Rodgers vs. Williams; Brees vs. Capers

Thursday's big matchups will be aggressive defensive coordinators vs. blitz-killing quarterbacks. Dom Capers and Gregg Williams are two of the best defensive play-callers in the league but they'll attack Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees at their own risk.

Dom Capers loves to send pressure at the opposing quarterback.

Ditto for his counterpart, Gregg Williams.

That sets up the ultimate chess match when the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints kick off the 2011 NFL season in a Thursday night showdown at Lambeau Field.

Capers and Williams will dial up the pressure at their own risk. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was the NFL's top-ranked quarterback in the league against the blitz last season and over the last two seasons combined, according to STATS. In 2009, Saints quarterback Drew Brees was the top-ranked quarterback against the blitz.

"Any of these quarterbacks like Brees or Aaron, if you stick with one thing, you're going to have trouble," Capers told Packer Report on Thursday "He's a very good decision-maker. I think he can read what you're doing very well and he's very decisive with where he wants to go with the football."

Brees has experience on his side. He's been a full-time starter since 2002 and has missed only two games over the last seven seasons. Since being paired with Saints coach Sean Payton starting with the 2006 season, Brees leads the NFL in almost every meaningful statistic, including touchdown passes (155, tied with Peyton Manning), passing yards (22,918), completion percentage (67.0).

So, it's no surprise where Capers' focus has been since he began examining the Saints' attack a few months ago.

"It's the focal point," Capers said. "I think that's where everything starts with the Saints. With Sean Payton and Drew Brees, you've got an outstanding play-caller and you've got an outstanding quarterback who can make all those correct decisions on the field."

The same can be said about the pairing of Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy. Last season, Rodgers' had a passer rating of 104.4 against the blitz. In 2009, it was 112.7. Combined, he's beaten the blitz to the tune of 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions on 68.0 percent accuracy in 2009 and 2010.

"He's got great anticipation and awareness on the field," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "The 3,000-plus snaps that he's got under his belt should be a great benefit for him. I think we do as best we can and we spend a lot of time on pressures. We spend a lot of time, even when we're just in the gym or jog-throughs, we're doing our best to simulate things. But there's no replacement for the real live fire and the speed of things. He's progressed every year. He's made mistakes but he's a quick learner and is not a big repeat-mistake guy."

Beating the blitz, of course, takes more than a quarterback. It's a team effort. For the Packers, the main characters are center Scott Wells and Rodgers, who excel at deciphering who's coming and who's not coming during those frantic final seconds of the play clock. It starts, however, in the meeting room as the quarterbacks, running backs and linemen watch extra film to pick up tendencies and make sure they're on the same page when they see those same looks on the field.

The studying has been a little more intense this week. Williams is to 4-3 schemes what Capers is to the 3-4 — an aggressive coordinator with cutting-edge schemes. What sets Williams apart from most coordinators, Philbin said, is that he'll blitz with abandon regardless of whether the ball's at the offense's 5-yard line, the defense's 5-yard line or the 50-yard line. While Capers' blitzes revolve around slot cornerback Charles Woodson and the inside linebackers, Williams isn't afraid to send any of his linebackers or defensive backs. Last season, 15 players had at least one of the Saints' 34 sacks. Plus, he uses a variety of man and zone coverages behind those blitzes to make things just a little more unpredictable.

Outside of the running back, with Brandon Jackson signing with Cleveland as a free agent, Rodgers is surrounded by the same group of players who have handled the blitz so well in the past two seasons.

"We do a number of things with our formations and changing up the tempo that we're hopeful will help avoid some of those big shots," Rodgers said. "When you think of some of the games Gregg Williams has coached, it brings to mind quarterbacks taking a beating. That's not something we enjoy doing here in Green Bay."

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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

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