Lombardi blog: February edition

Thoughts on zone blocking scheme; new president; McCarthy's new deal; Wolf and Spygate; 1960s Packers and dynasties

February 25, 2008
Zone Blocking
In today's Green Bay Press-Gazette, Pete Dougherty discusses the Packers and their zone blocking scheme. His thesis, as I interpreted it, was that in the cold weather, the Packers' zone blocking scheme failed and speculated if the team should concentrate on a power running game instead. The following couple of paragraphs caught my attention, especially the quote by Coach Mike McCarthy about how they have elements of the power running game within their zone scheme:

'... McCarthy said he has no plans to de-emphasize the zone scheme, in which there's an emphasis of quickness over bulk in offensive linemen, and blocks mostly are straight ahead with minimal pulling of guard and tackles.'

"Yes, we're staying with the zone-run scheme," McCarthy said at the NFL scouting combine last week. "We do run aspects of power schemes that are adjustments to our zone schemes, so that's why I don't think that's a valid criticism, (that) because we play in cold weather we're running the wrong kind of run-game offense."

Though McCarthy's run game is based on the unique brand of the zone scheme devised by former Kansas City, Denver and Atlanta offensive line coach Alex Gibbs, McCarthy says his version differs because it's based more on inside runs than the outside runs favored by Gibbs.

I do not know Alex Gibbs and have never spent a lot of time dissecting the zone blocking scheme. What I do know is that it borders on a religion. Like the end of a poker game, you have to go all out. You cannot hold back anything. To have a zone blocking scheme in the mold of Alex Gibbs, there is no room for elements of the power running scheme. To blend the two is heresy. So Coach McCarthy has admitted that they do not run the 'zone blocking scheme.' Call it something else because it is not what Alex Gibbs teaches. You cannot do both effectively.

One of the benefits of the system is that the backs are by and large interchangeable. It sells itself on the basis that you do not need a great back to run it. Look at Denver and all the guys they have had who produced.

Maybe the Packers accomplished that with Ryan Grant while running the zone scheme during most of the year. And then it got cold and they reverted to a more power game and it did not work. One other mention in the P-G's article which sheds light on the struggles the Packers had running the ball is also indicative of the the disconnect between the two systems:

'... the Packers ranked last in the NFL in converting on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 combined.

As much as the scheme is in flux, the personnel needs upgrading. Whether Daryn Colledge, Jason Spitz and the rest step up and become more consistent and effective or the team finds somebody who can get it done, the talent and play of the offensive lineman will really tell the story long-term.

I am not a NFL coach and do not think I know better than Mike McCarthy or Joe Philbin, or the rest. What I do know is that when it mattered, the Packers could not run the ball and that as much as anything will prevent them from going to the big game. Brett Favre opened it up for the running game. Without him to make defenses pay for trying to stop Ryan Grant, the offense would have struggled. If Favre hangs it up, Aaron Rodgers had better be able to keep defenses honest or no matter what scheme the Pack runs, it will not run far.

February 19, 2008
Mark Murphy
He has not been on the job for very long, but Mark Murphy has already impressed many of the folks he now works with. Murphy has often been described as very intelligent, but his ability to collect facts, know what is going on and keep it all straight, inencumbered with notes or aids of any kind has beent noticed by the folks that answer to him.

In addition to that, he has already begun to place his own stamp on the organization in small but noticable ways. I forsee good things out of this man based upon the feedback I have heard in just a few short days. Keep it up Mr. Murphy.

February 6, 2008
McCarthy's Extension
Before we go overboard with excitement over Coach McCarthy's new contract, remember these guys:

Green Bay Packers - 10-6 in 1989
Packer Record in 1990 - 6-10
Lindy Infante's Overall Coaching record in Green Bay - 24-40 (.375)

Green Bay Packers - 10-4 in 1972
Packer Record in 1973 - 5-7-2
Dan Devine's Overall Coaching Record in Green Bay - 25-27 (.482)

Chicago Bears - 13-3 record in 2001
Bear record in 2002 - 4-12
Dick Jauron's Overall Coaching record in Chicago - 43-58 (.426)

Carolina Panthers - 12-4 record in 1996
Panther record in 1997 - 7-9
Dom Capers Overall Coaching record in Carolina - 30-34 (.469)

Detroit Lions - 12-4 record in 1991
Lion record in 1992 - 5-11
Wayne Fontes Overall Coaching record in Detroit - 67-71 (.486)

Dan Devine was the only one of the group not to be named Associated Press Coach of the Year in the good year. I am not lumping McCarthy in with these guys. All I am saying is that it is not enough to be good for one year. The great coaches and great teams sustain success year to year. That is the challenge for McCarthy and the Packers. What will they do to get better?

February 5, 2008
Some Other Stuff
There are a few things hanging out there that I have been meaning to comment on, but have not had the time until now.

Ron Wolf
First there was the story about how Ron Wolf blames Mike Holmgren for the Packers losing to the Broncos in the Super Bowl back in 1998. I will not get into the details of it except to say that Wolf heard from some "coaches" that Holmgren was too pig-headed to adjust to what the Broncos defense was throwing at them and consequently lost the game because of it.

I have a couple of things to say about this:

1. Ron - Get over it. It was 10 years ago.

2. Why now? Why volunteer this information to the media? What instigate this line of questioning? Why make a big deal out of this 10 years later and four years after you found out about it? What do you have to gain? What are you trying to accomplish?

3. If you did not see the need to make adjustments at the time and only know about this because the some "coaches" told you about it, you kind of lose the high ground. Maybe if Ron Wolf was up in the press box during the game and saw what he is now complaining about, I might feel bad for him, but he didn't see it then and he should just keep quiet now.

There are some new reports about the Patriots taping the Rams' walkthrough practice prior to Super Bowl XXXVI (Feb. 3, 2002). I do not know if these reports are true, but it would not surprise me. I have heard about this kind of thing before and teams take precautions against it. There is all kinds of hanky panky going on. I remember watching a walkthrough once when the sprinklers miraculously came on.

This is not to say that this kind of stuff is OK. It is not and if the reports are accurate, New England should be punished. And as for Senator Arlen Spector looking into the whole thing, give me a break. Should he not be working on more important things?

I do not think the NFL really wants to go down this road. Once they are forced to revel everything they know, the real dirt will get out and everyone will realize the extent of this kind of spying. If someone is going down, then what is the motivation to keep quiet any longer? It could get ugly.

February 4, 2008
Super Bowl Thoughts
While watching the game, I could not help thinking back to the argument over which NFL team in the best or greatest. If the Pats ended up winning, it would be hard to argue against them being considered the greatest team in NFL history. Going 19-0, winning the big game and setting all those records would give them a secure place at the top. People could still argue for the Steelers or Niners or 1962 Packers all they want, but anyone with a shred of objectivity would be hard pressed to completely dismiss the 2007 Patriots.

They lost, so out goes the argument thankfully.

But that is a discussion covering only one season ... what about over time?

The 1970's Steelers won four championships in six years. The Niners won four in nine years (or five in 14 years, take your pick). And before losing last night, the Patriots were going for four in seven years. Throw in the Otto Graham lead Browns who won seven championships (three in the NFL) in two different leagues over a ten year period if you want, but I still think the 60's Packers reign supreme.

I am biased of course, but let's analyze the data.

They won five championships in seven years. No one has tied that and to beat it, you would have to win six in seven years.

They won three in a row. To win six in seven years, a team would have to accomplish this task twice or win more than three in a row.

During the two years that the Packers did not win it all, only the top two regular season teams played for the crown. In 1963, the Packers finished 11-2-1, which was the second best record in the league, behind only the Bears, who finished 11-1-2. In the East, the Giants were 11-3 and they lost to the Bears in the Championship Game. The Packers lost to the Bears twice and tied the Lions.

In 1964, the Packers finished 8-5-1, which was the fourth best record in the league.

In both cases, under a more liberal playoff scenario, Green Bay would have made the second season and have a chance to play for the Championship. Would they have won it? Who knows? Would having to play more playoff games have affected their '61 and '62 Championships? Who knows, but at least they had a chance to play for the big game.

In 1965, the Packers took on the Colts in a play-in game which was basically a first round playoff contest. In 1966, the Super Bowl came along and ushered in what was effectively playoff rounds.

Talk all you want about Hall of Famers and talent levels and competitive balance and the salary cap. Through in whatever blather about how today's teams could crush teams from different eras. Who cares? What needs to be measured is how a team performed during its era, against the same level of competition.

In my estimation, the 1960 Green Bay Packers are undeniably the greatest professional football team in league history. They won more Championships as a team than any other collection of players in fewer years. It is undeniable. Just because three of them came before marketers coined the phrase "Super Bowl" does not detract from those teams achievements.

John Lombardi is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at johnlombardi22@yahoo.com.

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