Gameday Notebook: Stop Run, Favre? Why Not?

Packer Report publisher Bill Huber empties his tape recorder and notebook in time for today's showdown. Can the Packers stop Adrian Peterson and Brett Favre? We take an in-depth look at that question. Plus, where has the big play to Greg Jennings gone? That, and much, much more!

By focusing on stopping Adrian Peterson, the logic goes, the Packers will leave themselves susceptible to another Brett Favre aerial assault.

To which, defensive coordinator Dom Capers says, "I think perception and reality are sometimes two totally different things."

During media sessions on Monday and Friday, Capers frequently repeated this statistic: On 58 plays in the Oct. 5 matchup at the Metrodome, the Vikings gained 211 yards. On the other four, they gained 123 yards.

Capers is hanging his hat on the 58 plays that worked in the first matchup. The starting point was holding Peterson to 55 yards on 25 rushes.

Capers doesn't quibble with the statement that his defense sold out to stop Peterson. Where he does quibble is that by focusing so intensely on Peterson, the defense couldn't handle Favre. And a review demonstrates that Capers' line of thinking isn't off-target.

Of the four big plays allowed by the Packers, only one came on what could be considered a running down. That was a third-and-2 completion to Sidney Rice that covered 24 yards. That big play set up the Vikings' second touchdown and a 14-7 lead.

The focus wasn't on Peterson on the other three big plays. The next came with the Vikings having just crossed midfield during a two-minute drill late in the half. Favre found Percy Harvin streaking across the middle for 43 yards to set up a touchdown and a 21-14 lead.

The other two came on back-to-back plays on the Vikings' first possession of the second half. Favre — on the play in which he infamously had more than 7 seconds in the pocket — hit tight end Jeff Dugan for 25 yards on second-and-10. The touchdown came when safety Derrick Martin blew coverage on a 31-yard strike to Bernard Berrian.

"The key is, the last two weeks, you haven't seen four plays for (123) yards," Capers said.

In reality, the basics of Capers' game plan worked perfectly. Time and again, the Packers stopped Peterson in his tracks on first down, putting the defense in position to get a stop, but the Vikings scored 28 points in the first three quarters by converting 7-of-9 third downs and a fourth-and-short. Included in that were a pair of third-and-11s on the Vikings' second touchdown drive and a third-and-7 on their third touchdown drive. Those are plays the defense must win.

"We've got to get off the field on third down, which the last two weeks has been one of the big differences with our defense," Capers said.

The difference this time?

So, how do the Packers stop Peterson and Favre?

It's simple, and it's complicated. The Packers barely laid a finger on Favre in the first game — Green Bay recorded no sacks and only one quarterback hit — and the future Hall of Famer made the Packers pay a stiff price by hitting 24-of-31 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns.

So, the solution is to be more aggressive, right?

"I'll say this, that when we ran pressure against them, that ball was out right now," Capers said. "So, pressure never really had a chance to develop. Even though if we had a guy free, it was kind of irrelevant because the ball was out so quick. When you're dealing with a guy like Brett, who's an experienced guy, the minute he reads pressure, he's unloading that ball and getting it out of there. If it's a longer-yardage situation, many times they're going to keep seven in to protect. There's no question we've got to try to generate more pressure."

There's pressure to be had, though. You might not know it by what happened last month, but teams have gotten considerable pressure on Favre this season. Favre has been sacked 18 times — including at least two in every game besides against the Packers. He was sacked seven times combined over the last two weeks by Baltimore and Pittsburgh, both of which run 3-4 defenses.

"You've got to be able to mix things up and hopefully you catch him a couple times where he holds the ball and it's not clearly defined for him," Capers said.

But, as Capers has been pointing out since his first day on the job, a defense's elaborate blitz package is rendered null and void if the offense is earning a steady diet of second-and-4 and third-and-2. So, it's back to the premise of Capers' plan: Stop the run, force Favre to throw and pressure him into mistakes.

"That's usually how most defensive coordinators head," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "I've never met a defensive coordinator yet that doesn't say, ‘Let's stop the run and let them get the yards they get with the pass.' It's a double-edged sword. You've got to decide how you're going to stop it, when you're going to stop it, those type of things."

And that puts the onus on the Packers winning their individual matchups. It's up to the Packers' premier players — defensive end Cullen Jenkins and outside linebackers Aaron Kampman and/or Clay Matthews — to provide the pressure so Capers doesn't have to gamble on sending five or six on passing downs.

"I think we did a pretty good job of shutting down one of the premier running backs in the NFL in Adrian Peterson," Kampman said. "What we didn't do a great job of was pressuring, disrupting Brett, getting him off his rhythm. It's not a secret. You want to always control the run game, then you want to make them one-dimensional. We didn't get that side of it done last time we played them."

Mixing it up

Considering Favre's vast experience, there's nothing Capers can do that Favre hasn't seen before. That puts a premium on Capers staying one step ahead of Favre and showing him one thing but giving him another.

"I think it's like anybody, especially if you're playing a veteran like Brett, you've got to mix things up," Capers said. "If you go to one scheme for too long, it's just not going to work. You've got to have variations. You've got to be able to change things up. He's good at reading those things."

Said linebacker Nick Barnett: "You have to have a good balance of showing and not coming, and coming and not showing."

Capers is one of the game's best defensive minds. Nonetheless, Favre has won all seven matchups against Capers the head coach or defensive coordinator.

"It's always important (to disguise coverages), but it's important when you're playing a guy like Brett," Capers said. "If you give him any pre-snap indication, he knows where he's going with the ball right now."


Bigby takes down Peterson last year.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
The X-factor could be safety Atari Bigby. Without him at Minnesota, Capers was forced to call a conservative game. With Bigby the last two weeks, the Packers haven't allowed a big play.

"It's helped them to get their safety back," Childress said. "We're familiar with him, he's a good football player. He obviously has spent some time in the offseason with that defense. A good, physical player."

Look who's No. 1 Thanks to two lights-out performances against Detroit and Cleveland, Green Bay enters Sunday's game ranked No. 1 in the league in scoring defense. The Packers have allowed 96 points in seven games; the Cardinals rank second, but they've allowed 109 points in six games.

Thanks to allowing less than 200 yards in both games, the Packers rank third in the NFL in yards allowed. They haven't been that high in the pecking order since 2001. One key has been allowing only 2-of-22 third-down conversions the last two weeks.

Had Billy Cundiff missed his ricochet field goal last week, the Packers might have posted their first back-to-back shutouts since 1962. As it is, they haven't allowed just three points in two games since 1966.

"Both teams were not as high on the charts statistically offensively, but that being said, we still had to go out and execute the defense," Kampman said. "Yeah, we have been playing better. I'm anxious to get back out and see where we're at."

Big-play Jennings disappears

With a league-high eight receptions of 40-plus yards, there wasn't a more dangerous receiver in the NFL last season than Greg Jennings. And he picked up where he left off last season with a 50-yard touchdown to beat Chicago in the opener and 53- and 50-yarders against St. Louis in Week 3.

Nothing since then, though. The closest he came was a 26-yarder against Detroit in which Jennings made a brilliant one-handed catch but tripped and fell when in the clear.

"Oh, man, that's in the past. I'm not even going back down that road," Jennings said with a smile.

Nonetheless, Jennings' lack of big-play production begs the question of what defenses are doing to take away that threat.


Jennings fights for yards against the Vikings.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
"I think a lot of it had to do with some opportunities that never got off the ground, so to speak, in the first few weeks," receivers coach Jimmy Robinson said. "You saw what happened with our passing game. When we were able to throw the ball, we were pretty successful. When we weren't able to get the ball off, that limits your opportunities. I think that more than anything was the situation."

It takes a combination of things to make a big play. The offensive line must protect the quarterback, and that's been a dicey proposition. The defense has to cooperate by playing the right coverage. The receiver must beat that coverage and the quarterback must deliver a good ball.

"It's team game," Jennings said. "Every player on the field at that time has to do their job. They're counting on me to do my job. I'm counting on them to do they're job. That's the way team games work. You can't get it done if there's one miscue."

While it would seem like offensive coordinator Joe Philbin's game plan would include ways to spring Jennings for a long completion, that's not necessarily the case.

"I don't personally go into most games and say, ‘This guy's going to have a big day. This guy's not going to have a big day,'" Philbin said. "Sometimes, when you overorchestrate the game of football, you get yourself in trouble. It's a players game. You run good, solid plays that have a chance to work against a lot of different defensive calls because you don't know what they're going to call on defense. You might have an idea of what they're going to call, and you go from there. You let the players play. You give them a good, sound plan and you let them execute. Some days, Greg Jennings has a big day.

"Some days, Donald Driver. Some days, it's a running back. Certainly, part of a job as a coach is to utilize your talent and get the ball to your best players, but at the same point in time, you overdo some things or you try to overorchestrate, you usually get yourself in trouble."

Next ...

With Jordy Nelson out with a knee sprain and Brett Swain on injured reserve with a knee injury, the Packers have turned to practice squad player Jake Allen to serve as the fourth receiver. Allen might have to play a critical role as a pass-catching target if tight end Jermichael Finley is ruled out with his knee sprain.

"He just gets better and better," fellow receiver Donald Driver said of Allen. "Every day you get an opportunity to learn behind some other great receivers. You start learning all of the different techniques, run the different routes, catch the ball, but I think he was gifted with the talent. With him, it's just getting this opportunity. Now he has this opportunity to make a name for himself."

At 6-foot-4, Allen is an intriguing target. But is the former Division III player ready for prime time?

"He's a big, tall guy, long arms, catches the ball, got some toughness, he'll block," Robinson said. "We'll see when the lights come on and he's out there for real. He had a little bit of exposure in the preseason both this year and last year where he made some plays, particularly last year. I'm confident in Jake."

Four-point stance

— Just a reminder of what's at stake on Sunday: If the Packers win, they'll be tied in the loss column with a chance to tie for the division lead next week when they play at winless Tampa Bay and the Vikings have a bye. With a loss, they'd be two games behind in the loss column and have to overcome the tiebreaker, as well.

"You look at the records, and we're a game-and-a-half back right now," Aaron Rodgers said. "So, if we can win, we'll be a half-game back, tied in the loss column, there won't be a tiebreaker disadvantage for us because we'll have both split the games. So that's important."

Jared Allen and Rodgers formed a friendship during a charity golf tournament in Las Vegas over the offseason. "I'll take sacking him 4 1/2 times over any day on the golf course any day of the week," Allen said with a laugh.

— Favre, on if he gets any mail from Green Bay: "There probably is. There is probably some from Mississippi, probably Hawaii. But check for something ticking. White powder."

— To avoid the fans on Saturday, Favre snuck into the Paper Valley Hotel in Appleton while shielded by some of his brawny linemen.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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