Gameday Notebook: Scheming Against Finley

Jermichael Finley is going to have to adapt to the extra attention being paid by defenses. ... The coaches are not concerned after the veteran tackles gave up three sacks last week. ... That and much more as we clean out our jammed notebook in time for Sunday.

The much-anticipated 2010 debut of Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley was more fizzle than sizzle.

And the Eagles' defense had the blueprint.

"The defensive end, he'll try to chip me or he'll try to grab me, and it'll be a linebacker inside that takes his spot," Finley explained. "If I got over the linebacker, there would be a safety. Pretty much at every level, I had a defender on me.

"I went outside, inside slot, I was double teamed inside and out, so it was a terrible feeling."

It worked to an extent. Finley finished with four catches for 47 yards. So, while he wasn't a dominant presence like he was down the stretch last season and during the preseason, he still was a key part of the offense. With the Eagles putting a target on Finley, Greg Jennings and Donald Driver caught touchdown passes and the Packers scored 27 points despite Aaron Rodgers' self-proclaimed "terrible" performance.

"Because of his ability and what he displayed on tape, some teams are going to want to make it difficult to get off the line of scrimmage and be aggressive, be physical and slow him down," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "I'm sure some teams will want to get help over the top. We've seen all those different thoughts from defensive teams and I'm sure we'll continue to do so. Obviously, our challenge is still finding ways to get him the ball. At the same point in time, if they're going to make a supreme commitment to take away one player, we've got to be able to take advantage of other guys."

One adjustment will be on Finley, especially with tight ends coach Ben McAdoo expecting teams to "try to beat him up at the line." Finley said he needs to "play faster" and let his athletic ability take over, especially in the first 5 yards, when defenders are allowed to disrupt his routes.

"I thought I was playing fast but, obviously, if I'm going to get double-teamed and triple-teamed and whatnot, I've got to play a little bit faster, get my head around and hopefully the ball will be on me before the defender can turn around," he said.

The Packers' scheme will help, with their penchant for using Finley as a traditional tight end, lined up in the slot or split out wide. The Bills run a 3-4 scheme that's similar to the Packers' defense, which Finley has been working against for the last couple of years, so that should lead to more opportunities on Sunday.

Against the Eagles, Finley caught four of the six passes thrown his way, which is a good success rate, though one of those targeted passes came when Rodgers forced him the ball into triple coverage. His four receptions might not seem like much but that puts him on pace for 64 for the season. The franchise record for a tight end is Paul Coffman's 56 in 1979.

"If that's shutting him out, I guess we've got some high expectations," McAdoo said.

Sacks an issue again?

Last year, Rodgers was sacked 50 times. With three sacks against the Eagles, he's on pace to be taken down 48 times.

However, there's no sense of panic among the coaches. Veteran tackles Mark Tauscher (twice) and Chad Clifton (once) were victimized on all three sacks, and all three came in a short span on Sunday.

The first came against Tauscher on the offense's 10th snap, preceding the Rodgers-to-Finley interception. The second came against Tauscher on the offense's 19th snap, the final play of the first quarter. The third came on the first play of the second quarter, against Clifton.

"Those 11 plays, there was some shoddy (play) by other people in there, too," offensive line coach James Campen said. "Certainly, collectively, they kept their composure and understand that it's a fundamental game for offensive linemen and they got it corrected and things moved on better. It wasn't perfect from 21 on by any sense of the imagination. Not giving up sacks for basically three quarters — the first play of the second quarter was the last sack — from there on they did a reasonably good job. It's no surprise. I'll tell you, you turn on the tape on Monday morning and it was fundamentals: pad level, feet weren't in the ground, they're not punching. That's what happens."

Asked whether it was age or rust or a litany of other things for his 33-year-old tackles, Campen interrupted every possibility.

"Fundamentals, period," he said. "Fundamentals. Fundamentals, period. Fundamentals, end of discussion."

Keeping contain

Marshawn Lynch carries the ball during last year's preseason game.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
On paper, the Packers are clear winners in this battle of strength vs. strength. The strength of Buffalo's offense is its running backs, led by C.J. Spiller, its first-round pick this year, Fred Jackson, a 1,000-yard rusher last year, and Marshawn Lynch, a 1,000-yard rusher in 2007 and 2008. The strength of the Packers is their stout run defense, which is anchored by their burly line.

"They all bring something a little different," linebacker Clay Matthews said. "With 21 (Spiller), he's a speedster and he likes to break it to the flat. With someone like Marshawn, he's a big, tough back who can break tackles. You've got to be aware of him. With Jackson, we've seen him line up in the wildcat sometimes. For the most part, though, it's all the same. We've just got to get them down and stop the run before they can get it going and make them pass. We know they have a three-headed monster back there."

Where the Bills will try to gain some yards is with cutback runs to take advantage of the Packers' aggressive linebackers. The Packers had some problems with misdirection during the preseason, though that was mainly with their backups.

"I think anytime you're dealing with the explosive, speed-type guys, that's the main thing," outside linebacker Brad Jones said. "With guys with that explosive ability, they want to burst outside. You've got to make sure you hold the edge."

The 2009 draft

When the Packers selected Raji with the ninth pick of the 2009 draft, one player who was a consideration was Penn State's Aaron Maybin. Maybin, who wound up going 11th to Buffalo, seemed like a great fit as the pass rushing outside linebacker for the Packers' new 3-4 defense.

Instead, the Packers got their outside linebacker by giving up three draft picks to get Matthews at No. 26.

So, whose career is off to the best start? That's easy. Maybin has no career sacks and still hasn't started. Matthews has 13 career sacks and is coming off a Pro Bowl rookie season.

"Yeah, baby," Matthews said when told those numbers. "It should be 14. They should start including playoffs. Don't sell me short on this. I'm giving myself 14."

Matthews, who leads the NFL with three sacks after one game, keeps tabs on his fellow Class of 2009'ers. Last year, Washington's Brian Orakpo won the rookie sack title with 11, with Connor Barwin next with 4.5 and defensive rookie of the year Brian Cushing with four.

"I got to play against (Maybin) at Penn State. He was quite an athlete," Matthews said. "He's got a motor. I like him. He really turns the jets on. I expect big things from him. But hopefully we can keep him at zero sacks. We don't need him getting after the quarterback."

Special teams, special concerns

Jordy Nelson had a breakout performance on returns last week.
Jim Luzzi/Getty Images
Are the Packers' special teams for real?

After a shockingly good performance against the Eagles' touted unit last week, Green Bay faces Buffalo on Sunday and Chicago next week. Buffalo ranked third in the Dallas Morning News' special-teams rankings last season while Chicago finished sixth. That's a great three-week measuring stick for a group that finished a woeful 31st last year.

"Not too shabby, not too shabby. We still left some things out there," Jarrett Bush said of last week's performance, which included great coverage on Eagles returners Ellis Hobbs and DeSean Jackson and a breakout performance by Jordy Nelson on kickoff returns.

Nelson's 31.2-yard average on five kickoff returns ranks second in the NFC and fourth in the NFL. That average on at least five runbacks is the best single-game figure for the Packers since Roell Preston averaged 32.0 vs. Minnesota on Oct. 5, 1998.

The Packers haven't returned a kickoff for a touchdown since Allen Rossum in 2000.

"Our philosophy with our offense, our scoring probability increases greatly once we get the ball outside the 30-yard line," special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said. "That's what our goal is. If we just keep doing that, the big plays will come."

As good as Hobbs and Jackson have been, the Bills' returners might be even better. Spiller returned seven kickoffs for touchdowns at Clemson, including four last year. Roscoe Parrish entered this season as the fourth-ranked punt returner in NFL history with three career touchdowns and a second-ranked 27 returns of 20-plus yards since he entered the NFL in 2005.

"We've just got to keep going and be consistent," Bush said. "That's one of the keys to being successful is you've got to be consistent week after week. Last week doesn't really mean anything."

Seven points

— History is on the Packers' side. Since 1978, when the NFL went to a 16-game schedule (and excluding the strike-shortened 1982), 458 teams won on opening weekend. Of those, 243 reached the playoffs and 142 won division titles. Of the 458 Week 1 losers, 102 reached the playoffs and 60 won division titles.

— McCarthy is the third coach in franchise history to lead the team to four consecutive season-opening wins. Bart Starr did it from 1980 through 1983 and Curly Lambeau did it from 1929 through 1932 and 1938 through 1941. Only three teams are 4-0 in their last four season openers, with New England and Pittsburgh being the others.

— Green Bay is one of just six teams in the NFL to have won its home opener in each of the last three years. Only three times in franchise history have the Packers won four straight home openers: all under Curly Lambeau (1923 through 1927, 1929 through 1932 and 1938 through 1941).

— The Bills are 6-1 when starting quarterback Trent Edwards has a passer rating of 100.

— This game features two of the NFL's top ballhawking safeties. Two-time Pro Bowler Nick Collins' leads all NFL safeties with 13 interceptions since 2008. Buffalo's Jairus Byrd finished second in rookie-of-the-year voting with a NFL co-leading nine interceptions. Byrd is the son of former NFL star and former Packers director of player programs Gill Byrd and began his prep football career at nearby Pulaski.

— The Bills lead the series 7-3, with Buffalo winning at home 24-10 in 2006, McCarthy's first season. In the teams' last game at Lambeau, the Packers won 10-0 as Vonnie Holliday set a team record with five sacks. Three of those sacks resulted in fumbles by Drew Bledsoe, the first of which turned into a touchdown when Brett Favre hit Donald Driver for an 11-yard score. The Packers are 2-1 vs. Buffalo at Lambeau.

— Since 1992, the Packers have the NFL's best home record, with their 107-37-0 mark topping Pittsburgh's 105 wins, Denver's 103 wins and Minnesota's 100 wins. Last year, the Packers went 6-2 at home.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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