With the draft now concluded, fans can start looking forward to some actual football activity. The Green Bay Packers will conduct their organized team activities (OTAs) on May 22-24, May 31, June 1-2 and June 6-9. The mandatory minicamp is scheduled for June 13-15, with training camp getting underway in July.
These are the times that fundamentals should be drilled into the heads of the players. Coach Mike McCarthy is constantly stressing fundamentals, but there is more to it than just “pad level.”
If you are a perfectionist, a detail person, you probably have your own list of pet peeves when it comes to the Packers failing to execute the fundamentals. What follows is a list I just threw together, which I’m sure I could expand on with some more head-scratching.
6. Tip Drill
Ten years ago, it seems like all NFL teams regularly practiced a tip drill, in which defensive backs who could reach, but not catch, a pass would (intentionally) tip the ball up in the air or toward a teammate who would then make the interception. I have no idea if the Packers regularly practice this drill, but I can’t recall a time in the last decade that the Packers have made an interception via a tip drill maneuver.
5. Hands Up
Based on my observations, there are several NFL defensive lines that knock down passes two or three times per game. My guess would be that the Packers’ defensive line and linebackers seldom bat down an opponent’s pass at or near the line of scrimmage multiple times in a game. I believe this is ever-so- slowly improving, but think about it: a knocked down pass can be considerably more impactful than a sack, as it might well prevent a long pass completion or a touchdown throw.
4. Ball Fakes
This one is mostly on Aaron Rodgers. When Rodgers executes a play-action pass, he usually does a nice job of concealing where the ball is. But when he hands off to his running back, he usually stops and watches the progress of the run. Instead, he should be proceeding to drop back to pass and positioning his body so defenders can’t tell if he has the ball or not. The running backs also need to do their part on fake handoffs, by trying to conceal whether or not they have the ball and by continuing to carry out an apparent run play.
3. Punching the Ball Out
Teams that rank high year after year in fumbles caused do this by design, not luck. Particularly in gang tackling situations, defenders arriving late should be concentrating on knocking the ball loose before the offensive player is down or the whistle is blown. Punching the ball loose is highly effective, as is hooking one’s hand in and prying the ball away.
In last year’s playoff game against Atlanta, Aaron Ripkowski had about five tacklers trying to drag him down as he neared the end zone. Jalen Collins alertly got his hand on the ball and eventually pried it loose, causing a fumble, a touchback and an enormous momentum swing. Though outweighed by about 50 pounds, good fundamentals by the Atlanta cornerback created a decisive play in this season-ending game for the Packers.
The Bears’ Charles Tillman was the master at causing fumbles. In his 13-year career he is credited with 44 forced fumbles. The only two Green Bay players I’ve noticed in recent years with some propensity for forcing fumbles are Charles Woodson and Julius Peppers – and both honed their skills with other teams.
2. Protecting the Football
Though the Packers as a team seldom have an unusual number of fumbles lost, certain players lack good fundamentals in this area. James Starks probably has topped the list in the last several years, and his teammate Eddie Lacy also had ball protection issues, but they have both departed. Finally, Aaron Rodgers, when dancing around in the pocket, all too often holds the ball in one hand and way out from his body as he tries to evade defenders – a bad habit that has led to several turnovers over the years.
1. Tackling Low
Almost without exception, members of the Packers’ defensive unit simply display poor tackling technique. I sounded off on this topic at length back in mid-February. Almost no one tackles from the knees to the ankles – they just try to bear-hug people.
It’s a common enough league-wide problem, but there must be a few teams whose coaching staffs have had more success than the Packers at getting their defensive players to use proper tackling techniques. Of current Green Bay defenders, I’d credit Morgan Burnett with having the team’s best tackling techniques, but I sure miss the days when Willie Wood roamed Green Bay’s secondary.