Questioning the 'Packers formula' issue

December, 21, 2011
12/21/11
1:15
PM ET
I guess we should have expected it. The Green Bay Packers' first loss in a year has sparked a debate about whether the Kansas City Chiefs discovered a formula to beat them.

The Chiefs delivered the Packers a solid wire-to-wire defeat, but I think we're jumping to conclusions by deriving long-term implications from the loss. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers feels the same way, and we'll get to his seemingly exasperated mini-rant on that topic in a bit.

Generally speaking, my sense has been that most teams have a pretty good chance to win a game, against the Packers or anyone else, when they don't commit a turnover and maintain possession for 36 minutes, as the Chiefs did Sunday. The topic came up twice in Tuesday's SportsNation chat, and here's how those exchanges went:
Jeff (ABQ)

By no means does this imply the Packers aren't still king, but...might there be a formula now? Who's the most dangerous team (that aren't the Cheeseheads) right now & in postseason?

Kevin Seifert (2:39 PM)

The only formula that came out of the game is to not turn the ball over. But I think every team sets out to do that every week.

Mike (Buffalo Grove, IL)

Why because the Packers lost a game, do people feel there is a formula? Watching the game against KC, I thought the reason GB didn't win was more due to errors and miscues that they made i.e. dropping passes rather than anything KC did.

Kevin Seifert (2:44 PM)

Some people are talking about the press coverage the Chiefs were playing, but that is also their style. I'm not sure if every team can emulate that.

Rodgers addressed the Chiefs' defensive approach and the general "formula" issue during his ESPN 540 radio show this week. I thought his discussion of the Chiefs' defense was especially enlightening and reflected what we hashed through early this week.

As you might recall, the Chiefs sent an extra pass-rusher on only 21.4 percent of Rodgers' drop backs, preferring to stay back in coverage for most of the game. They used at least five defensive backs on 86 percent of the Packers' pass plays, and Rodgers completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes for the first time all season.

Asked about that approach, Rodgers said: "This is part of the problem with losing your first game. … People forget that this recipe, supposedly, has been used by every other team. … Every team coming in has had a significantly higher amount of pressure that they normally use than the final game statistics [against the Packers].

"Any team coming in at 40 percent, 35 percent, 30 percent, 20 percent, they're not pressuring us. And the Chiefs did the exact same thing. They brought five-man pressure occasionally. They didn't bring six one time. They didn't bring their slide pressure zones. They didn't bring empty pressure. They didn't pressure.

"That's been what the majority of every team has done. It's nothing new, from Minnesota, Chicago, Detroit. They've all tried it. They've all tried to get pressure with four and play coverage. That's been their scheme. And occasionally they bring a five-man pressure. …

"For whatever reason, that's been the case. It's not something new that the Chiefs did. They just did it pretty good. We didn't execute very well. We didn't make the plays that were there."

John McTigue of ESPN's Stats & Information corroborates that big-picture view. This season, opponents have sent five or more pass-rushers against Rodgers on 28.5 percent of his drop backs. That's the eighth-lowest mark in the NFL. For context, the range from the least-blitzed quarterback to the most-blitzed quarterback is 23.8-45.7.

It's important for the Packers to understand what went wrong Sunday so they can correct it, just like it's important for us to avoid overreacting.

"Let me tell you this," Rodgers said. "I saw some of the comments -- there is a formula for beating the Packers now. There is a blueprint. The blueprint to win any games in the NFL is to control the time of possession, don't turn the ball over and be good on third downs. And punt the ball [twice]. That's kind of what they did. And they stopped us pretty good as well. That's a blueprint for any team to beat any team in the league.

"I laugh when it's a blueprint to beat us. … There is a blueprint for winning in this league, a recipe: Don't turn the ball over. Don't turn the ball over, and you've got a real good chance at winning."

It would be reasonable to point out that the Packers' defense had a role in not creating a turnover, especially considering its relatively weak pass rush. But Chiefs quarterback Kyle Orton was careful with the ball, and the Packers missed a chance to get at least one takeaway by not challenging an apparent fumble by tight end Leonard Pope in the fourth quarter.

More important: The Chiefs played a really good game. And if you play a really good game against the Packers, or any other NFL team, you're going to win more often than not. No more, no less.

Related: Rodgers was named the 2011 Male Athlete of the Year this week by the Associated Press.

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