“Everybody in the league is looking for versatile tight ends because it makes them harder to defend,” Capers said Friday. “What they do with them is they can go with two-tight end personnel and run their two-back offense where they put the second one in there at the fullback position. Or, they can go two tight ends and run their three-receiver offense where one of them is out in a wide receiver position. So what they’re doing, they don’t want to let you know by their personnel whether they’re going to be in a two back, or they’re going to have both of them at the line of scrimmage (tight to the tackles), or if they’re going to have one of them out as a wide receiver. So it gives them more versatility.
“It’s a matchup deal. You have to be able to match up with them, and you’ve got to be ready for all those different formations because you know they’re going to be looking for the matchups.”
It also gives quarterback Andy Dalton more passing options than just Green, who is one of the league’s best deep threats.
“It is nice having both of those guys. You feel like with the matchups you can get with the different formations, with putting guys in different spots, we feel like it's really going to help us out,” Dalton said. “It's good to have. The personnel that's going in this year might be a little different than it was the last couple of years. It's all because of the matchups we can get.”
The responsibility of covering those tight ends will vary, with the Packers’ inside or outside linebackers sometimes getting the nod, their safeties at other times.
“Depending on the defense, we’re on those guys, no matter who they are,” Packers outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene said. “They’re both fine tight ends and they’re both good blockers too. Coach Dom calls the defense, and we’re either on them or we’re not. And so we’ll do our job.”
Meanwhile, the Packers must figure out what to do with Green, who will get chances to beat them over the top. Tramon Williams matched up with Green last year in preseason play, but the Packers aren’t matching Williams this season.
Without Burnett at safety, the corners will get help from M.D. Jennings, Jerron McMillian or Chris Banjo over the top on some plays, which may or may not be helpful.
“We’ve got to defend the vertical throws, because they’re going to take their shots down the field,” safeties coach Darren Perry said. “No. 18 (Green) is a very dominant player, but Dalton’s not afraid to get it to the other guys. They’re involved, and if you take 18 away, those other guys can beat you, too. They’ve got some really good skill people. Their backs, they’re not big, huge guys but they run hard and they’re good in space. So when we get in space, we have to make sure we can tackle them. We’ve got to have a complete game. Not only in the run phase but the pass phase as well, we’ve got to be sharp, because they thrive on those – I think they were second in the league last year in 40-yard pass plays. And a big part of that is 18. We have to make sure we contain him and then make sure we keep the other guys at bay.”
Neal gets a feel: The Mike Neal linebacker experiment continues, with mixed results – never more mixed than last week, when Neal had his first career interception on a play where he wasn’t doing what he was supposed to be doing.
“That’s falling into a pile of poop and coming out smelling like roses, that’s what that is,” Greene said with a laugh about Neal being in the wrong place at the right time. “But we’re not robots, we’re human, and we make mistakes out there. So I gave him a minus, obviously, for the play, but I gave him a positive for the impact play. Because anytime you get an interception, the coaching point is, what he did wrong is coachable, but what he did do was make a play. Instead of nutting up and fumbling that tipped ball, he took advantage of the opportunity, he made a good play, a critical interception, secured it and made sure we gave the ball to the offense. There’s a lot of positives in that dark cloud.”
There’s also a lot of positives to Neal’s hybrid role. He’s played 81 plays through two games, splitting his time between outside linebacker and defensive lineman in the dime package. Although he’s yet to record a sack, he does have five quarterback hurries, according to Pro Football Focus.
“I like what we’ve got going now with him,” Capers said. “Because I think what you’d rather have is, to get to where we want to get, you have a lot of guys that have a certain role. Mike Neal, if you play him 30, 35 plays – really good plays that give you something, to me, in this day and age with everything being so specialized, the more you can get into that the more guys can get to where they can develop a real expertise for what you’re asking them to do.”
Neal, who was listed at 294 pounds as a defensive end but is thought to be 275 pounds now, is still learning how to drop into coverage and do other things the linebacker position requires but seems to be catching on.
“We were playing him inside, he was probably better on the move than anchoring in there on those 325-pound linemen. He has plenty of strength, but I think he’s more natural at his size right now than trying to bulk up to 290, 295,” Capers said. “I think we’re taking steps to where I saw him impact the game last week.”
Getting after the quarterback: Speaking of the pass rush, the Packers enter the game with only three sacks after finishing with 47 (fourth-most in the NFL) last season. The problem is that it’s hard to gauge just how effective the rush has been because of the way the defense has played the first two quarterbacks on the schedule. Nevertheless, McCarthy didn’t want to hear about it on Friday. When asked if, because Dalton is a more traditional pocket passer, the Packers might be able to unleash their rush in a more traditional fashion, the coach bristled.
“I don’t know why in God’s name we’d even talk about that in the paper, what our pass rush plan is,” McCarthy replied. “Let’s be real here, too. Andy Dalton’s a good athlete. We’re acting like he’s going to stand back there and we’re going to rush right at him. I mean, that’s not the case.
“Football is not played on a chessboard. We need to get after the passer whether we’re in a jet rush or a transition rush. It doesn’t matter. That’s ‘Excuse Football.’ Whatever our assignment is when they’re passing the ball, or we’re in pass coverage, we need to get that done.”
Despite McCarthy’s reaction, it was a valid question and one his defensive assistants acknowledged has been a factor, along with his top pass rusher, Clay Matthews.
“I think it’s understanding who you’re going against in weeks prior,” said Matthews, who has one sack this season. “Obviously when you see those mobile quarterbacks, those read-option quarterbacks, pistol, whatever you want to call them, and with our game plan was specifically to keep them in the pocket. ... Hopefully this week presents us an opportunity to really pin our ears back and get after the quarterback. Obviously that starts by shutting down the run, and they obviously have a great running game and showed that on Monday night.”
The Packers were credited with two sacks on Colin Kaepernick in the opener, and while Davon House had their own sack last week, Pro Football Focus had them for 10 quarterback hurries and one quarterback hit on Robert Griffin III, who watched Capers send five or more rushers on 25 percent of his dropbacks.
“I’ll just say this: I felt a lot better about our pressure last week,” Capers said. “I thought it affected the game where the first week was a little bit unique because you’re not going to get wild with pressure. So we had two sacks, but we weren’t wild with pressure that week. We played more our style of game last week to where if you go back and look at those first eight third downs, he’s got people right in his face. He’s throwing where he can’t step into his throws. I think it really impacted the game.”
First things first: Aaron Rodgers was unaware of the stat when it came up at his locker on Wednesday. The Packers quarterback was asked how he’d rate the first-down production so far this season.
“I’d have to look at the stats, I’m not sure what the stats are,” Rodgers said.
“You’re No. 1 in the league,” came the reply from WFRV-TV reporter Ryan Rodig.