This was a great opportunity for the Packers. Pittsburgh this past Sunday was just an average team trying to make due with backup players. They had a depleted lineup, much like the Packers, but I truly believe our backups have much more experience. As you look at the game statistically you see that proof. Total yards, time of possession, first downs, etc, all in favor of the Packers. The key stats continue to be turnovers and penalties. If we continue to excel in these two columns it doesn't matter who we play, you can't win.
Offensively Green Bay continues to improve. Other than the turnovers at key times the offense was pretty solid. Green Bay had its longest offensive drive of the season -18 plays, 9 minutes, 30 seconds, but did not score. It also had another excellent drive at the start of the second half that did result in points.
Once again, when Green Bay's offense plays within its scheme, there's no defense that can stop it. The only team to stop the Packers is the Packers.
I noticed a nice little wrinkle the offense used against the Steelers. The Packers were using a "Hard Count." The hard count is something the offense uses to force the defense into showing their hand early. The offense has the option of snapping the ball on the first sound or hut, or using multiple sound/huts to make the defense move into position. The Steelers run a 3-4 defense and they like to stem their defensive players into position. By using a hard count at the line of scrimmage it forces the defense to move into its final blitz or zone position before the true snap count.
Brett Favre's use of the hard count forced Pittsburgh into showing blitz or zone early. This allowed the offensive line and running backs the opportunity to see where the defensive pressure was coming from, thus helping the offensive players with their blitz and zone pickup in their protection schemes. The offense only gave up one sack to one of the top defenses in the NFL. Favre was 20 of 35 for 203 yards and one interception. He was also 8 of 17 on third down.
It was unfortunate that in the red zone our offensive linemen and tight ends couldn't remember the snap count and it cost the team some big plays, and eventually points. We must continue to work on improving in the red zone. Red zone scoring is very vital for every team. Right now the Packers are very inefficient in this area. During the game Green Bay had two drives into the red zone and one turnover by Pittsburgh in the red zone and came up with no points. Pittsburgh had two opportunities after the early fumble and the late interception and came up with 10 points. Again, this was the difference in the ball game. Being able to score in the red zone is key in every game. The teams that make it deep into the playoffs have a high percentage of red zone scoring. This season the Packers rank at the bottom in red zone scoring and this is reflected in our win-lost record.
My defensive assessment continues to be the same week to week. We have a talented group of young players with a mixture of veterans. Week to week the defense has been pretty solid. When we decide to pressure the quarterback and play good man-to-man coverage we can compete with most offenses.
Until a defensive unit decides to put pressure on the offense on a regular basis, it will be average. Offenses today are just too good. The quarterbacks when given time can pick defenses apart. Defenses, when appropriate, need to decide that they are going to bring pressure. What I mean by pressure is when a defensive unit brings one or two more players into the offense protection scheme, they can block mathematically. This forces the offensive players to make split decisions and reactions on every play.
Pittsburgh quarterback Charlie Batch is at best a sub-par quarterback. Green Bay's defense took advantage of this by bringing pressure. By applying pressure to Pittsburgh's offense, the defense did just enough to make Pittsburgh struggle. Batch was 9 of 16 with one interception and 0 for 8 on third down. That kind of defense performance is usually good enough to win.
Being a blitzing, pressure defense is a lot harder than I make it sound. When putting pressure on the offense or quarterback it forces the defense to play some one-on-one coverage in the secondary. Unless you have outstanding corners and safeties, playing pressure defense can be very difficult and costly.
I know in Green Bay we struggle at times with our man-to man-coverage. With that in mind it's a lot harder for Green Bay to execute their blitz package against offense that are more sophisticated.
Falcons up next
If Green Bay wants to beat the Falcons this Sunday, turnovers, penalties and mistakes have to be obsolete.
I have been very fortunate to see some spectacular players in my professional career. Deion Sanders was the greatest athlete I had ever played against and seen on the playing field until I saw Michael Vick. When you talk about true athletes no one in this game can compare to Vick.
In order to beat the Falcons the Packers must put pressure on Atlanta's offense, contain their great quarterback, secure the football and score points when in the red zone. If we cannot execute these objectives at a high level with some sense of urgency this could be the toughest second half of football in Packer history.
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.