Ask the Patriots if a pass first, second and third offense with a highlight reel defense is the winning combination in the NFL playoffs. I think they will sing you a different tune.
In 2007, they were supposed to have the perfect season.
However, when the New York Giants dropped back eight in coverage and had a zone blitz package that seemed to mimic the power of the “Steel Curtain,” the Patriots offense was rendered useless.
In this year’s playoffs, the same thing happened: The Jets dropped into coverage, mixed up their blitzing and ran the football right at the heart of the Patriots line. In comparison, when things were going well for the Patriots—namely 2001, 2003 and 2004—they were a balanced team that killed teams with third down conversions set up by a strong rushing game and a solid defense.
Only in 2003, Brady averaged more than 200 yards a game, many a time failing to even hit 150. Also, in 2001 he only threw a single touchdown in the playoffs, making it only 11 total for three years of winning.
With facts like that, the only thing one could possibly extract is this: If you want to win in the playoffs, you need to play solid defense and run the ball. It remains to be that even Tom Brady needs to learn that handing the ball off and watching the big men in the trenches earn their keep, puts notches in the win column.
The Packers are in the position they are because of this simple adaptation. The gunslinger style Aaron Rodgers has grown to love was not going to push them into the Super Bowl. While people may argue the amount of yards Rodgers has ended his games with, the reason for this is because of the setup of the run.
The play-action pass has been enemy No. 1 for opposing defenses. Jennings has been vital in this area. The home run swing has ended in the hands of the starting receiver because the defense has been forced to play tighter in the box to stop both the run and the short passing game.
To those also that cannot seem to grasp the idea that anyone can follow this scheme, there is just one name to mention: James Starks. He is a rookie out of the University of Buffalo. He is also the new starting running back for Mike McCarthy.
To ease his transition into the game, Green Bay has developed an entire running formation simply know all the “bone” formation. It’s a variation on the famous wishbone formation, built to act like a full house. It includes more blockers in the backfield that can also take the form of tight ends or able bodied wideouts that can keep the play-action threat alive, even in a formation featuring three in the backfield.
Though running the ball is vital, it is still understood that you still need a quarterback to get you there. There are teams like San Francisco that are a quarterback shy of a Super Bowl run and it is because the regular season is by no means a parody of the postseason.
Teams such as Baltimore, Chicago and the Falcons are teams that have been graced with a new quarterback to keep them relevant for years to come.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are the paragon when speaking of a ball control offense and a smash-mouth defense that rather being built on flashy top-10 highlights, is built on camaraderie, trust and discipline. Their ability to rush the pass, while still being able to protect the field, is the true genius of Dick LeBeau.
This brings up what may be the most interesting matchup the game has to offer. Will it be LeBeau scheming to bury Rodgers or will LeBeau’s apprentice Dom Capers be able to stifle the Steelers dynamic rushing attack? Though Dom Capers is not the Hall of Famer that Lebeau already is, he is not quite the untested young padawan.
For that matter, Pittsburgh cannot be the evil empire; the Yankees and Patriots already have those titles locked down.