Green Bay Packers' Jermichael Finley drops a pass near Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Sean Jones during the second quarter of the game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2011. / Corey Wilson/Press-Gazette
At every level of football and particularly in the NFL, one of the first orders of business for a coaching staff each week is determining the upcoming opponentís biggest playmakers and designing a scheme to take them away.
When opposing defensive coaches game plan to stop this yearís Green Bay Packers, their focus is Aaron Rodgers. And theyíve almost all decided to try and beat Rodgers with coverage rather than schemes heavy on all-out pressure.
The focus of their coverage, in turn, has been Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley, the two Packers receivers most likely to beat them. And two is the maximum number of weapons a defensive staff can target in a game plan.
Most weeks, Jennings and Finley still find ways to make most of the Packersí big plays. Thatís why theyíre special players and thatís why they draw so much attention.
But Sunday wasnít one of those days. With Jennings catching a mere two passes for 6 yards and Finley one for 30 against a Tampa Bay defense determined to shut them down, Rodgers had to look elsewhere to make plays in a game in which he wasnít throwing with his usual accuracy.
Still, he put 35 points on the board and steered the Packers to their 10th straight victory.
Every defensive coach pinpoints a guy and says, ďWeíre not going to let him beat us.Ē With the Vikings, itís Adrian Peterson. With Detroit, itís Calvin Johnson. With the Packers, one longtime scout recently said Jennings would be No. 1 and Finley No. 2. But, in all likelihood, some teams might switch that up or treat the two as more of a combination.
Whatever, with Jennings, theyíll jam him at the line and roll a safety over the top. And if the Packers try to counter it by putting Jennings in motion, the defense will typewriter a cornerback with him. In other words, use motion against motion.
As good as Jennings is, thatís something he struggles with sometimes: tight bump coverage. It was obvious the Bucs were paying close attention to him, and they took him away, although his plays were limited by a leg injury in the second half, which also might explain why the Packers struggled offensively. Also, the Bucs did some of the same things to Finley when he split wide.
But what that does is leave Nelson to work the sideline with nobody over the top to help. He winds up in one-on-one coverage and often against a nickel back, not a starting corner. Against the Bucs, for example, most of Nelsonís catches came against E.J. Biggers, the third corner.
But give Nelson credit. Heís the one ó not Donald Driver or James Jones ó who is taking advantage of the situation and making plays. And when the Bucs got desperate and went with an all-out blitz in the fourth quarter, Nelson was the one who beat them over the top with a 40-yard TD.
Another thing the Bucs were doing was trying to take away the slant and post plays by having their linebackers bailing out into coverage. They were really bailing hard. Thatís why the check-down plays to James Starks and the short passes to Driver were working so well in the second half.
But give Rodgers credit. He was short on a couple passes, threw it behind guys. But his interception aside, he normally doesnít throw the bad pass or hang up his receivers where there are going to be a lot of balls skipping off their hands and flying up for grabs.
Even on a day when he struggles, he reads the defense and goes to the right guy.
The Packers could have problems with Detroitís pass rush. The interior of their line has been struggling in protection going back to the bye, and it had its problems against the Bucs.
Scott Wells is usually good at getting leverage and position, but he had his breakdowns. Josh Sitton had his hands full with Albert Haynesworth. Throw in T.J. Lang, and itís three guys blocking two. And itís hard to figure whatís going on there. Maybe itís a communication thing. But it also seems like their feet and hands arenít working together ó that itís more a technique and leverage thing.
At tackle, thereís also a big difference between the play of Bryan Bulaga and Marshall Newhouse. Bulaga knows when to attack the end or when to let the end come to him. Thatís a fine line, and Newhouse hasnít mastered it.
Bulaga has gotten so good at letting the end come to him, then shocking him with his initial punch. He stalemates guys. Newhouse does a nice job of running the defensive end past the quarterback, and that allows Rodgers to step up and buy time. But Newhouse has to start stoning guys at the line of scrimmage.
If he doesnít and the Packers donít stop the bleeding inside, Rodgers isnít going to be able to step up against the Lions. And that might force the Packers to max-protect, move the pocket and put more of an emphasis on the running game than usual.
He got a little push, but he didnít impress. He sure didnít look like an instant savior for the pass rush. They had him standing up with only one lineman putting his hand down. They must have had their reason, but that was puzzling, too.
Former Press-Gazette sports editor Cliff Christl and former football coach and player Eric Baranczyk offer their analysis of Green Bay Packers games each week.