Packers could learn from the Final Four

If new Packers general manager Ted Thompson wasn't too busy talking with his new co-workers or breaking down film, he would have learned a thing or four by watching this weekend's playoff games.


I tuned in with about 6 minutes left in the first half. I watched the rest of the game and overtime and only saw one missed tackle by Pittsburgh. And that came when Jets running back Curtis Martin stiff-armed a defensive back to pick up extra yards. The Jets' defense was just as good until getting worn down by Pittsburgh's heavy-duty running backs.

Too often, of course, Green Bay defenders treated opposing ball carriers as if they were some sort of genetic freak from Chernobyl. In the Packers' playoff game against Minnesota, Moe Williams scored on a long touchdown catch and run, in part because safety Darren Sharper whiffed on an open-field tackle attempt. Rookie cornerback Ahmad Carroll missed plenty of tackles as well, to say nothing of middle linebacker Nick Barnett. Safety Mark Roman's poor tackling helped the Vikings score two touchdowns in the Christmas Eve game at the Metrodome.


The Falcons destroyed the Rams, but the most exciting play of the game was a punt to ex-Packers returner Allen Rossum. Rossum was flanked by a pair of Falcons. Rossum fielded the punt and faked a pass to the player to his left. The Rams bit, and that opened a huge alley for Rossum, who returned the punt untouched up the middle for a touchdown.

First, the Packers could use an explosive returner. Antonio Chatman has had one big return in his two-year career. The plus side to Chatman is he's sure handed, and that's a big plus with a powerful Packers offense. The last thing a team with a potent offense needs is a special-teams turnover to deprive it of a possession. Still, nothing changes the momentum of a game faster than a special-teams touchdown.

Second, the play by the Falcons showed some creativity. Outside of the occasional end-around — which never works — and a couple of halfback-option passes, when was the last time the Packers showed any creativity?


In the Eagles' romp of Minnesota, Philadelphia's linebackers intercepted two passes. The first came when Ike Reese tipped a Daunte Culpepper pass and grabbed it. Packers middle linebacker Barnett is a great athlete, but I can't remember the last time he made a leaping deflection of a pass. Tipped passes more often than not turn into interceptions.

Barnett broke up eight passes on the season; Na'il Diggs broke up two and Hannibal Navies didn't defense a single pass. The Packers desperately need some drive-changing plays from their linebackers.


Patriots coach Bill Belichick has earned plenty of praise for his X's and O's capabilities. But in yielding only a field goal against the record-setting Colts on Sunday, the real strength of the Patriots' defense showed.

The Patriots simply don't make mistakes. Remember how many easy touchdown passes Peyton Manning threw against the Packers during their regular-season game? Not once did Manning have a wide-open receiver against the Patriots. Not once did the Patriots miss a tackle.

The Colts could have scored 70 against the Packers. The Colts could have played all day Sunday and Monday and never crossed the goal line against the Patriots. That's amazing considering Pro Bowl defensive lineman Richard Seymour didn't play, New England's starting cornerbacks, including Pro Bowler Ty Law, are out for the season, and their No. 4 cornerback, Earthwind Moreland, was injured, too. With all of those injuries at cornerback, the Patriots' rookie starting safety, Eugene Wilson, started at corner Sunday, and wide receiver Troy Brown has moonlighted as a corner for most of the season.

Despite all of that inexperience, there were no breakdowns. Despite what should be mismatches all over the field, the Patriots were hardly challenged. That's brilliant coaching. Not X's and O's coaching, but attention-to-detail coaching.

If the Packers go shopping for a defensive coordinator this off-season, forget about schemes and all of that. The common thread through all of the four remaining playoff teams isn't air-tight defenses but error-free defenses.

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