I expected Dom Capers to have a good game plan against Vick, and he certainly did. Enough to write a book. But it was really a full team effort. For future reference, since the Packers will likely face these guys again next year, here is the game plan that proved decisive:
- Bring pressure – starting with Birshop’s sack on the first play of the game, the Packers were in Vick’s face. But they did it with less blitzing than most people, including Vick, expected. The Packers finished with 3 sacks and 3 hits, but Vick never looked comfortable the whole game. And the creativity in the blitzes – particularly the delayed “twist” blitz where Matthews got home – were perfectly timed and highly effective.
- Spy on him – whether it was Woodson mirroring Vick or linebackers coming on delayed blitzes, the Packers never over-pursued. They frequently kept a player or two in position just behind the line of scrimmage to contain Vick should he break out of the pocket. At the end of the day, Vick only gained 33 yards in his eight attempts – a great performance by the Packers defense.
- Play great man coverage – if you’re going to blitz and spy, you are going to be in a lot of one-on-one against the receivers. And Green Bay’s defensive backs came up big. Of course, Tramon’s pick was the highlight, but Sam Shields had an incredible break up as well.
- Sustain long drives – part of containing any great quarterback is to keep him off the field. The Packers did that with a 5:38 touchdown drive on their second possession of the game, followed by a 7:00 minute drive for a TD on their very next possession. Then, after turning the ball over for the Eagles first touchdown, Green Bay was able to put together a crucial 11-play 6:17 drive for what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown.
- Run the ball effectively – long, clock-burning drives really only happen if you’re running the ball effectively and James Starks was the difference today. His 123 yards rushing was a huge factor in the game. Maybe he will turn out to be our Marshawn Lynch after all.
- Avoid giving up the big play – Nick Collins and Charlie Peprah were so deep all night I felt like I barely saw them. DeSean Jackson popped one play for 28 yards, but it was one of only two catches he had in the game. LeSean McCoy had only 46 yards rushing. The Eagles' longest play of the game was to Jeremy Maclin for 44 yards.
The only rules for how to beat Michael Vick that the Packers violated were “Don’t turn the ball over” – Rodgers’ fumble was obviously costly, handing the Eagles their first touchdown and getting them back into the game. The Packers were fortunate that two other fumbles were recovered and that Underwood’s foot fault on the game’s first punt ended in a shanked Akers field goal.
The other big rule is “Don’t give him the chance.” The Packers could have iced the game by converting a 3rd and 10 with about 2 minutes left. Instead, Rodgers took a sack and they had to punt to Jackson. In the end, Tramon had to make a big play to save us.
Lastly, I don’t even know what to say about James Jones’s dropped pass right before the half. The guy is super talented, but he’s killing me. I don’t believe Rodgers went back to him again the entire game.
Pam Oliver asked Rodgers an odd question in the post-game interview, whether this win got the “monkey off your back?” Rodgers appropriately responded that he didn’t feel there was a monkey on his back, given he’s only played one other playoff game and threw for like 6,000 yards and 18 touchdowns in that game. But there was a monkey on the Packers' back – one that pre-dates Rodgers and McCarthy and Thompson and most of the rest of this team. Two monkeys actually – the 4th and 26 monkey and the 22-year-old Michael Vick monkey. And both were vanquished today. McCarthy’s march continues to Atlanta. May there be much pillaging.