Johnnie Gray: Chalktalk

Packers Hall of Fame safety explains what made big play work against Broncos

For most of the season, the Packers wide receivers have faced defenses that love to use the ‘Cover 2.' With two deep safeties and pressing corners, that doesn't give the wide receivers a lot of room to work downfield, but that hasn't discouraged the Pack from at least trying.

Against the Vikings on Sept. 30, James Jones caught one in the seam and that was a tight throw. To really take advantage of the Cover 2 you need a tight end that can get off the line of scrimmage quickly and get the attention of both safeties, thus hindering their ability to get over and help corners on the deep ball.

When I came to the Packers as a converted corner to safety, Willie Buchanon and Ken Ellis were the Pro Bowl corners. These guys loved to play man coverage and took great pride in not giving up the deep ball. Since they were shutting down the outside patterns it forced teams to try to throw the ball in the middle of the field. As the "hit man" my job was to punish anyone coming across the middle and to always be in the post on any double moves the corners may get. With a tight end coming up the middle the safety will always be just a step late in getting over to the sideline pass.

With Denver having the same type of athletes, they chose to play the Cover 3 defense during Green Bay's winning play in overtime. Quarterback Brett Favre made a great throw, but receiver Greg Jennings did a better job of getting open.

Jennings recognizing that he had one-third of the field to work with instead of a quarter with two deep, drove cornerback Dre' Bly to the inside and put on a burst to get back outside to make the catch. Many times this season we have seen that throw go out of bounds or the receiver catches it with one foot in bounds because of the lack of space, but Jennings had plenty of room to catch the ball.

Both Jennings and Jones have proven that you don't need to be a tall receiver or have 4.4-second speed to play in this league. Study your opponents' weaknesses, have knowledge of the game and play each play as if it was your last. General manager Ted Thompson calls it passion when a player has this type of attitude, so it's no surprise that Favre gets a little giddy when he talks about his teammates. Afterall he's been doing this his whole career.

The Kansas City game on Sunday will test the Packers' will. On paper the Pack knows they have the better team but because of the emotions of the Monday night game and being on the road they will need to have their wits about them. Safety Atari Bigby displayed some of his frustration, which could have easily cost the Packers.

I have used the phrase "it's not who you play, it's when you play them," and the Packers are catching the Chiefs at the right time. Larry Johnson is a heck of a running back, but Kansas City is struggling to get its offense started, but not this week. Green Bay will score early and often. Pack wins again.

Johnnie Gray

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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