Packers use offense to play defense

McCarthy and Rodgers kept Manning on the sideline through game plan and efficient play. Packer Report's Doug Ritchay reports from Lambeau Field.

For the last decade or so, NFL teams have pounded their heads against walls, ala Gus Frerotte, trying to figure a way to defend Peyton Manning.

Do you blitz him?

Do you play a dime defense in an attempt to limit his passing game? Do you play a gimmick defense?

The Green Bay Packers had that job in front of them on Sunday at Lambeau Field as the Indianapolis Colts visited, but instead of putting the onus on defensive coordinator Bob Sanders and his unit, the Packers turned to coach Mike McCarthy and his offense to defend Manning.

There's a saying, "Sometimes, your best defense is your offense," and on Sunday, that never could have been more accurate.

The Packers set the tone for their 34-14 victory in the first half. Green Bay possessed the ball for more than 20 minutes in the first half, allowing Manning just 20 plays compared to Green Bay's 40. The result was a 17-7 halftime lead as the Colts' offense, which scored 31 points the week before against the league's No. 1 defense in Baltimore, hardly broke a sweat.

"I think our first four drives we had 44 plays," Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "We scored on three of those four possessions (the other possession ended in a missed field goal). We kept the ball away from Peyton. That's exactly what we wanted to do."

The Packers went about keeping Manning off the field by playing efficient and low-risk football. Green Bay connected on one pass play longer than 20 yards, and Ryan Grant ran the ball 31 times.

Rodgers, who has displayed the ability to manage a game, did that exactly on Sunday. He made only one poor decision, forcing a pass into triple coverage near the goal line that ended up as an incompletion. He was 21-for-28 for 186 yards, with one touchdown and a passer rating of 104.2.

He admitted he was forced to take the shorter pass plays, but in some ways, it helped the Packers because they were high-percentage plays and kept the clock moving. At one point, Rodgers completed 13 straight passes, and the incompletion that ended the streak was a spike to stop the clock at the end of the second quarter.

While Rodgers managed the offense, McCarthy showed he didn't want Manning on the field by a couple decisions he made. After the Packers kicked a field goal on their first possession, McCarthy called for an onside kick.

It failed as the ball went out of bounds and the Packers had to re-kick, but it was obvious the respect McCarthy had for the Colts' offense.

"We were trying to steal a series from their offense," McCarthy said. "We thought we had a chance."

The other move McCarthy made was going for a first down on fourth-and-1 on the third series of the game with the ball on Green Bay's 44. Don't get it and you give Manning a short field, which is asking for it. He called a run for Grant, who gained 7 yards, and this drive ended on a Grant touchdown run.

McCarthy had set the tone early that he wasn't going to make it easy for Manning to get on the field.

"I wanted to be aggressive," McCarthy said. "That's the way we wanted the first half to go."

The Packers weren't as successful in the second half with Manning, but it didn't matter. The Packers' first half, when they gained 19 first downs, prevented Manning from ever getting in a rhythm — kind of like his dancing on "Saturday Night Live." A rhythm-less Manning's passer rating was 46.6, and he had two interceptions returned for touchdowns.

And the theme of the game going in -- how do you stop the Colts' offense -- was figured out.

The best way to prevent Manning from dissecting an offense is to keep him on the bench with a game plan that stresses moving the chains and eating clock. Many said the game plan by the Packers was great afterward.

It was, but it came down to execution, otherwise the plan means nothing. And on this day, the offense engineered by first-year starter Rodgers outplayed an offense run by a future Hall of Famer.

Doug Ritchay is a frequent contributor to He has covered the Packers since 1993. E-mail him at

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