The 2014 preseason is under way, and the Green Bay Packers are setting their sights on a trip to Phoenix in February. Yes, that’s the goal of all 32 NFL teams every July, but this year the Packers bring a sense of urgency and hunger to that chase.
It’s been a little over three years since Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews and company brought the Lombardi Trophy home. But the current incarnation is not that team. Since then the Packers have surrendered that top spot where the other 31 are chasing them. Like that magical season in 2010, they are once again the hunter chasing the prey ahead of it, rested and ready to spring into action.
Since this past winter many have said that teams wishing knock reigning Super Bowl champions the Seattle Seahawks from that top spot would need to have a punishing and physical defense like Seattle and find a Richard Sherman clone to fill its ranks. It seems like an impossible recipe to be recreated.
And to a certain extent, the pundits are right. The Packers’ defense needed to change. They needed to get to the quarterback more frequently. They needed to shut down the running game. And, God almighty, they needed a secondary that can actually intercept the ball.
To their credit, the Packers have made some crucial personnel changes to shore up the defense both through free agency and the draft. While they didn’t find an exact clone of Richard Sherman, the Packers drafted a safety that can be out-of-the-box ready for the big league come week 1. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has already proven he can excel in a pro-style defense during his years at Alabama. Add Micah Hyde to the mix, and they are suddenly quite deep in the safety talent.
Meanwhile it is yet to be seen if free agent Julius Peppers has much left in the tank, so to speak, but another intimidating linebacker will definitely take heat off perennial threat Clay Matthews. Does a team double-team Matthews or Peppers if they are both staring down an opposing quarterback.
Gamble poorly and that QB will be picking grass out of his helmet and will never know which one hit him.
Yet the best advice to return to the Super Bowl likely isn’t Be Like Seattle. One has to look no further than the Seahawk’s own Richard Sherman and his musings immediately after his own team’s victory. It isn’t necessary for the Packers to become a reasonable facsimile of Seattle. That’s unrealistic.
The Green Bay Packers need to think like the reigning Super Bowl Champion.
The key to victory, according to Sherman, was having what he called an All-Pro Mind.
The Seahawks made Peyton Manning, undoubtedly one of the best quarterbacks of the past decade, look like a Pop Warner amateur by doing their homework. Sherman pointed out:
All we did was play situational football. We knew what route concepts they liked on different downs, so we jumped all the routes. Then we figured out the hand signals for a few of the route audibles in the first half.
It wasn’t rocket science. Seattle won by studying film, interpreting body language and playing smart, anticipating football. This is a concept the Packers must and will refine in their bag of tricks. Dom Capers doesn’t need to be over-complicated in orchestrating his defense. Yes, he will need speed, strength and agility. But he needs to stack the D with students of the game.
He may have just found that student-leader in Julius Peppers, a seasoned veteran that knew exactly how to break through the Packers’ offense and knock Aaron Rodgers to the ground. If he can do it to the Packers, Pepper can recreate that attac to get to the likes of Kaepernick, Wilson, Brady and Manning.
On the flip side, it is imperative that Aaron Rodgers and his offense continue to remember that concept. Other teams will study and memorize his body language, identify his favorite routes and crack the Packers code.
Of course this is not a unique concept. Opponents shredded Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn with this very premise. Take Aaron Rodgers out of the mix for several weeks with a broken bone, and the Packers were running a Clements Lite offensive scheme. Remove Rodgers’ unpredictability, and all that was left was a painfully predictable script that any defense could pick apart. They already know Green Bay’s favorite routes.
Perhaps that is why the Packers are going all Spy vs. Spy with a little secrecy this year. Both the offense and defense have already had parts of practice behind closed doors, away from both the press and the public eye. What don’t they want other teams to see?
They may not want other students of the game to know exactly how the offense is going to differ this year. With talent as deep as ever, it is highly unlikely it will be the short pass, short pass, Kuhn up the middle on third down short script of plays. If other teams are studying Rodgers and company, expect the offense to become a bit more unpredictable.
To paraphrase Sun Tzu’s Art of War, all warfare is based on deception. To win, the Packers will need to read their opponent’s bluffs and strike first. They will need Super Bowl minds as much as they need Super Bowl strength and physicality.
Sun Tzu writes: “So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss.”
Looks like Sun Tzu and 2014 Packers may have a few things in common.