As Citizen GM of the Green Bay Packers, I make a concerted effort to be an efficient note-taker.
You heard me correctly — a taker of notes.
You see, there is much to learn from the other 31 teams in the league, especially around playoff time. Only the cream of the crop move on to the postseason (in most cases) and their collective success leaves much to be desired for the teams that fell short.
As each round of the playoffs comes to a close, another handful of teams join the ranks of the unheralded. The Green Bay Packers went this same way Wild Card weekend, and it broke the hearts of all of Packers Nation who (including me) had them destined for greatness.
Now, only two teams remain: the best offense in the league taking on the best defense in the league. What a matchup; you almost couldn’t ask for better. I’ll be taking notes on Feb. 2, you can be sure of that. However, Sunday’s NFC Championship bout had my pencil scrambling furiously.
These two NFC powerhouses put on a show for the ages; and it is within the parameters of their defensive strengths that I found the answer to the Packers’ defensive weaknesses. Here is what championship defenses are made of:
Championship defenses exhibit …
- PRIDE — there is no other way to say it; a true championship defense is made up of 11 guys who are PROUD to be the most elite defense in the league. The Seahawks are one such defense. In fact, they have so much pride in their talents that they have formally named themselves the “Legion of Boom.” If you are feeling yourself and your teammates so much as to self-nickname, you are doing this whole pride thing correctly. Every member of your defensive unit has to be a heavy contributor on the field in order to give your pride merit. If you look at the Seahawks roster, there isn’t one name that stands out as being an underachiever, or even just an average Joe. You can’t point to one position of weakness, you can’t tug on a specific link of the chain to find fault. The unit works together and puts on cohesive defensive performances to uphold the self-made standard to which they hold themselves. PRIDE.
Championship defenses enjoy …
- HITTING PEOPLE — this point is non-negotiable. Championship defenses LOVE to put a hat on somebody. These men are itching to make a tackle, praying for a receiver to come sprinting across the middle, or for a quarterback to try their side of the field. What I saw from both the Seahawks and the 49ers on Sunday was intensity and viciousness that is only replicated by championship football teams. Guys were putting hits on receivers that noticeably rattled the offense. I saw Chancellor lay a couple of hits on Vernon Davis early in the game that basically eliminated him from the remainder of the contest. Davis was unnerved when in the slot, he was seeing ghosts for the rest of the game … he was a complete non-factor. Even the special teams units were dying to lay someone out. The early hit on LaMichael James was the perfect execution of a gunner playing through the whistle. Championship defenses are not afraid to make a tackle, they embrace it. They live for it.
Championship defenses employ …
A MEAN STREAK — Championship defenses just can’t be made up of 11 guys who enjoy long walks on the beach and examining butterflies in their free time. While that kind of thinking may sound a bit barbaric, it’s simply reality. Football is a harsh, vicious game. It isn’t for the faint of heart, you know. There are few guys like Reggie White out there — tender and soft-spoken in life but bad to the bone on the football field. Most guys use their time on the field to take out their aggressions from every day life on unsuspecting offensive players. We need those guys. We need guys with a chip on their shoulder, like the Richard Shermans of the world. Overlooked and undervalued, he carries those emotions with him on (and off) the field. We are lacking those smash-mouth defensive players with red in their eyes. Championship defenses are made up of guys who aren’t afraid to talk the talk because they know they can also walk the walk. The Packers currently employ neither.
Championship defenses embody …
- CONSISTENCY — these level defenses are nothing if they are not consistent. They are disciplined, they work together as a unit. Most of all, they TACKLE CONSISTENTLY. I can’t drive this point home enough. The Packers are made up of defensive players who can’t or won’t tackle. This isn’t a practiced skill, it’s a frame of mind. Those guys who are great tacklers, will always be great tacklers. Likewise, those guys who can’t make a stop, will never be able to practice themselves into doing so. Unfortunately, the Davon Houses, Morgan Burnetts and M.D Jenningses of the world — do not play on championship-caliber defenses. Guys who can’t tackle a runner, can watch guys who can from the bench or the unemployment line. Look at the front seven from either NFC championship team. Name a guy who can’t bring someone down by himself, I challenge you. Would it be Navarro Bowman, Patrick Willis? What about Cliff Avril, Bruce Irvin or Earl Thomas? Even rookie sensation Eric Reid has been a home run hitter this year in the San Francisco secondary. They are consistently turning in championship-quality work.
Championship defenses emanate …
- Championship ATTITUDES — Ask any member of an elite defense and they will tell you that they are elite. Ask any member of a championship defense and they will tell you that they are taking home the Lombardi Trophy at the season’s end. They have the attitude of champions and that feeds their desire to play like one. When Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone in week 9, the Packers’ defense was on a downward trend. Since Ray Rice ran wild on our sixth-rated run defense in week six, the footing was loose for a front seven that had enjoyed semi-success early on. However, the secondary was never anything to write home about or be proud of. After Rodgers jogged to the locker room that Monday night, all defensive-hell broke loose. No one’s eyes burned with desire, no one played with the intensity necessary to provide an ailing team with a spark. The defense GAVE UP. While the offense struggled to get going, the defense fell asleep at the wheel. When the offense pulled a rabbit out of the hat against Dallas and Chicago, the defense came alive to make enough plays to win in the closing seconds, but never showed the will of champions. It’s an attitude, even in the darkest of times and the lowest of lows, the attitude exudes through it all. Championship defenses have that attitude pulsing through their veins week in and week out.
The Green Bay Packers have an offense that exhibits all of these traits. Aaron Rodgers and Co. are tried-and-true champions. Everyone on the offensive side of the ball has pride in what they do, they work together for the good of the unit, they are consistent and play with an edge. We need these traits to translate to the defense before we can consider ourselves worthy of the Lombardi Trophy again.
With the impending free agent battle upon us, many of the lackluster defensive players will be shown the door. We will then turn out attentions to May, where young and hungry talent awaits to bring the championship attitude back to the Packers’ defense and the Lombardi trophy back to Titletown.