Stills: It's all about making adjustments

Editor's note: Former Packers safety Ken Stills, currently an assistant coach in NFL Europe, has reviewed the game film he receives each week from the NFL. In today's column, Stills explains how the Minnesota Vikings adjusted to Green Bay in the second half to rally for a 23-20 victory last Sunday. He also looks ahead to Green Bay's upcoming game against the Cincinnati Bengals and what the Packers must do to keep their season alive.

Throughout the season I will elaborate, from a coach's perspective, on the schemes and tendencies of a professional football team and how those are utilized in particular situations so you, the fan, can better understand the tactical aspects of professional football. I'll explain whty certain defensive fronts, coverages, and stunts, as well as offensive formations and plays, are called to take advantage of an opponent. The NFL is an extremely tactical league. The better you can understand this aspect of the game, the easier it will be for you to understand how a team will game plan for a particular opponent on a week-by-week basis.

The game between the Packers and Vikings this past Sunday could best be summed up as a game of two halves. Inconsistent special teams play throughout the game and the failure to put pressure on Daunte Culpepper in the second half contributed to Green Bay's inability to maintain what was a 17-point lead. What looked early on to be a Packers rout turned into a fairly even game statistically. The Packers had 374 yards of total offense to the Vikings' 363.

I'll briefly touch on some of the reasons that each team had the success it did throughout the course of the game without going into an elaborate breakdown that a coaching staff normally would when analyzing the game films on Monday.

The Packers were able to put consistent pressure on Culpepper in the first half accounting for four sacks and errant throws. The Packers use a 4-3 scheme (four down lineman and three linebackers) and brought pressure off the edges with their linebackers and defensive backs to limit Culppeper's time in the pocket. With this type of front, combined with blitzing defenders, the secondary must run a man coverage scheme. When running this type of coverage it takes more time for the receivers to get open on their routes. When you combine this with pressure by blitzing linebackers, it is much more difficult for the quarterback to make accurate and timely throws. This scheme was effective for the Packers in the first half of the game and accounted for the Vikings' inability to throw the ball successfully.

The Packers' offensive success in the first half had a lot to do with Minnesota's defensive front and scheme. The Vikings run what is called a "30" front (three down lineman, five linebackers, and three secondary players). With this type of a defense the secondary will use combinations of coverages, both man and zone. The defensive backs and linebackers are responsible for particular zones on the field and man coverage on receivers and backs on any given play. It is difficult for a three-man front to put pressure on a quarterback, so the discipline of the linebackers and defensive backs to maintain their zones or man coverage is key to running this type of a scheme. The Vikings had difficulty lining up properly to different formations and were not disciplined relative to their zone and man responsibilities, a veteran quarterback like Brett Favre was easily able to complete pass after pass in the first half.

The Vikings offense made a second-half adjustment by going to a three-step passing game, which countered the pass rush of the Packers. This enabled Culpepper to get his passes off much more quickly; avoiding the pressure and minimizing the number of sacks in the second half. Once the Vikings were able to have success with this type of passing attack, it forced Green Bay to stop blitzing and eventually allowed Minnesota to revert back to some of their five-step passing routes.

This is how a team can counter what the opposing team has had success with and force them into a different scheme. Football is a game of never-ending adjustments. The team that makes the most successful adjustments throughout the course of the game is usually the one that ends up winning.

Each team made adjustments in the second half that took away from the success the other team had in the first half of the game on Sunday. As the game was very close statistically, in the end, the special teams breakdowns by the Packers enabled Minnesota to take advantage of field position in that the Vikings had 156 total return yards to the Packers' 90. The Packers failed to convert a key field goal, which eventually was the difference in the game. The last kickoff return by the Vikings' Koren Robinson allowed them to establish positive field position that helped them get close enough to kick the eventual game winning 56-yard field goal. There are a lot of plays that affect every game. You constantly hear, "This is a game of inches." This will be true every week.

Must play well in all areas against Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals come into this week's game with a 5-2 record and the number-two rated offense in the AFC. Quarterback Carson Palmer leads the league in total passing yards and has 13 TD passes, just one behind the league leader, Brett Favre. Chad Johnson is Palmer's primary downfield threat and is third in the league in receptions. Cincinnati's running game is averaging about 120 yards per game. On defense, the Bengals are in the middle of the pack. They have been giving up 315 yards a game, with 183 of that being passing yards.

The Packers will have to come out and play solid in all three phase of the game - offense, defense and special teams. We must win the special teams' phase of the game. The defense must control Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson. On offense Green Bay must continue to make plays when called upon.

The loss of Ahman Green and Robert Ferguson combined with other injured players is devastating, but every NFL team has injuries. It is time for other players on this roster to step up.

I expect the Packers to do just that. With the NFC North Division leader only having three victories the conference is in anyone's hands. Let's go Pack! A victory this week and we're right back in it. Good Luck!


Former safety Ken Stills played for the Green Bay Packers from 1985-89. He is currently an assistant coach with the Frankfurt Galaxy of NFL Europe.


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