Green Bay up to road challenge
There’s also a reason the Green Bay Packers don’t seem fazed by that challenge.
“We knew that we were going on the road. So we’ve embraced it,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy. “The road doesn’t scare us. We feel we’re a very good road team. We’re 3-5 this year, which is down probably for us over prior years. But playing on the road doesn’t bother us at all.”
After going 3-5 away from Lambeau in the regular season, the Packers have won at Philadelphia and Atlanta. In those hostile environments, they’ve only had three offensive penalties.
McCarthy believes some of this is attributed to his road philosophy, which is all about simplification. Players say he generally leaves them alone on the road, aside from a few necessary tasks.
And even that follows routine. There aren’t extra plays drawn up in a parking lot.
At the beginning of the year, McCarthy described the three environments where he felt he must have production from the players: the classroom, practice and game day.
On the road, he doesn’t waver much from his plan, cluttering it up with special circumstances. For instance, the classroom work is done at home.
“We have a tremendous facility with all the resources, bells and whistles, to do a great job of teaching, instructing,” said McCarthy. “I was never a fan of going to a hotel ballroom that now can vary what your classroom environment’s going to look like.”
He said he uses the same schedule format he learned from Marty Schottenheimer and Bill Walsh.
On the road, the Packers have a team meeting and—maybe—a walk-through just to review some things. There’s no extra cramming for a final exam.
“It really helps our players."
Despite losing several key players to injury through the season, Green Bay gave up 15 points per game in the regular season—second-best in the NFL behind only Pittsburgh.
And their play hasn’t dropped off in two road playoff games.
Philadelphia’s Michael Vick threw for 292 yards with a touchdown and an interception, but the Packers limited him to 33 yards rushing in a 21-16 victory. Against the Falcons on Saturday, the Packers held quarterback Matt Ryan to 186 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, and running back Michael Turner had only 39 yards rushing and a touchdown in a 48-21 victory.
Even Williams didn’t realize how well his teammates played against the Falcons until he watched game tape Monday.
“As a ‘DB’ you don’t get to see the front seven doing their job because you are in coverage all the time,” Williams said. “When you come back and watch film and see the way those guys are playing up front, it’s crazy. They’ve done a great job up there and kind of made our job easy.”
Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings sees the defense in action every day in practice.
“It’s tough,” Jennings said. “Those guys, they really fly around. Obviously with the kind of guys we have in the secondary, they’re able to make plays with the ball in the air.”
Jennings appreciates the way the Packers mix up their coverage in the secondary.
“We get the man. We get the zone. They can press,” Jennings said. “So we get to work on bump coverage quite often. And then when they’re in zone we get to work on off coverage. ... They work well on preparing us, and we try to do the same.”
Woodson and Matthews are the Packers’ two biggest names on defense; Woodson was named AP Defensive Player of the Year last season, and Matthews is a favorite to win it this season.
But the Packers’ biggest defensive star in the playoffs has been Williams, an up-and-coming cornerback who earned a new contract with his stellar play this season.
Williams has three interceptions in two playoff games, including a pick of Vick in the end zone to end a late-game comeback attempt by the Eagles and a momentum-seizing 70-yard interception return for a touchdown just before halftime against the Falcons.
“When these playoffs and the Super Bowl are completed, everybody in the country is going to know who Tramon Williams is,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “That’s the type of level that he’s playing at.”
McCarthy isn’t surprised at the way Williams has developed, calling him one of the team’s smartest players.
“Tramon’s the guy that’s always in the front row with his book taking the notes,” McCarthy said. “He’s been doing that since he arrived here. He has a total understanding of the defensive system.”
Williams insists it isn’t a “big deal” that he’s the one making game-changing plays. The way he figures, if he wasn’t making them, his teammates would be.
“I think we have lots of guys on the defense that can make those plays,” Williams said. “I think I’ve just been put in that position the last couple of weeks and made those plays.”