Gray: Communication breakdown

Former Packers safety Johnnie Gray stresses how important it is for the Packers to cherish each victory this season. Gray also breaks down the problems that the Packers' secondary is struggling with early on this season.

You have heard it from me and several players often on how tough it is to win a game in the National Football League. Many times, you've heard the phrase "a win is a win" and "you must savor every victory."

On Monday night I listened to Saints All-Pro wide receiver Joe Horn mention that you must relish each victory and what it took because it could very well be your last. Three-and-zero could easily turn into 3 and 13.

In my first year under head coach Bart Starr with an aging team in 1975, we lost the first four games of the season before defeating the Dallas Cowboys at Texas Stadium. Then we lost the next four games. That season the Cowboys eventually lost to Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl X. The next year, with a few free agents, and three losses in the first three games, we win at home against the Detroit Lions en route to a 5-9 season. Another four win season in 1977 before we hit it big the following year with a host of draft choices, including Hall of Famer James Lofton, first round pick Ezra Johnson with his 20.5 sacks, a few quality free agents and second place in the NFC Central Division. A win in the final two games would have given us the outright title. It took us four years and quality talent to get to a winning season. Will it take that long for the Pack? It shouldn't.

Secondary out of sync in ‘zone'
This team does not have aging veterans, or the inability to get quality talent but what it does have is a lack of leadership, fundamental skills, direction, and I'm talking defense. The offensive line showed continuity with Daryn Colledge getting another start at the guard, but the defense continues to make the same mistakes it made in the "Fox 11 Family Night Scrimmage" in early August. For some reason this secondary cannot get the concept of playing zone. The corners are not getting enough of a jam on the receiver and are releasing their receivers too soon and not getting depth.

Man Law says, "thou shall never get beat deep in zone." Safeties should be as deep as the deepest and react to the flight of the ball and not the receiver. Through three games that has not been the case. It appears that the philosophy of defense has changed from an attacking man-to-man to learning how to play zone. It reminds me of the Bob Slowik blitz package that was used for the Monday night game against the Carolina Panthers for a great season opening win, only to lose that identity for the rest of the season. Yes, Brady Poppinga has struggled in pass coverage, but that is no reason to abandon the philosophy, especially if you still believe that the front four can give you the pressure needed for man coverage. Ben Taylor appeared to hold his own throughout training camp and though he may lack the brawn Poppinga brings to the table, he substitutes with experience.

I like zone coverage because it doesn't take a whole lot of talent, but demands a great deal of discipline. All three teams in our division are playing the Tampa Cover 2 with the corners shallow and the safeties deep. Many will call this defense quarters. If you are undisciplined as a corner, you will make it a long day for the safety. You will not get a hit on the receiver, who gets an easy release for the pass along the sideline, or a "two way go" (post/corner) on the safety. The worst-case scenario is having the corner jump the short route, reminiscent of the 2003 playoff game against the Eagles when they had a 4th and 26 situation. That's when Nick Barnett jumped the back in the flat leaving a big hole in the middle of the field instead of dropping in coverage taking away the deep ball, and reacting to the short pass.

This week the Pack will work extremely hard on the zone defense because of Donavan McNabb's ability to run with the football. This defense is built on speed to be able to go sideline to sideline, so the zone would be the perfect fit. Drop back, read the quarterback and react to the throw and the run.

Johnnie Gray

Editor's note: Former safety Johnnie Gray played for the Packers from 1975-84. He was inducted into the Packer Hall of Fame in 1994. E-mail him at

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