Enemy Intelligence: Packers' Move to 3-4 a Smooth One

Enemy Intelligence: Packers' Move to 3-4 a Smooth One
October 8, 2010, 9:35 am
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Friday, October 8, 2010 5:45 AM

CSNwashington.com

Whats the inside story on the Washington Redskins opponent on Sunday, the Green Bay Packers? How is the running game getting along without Ryan Grant? How is coach Mike McCarthy perceived by the fan base? How did the Packers make the transition to the 3-4 defense? To get you a unique perspective on the Pack, CSNwashington.com asked Brandon Benson of Acme Packing Company, SB Nations Green Bay affiliate, to answer some questions about the team he follows. Our exchange is below. Thanks to Brandon for his excellent insight! CSN Washington.com: The Packers offensive line had all kinds of issues protecting Aaron Rodgers last year. Now, after four games, only Peyton Manning has been sacked less than Rodgers. Is the line that much better at protection or has Rodgers learned to get rid of the ball? Brandon Benson: The offensive line is that much better. But it's an addition-by-subtraction. Veteran tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher are good, not great by any stretch, but they are miles better than their 2009 replacements. Former starting RT Allen Barbre has been released, and promising young LT T.J. Lang was kept on the 53-man roster, but has been left inactive all season. CSN: Brandon Jackson has taken over for the injured Ryan Grant at running back. At 3.0 yards a carry, is he the answer for the year or will someone else, either on the current roster or not, get a shot at the job? BB: Jackson played a lot even before Grant was injured. Jackson is the superior receiver and a better blocker on 3rd downs, and he formed a very effective platoon with Grant. Whereas Grant was great in the open field and could turn a 5 yard gain into a much bigger one, Jackson seems to down-shift to protect the ball once he breaks free. What they really miss is that big play potential in the ground game, but they still have that big play potential with QB Aaron Rodgers and the passing game. With the trade deadline coming closer, and potential trade targets like RB Marshawn Lynch coming off the market, it's clear that Jackson is their guy. CSN: Mike McCarthy seems to be one of the lowest-profile good coaches in the NFL. How is he perceived among the fan base and how long does he have to get the Packers to the Super Bowl? BB: I rarely read a bad word about Mike McCarthy. He makes theoccasional poor replay challenge, but his clock management skills are strong and it appears he has his players' respect. And he's clearly the coach in charge of the offense, who deserves the credit for developing Aaron Rodgers, so he's certainly deserved respect. I've never thought he has to win a Super Bowlor else, so I'd guess he still has a long tenure in front of him. CSN: The Redskins are having issues with the transition to the 3-4 defense. Green Bay made the switch last year and while we know that it ended pretty well with the Packers ranking second in total defense, were there some bumps in the road early in the year? Was there one game where it all seemed to click or did it function smoothly from the beginning? BB: I'd say the 3-4 defense clicked from the very beginning, but it's still a work-in-progress. It was a seamless move to have their top 3 DTs become their new starting defensive line, and then have their top 2 LBs (Barnett and Hawk) slid easily into their new roles in the middle. It certainly didn't hurt to strike gold with LB Clay Matthews in the late 1st round either. But in 2010 they've lost one of their starting defensive linemen to suspension (DE Johnny Jolly) and been without their run stuffing safety due to injury (SS Atari Bigby). Now the 3-4 defense isn't looking quite as good against the run. I'm talking about the running game because that was the big change with the switch to the 3-4 defense. The pass defense led by Pro Bowl S Nick Collins and NFL Defensive Player of the Year CB Charles Woodson was great in a 4-3 defense in 2008, and great again in 2009. The rush defense statistically appears to be struggling in 2010, but they are getting burned by big QB runs (primarily by Michael Vick) and they are doing fine against running backs. The foundation of the defense is solid. CSN: Give me two players, one on each side of the ball or on special teams, who I probably havent heard of who could make a big play on Sunday. BB: The only way you'll see a Packer special teamer make a big play is if he's making a big mistake. Special teams were a big problem in 2009, and it's continuing into 2010. On offense, I'd mention WR James Jones. Against the Bears cover-2, they took WR Greg Jennings and the deep ball out of the game, but left the short routes open for WR Donald Driver and Jones. I'd expect Driver to make the bigger impact, but since most everyone's heard of Driver, I'll mention Jones. On defense, I'll mentioned undrafted rookie LB Frank Zombo, who's won a starting job as an outside LB. He's already recorded 2 sacks and 3 QB hits in limited playing time, and he's the guy on the other side that'll make you pay for shifting your protection to stop Clay Matthews. CSN: Who is going to win and why? BB: The Packers will win because I'm forever an optimist. No, really the Packers haven't clicked on all cylinders but still have scored the most points in the NFC after 4 games, and are tied for the best record. They just have to avoid what they did wrong in Chicago (i.e. commit a lot of penalties, and collapse on special teams). It looks like the Redskins might have a very hard time stopping Rodgers through the air, so unless the Redskins can keep up in a shoot out or take advantage of Packer miscues, it's going to be a very hard game for them to win. CSN Washingtons Redskins blogger Rich Tandler answered some Redskins questions for Brandons site. That exchange is scheduled to be posted in two parts on Acme Packing Company on Friday afternoon. Check there or check back here for direct links to the articles.