World’s Best Preview: Indefensible QBs

What makes Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady so hard to stop? Defensive wizards Bill Belichick and Dom Capers, who worked together in New England in 2008, share the secrets. Plus, the threat of the back-shoulder pass opens up the deep passing game and much, much more in a 5,500-word preview that is overflowing with stats and notes we guarantee you won't find anywhere else. (Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY)

Aaron Rodgers vs. Tom Brady.

What more needs to be said? It’s quarterbacking royalty, with two of the NFL’s best teams playing at historic Lambeau Field on Sunday.

“They’re both really good, obviously,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “Both wear No. 12, both look like they’re really good golfers.”

Both are really hot, too, which is why these are the hottest teams in the league headed into this potential Super Bowl preview.

A month into the season, the Patriots were 2-2 and fingers were being pointed at Brady. The 37-year-old future Hall of Famer was averaging just 198 passing yards per game. The sixth-most accurate passer in NFL history had completed only 59.1 percent of his passes. The player with the second-best touchdown-to-interception ratio in NFL history had thrown four touchdowns and two interceptions.

There wasn’t any Rodgers-esque “relax” moments. Brady simply started playing like Brady, and the Patriots started playing like the Patriots.

The Patriots enter Sunday’s game on a seven-game winning streak. Brady has averaged 315 passing yards per game, completed 67.9 percent of his passes and tossed 22 touchdowns vs. four interceptions.

“I think you just have to have confidence in what you’re doing,” Brady said during his regular news conference on Wednesday. “What we went through, we went through, and hopefully we’ve moved past that and we’re at a different point now. Like I said, you never want to ride the ups and downs of the season. There are going to be ups and there are going to be downs, and there are going to be long nights, there are going to be sleepless nights, and you’ve just got to stay true to what you’re doing and believe in the guys you play with, rely on your preparation to give you confidence going into the game, and then you’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to do it. That’s what we get paid for — to go out there and run around and make a bunch of good plays and ones that are going to help your team win. Anybody could run around and help your team lose. That’s not why they pay us.”

Figuring out how to stop Brady is why the Packers are paying defensive coordinator Dom Capers. In the Packers’ last 12 games against quarterbacks who ranked among the league’s top 10 passers, Green Bay has gone just 2-10. The Packers are 8-3 this season, but the wins have come against Geno Smith, Jay Cutler (twice), Christian Ponder, Ryan Tannehill, Cam Newton, Mark Sanchez and Teddy Bridgewater. The losses have come against Russell Wilson, Matthew Stafford and Drew Brees.

Brady is better than any of those quarterbacks — and infinitely better than the seven quarterbacks the Packers have taken down this season.

“He makes the game easy. That’s as simple as I can put it,” cornerback Tramon Williams said.

If there’s one similarity between Rodgers and Brady, it’s their intellect. Rodgers, for instance, has thrown three interceptions this season. Not one has come because he was fooled. There’s no scheme or blitz that Brady hasn’t seen countless times during his brilliant career, which is a trump card against an aggressive coordinator like Capers.

“Like so many of these good quarterbacks, they’ve done it for so long and they’re so good at deciphering things,” Capers said. “You don’t want to give them a lot of pre-snap reads to where they know 5 seconds before the ball’s snapped because that certainly helps their timing and they know where they’re going with the ball. That’s the challenge against guys like him. They’re just so efficient, so quick getting the ball out of their hands. I’ve seen pressures to where might be somebody coming free in the ‘A’ gap (between the center and guard) but he gets the ball out before the guy gets there. You can’t get there any quicker than in a straight line.”

Ultimately, Capers wants to show Brady one thing before the snap but give him something different after the snap to cause a moment of confusion. That sounds good in theory and it works on the marker board. It doesn’t always work in reality, though. Because, like Rodgers does to opposing defenses, Brady can combat that approach by either speeding up or slowing down the tempo.

“You’ve got to be careful to where you don’t disguise yourself out of position and you vacate your responsibility,” Capers said. “That’s always the challenge. Everybody likes to disguise but he’s smart enough that he quick-snaps you and gets you out of position, or he goes to a long count to get you to show what you’re doing and then puts himself into the best play. He can go either way.”

Belichick is impressed by Rodgers in every way imaginable. Excellent touch on passes of every distance. Ability to extend plays. Accuracy to allow his receivers to gain yards after the catch. Most of all, what worries Belichick about Rodgers is the same thing that worries Capers about Brady.

“He just puts a tremendous amount of pressure on your defense (by) reading defenses and at times getting the offense into the right play or the right protection,” Belichick said in a conference call on Wednesday. “They very rarely run a bad play where somebody is just unblocked or the play just doesn't have a chance. They do a great job of staying away from the plays where the defense does have an advantage and them getting into something else. So, collectively, how all that’s done, through play-calling and audibling and check-with-me’s and all of that, the end result is it’s obviously got to run through the quarterback at some point, which it does, and Aaron does a tremendous job with that. I don’t think that can be in any way understated. It may not be him making the play but it’s him directing the team and maybe somebody else makes the play, but it’s still part of his job. This guy’s really a good player.”

LEGENDARY DEFENSIVE MINDS

It will be up to Belichick to find a way to stop Rodgers and Capers to find a way to stop Brady.

Belichick and Capers are two of the NFL’s great defensive minds. And in 2008 — one season before taking over as Green Bay’s defensive coordinator — Capers spent a season in New England working under Belichick as the Patriots’ defensive backs coach.

“We ended up winning 11 games and we didn’t have Brady (due to injury),” Capers said.

Just imagine those conversations late in the Patriots’ complex in Foxboro, Mass. Sitting in one chair was Belichick, a three-time Super Bowl champion who generally is considered the best coach in the league. Sitting in another chair was Capers, who had big-time success as the head coach of Carolina and as coordinator with Pittsburgh and Jacksonville.

“The success that Bill Belichick’s had for so many years, it speaks for itself,” Capers said. “It was an opportunity for me to go in and watch Bill work and see the unique things that he does that has helped him to have the kind of success that he’s had.”

Capers and Belichick go way back. Belichick was Cleveland’s head coach from 1991 through 1995. In 1994, Belichick led the Browns to the playoffs, where they lost to the AFC Central-rival Steelers, whose defense was coordinated by Capers. From there, the Capers-led Panthers and Belichick-led Browns held some joint training camp practices.

“I have a ton of respect for Coach Capers,” Belichick said. “Every place he’s been, he’s had a lot of success. I learned a lot working with Dom. Very well-prepared, a football guy, really into football totally — totally into it. He’s a great resource of knowledge and experience to draw from. It was a great opportunity for us to have him. It was very short — it was just a year, but it was still a great opportunity for us to have him as part of our organization. He’s a class person and a quality man. I have a lot for respect for Dom and really what he stands for and how he prepares himself and the players that he coaches.”

As coaches, they have different styles. Capers’ 3-4 scheme is predicated on attacking the quarterback and taking away the ball.

“Coach Capers does a nice job with the mixtures of pressures and looks, and really challenges your offense in terms of blitz pickup and identification and recognition of where they are,” Belichick said. “You’ve got to be ready for all of them because, sooner or later, they all come.”

Belichick’s multiple scheme is about taking away the one thing the offense does best. He isn’t a major proponent of blitzing.

“He’s got a very clear picture of what he wants to do,” Capers said. “I think he’s flexible, that he’ll adapt what he’s doing to his players. I think he does a good job of that. You’ve seen, based off of who he has, they might look totally different, trying to feature what guys that he feels can help them win.”

PRECISION PASSING

It might be the greatest non-play in the any NFL playbook.

It’s the back-shoulder pass, and Rodgers and Jordy Nelson have turned it into an art form — not to mention a major source for consternation for Belichick.

“Back-shoulder is tough because, especially with a guy like Nelson, who has real good height and length and speed,” Belichick said. “As a defensive back, you never really want to let the receivers get on top of you and get behind you. At the same time, they’re so good at that back-shoulder throw that if you even start thinking about that and then Nelson runs by you, it’s all over. I’d say it’s a really tough play to defend because of the accuracy and timing with which Rodgers throws it and the length and ball skills of Nelson, in particular.”

There is no back-shoulder pass in the playbook. And that’s the beauty of it. It’s simply a counterpoint to a go route by Nelson or any of the other receivers. Play that go route too aggressively? Then Rodgers will throw a laser to the sideline and Nelson will stop on a dime and pluck the ball out of the air for a gain of 20. Worry too much about the back-shoulder pass? Than Nelson will keep running and haul in one of Rodgers’ bombs.

“It’s hard to defend them both,” Nelson said. “You kind of have to pick what you’re going to do, if you’re going to play over the top or play underneath. As I’ve tried to explain over the years, it is the same route. It is all just decision off of Aaron, (and) he’s very good at making that split-second decision and putting the ball in the right spot. We just react.”

The success starts in the film room, quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said. Then, it’s to the practice field to make it work. That’s where the unspoken bond between Rodgers and Nelson and their years of experience come into play.

“The first part of it’s the decision to throw back-shoulder, which starts with the personnel matchups and the style of the defender,” Van Pelt said. “Is he playing the upfield shoulder? Then the back-shoulder throw is more advantageous. Is the guy playing the back hip? Then probably over the top. So first, a lot of study goes into how the defender defends the deep ball. From there on, it’s getting to know each other and getting to know the body language of the receivers, and the accuracy of the throw is critical. It takes years and years of reps to get it down. We’re fortunate because our guy is one of the best in the league at it and we really take pride in throwing a good, accurate ball when we do go back-shoulder.”

Because the Rodgers-to-Nelson back-shoulder connection has been so dangerous, defensive backs have played Nelson’s go routes accordingly. Give Nelson that inch of separation and he’ll take it a mile. That’s one reason why Nelson leads the NFL with four touchdown receptions of 50-plus yards this season to give him a league-high 13 since the start of the 2010 season.

“You’ve got to be able to threaten them deep before you can make the back-shoulder effective, and they have to be afraid of the back-shoulder for the deep ball to be effective,” Van Pelt said. “It’s like which came first, the chicken or the egg? It’s good to keep them guessing.”

Rodgers said he hasn’t thrown as many back-shoulder passes as he has the past couple of seasons. That’s because defenders have been taking away the “non-play,” meaning Rodgers has thrown deep to great impact. That ability to use the cornerbacks’ strengths against them should help the Packers against New England’s superb secondary on Sunday.

“You have to threaten them over the top and be able to throw it over the top before you can do the back-shoulder,” Rodgers said. “Against two great corners like this, you can’t just throw a bunch of back-shoulders or all over the top. You have to keep them guessing. We haven’t thrown a lot of back-shoulders here this year. We’ve been throwing a lot over the top, so you’re going to have to respect that first.”

The other sideline

 

— For all of the hype surrounding Rodgers vs. Brady, the matchups between Packers receivers Nelson and Randall Cobb and Patriots cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner might decide the game. The Packers might have the best receiver duo in the league; the Patriots might have the best cornerback duo in the league.

“It’s a matchup defense,” Rodgers said. “They’ll figure out who they want on Jordy, who they want on Randall, who they want on Q (Andrew Quarless) and who they want on Davante (Adams) and we’ll run our offense and adjust if we have to. That’s football. We adjust, they adjust and whoever can be more efficient is probably going to end up winning. It’s about taking care of the football when you’re playing a good defense like this. We have confidence in Jordy to make plays every game. We’re going to try to put him in positions to do that.”

Typically – but not always – the Patriots have used the 5-foot-11 Revis to go one-on-one with the opponent’s No. 2 receiver, with the 6-foot-3 Browner taking on the No. 1 with the help of a safety. Who follows Cobb in the slot? Kyle Arrington and Revis have split those snaps, with quarterbacks having only a 23.3 rating against Revis in those situations, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

“If you look at last week (against Detroit), Browner was on Calvin (Johnson) and Revis was on (Golden) Tate, and then they can do different things with their safeties if they want to put them over the top,” Nelson said. “I’m preparing for both. You’ll see throughout other games (like) the Denver game that Browner’s on Demaryius (Thomas) and Revis is on (Emmanuel) Sanders, but then all of a sudden they switched and they put Browner on the tight end (Julius Thomas) and Revis on Demaryius. They’ve got all sorts of things that they can do. You’ve just got to do your film study and watch them both and adjust to what they’re going to do.”

Revis, 29, remains a lockdown, all-around corner. According to ProFootballFocus.com, he’s allowed 50.0 percent completions.

“He’s fluid and he’s patient, he’s smart,” Nelson said. “I don’t even know where to start. I remember playing him four years ago when he played with the Jets, which I think is when he was at his best before he got injured. He has it all. He’s strong, he’s patient, he’s smart, he can move in his pedal, he can get in and out of breaks. He can do it all. Not very often do you go up against a guy like that. You’ve just got to compete and try to mix it up as much as possible and try to win.”

— At 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds, Rob Gronkowski is a matchup nightmare at tight end. Among tight ends, he’s third with 58 receptions, first with 812 yards and second with nine touchdowns. Gronkowski, who entered the NFL in 2010, has caught 50 touchdown passes from Brady in his career. Already, that’s the second-most prolific quarterback-tight end combination in NFL history behind Philip Rivers’ 69 touchdown passes to Antonio Gates. He reached 50 career touchdowns in 59 games; only Hall of Fame receiver Lance Alworth (54 games) got there faster.

“I don’t know that a lot of people have had great success in covering him,” Capers said. “He can go vertical. He’s a big ol’ guy, so he’s got a big wingspan. You’ve seen him catch a ball thrown behind him and pull it in. He likes the physical part of the game in terms of he’s going to challenge you in terms of tackling. If you go up in his upper body, the guy’s big and strong and tacklers bounce off. You’ve got to try and get the second and third guy there. He obviously gives them a matchup issue. And then Tom Brady is always aware of who’s matched up on him.”

Gronkowski ranks second among NFL tight ends with 337 yards after the catch and third with 12 missed tackles forced, according to Pro Football Focus. He looked like a man among boys on a touchdown against the Colts a couple weeks ago in which defenders bounced off him as if it were a game of old-school Tecmo Bowl.

“If you’re not where you’re supposed to be with him, he’s going to take a 13-yard play and make it a 40-yard play because he has run-after-the-catch ability,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. “He’s very strong if your tackling angles aren’t good. He’s very hard on little guys because little guys can’t bring him down. He’s very hard on big guys because he can separate from them. So he’s a dynamic player and he plays with a great play speed and effort.”

Of the defenders on the Packers’ roster, it would appear linebacker Clay Matthews might have the best chance to be successful. He’s 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds and has enough speed and instincts. That, of course, would take him out of the mix as a pass rusher, so that’s the obvious trade-off.

“Absolutely,” Matthews said about wanting the matchup. “You’ve seen it throughout my career. I’ve been matched up against slot receivers (like) Victor Cruz. There could potentially be some opportunities in the game where I’m matched up against him. We’ll see. Obviously, I enjoy those opportunities to kind of showcase my talents, especially at something that is not my normal pass rushing.”

The other challenge is putting too much attention on Gronkowski. It seemed like a bizarre trade at the time, when Belichick sent All-Pro guard Logan Mankins to Tampa Bay for tight end Tim Wright on Aug. 26. Wright, however, has scored six touchdowns in the last seven games.

“He doing a great job for us, and the more that we really give to him, the more he understands and takes on,” Brady said. “We got him pretty late here in the camp. He didn’t have any of the OTAs. He’s just done a great job of coming in and understanding what he’s been asked to do and try to do a good job with it and go from a totally different system to what we do. I think each week his role has grown. He’s been a big factor for us, and hopefully it continues.”

— The Packers have to pressure Brady. That’s a universal statement for any quarterback.

According to ProFootballFocus.com, he’s completed 71.1 percent of his passes with 23 touchdowns and two interceptions and a rating of 115.6 when not pressured. When pressured, his accuracy dips to 47.7 percent, he’s thrown three touchdowns vs. two picks, and his rating is 58.3. Getting to Brady with only four rushers is critical because blitzing him – just like blitzing Rodgers – can be a suicide mission. His rating when blitzed (98.9) and not blitzed (101.5) is almost identical. Against the blitz since 2008, Brady is second in rating (104.8) and first in touchdown-to-interception ratio (7.22-to-1).

“You pressure our quarterback sometimes and he’ll make you pay, so there’s a fine line between getting pressure on him and not enough,” Matthews said. “We’ll see how it plays out this Sunday. Our four-man rush really has to get home and, when I say get home, it’s going to be difficult with how quick his release is and especially spreading out the field. Especially on the interior and getting pressure in his face, I think it’s very important, too, so it puts extra emphasis on our D-tackles and some of the games.”

Brady isn’t too mobile but he’s difficult to sack. He’s been dropped just 14 times, and New England ranks fifth with a sack rate of only 3.75 percent. Green Bay’s defense ranks 13th with a sack rate of 6.82 percent.

“Scheme doesn’t matter. Just making him uncomfortable is the most important thing,” linebacker Julius Peppers said.

— New England certainly is battle-tested. This marks the Patriots’ fourth consecutive game against a first-place team. They blasted the first three of those opponents: 43-21 at home vs. Denver on Nov. 2, 42-20 at Indianapolis on Nov. 16 and 34-9 at home vs. Detroit on Nov. 23. The Patriots are the only team in NFL history with three consecutive wins by at least 20 points against teams at least three games over .500.

New England’s seven-game winning streak started with a 43-17 win over first-place Cincinnati, giving the Patriots four blowout wins over top competition.

“We pretty much take the same approach every week,” Belichick said. “We’re not really concerned about our record, or the other team’s record, or anything else. We just try to go out there and prepare for the game, do well in our opportunity to play it.”

History lessons

 

— Since Robert Kraft purchased the Patriots in 1994, New England leads the league with 127 home victories. With a win on Sunday, the Packers would tie the Patriots; Pittsburgh and Denver are a distant third with 117 home wins.

Green Bay has been dominant in going 5-0 at home this season. It’s outscored its opponents 219-85. Only the 1950 Los Angeles Rams have scored more in their first five home games (229), according to STATS. Over his last 13 home games, Rodgers has thrown 29 touchdown passes against zero interceptions and gone 322 attempts without an interception. Both of those marks are NFL records.

— The Patriots have assembled 14 consecutive winning seasons. That’s tied for the fifth-longest streak in NFL history behind Dallas (20; 1966-1985), San Francisco (16; 1983-1998), Oakland (16; 1965-1980) and Chicago (15; 1930-1944). Curly Lambeau’s Packers had 14 consecutive winning seasons, as well, spanning the 1934 through 1947 seasons. Lambeau, in fact, led the Packers to a winning record 26 times in a 27-year span, with the lone exception being 1933.

New England has been a dominant team in the second half of the season. Since 2010, New England is 32-3 during the second half of the season. Green Bay is a distant second at 24-10-1.

— Home or away, it doesn’t matter to Brady when facing NFC foes. He’s 21-5 in intra-conference games at home and 20-5 on the road. On the other hand, since McCarthy took over in 2006, the Packers and Cowboys have the NFC’s best winning percentage against AFC teams at 21-14; .600. Green Bay’s plus-215 scoring differential against AFC teams is by far the best for an NFC team (Dallas is plus-166).

— Since the NFL went to its eight-division format in 2002, the Patriots have owned the NFC North. On Oct. 13, 2002, Brett Favre and the Packers rolled into New England and won 28-10 in the Patriots’ first game against the NFC North. Since then, the Patriots have won all 14 games against the NFC North, including the first three of this season — 30-7 over Minnesota, 51-23 over Chicago and 34-9 last week against Detroit.

Noteworthy numbers

 

— This season, Rodgers leads the NFL with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 10.0-to-1 and Brady is second at 4.3-to-1. No surprise there: In NFL history, Rodgers is the all-time leader at 3.96-to-1 (218 touchdowns, 55 interceptions). Brady is second at 2.75 to 1 (385 touchdowns, 140 interceptions).

Ask Rodgers about his statistical accomplishments, and he’ll tell you that avoiding interceptions is what’s most important. Brady said the same thing this week.

“I don’t think there are any certainties you can look at statistics,” Brady said. “I do think not throwing interceptions and not turning the ball over is hugely important to the success of the team. How many touchdowns you throw, I think that’s (overrated). If you’ve got 50 touchdown passes, obviously you’re scoring a lot of points, which is a great thing and that’s obviously going to help your team win. And if you had 60 touchdowns or 70 touchdowns or 80 touchdowns, and 40 were rushing and 40 were passing, it would be the same if you had 80 (passing touchdowns). They all count the same. But turnovers limit your scoring. That’s the problem with turnovers. You can’t score if you’re turning it over. It’s like a punt. If you go out and you punt 12 times, you’re not scoring points. That’s not good. So, when you turn the ball over and throw interceptions, you’re giving the other team more opportunities and your team less opportunities. Not that they’re going to take advantage of it every single time, but the odds are they’re going to take advantage of it more than they’re not, especially a team like this, where you turn it over, they have the highest percentage of scores after you turn the ball over than any team in the league.”

— It’s often a chicken-or-egg proposition: Do teams win because they had a 100-yard rusher, or did they have a 100-yard rusher because they were winning? Well, the Patriots are 40-1 when they have a 100-yard rusher under Belichick. In fact, since the start of the 2005 season, they’re 27-0.

The Patriots, however, can run it when they want to run it. Just look at the game against Indianapolis two weeks ago. With the Colts fearful of Brady and Co., Belichick ran it 44 times for 246 yards. They also ran 46 times or 220 yards against Cincinnati.

New England’s ability to move the ball on the ground or through the air made preparation a challenge for Capers. There’s only so much time during the workweek.

“They’re kind of a theme-of-the-week team. And that’s part of their strategy,” Capers said. “If you talk to the Indianapolis Colts before they played them, they ran the ball 44 times and many of those had an extra offensive tackle in there and they hadn’t shown that before, (and) they didn’t show one snap of it against the Lions (the following week). So they have a theme of the week, and they’re going to work on that and they hope that you aren’t working on it.”

— When scoring at least 30 points, New England is 7-0 and Green Bay is 6-0. New England is averaging a league-high 32.5 points per game while Green Bay is next with 32.2 per game.

Does that put the pressure on the Packers to score?

“I’ve never really looked at it like that,” Rodgers said. “I’ve always prepared to be efficient against a defense. Regardless of who’s on the other side, you know you have to score points, you have to lead your team to scoring drives and hope your defense stops them regardless of who they have on the other side. Obviously, when you’re playing against a quarterback like that, you expect him to play well. But we expect to play well on offense and we have to try to be efficient.”

— This will be the first matchup between the highest-scoring quarterbacks in NFL history. Rodgers averages 28.65 points per start while Brady averages 28.23 points.

“This is my 10th season, he’s been a few more than that,” Rodgers said. “So, this is rare. We’re both on the original team that drafted us, so that’s pretty special. I think he’s been with one coach his entire career. I’ve been with the same GM and one coach my entire starting career, as well. That’s pretty special.”

Four-point stance

 

— Asked what would be the difference in the game, and Rodgers said “turnover margin.”

The Packers are a league-best plus-15 in turnovers. In their stretch of seven wins in eight games, Green Bay is plus-15 in the wins but was minus-2 in the loss to New Orleans. New England is a second-best plus-11, including plus-8 during its seven-game winning streak.

It’s not just the turnovers, as Brady referenced earlier. Green Bay has turned its 23 takeaways (No. 2 in league) into a league-high 96 points. New England has turned its 20 takeaways (tied, No. 6) into a second-best 88 points.

The Patriots are 121-12 when winning the turnover battle since Belichick took over as coach in 2000. Just as impressively, the Packers are 65-8-1 when winning the turnover battle since Mike McCarthy took over as coach in 2006.

“We all know how important turnovers are to the outcome of most games in this league, and they’ve done a better job of taking the ball away than everybody else has,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said this week. “That’s going to be a great challenge for us on Sunday because we’ve got to do a great job of taking care of it. We can’t give them extra possessions on offense. They have a good rush. They disrupt the quarterback in the pocket. They’ve created some strip-sack opportunities for themselves. It’s a group that puts a lot of pressure on you.”

— Rodgers bided his time for three seasons behind Favre. In this year’s draft, the Patriots drafted Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round to eventually succeed Brady.

“There’s no better quarterback coach than the guy in front of you,” Rodgers told reporters in New England during his Wednesday conference call. “For me it was Brett, for (Garoppolo) it’s Tom. That’s the training right there, it’s invaluable. Quarterbacks usually don’t have the opportunity to gain when you can watch a guy like that who has been consistently at the top of their game for a long time. Pay attention to what he’s doing, listen to what he’s doing, how he goes about his business and try to pick up as many things as you can from him and try to incorporate the stuff you like into your own game.”

— Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy and New England’s Shane Vereen are two of the top all-around backs in the league. From Week 8 through Week 12, Lacy has caught 16 passes for 249 yards; his yardage total tops all NFL backs, even though he played only four games because of the Week 9 bye. Lacy also has three touchdown receptions during that span; no other back has more than one.

“He’s hard to tackle,” Belichick said. “He’s got good vision and he’s hard to tackle; the guy breaks a lot of tackles. He’s a strong runner, hard to get on the ground, whether they hand it to him or throw it to him. He had 120-some yards receiving against New Orleans, so it’s the same issue when they hit him on check-downs or screen passes or plays like that. It’s tackling.”

Vereen, meanwhile, is fourth on the team with 43 receptions, 353 receiving yards and three touchdown catches. He “is going to run their whole offense. He is a good receiver,” Capers said.

— If the Packers are leading a tight game in the fourth quarter, can they finish the job? Brady has directed 35 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, which is the fifth-most in NFL history.

Capers, on the other hand, has lamented his unit’s failure to close out games all season. The Packers have been outscored 95-58 in the fourth quarter. Oftentimes, it’s meant nothing, since the Packers rolled into the fourth quarter with enormous leads and had backups on both sides of the ball in the game, which have skewed the numbers. Last week at Minnesota, however, the Packers allowed a late touchdown drive to give the Vikings a chance for the upset.

Quoteworthy

Williams, on facing Brady and the Patriots’ offense: “Great quarterback, great organization, great team. They find different ways to attack different teams. You never know what it’s going to be from week to week. That’s the chess match, and that’s what the great teams do. They play chess. It ain’t a checkers game. Hopefully, we can go out and play chess a little bit, too.”


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