After two years of watching from the outside, Packers fans can appreciate how special it is to become a playoff team again. I think I recently heard that over half the players on the Packers’ roster have never played in an NFL playoff game, so I have some advice to offer them – and the veterans too.
This is the time for each player to give his all – it’s not the time to be worried about injuries. Every time a quarterback goes into a slide to avoid contact, I figure that to be a loss of about three yards. I’d make an exception only if multiple tacklers are homing in from different directions – and it’s not yet in a critical stage of the game.
Several Green Bay players of late have gotten the ball and immediately raced toward the sidelines. This often costs the team from three to five yards of field position, and by staying inbounds there’s always the chance of avoiding or breaking a tackle and getting a much longer run. This rule of course does not apply when time needs to be preserved near the end of the half or the game.
Guys who have gotten into the habit of heading straight out of bounds include Jimmy Graham and Davante Adams. Graham, at 265 pounds, should be mowing down defensive backs and stretching that 6’7” frame forward. Davante has such electrifying moves that the last thing he should be thinking of is pinning himself against the white stripe.
Save Those Timeouts
For much of the year, Green Bay has chosen to use up timeouts rather than incur a delay-of-game penalties. They’ve had all season to get their plays underway more rapidly, but only in the last few games have they made some progress. If it comes to it, unless it’s a third or fourth down and short, I’d often rather take a 5-yard penalty than use up a precious timeout.
Keep Your Cool
Being penalized after a play has ended is absolutely forbidden. Though emotions are heightened during the playoffs, you don’t want to be the one tagged with an unnecessary roughness penalty at some key stage of the game. And by all means, don’t be caught retaliating for some cheap shot or sucker punch that the referees don’t see.
The Packers have done a good job of reducing their penalty yardage as the season has gone on. I see they ended the year averaging 48.4 yards of penalties per game – that ranks fifth-lowest in the league. In 2018, Green Bay’s ranking was nineteenth. Our most likely opponent, New Orleans, ranks 27th in this category.
Special Teams: Be Ready
Special team members beware: you must expect to see a fake punt or fake field goal during the playoffs – as teams pull out all the stops at this time of year. I’m particularly concerned about a fake punt, as there are about a dozen ways to pull these off. The preferred method used to be a pass by the punter, but now I’m seeing a lot of snaps to a speedy blocker lined up in the backfield. Don’t tell anyone, but safety Ibraheim Campbell is the likely go-to guy if the Packers decide to fake a punt.
Blockers on the punt and field goal plays must also be extra vigilant, as rushers will be going all out on every play to make a block. Even a blocked extra point could turn out to be the difference in a playoff game.
Carry Out Your Fakes
In this era of play-action and run-pass options, fully carrying out these fakes is critical. If Rodgers hands the ball off, he needs to continue the play as if he still has the ball – he’s okay, but not great at doing this. When the ball is faked to a runner, the runner needs to continue to run at full bore and use his arms to mask whether he has the ball or not.
Imposing Your Will
Following the latest defeat of the Vikings, guard Brian Bulaga indicated that in the third quarter the Pack had begun imposing their will on the Vikes. I think he meant in large part that the relentless blocking for all those Aaron Jones runs (25 in all) wore the Vikings defense down – mentally and physically. Add in Jamaal Williams’ efforts, and the Packers RBs mauled Minnesota for 187 rushing yards in 29 attempts – an average of 6.45 yards per carry. The Packers should have a goal of grinding out at least 150 yards on the ground in each postseason game.
The last time I could find a Packers running back with more carries than Jones had in that Monday Night game was October 27, 2013, when Eddie Lacy had 29 carries against the Vikings. That too was an impressive win, by a 44 to 31 score.
There’s no better way to impose one’s will on an opponent than by a relentless and effective ground game – and the Packers have the personnel to carry out such a plan this postseason.