I took a gander at the Packers game against the Lions on Turkey Day and came away with the following observations for this week’s Scouting Report. The report will be broken into two parts this week because of the enormity of the game.
Packers offense vs. Cowboys defense
Obviously, it all starts with Brett Favre. Watching the game I could see that Brett was making quick decisions with the football and the right decisions. I guess the big difference in Favre this year is fewer mistakes leading to turnovers and a willingness to take what the defense gives instead of forcing plays. He’s going to get his, we just need to limit it or cause him to resort to old habits and force a pass or two.
Now, let’s talk about the Packers offense in a general sense. They like to pass the ball. My grasp of the obvious never fails me. They run a lot of 4-wide with Ryan Grant in the backfield and 5-wide sets. Those were their main formations in the Lions game, especially when the game was being contested before they got a lead. Green Bay sometimes uses these sets as a substitute running game and threw short passes to act as a safe running play. A lot of these went to Donald Driver underneath the linebackers or as a hitch pass. Also, the ever-present slant in the West Coast offense was on display. Green Bay thought that they could exploit the Lions secondary and basically forgot about the run until later in the game. But they have had games when they fed Ryan Grant the ball, it all depends on their opponent and what they think they can accomplish. Against Dallas, which so good in stopping the run, we’ll probably see a somewhat similar game plan as last week. In the redzone, they like the slants from the slot and the fade/fade-stop on the outside, so watch out for those.
Brett will go deep so you can’t just jump the short routes and get away with it all game. But you can’t sit back in a soft zone and give up 6-8 yards on every pass. This is the bind the Packers and Favre put a defense in, you have to manage both aspects of pass defense; deep and underneath. If I was Dallas I would take my shots at pressuring Favre whenever they go 5-wide and in some of the 4-wide sets, although Grant is a pretty good blocker in pass protection. I would blitz Favre a lot in the 5-wides, play a tight man-to-man and take my chances. The Lions did an OK job of this at the beginning but couldn’t sustain the pressure, especially in the 4-wide set with Grant in the backfield. Dallas has better athletes and pass rushers than the Lions so they could possibly make it work. Favre also isn’t going to scramble and beat you, so teeing-off on the pass rush and playing man-to-man and turning your back to the QB won’t hurt you in that respect. It will be interesting to see if the Cowboys can go man with Henry’s health an issue and also the trust factor in Reeves and the safety formations. If they play zone, it has to be an aggressive one and the defenders have to lock up the receiver when he enters his zone until the moment he leaves it. The Packers could combat this by flooding the zone with multiple receivers.
The Packers have a gaggle of receivers that can hurt you and Favre uses them all. They also have a TE in Donald Lee that can do damage so you can’t forget about him. They also throw to Grant out of the backfield on screens and dump-off passes. Everybody on their offense besides the offensive line can be a target for Favre. If the Packers want to pass in this game, then the Cowboys best hope of limiting them is the play of guys like DeMarcus Ware, Greg Ellis, Chris Canty and others making Favre pay. Force Green Bay to get out of the WR sets and make them use max-protect schemes.
On the running game, they can do it, but they didn’t in this game until they had a big lead. Then they used Grant in a similar way to how we use MB3 and he busted off a couple of long runs. Most of his running stats came late in the game. Interestingly, when Detroit closed the gap late in the game, the Packers went back to Brett’s arm until they had moved the ball and run some clock, then they gave it back to Grant. Grant is a downhill runner, a slasher that gets to a hole and goes north-south. He’s a good back, he can run, he can catch and he can block. But for the Packers to run the ball on the Dallas defense might be a little too much to ask, especially because they are a team that will go back to the pass whenever things aren’t working as planned. I don’t think they’ll stick with the run.
The Cowboys have to be aggressive and should blitz Favre on the 4 and 5-wide sets if they can’t get pressure with their standard rush. Favre is playing too well and has too many targets to allow him to sit back in these formations. DeMarcus Ware and Greg Ellis need to have big games for the Cowboys. If the Cowboys are comfortable going to some man-to-man they should do it, I don’t trust their zone coverage enough and the Packers will throw underneath to draw them forward then will try to go over the top. They have the horses to get it done. A dose of tight man-to-man can help limit the 3-step drops and quick throws from the shotgun that Favre is doing so well.
Ryan Grant can do more than just run the ball, so besides playing our standard good run defense Kevin Burnett needs to be keenly aware of where Grant is on the field and cover him out the backfield. Watch the screen, too. If they try to run with Grant pursue him aggressively and create traffic, he probably won’t beat you with cutbacks and fancy moves.