Confessions of a Polluted Mindset - Doing the Safety Dance

The Weekly Packers Brain Drain from Jersey Al.

We're officially in the dead period of the NFL calendar year. That time when you DON"T want to hear any news about your Green Bay Packers. Players are "released on their own recognizance" from off season team activities and left to their own devices out in the wild. The Packers have been fortunate over the years to not have too many bad things happen during this period, but you can be sure there's a collective "holding of their breath" among the Packers executives and coaching staff.

So with no football activities going on, what shall we talk about today? I started thinking about some things I am really looking forward to this season, and while there were many good possibilities (development of Jordan Love, the young WR room, the new running back room, the switch to a 4-3 defense, etc.) one other thing stood out for me. It's likely not at the top of your list, but I am hyped about the complete makeover of the Packers safety room. For several years now the safety position has been the weak link in the Packers defense. That could have been due to a lack of talent among the players back there or the way they were being used (probably a mix but I think the latter was the bigger problem). Regardless of which one it was, both of those issues are now gone.

The safety room has been completely made over in dramatic fashion. The players who logged the most safety snaps in 2023 were all allowed to seek employment elsewhere. Darnell Savage, Rudy Ford and Jonathan Owens left town and the only safeties invited back were the seldom used Anthony Johnson, Benny Sapp III and Zayne Anderson. While it was obvious safety would have to be a draft priority, GM Brian Gutekunst didn't wait, striking first in free agency with the signing of Giants uber-versatile free agent safety Xavier Mckinney. For the first time since Nick Collins, the Packers have a pure top-5 NFL safey on their roster. Let me say that again - the Packers have a pure top-5 NFL safety on their roster. Sounds sweet, doesn't it? 

Next, Gutey mimicked what he had twice before done with the wide receiver position and pounded the safety position in the draft - bringing in three players whose calling cards all state "aggressive, versatile  and multi-dimensional." Draftees Javon Bullard, Evan Williams and Kitan Olidapo give new DC Jeff Hafley multiple tools to utilize in multiple ways. And no I'm not forgetting about the three returning safeties. Hell, Zayne Anderson, known more for his special teams abilities,  blew up mini-camp last week with three interceptions in one day (off Sean Clifford, not Jordan Love. Collective whew!) . I'm hyped about this young safety group and fascinated to see who will emerge how they're all utilized on game day. 

Honestly, I am mostly praying that I will no longer have to bring you video clips of the Packers safeties playing 25 yards off the line of scrimmage and dropping back further when the ball is snapped. Like this third and four play:

This is THIRD AND FOUR! Not third and twenty. One safety is 25 yards off the LOS and the other 15. Both backpedal some more after the snap. De'Vondre Campbell is left to cover WR Chris Godwin by himself with the safeties somewhere out on Lombardi Ave. I know we're all tired of Campbell's public grousing since leaving the Packers but really, we should understand why. The Packers helped Baker Mayfield earn a new contract with their horrendous approach to defense in that game. 

ANYWAY... this is the type of ranting I hope to not have to do much of this season.

Go Pack Go!

 

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"Jersey Al" Bracco is the Editor-In-Chief, part owner and wearer of many hats for CheeseheadTV.com and PackersTalk.com. He is also a recovering Mason Crosby truther.  Follow Al on twitter at @JerseyalGBP

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14 points
 

Comments (53)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
Razer's picture

June 19, 2024 at 06:59 am

Thanks Al - 3rd and 4 became the new 4th and 26. Let's face it, the Packers have been rudderless on defense for many years. We switched to a 3-4 and didn't draft accordingly. No nose tackle, weak linebackers and D-line have been chronic weaknesses. Add to this our long list of passive D coordinators. The hiring of Joe Barry was a puzzle and another missed opportunity. Hopefully Jeff Hafley brings a new attitude to the team. I believe.

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TKWorldWide's picture

June 19, 2024 at 07:30 am

Do you mean AFTER they drafted Raji and Matthews?
But
Totally on board with you re: a more aggressive approach!

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dgtalmn's picture

June 19, 2024 at 07:00 am

I truly agree.

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T7Steve's picture

June 19, 2024 at 07:04 am

Rant away Al!!! Good time to get it out of our systems. That replay made me shudder this early in the morning Al. BOOOOO!

Wonder how good those old safeties would have been had they been able to play? There were allot of run of the mil QBs they made look good. No wonder the locker room strife and attitudes that showed on the sidelines.

Get to look forward now, with a clean slate.

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Razer's picture

June 19, 2024 at 07:09 am

...No wonder the locker room strife and attitudes that showed on the sidelines...

We do need a defensive leader to step up and set the tone just like Love has done with the offense.

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T7Steve's picture

June 19, 2024 at 07:14 am

Would love for that leader to come from a mean and nasty middle linebacker like the old days and wish Walker would fill the bill, but I'll settle for it being an All-Pro CB or safety.

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packerbackerjim's picture

June 19, 2024 at 07:17 am

“with the safeties somewhere out on Lombardi Ave.” The best line in clickbait season. I was hopeful HaHa was gonna be the guy, ecstatic when they drafted him only to become disenchanted by his play. This was a necessarily bold move by Gute and gives good reason to think this is going to be the defense we’ve been waiting for.

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GregC's picture

June 19, 2024 at 07:36 am

It's not like any of the safeties who have left Green Bay (Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Adrian Amos) have had much success elsewhere. So I think the safety problem has been more about personnel than scheme. But the scheme wasn't great either, so it was best to address the issue on both levels. It will be interesting to see how Darnell Savage does in Jacksonville.

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Coldworld's picture

June 19, 2024 at 12:34 pm

No safety improved under Barry. Was that him, the talent or both? As you say, it will be very interesting to see if Savage, used differently, proves to be an impact player. Regardless, though, perhaps as good a question is how would McKinney have looked playing as Al points out?

One can extend the arguments to CB. Really the only players to have an upturn were players not previously given a chance: Douglas, Ballentine, Nixon. The last 2 barely had any defensive snaps and Douglas was the one guy on the roster who fitted off coverage where’s he had not fitted as well in his earlier chances.

Scheme or roster? Individually one might argue, but overall I can’t escape the belief that we got less from what we had than we should have, Douglas aside. Al points out one of the several visual reasons to believe that’s the case, whomever we had on the field.

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HarryHodag's picture

June 20, 2024 at 10:51 am

It's always about personnel. Best players win. I always put the ratio at 80 percent talent, 20 percent coaching, especially at the pro level.
The defense has a nice mix now of youth and experience and most importantly...affordable.

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Vachio's picture

June 19, 2024 at 07:51 am

Honestly, I was too shocked to see the Packer corners lined up closer than 10 yards on 3rd and 4 to notice what the safeties were even doing.

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packerbackerjim's picture

June 19, 2024 at 08:24 am

True. They made mediocre QBs look like Johnny Unitas.

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BradHTX's picture

June 19, 2024 at 07:56 am

Yeah, it’s the Dead Zone offseason time. The inevitable title of any post about the safety position does give the opportunity to liven up this slow period with one of the greatest pieces of art in the history of western civilization: the Safety Dance literal video. Guaranteed to make this the best day in weeks.

https://youtu.be/j-U-NgB8bfk?si=kZf7Iju4NLlOs2-w

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PackEyedOptimist's picture

June 19, 2024 at 09:33 am

Awesome! Thank you! I love the Literal Videos, but I'd never seen this one!

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GregC's picture

June 19, 2024 at 11:10 am

Nice. My favorite literal video is "Total Eclipse of the Heart."

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BradHTX's picture

June 19, 2024 at 12:08 pm

Definitely the classic of the genre. Also really good are Air Supply’s “Making Love out of Nothing at All” and Meatloaf’s “I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)”. Jim Steinman’s overwrought lyrics just really seem to give great fodder for parody — and really cheesy videos.

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GregC's picture

June 19, 2024 at 01:22 pm

Thanks, I haven't seen those. I remember "Take On Me" by A-Ha also being very good.

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BradHTX's picture

June 19, 2024 at 06:18 pm

Definitely also an excellent one! “I’m gonna kick some ass with my own pipe wrench…”

I’m a connoisseur of them, I admit. Geeky, I know.

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LambeauPlain's picture

June 19, 2024 at 08:02 am

You hear the excitement from the players as they are introduced to Hafley's Pack Attack Defense.

And a good measure of that excitement is realizing they won't have to play Prevent (the win) Barry Ball D any longer. There will be growing pains. Always are with a new Coordinator and such a large shift in strategy and player deployment.

However Hafley's approach should flatten the leaning curve as he wants to simplify the game plan for the upcoming opponent and drill baby, drill. Play fast and force the Offense to adjust to them.

Huge change...and the Safeties are going to be leading it!

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Guam's picture

June 19, 2024 at 08:04 am

Usually I spend training camp looking at the individual battles for a roster spot and reviewing what late round draft picks or UDFAs are going to make the 53. This year my focus will be on the new defensive scheme implemented by Hafley. For the first time in a decade I am excited to see what the defensive is going to look like. I hope to see D-linemen penetrating and disrupting, CBs on the line of scrimmage and safeties that can help with run defense or short passes over the middle.

I am just done with passive defenses. Yes I realize I will see more big plays from opposing offenses, but I also hope to see more three and outs and more turnovers. It was just disheartening to watch opposing offenses march down the field time after time while our defense hoped they would make a mistake and not score.

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dobber's picture

June 19, 2024 at 08:20 am

They're going to have to play the 1s a little more than usual during camp just because they've got to get the regulars used to running the new D.

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Guam's picture

June 19, 2024 at 09:37 am

Not only the new defense, but all the new players. Whole new group of safeties plus additions at linebacker. Like you I see the ones getting time on the field in preseason.

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Coldworld's picture

June 19, 2024 at 12:45 pm

Perhaps particularly the front 7. I don’t think a lot of this will be new to the corners or McKinney. Playing press is where most have excelled previously. I think the line will need rather more time to acclimatize, establish sub package pecking orders and get in sync with the new LB corps in base and sub packages.

Overall I’m excited to see the new Hafley attitude given flesh in the field, but we won’t know if he can pull it off successfully against true opposition till into the season. More risk requires delivery of greater rewards. I hope that we will indeed reap them, but camp and preseason won’t be a very reliable predictor I suspect.

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Johnblood27's picture

June 20, 2024 at 07:04 am

In the new NFL, "getting used to the scheme/new players" is what weeks 1-4 are for...

...and we just keep watching and paying...

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T7Steve's picture

June 19, 2024 at 08:27 am

"For the first time in a decade I am excited to see what the defensive is going to look like."

I remember, not too long ago, being excited because the defense was balling out in camp and frustrating our potent offense with the MVP QB. I was so excited and looking forward to the season.

Then they opened up the season playing the Saints and quickly crumbled my outlook.

This D is much more of a confidence builder. Like you say, they may get gashed occasionally, but the old D did too. This way if they do, they'll put the O back on the field faster and maybe not be worn out by the 4th quarter and give up heartbreaking long drives at the end of games.

I also think this D will force and cause more QB mistakes that will be more helpful making up for any our O or special teams will eventually make.

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Guam's picture

June 19, 2024 at 09:40 am

That preseason defense of a couple of years ago was a mirage. Unfortunately they were dominating an offense that wasn't as good as people thought it should be.

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TXCHEESE's picture

June 19, 2024 at 08:33 am

I don't know that they necessarily will give up more big plays than last year. For playing a "don't give up the big play" defense, GB gave up a ton of them. Kind of like playing not to get hurt, will usually get you hurt.

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Guam's picture

June 19, 2024 at 09:43 am

Fair point although they didn't give up too many "over the top" TDs among their bad plays and I suspect we may see a few more of those this year. Which I'm okay with provided there is an increase in turnovers and three and outs too.

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PackEyedOptimist's picture

June 19, 2024 at 09:54 am

That will be the key, Guam.

Either the "big picture" is "we increase turnovers, TFLs, sacks, and three-and-outs," or we are going to be disappointed.

One of the problems with Barry's defense is it didn't match well with a good offense: Rodgers (and Love) and their offenses spent too much time on the bench.

We may end up with more "shoot-outs," but a big-play defense can win those games in the fourth quarter, whereas Barry's defense was a sure-loss when the opponent's were behind and got the ball and had four tries to get a first down, all the way down the field.

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Coldworld's picture

June 19, 2024 at 12:59 pm

Why go for the big highlight plays when you can get chunks given to you through soft coverage or running? Unless time is expiring take the easy option and most of our successful opponents did just that. Barry’s D gave you yards unless the rush could get through.

Unfortunately, it also tended to give up running yards too. We’ve learned more clearly this off season that the read and respond philosophy extended to the linemen too. It’s one that if it works necessarily slows opponent scoring at the cost of our offense being in the field. If it fails it makes it doubly hard to get the O in rhythm and stretch a lead.

In year one of Barry the corners played press much more and our rush got home more. Injury to Gary didn’t help, but I think it’s as likely just as much due to the change of emphasis that we now know to the front 7 (other than an OLB, particularly Gary, seemingly), as well as the back field.

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LeotisHarris's picture

June 19, 2024 at 08:44 am

Playing the reverse Uno card on you, Al, you ear-worm-giver, you!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0QDKLglEP5Y

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PeteK's picture

June 19, 2024 at 09:07 am

Ha ha ha

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PeteK's picture

June 19, 2024 at 09:13 am

ESPN had an article today entitled " Don't Do That Again" with a pic of Kittles wrestling during WrestleMania.

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LambeauPlain's picture

June 19, 2024 at 09:21 am

Al, the "Dead Period" is alive and well.

Over at Packer's Wire, 4 of their "top 5" articles are lifted from a single PFF "2025 Way Too Early Draft" piece. 4!

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PackEyedOptimist's picture

June 19, 2024 at 09:44 am

I was just thinking last night about our roster and how it matches...or doesn't... Hafley's defense.
The main thing I was pondering, is if Gary and VanNess are right for this defense.
It's important to have great edge rushers/DEs for this, but it's important that they be the right KIND of rusher. Both Gary and VanNess are pocket-squeezing power rushers, but what this defense calls for are lightning-fast or great hands/techniques rushers who can get there in a blink. In fact, Brenton Cox Jr. (frenetic and fast) and JJ Enagbare (techniques) might actually fit the defense better than the starters! Hopefully, Gary and LVN can improve their non-power rush techniques; they certainly are athletic enough.

I do have high hopes for the safeties. It would be nice if McKinney and Bullard and Williams were a touch faster, but their savvy makes up for that. Savage was fast, but he never seemed instinctive enough to really let his speed make an impact.

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Turophile's picture

June 19, 2024 at 10:19 am

If the Packers fall flat again with their new DC, I need to become a Necromancer and resurrect the spirit of Fritz Shurmur.
Please don't force me to do that........

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LeotisHarris's picture

June 19, 2024 at 10:40 am

Whatever you do, make sure to keep your State Necromancer license up-to-date. I let my ventriloquist certification lapse and now I'm looking at 12 hours of continuing education in addition to the test.

Don't get me started on the new regs around my alchemist license. Sheesh!

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T7Steve's picture

June 19, 2024 at 11:17 am

At least you didn't let your wizardry run out.

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Turophile's picture

June 19, 2024 at 04:46 pm

I did let my Necro license lapse once and was sentenced to do 20 hours watching Mime Artists perform. I still get nightmares about that, where I struggle to walk against a phantom wind and end up in an invisible box.

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splitpea1's picture

June 19, 2024 at 11:33 am

The video: One of the most obnoxious defensive plays ever retrieved from the "Plays That Make You Go Hmmm" archive.

The three keys to improving this uninspiring defense from years past:

1) Hiring a new DC that stresses tackling and common sense--check.

2) Finally seeing the light and investing serious capital in the safety room--check. Can't wait to see it in action.

3) Getting the players you have to do a better job stopping the run or if not, find the right balance on the roster between run-stuffing and pass rushing ability. Definitely not ready to check this off yet as it could be a lingering issue.

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croatpackfan's picture

June 19, 2024 at 12:08 pm

I understand your sentiment, Al, but for me, I'm more locked in to ILB group (or should I say LB group) - it looks at least similarly interesting as safety group.

Anyhow. it will be another very interesting season. Lets hope O will be able to carry over while young and new D settle down and start to show what all of us expects. I hope, also that Karl Brooks and LVN will have breakout seasons and they will be come stars on the Packers D line!

Go Pack Go!

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Leatherhead's picture

June 19, 2024 at 05:35 pm

As usual, I have a minority opinion on this. It's only 3rd and 4, but that doesn't mean they won't go for 30 . And as much as I don't want them to convert 3rd and 4, I really hate to see them get a big play against us. You've got to convert several 3rd and 4s to balance out against one 30 yard play (or penalty) against you. If you're trying to hold teams under 20, you don't want to give up 7 of them on one play, whether it's 1st and 10, 3rd and 4, or 4th and 26.

We'll see how it works this season. The defensive personnel is better, so that alone should improve the defense

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13TimeChamps's picture

June 19, 2024 at 10:47 pm

As usual, you're wrong.

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Leatherhead's picture

June 20, 2024 at 07:45 am

Whatever, Princess.

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13TimeChamps's picture

June 20, 2024 at 10:05 am

Sticks and stones tough guy.

The offer still stands chickensh*t.

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Leatherhead's picture

June 20, 2024 at 10:26 am

Whatever, Princess. I'll be happy to cross 1000 miles of desert so you can prove you're willing to be rude and insulting and stupid in person. It's a reasonable request on your part.

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13TimeChamps's picture

June 20, 2024 at 10:39 am

Great! So when can we expect you? Maybe you're not all talk/no action after all.

I'll even go out and buy some of that piss water beer you love.

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Leatherhead's picture

June 20, 2024 at 11:55 am

Whatever Princess.

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Johnblood27's picture

June 20, 2024 at 04:30 pm

when are you two scheduling the nuptials?

Candlesticks make a nice gift...

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T7Steve's picture

June 20, 2024 at 06:22 am

I think that I would exchange those 30-yard plays for something just under 20 or a 1st down all day. Seems every time the Packers have a 3rd and 4, they have to work for it.

If you keep letting them get 3rd and 4s eventually they're going to score (even if it's only a field goal), the D get gassed, and the offense is sitting on the bench with no time left.

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Bitternotsour's picture

June 20, 2024 at 08:00 am

Except that isn't how it went. If your description of the defense were accurate they would have been in the bottom half of the league in points allowed. They weren't. You're letting toxicity cloud your ability to reason. Every team in the league gives up first downs on 3rd and 4. It wasn't a Packer specific conundrum. MLF didn't want his defense giving up splash plays and you can't legitimately stop everything. The philosophy is apparently going to change and they're going to be "more aggressive".

If the Packers are going improve this year, it will be because the offense puts up more points per game. The defense was adequate last year.

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Leatherhead's picture

June 20, 2024 at 10:36 am

'''''If the Packers are going improve this year, it will be because the offense puts up more points per game. The defense was adequate last year.;'''''

In a nutshell. Even in the game that ended our season, we held the NFC Champion to 24 on their home field despite two turnovers. Last year, only one playoff game was won by a team that scored less than 24 points. You can't go out there, score no points over the last 20 minutes of the game, and then blame the defense for holding the opponent under their season average, at home. That's just not realistic.

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Leatherhead's picture

June 20, 2024 at 10:32 am

Not necessarily, Steve. MOST drives do not end in scores. MOST offenses will find a way to stop themselves with a penalty, an incomplete, a dropped pass, a missed assignment, etc. That's why you want to make teams work the ball down the field instead of giving up big chunks of yardage.

Also, given that many QBs complete 67% of their passes, how many times out of 10 do you think we're going to stop 3rd and 4? 5? 7? 9?

We're going to see, Steve. My concern is that we're going to give up too many chunk plays. I also look at our defensive personnel and think it's probably good enough without resorting to gimmicks. But we'll see. I'd like to be wrong here, but if this relentless, aggressive pressure worked as well as people here seem to think it's going to, every coach in the NFL would have been doing this for the last 20 years. But they don't. Why do you think that i s?

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