins were won by 10 or more points. The 3 loses were by margins of 7, 10, and 28 points.

To average almost 400 yards on offense and nearly 30 points while winning half of your games by double digits almost grants you a postseason berth alone. But then to extend that by holding your opponents to 18 points and 312 yards per game? That would almost always translate into a super bowl berth.

In this case, however, the Super Bowl came knocking, promising a matchup of the Evil Empire of New England and Spygate versus the original golden boy and his young posse of YAC masters.
Brett answered with a pick in overtime. Season over.

If Billichick and Brady are the Emperor and Darth Vader, Brett must be Obi-Wan and the pick was his eyes closed light saber duel with Vader. Brett takes the fall so that Luke, aka Aaron Rodgers, can guide the pack to glory. Working out pretty well so far, right on cue with the script you might say. In “A New Hope” Luke stumbles around while Obi-Won guides the crew and wows people with how good he is.
After his death, Luke spends most of “Empire Strikes Back”  (aka the 6-10 2008 season) learning from Yoda, and during an impressive fight, gets his hand hacked off by Vader (in this case Vader was out with a knee injury, not uncommon for sith lords who don’t watch their blind side, but Rodgers got hurt all the same, a severe shoulder injury in week four that crippled him for most of the year). Han Solo was frozen in carbonite, going hand in hand with Ryan Grant’s hamstring injury. Leia (the fan base) realizes Han is great despite his grittiness, and that Luke is the man, and no longer gives a crap about Obi-Won (Brett).

The defense looked like a different unit in 2008. They were no. 26 against the run, allowing 131 yards per game and only forcing 9 fumbles. The pass defense was better, ranked no. 12 after allowing 202 yards per game and forcing 22 interceptions. These stats were good enough to get them the no. 20 ranked defense in the league, a far cry from the near top ten unit they had been a year earlier.
On offense, things looked roughly the same between 2007-2008. The Rodgers led Packers rolled up over 350 yards per game and averaged 26 points. Only giving up 21 takeaways, the Pack had a healthy +7 turnover margin, up 2 from a year before. So what was causing all the losses if the defense was middle of the road and taking the ball away left and right? The answer is simple.

The main difference was that the close wins were not materializing. Green Bay lost 7 contests by 7 points or less, 5 of those were on game ending field goals by the opposing teams. Most of the wins came by double digits, so scoring was never a problem. It was stopping other teams from getting solid field position when it counted. Hold a team between the 40’s during the final two minutes and you are likely to get good outcomes. That rarely happened in 2008.

Now that the growing pains of a young team (tied for first with Indianapolis averaging 25.5 years) are apparently over, this group has spent the 2008 offseason maturing in every way possible.

The team hired defensive guru Dom Capers to install an aggressive and multi-faced 3-4 scheme to get pressure on opposing offenses. So far in the preseason the first team has allowed just two scores and led the league in sacks as well as takeaways. Pretty good for a team that finished in the bottom half last year.

Team management knew if they were going to make the transition from a 4-3 to  3-4, more depth at linebacker and defensive tackle were neccessities. To make this happen, Green Bay drafted nose tackle B.J. Raji out of Boston College and outside linebacker Clay Matthews of USC. Star defensive end Aaron Kampman moved to the outside, and A.J. Hawk moved inside. These moves alone give the Packers depth comparable to almost any defense out there.

With a three man front, the Pack can disguise nearly any coverage, and can rush versatile linebackers rather than hefty lineman who were rarely reaching the QB. The Patriots and Steelers have been employing this scheme for over a decade, and neither have the front to back talent the Packers do.

Al Harris and Charles Woodson represent one of the most dominant corner tandems in the league. Their bump and run coverage has been upgraded to a zone scheme, which should only enhance the ability of these very physical corners. N

Nick Collins and Atari Bigby are two of the best safeties in the game, and now have Anthony Smith backing up an already elite defensive backfield. Nick Collins had 7 interceptions last year, putting him right up there with Ed Reed and Troy Polomolu.

Tramon Williams and Will Blackmon are two very capable nickel corners, and both saw extended time last year while Harris was hurt, which did not lead to a decrease in turnovers.

A line backing corps featuring Aaron Kampman, Nick Barnett, A.J. Hawk, and Clay Matthews should do if nothing else strike fear into the hearts of opposing tackles and QB’s. If one of these stellar players should get hurt or tired, there are several capable backups such as Brady Poppinga, Brandon Chillar, Jeremy Thompson, and Desmond Bishop. Chillar filled in for A.J. Hawk last year once Nick Barnett was injured, and the results were promising.

At the front of this new scheme is of course the line, featuring three very good pass rushers. B.J. Raji is the anchor, lining up at the nose tackle position and forcing the pocket back onto the QB. Aiding the OLB’s in their edge rushes are ends Johnny Jolly and Cullen Jenkins. Both are big enough to play defensive tackle, but should help collapse the pocket enough for Kampman or Matthews to come shooting through the gaps. Backing up this unit are Ryan Pickett, Justin Harrell, and Michael Montgomery. Neither Harrell or Montgomery are players you want starting, but they can rotate out the starters for a series or two if necessary.

The best part about this new front seven is that not only are they fast and agile players, they are all relatively young, which means the door to a Super Bowl is wide open, nowhere near closing. Pickett and Kampman are the oldest by far, each only 29 years old.

The defense looks primed for a deep playoff run, looking to top their numbers from two years ago and try to improve on their stellar secondary from a year ago.

The offense appears to be in similar shape.

Aaron Rodgers looks and acts like a man recently released from involuntary confinement, complete with an unkempt beard.

He had a stellar year, becoming only the second QB in league history to top 4,000 yards passing in his first year as a starter. He had a healthy 28:13 touchdown to interception ratio, and finished as the 6th ranked QB in the NFL. Not much more you can ask for, and he looks to improve on those numbers this year.

 Even with a QB rating the envy of his peers, Rodgers looked uncomfortable and sometimes lost in the offense last season. He appeared to more concerned with completing passes rather than making plays. He seemed to do exactly what Favre would not have, which is play if safe. Reducing turnovers is great, but if you do not exhibit that “it” factor and lead your team to the end zone, you will most likely come up short.

The times Rodgers was able to dissect defenses, his defense allowed the opposition to do the same. Rodgers learned a valuable lesson, and that is that fortune favors the bold. So he has set out to be a more aggressive passer on a more frequent basis, and the results have been staggering.

So far this preseason, Rodgers is 27 of 38 for 458 yards and 6 TD’s. He has yet to throw a pick and has never had to punt. He is completing 70% of his passes and has a QB rating of 151.1, leading his peers in nearly every category. If you were to calculate these stats over the course of a season you get 4,128 yards and 32 touchdowns. There is no way to calculate his interceptions, because he has yet to throw one.

4,000 yards and 30+ touchdowns? The last time the Pack had a QB do that they won the 1996 Super Bowl! Things look great for the man under center this year, and he should top all expectations after the lackluster year GB had previously.

The passing game will thrive thanks in large part to the return of their NFC leading receiving corps. Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, and James Jones are all versatile receivers that get tons of yards after the catch.

Even if some secondary manages to lock all of these guys up, Jermichael Finley is going to scare a lot of defenses this year. He is the Pack’s version of Antonio Gates, a big man with good hands and fast feet. He can block for the run, and can also line up as a receiver. His height at 6’5” will dwarf most corners and safeties, giving him an edge any time Rodgers needs him to go up and get the ball. He is backed up by Donald Lee, who is a great pass catcher yet lacks speed and consistent blocking ability.

Ryan Grant is back at full speed, after spending most of last year making up for lost time after a pulled hamstring and contract dispute. He should return to his explosiveness of 2007, where in he averaged over 5 yards per carry (as opposed to 3 per last season). Spelling him will be Brandon Jackson and newcomer Tyrell Sutton, who has shown tremendous burst during exhibition matches.

Actually having a running game will force defenses to leave men in the box, granting Rodgers to expose man coverage the way Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees love to. But the passing game isn’t everything, for example Drew Brees and Peyton Manning have spent the last decade proving that without a stellar defense to compliment your passing game, all is lost when it comes to getting a ring.

Rodger and the pack should have everything they need to make a deep playoff run, and if all goes according to plan, Rodgers should be there in the Super Bowl to fight Brady and bring the Lombardi Trophy home to Title Town.

Case and point?

Tom Brady is married to Gisele, Darth Vader married Natalie Portman. They both have good taste in women and can light up (pun intended) opposing defenses.
Darth Vader cut off Luke’s hand and then Luke cut his off before the Emperor was chucked down a pipe. Last year Rodgers had a shoulder injury, just yesterday Brady suffered a blow to his throwing shoulder. Looks like it wont be long before Brady throws Billicheck in front of a bus.


The Pack go 12-4 and make the Super Bowl.
Packers versus Patriots = 35-24 final score, Packers the victors.


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