The method to Bates' madness

A year ago at this time, new defensive coordinator Bob Slowik was waxing about his go-get-'em coaching philosophy. Slowik was going to blitz on first down, second down and third down. Fourth down, too.

The blitzing was supposed to mean sacks. The blitzing was supposed to mean turnovers. The blitzing was supposed to help push the Packers back to the Super Bowl.

Of course, none of that happened. The blitzing didn't lead to more sacks. It certainly didn't lead to more turnovers — the Packers recorded the fewest takeaways in team history. And it didn't lead to more wins or a trip to the Super Bowl.

So long, Slowik. Enter Jim Bates.

Bates is vanilla compared to Slowik's neopolitan. Boring is better though. In fact, Bates' philosophy is espoused with the word KISS. As in Keep It Simple Stupid. Simple doesn't mean boring, though.

"We have a defense that people literally love to play," Bates said during his introductory conference call with Wisconsin reporters on Tuesday. "You can call any one of these guys and I can promise you what they'll say. They love it. They flat love playing this scheme."

In fact, Bates — inadvertantly, no doubt — needled Slowik's blitzing scheme.

"When you start blitzing, you start doing things out of the ordinary. You're asking for trouble," Bates said. "You may steal a game or two. But if you don't have a foundation, you have nothing to build on and you won't win games on a consistent basis."

Bates' philosophy is, indeed, simple. It's technique above exotic schemes. It's straight-up pressure instead of blitizng. It's fundamental, get-to-the-ball football.

"The No. 1 thing that we will do ... we will be a solid, sound, foundation football team that will play excellent technique and will be a good, open-field-tackling, swarm-the-football team," Bates said. "That's one thing I can promise you."

During the call, Bates shed some light on the type of defense the Packers will play this season.

At defensive end, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila's primary job will be to get to the quarterback. Bates is not a big proponent of blitzing, so he puts the defensive ends in position to make plays. The philosophy has worked well. Jason Taylor has been a perennial Pro Bowler. Adewale Ogunleye, who was traded to Chicago during the off-season, led the AFC in sacks in 2003. In 2004, Taylor (9.5) and David Bowens combined for 16.5 sacks.

With Bates' expectations for the defensive end, the Packers again could be in the market for a pass-rushing complement to Gbaja-Biamila.

"Defensive ends love our scheme because of how we line them up and how we play them the majority of the time on first, second and third downs," Bates explained. "We play them wider than the norm (and get) up the field."

Defensive tackles Cletidus Hunt and Grady Jackson will be counted on to tie up blockers to let the linebackers make plays. Bates' run defense ranked next-to-last in the NFL in 2004, but starting defensive tackles Tim Bowens and Larry Chester were lost to injuries and played a combined four games. Bates isn't a proponent of putting a safety near the line of scrimmage to stop the run, so the pressure will be on Hunt and Jackson to control the point of attack.

"Looking at the Green Bay personnel, we're fortunate to have a couple big guys in the middle," Bates said.

Bates needs big guys in the middle because he loves speed at linebacker. Zach Thomas is Miami's longtime star at middle linebacker. Thomas is 5-foot-11 and 230 pounds. Green Bay's Nick Barnett is 6-2, 235. There was some speculation Barnett could be shifted to the weak side, but Bates said Barnett likely would remain in the middle.

The philosophy in the secondary should warm the heart of the Packers' best cover man, Al Harris. Harris is a physical player, and that's just what Bates wants from his cornerbacks.

"We're a bump-and-run type of defensive team," Bates said. "Our corners get up in their face and try to match routes. We try to take away every throw."

The key to that falls back on the defensive ends to create havoc. The Dolphins had 36 sacks in 2004. With Taylor and Ogunleye combining for 28 sacks coming off the edge in 2003, the Dolphins had 44 sacks. With Taylor's 18.5 sacks leading to a combined 28 again from him and Ogunleye, the Dolphins had 47 sacks in 2002.

"When we're on top of our game, the quarterback is going to have trouble finding open receivers and that's where we want to take advantage with our defensive rush."

Bates wants his safeties to stay back. That means fewer opportunities for sacks from Darren Sharper but more chances for him to make plays on the ball. Even with a subpar season due in part to a nagging knee injury, Sharper intercepted four passes and ran two back for touchdowns.

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