Much has been made of the Green Bay Packers’ intentions to emphasize the running game more in the 2013 season.
If we are to believe the pronouncements from head coach Mike McCarthy and the personnel moves of GM Ted Thompson (new running backs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin, blocking tight end Matthew Mulligan), the Packers — while not becoming a “run-first” team — will seek a more balanced offensive attack that should relieve pressure from Aaron Rodgers and the passing game.
On the other side of the ball, the Packers are also aiming at a major improvement: defending the read-option offense.
Even though the Packers concluded the 2012 season with a respectable ranking of 11th in total defense and recorded the fourth-most sacks, the lasting impression for many was the Packers’ failure in big-time games to adequately answer the read-option offense.
The Packers were unceremoniously bounced out of the playoffs by the San Francisco 49ers as Colin Kaepernick rang up a QB record 181 rushing yards. In total, the Packers surrendered 579 yards of offense in their final game of the season. Ouch.
And the message was received by the Packers organization.
The Packers are leaving no stone unturned in their attempt to combat the read-option, which is used much more in college than in the NFL. While not unheard of, it is rare for a professional coaching staff to travel en masse to a college program to learn how to defend a scheme.
That is exactly what the Packers’ defensive coaches did this offseason when they journeyed to College Station, Texas, home of Texas A&M, to immerse themselves in how to properly defend the read-option offense. While there, the Packers’ staff participated in a one-day intensive clinic with the Aggies’ defensive staff.
Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers even went a step further and consulted with University of Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who game-planned against Kaepernick in college.
In addition to devising better schemes, the Packers selected UCLA defensive end Datone Jones in the first round of the draft largely because he fits the mold of a long, quick, athletic defensive end needed to be able to run horizontally with a read-option attack.
The return of last year’s first-round pick, linebacker Nick Perry, is also expected to provide support against the read-option. Perry’s rookie season was cut short by injury, and his notable size and speed were not able to be used against the 49ers in the playoffs.
If the bitter taste of ending their season due to a major failure to defend the read-option offense isn’t enough, the Packers have even more incentive to master this trendy new offense: the first two weeks of the NFL schedule feature a rematch with the 49ers, followed by a visit from the Robert Griffin III-led Washington Redskins.
The Packers will learn very quickly if they’ve made the necessary moves to defend the read-option.