Packers Defense Has the Talent To Be More Aggressive And Flexible

Lack of man coverage was one of the problems against the Vikings

There is no reason to be so passive when a unit has so much talent. That's the biggest takeaway after a disappointing defensive performance by the Green Bay Packers on a 23-7 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in the regular season opener on Sunday.

Justin Jefferson did everything he wanted throughout the game, especially in the first half, finishing the matchup with nine receptions, 184 yards and two touchdowns. And it wasn't like he beated Jaire Alexander all the time. Actually, they rarely faced each other directly. New Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell explored the Packers defensive strategy, moved Jefferson around, and the receiver dominated the soft zones proposed by Green Bay’s defensive coordinator Joe Barry.

It's understandable for the Packers to use zone frequently because that's the base of Barry's system, and that's why head coach Matt LaFleur hired him before the 2021 season — the idea was always to install the Vic Fangio/Brandon Staley defense in Green Bay.

But at some point, with that much investment and talent in the secondary — and in the defense overall —, a team should be able to adjust its gameplan week to week to avoid plays like this.

“We have to coach so much better,” head coach Matt LaFleur said after the game. “This is two years in a row we've come out Week 1 and not looked prepared.”

The Packers have arguably the best cornerback trio in the NFL, but it doesn't mean that any of them is capable of guarding one of the best (if not the best) young receivers in football. Rasul Douglas in the slot is a decent idea, generally, and Adrian Amos is a good coverage safety. But in a matchup so difficult, there's no reason for not to use more man coverage, matchup Alexander against Jefferson, and maybe even use more aggressive packages to generate pressure on the opposing quarterback.

The Packers won't face many receivers as good as Jefferson throughout the season — next week, for example, the Chicago Bears’ receiving core isn't nearly as dangerous. But the point is not necessarily for this specific matchup. It is to propose that the Packers have the talent and personnel to be more flexible, and they should make weekly adjustments to their basic plan.

For the Bears game, for example, it's fair to expect that the defensive front will dominate Chicago's weak offensive line. In this case, it's smarter to populate the secondary and use more zone. That wasn't as useful against the Vikings, and the Packers had no answers to stop Jefferson until it was too late. In the third quarter, Barry showed more willingness to use man coverage, and it paid immediate results — when it was zone coverage, Jefferson had an easy time.

Front can be more aggressive too

More aggressiveness could also be important for the defensive front. Last season, the Packers had the eighth lowest blitz rate in the league — and that was expected, mostly because of the system, but also because Jaire Alexander was injured and the cornerback group needed more protection.

This year, however, the Packers can use their secondary power to send more bodies in pass rush. While Rashan Gary and Preston Smith are good rushers, the depth at edge isn't great. Sending blitzers might be an important alternative to take the opposing quarterback off of their comfort zone.

It isn't realistic to expect a high blitz rate — and it's not even necessary. But it's essential to have more exotic looks as a change of defensive pace eventually.

It’s important to have a defensive identity, but the NFL nowadays is so offensive-driven that any successful defense must be able to adapt. If Joe Barry can’t do that, he’s wasting the big investments the Packers have made in the unit — and this year’s version of the offense might not be as good to mask those deficiencies.

Photo: Mark Hoffman / USA TODAY NETWORK

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Wendell Ferreira covers the Green Bay Packers for Zone Coverage and Cheesehead TV. He is a Brazilian journalist with over a decade of experience covering the NFL, soccer, NBA, and MMA. Follow him on twitter at @wendellfp  

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1 points

Comments (40)

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Coldworld's picture

September 12, 2022 at 11:22 am

It was all too easy for Jefferson. A bad plan badly executed. From that one can recover. Stokes is not a great zone player. Douglas covered well when directly in Jefferson, but the zonal coordination was dire and we suffered from being an active DB short. It was a mess that could have been foreseen and mitigated had we had a better plan going in. We still have the players and thus there’s hope that Barry gets it right in future and that time will help mesh too.

I am far more concerned about whether we can learn the lessons on O, which go far more acutely to the heart of personnel and ability and requisite mindset.

6 points
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LLCHESTY's picture

September 12, 2022 at 11:38 am

I don't think they were very physical upfront either, besides Clark. Like I said yesterday I'm guessing his practices are too soft in TC. If it's a one game aberration again and it keeps guys healthy in December I guess you can live with it. That 9.5 point spread against the Bears looks ridiculous but I guess it points to Vegas thinking it was an aberration. I don't really care as long as they win.

6 points
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Coldworld's picture

September 12, 2022 at 11:53 am

It seemed very vanilla from the front 7. My impression was too much Lowry and that he was the weakest link in the front, but the use of Smith/Garvin and Enagbare/Gary as alternating pairings is significant. One of those two younger players needs to step up (possible) or they need to bring in help. Maybe both. Yesterday it just tended to make us toothless too often and the Vikings knew one side was the threat.

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T7Steve's picture

September 12, 2022 at 12:26 pm

What about planning ahead for making making adjustments? Don't they have plans in place for different ways to go when things aren't going as you expect? You have to plan for anything that can happen, not what you think will happen.

I take the honor of the biggest foot in mouth last week when I said the Vikings have new systems and coaches on both sides of the ball, and will take time getting adjusted.

Don't have to adjust to no coverage and an O line that aren't ready to be backups.

4 points
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LLCHESTY's picture

September 12, 2022 at 03:10 pm

Yep, I noticed Lowry get pushed back an awful lot yesterday. He had 3 pressures so his run defense had to be pathetic to get a 45 grade. He should be playing base and then just a few snaps in the 2 man fronts to give guys breathers, 30 snaps a game max.

4 points
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Gee's picture

September 12, 2022 at 04:38 pm

From you to Barry ears please.

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LLCHESTY's picture

September 12, 2022 at 11:47 am

Douglas was credited for allowing 3 catches for 75 yards by Jefferson.

https://twitter.com/NFL_DougFarrar/status/1569339561238740997?t=kDPV5rZl...

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Coldworld's picture

September 12, 2022 at 11:55 am

He is getting blame for transitions perhaps? On one occasion he blanketed Jefferson well. I don’t see that in those stats. I also think this is misleading. Teams often avoid Jaire, but I think that the aim here was to avoid CBs ideally and to target the fact that they were sticking to Zone. That type of usage is a classic tactic against that zone approach and one we could have used Doubs for against them (Toure too if active—speed to break through the zones), but for some reason did not.

PFF has a very different take on Douglas, with him giving up 3 catches for 11 yards in coverage and also making a number of key tackles. They graded Douglas the 5th highest on D. I think that take on yardage/coverage is closer to my visual take. They caned both Amos and Savage (so transitional issues are being seen differently).

PFF is far from perfect, but they also scored Tom (negligibly) worse than Hanson. That is scary if at all valid (neither Runyon nor Myers fared much better). All received poor run grades though Hanson was better their but had a distressingly low pass protection grade (turnstile standard). Nijman had an elite pass blocking score. He’s really one of our 5 best OL. They need to get him practicing at RT now.

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Leatherhead's picture

September 12, 2022 at 07:21 pm

Isn't it interesting how two different perspectives skew rankings......

I thought Tom, Hanson, Newman, et. al, were pretty pedestrian. I think NIjman did a good job and IMO, he's our LT. I'm expecting Bakhtiari back, but I'm not expecting the Bakhtiari of two years ago to be back. Jenkins is going to return and that'll help at RT. Then Tom and Hanson can both sit down, where they belong. Until then, we should run more and pass less.

If all the guys had poor run blocking grades, then how did Dillon/Jones average over 6 yards/carry? I'm not balancing that.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

September 13, 2022 at 02:57 am

Because you don't read my articles!!!! 😂

First Half:

Dillon: 5 carries, 11 yds, 2.2 yard average.
Jones: 3 carries, 15 yds, 5.0 yard average.

OR

Jones - one good 10 yd run, 2 lousy runs @ 2.5 ave.
Dillon: 4 (1st and 10), 2 (2nd/6), 2 (1st/10), 3 (1st/10), 0 (goal line).

8 runs. Only Dillon's 4 yarder on first and 10 was a successful run for him and only Jones' 10 yarder was successful. 6 were unsuccessful. That equals a lousy run grade.

0 points
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TarynsEyes's picture

September 12, 2022 at 11:38 am

A tidbit from A Christmas Story, as Scrooge faces the tombstone in the Xmas future scene.

"Before I draw nearer to that stone (gravestone) to which you point," said Scrooge, "answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?"

It seems, no matter the change in personnel, MLF and Rodgers cannot or will not alter their respective mindsets, as to the game plan/adjustment by one, or the expectations/demands placed by the other, less themselves.

This team, with the ease of the schedule, would have me thinking, not believing, yet, that things 'Will Be' as has been, with three years of visual evidence supporting the likelihood of a repeated past. Are either capable of altering their mindsets to change the repeated future path and ending the season without a chunk of coal.

Time will tell, but it doesn't appear, at the moment, either is ready, willing, or able.

Fingers crossed.

No, a win over the Bears next week will not be enough to believe change has come about.

10 points
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BAMABADGER's picture

September 12, 2022 at 09:41 pm

Spot on, You hit the nail on the head, bull's eye, what else can I say. Your Christmas Story analogy is excellent.

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JohnnyLogan's picture

September 12, 2022 at 11:40 am

Barry is so passive he puts his own players to sleep. Preston Smith isn't a top rusher anymore and neither is Reed. So it's up to Gary and Clark. They were doubled. Yet Barry rarely blitzed and Cousins had all day. Meanwhile the secondary are all standing in zone, in place, so Jefferson just found the soft zone. It was an incredible display of stupid.

Gute gave Barry the horses I don't think he knows how to ride. And LaFleur with his constant "I have to do better" isn't much better. He simply refuses to adjust when things are unraveling and everyone else in the world can see it. "The Genius" on offense, did he not see Hanson on roller skates? How long do you allow that to continue? I honestly don't think he watches the game.

Now we'll go on to beat a bunch of bums and wait for the inevitable coaching meltdown in the playoffs again. There are good coaches and good big game coaches. This was a big game, even though it was the first of the year, and LaFleur and Barry were destroyed by a young first-year coach. Doesn't bode well.

This team has a ton of talent. The coaching is horrible.

14 points
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coolhand's picture

September 12, 2022 at 06:08 pm

Barry had 2 weeks to plan for this game and this was the best he came up with?

1 points
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Fubared's picture

September 12, 2022 at 11:43 am

Maybe now some of the naysayers will believe what I said when they picked Gary: In college he went missing in games and oft took himself out when other teams were handling him. He was never on hand whenever M played the better teams so how Gutt picked this guy in Feb as his one pick is mind boggling to me.
Stokes is just as bad. Size, speen and the brain of a walnut. He cant play pass d if he had to and the other dbacks, minus Alex, are slow of foot and cant cover.
Firing Barry solves nothing because this is what he has to work with.
Right now we have the worst pass d in football till they prove otherwise.

-11 points
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LLCHESTY's picture

September 12, 2022 at 11:49 am

Actually the worst pass D will be Arizona after this week but being wrong is your specialty.

4 points
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wildbill's picture

September 12, 2022 at 12:11 pm

Didn’t Gary have like 7 combined tackles, a sack. , and a TFL? Not sure those are official stats but looks like a pretty good game.

6 points
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dblbogey's picture

September 12, 2022 at 12:26 pm

Gary's a stud and played well. Just admit you were totally wrong to criticize the Packers for picking him.

0 points
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jeremyjjbrown's picture

September 12, 2022 at 11:48 am

It's sort of weird they looked like a team that hadn't played together recently.

Oh wait...

9 points
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PatrickGB's picture

September 12, 2022 at 11:53 am

It’s just one game and was against a tough unscouted team. But it did not look good for the defense. I expected the offense to struggle yet was surprised that the defense did as well. Others have questioned the coaching and I will add my voice to it as well. With the injuries to Quay and Barnes I fear that the team will struggle with talented offenses.

5 points
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stockholder's picture

September 12, 2022 at 12:02 pm

Didn't like the DL spread out. Savage still looked lost to me. And he still looked like he was playing hurt.
Defense wasn't physical enough!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

4 points
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Leatherhead's picture

September 12, 2022 at 12:27 pm

Unbelievable. We have the second worst offensive performance in the 55 games of the LaFleur Rodgers era, and all people want to do is talk about the defense.

5 points
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Rarescope's picture

September 12, 2022 at 12:56 pm

I think that's due to expectations. Everyone expected the offense to struggle with the changes to the receiver corp and oline. Likewise everyone expected the defense to dominate out of the gate. I should have learned better than to get hyped up in the offseason but alas I said to myself all summer long this time will be different. Appears that it actually does take more than a bunch of talent for a team to be effective.

1 points
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vin0770's picture

September 12, 2022 at 08:19 pm

Are you kidding? The elephant in the room is the defense. 100% healthy to start the game with a bunch of so called studs and they get confused playing zone…WTH

Hell strap it up and go Mano-Mano. No more confusion just own it.

The offense goes in minus three starters and flounders around and your surprised?

MLF is the head coach and every plan and strategy goes through him. Been a head coach and been an assistant, ultimately played the way I wanted as HC and had plenty of ideas vetoed as an assistant, comes with the turf.

So the question no one is asking that a beat writer can’t is: MLF lacks the stones to go against his DC ideas or not smart enough to see the necessary in game changes needed…neither very good options to consider. We seen MLF enough to see a pattern…I’m not optimistic 😢

0 points
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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

September 13, 2022 at 03:06 am

LOL. I am willing to discuss both the offense and the defense. Already wrote that the defense in giving up 20 (or technically 23) underwhelmed but really was only mediocre at worst. It's the way one guy ripped Barry a new one, I suppose, that is leading folks to focus on the defense.

The problems with the offense were more diffuse, but I'd have things to say about AR, Runyan, Tom, Myers, Hanson, Watson, Watkins, Cobb (and the TE room if I could put my finger on my exact issues with them), but that would take too long.

0 points
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Bearmeat's picture

September 12, 2022 at 12:58 pm

The defense was very good in the 2nd half. The adjustments were solid. If they stay healthy, they'll be more than fine. The offense, if it does not play like the team Gute set up, will NOT be fine. This is on the coaching staff to get the best 5 OL guys out there (not Hanson and not the mullet). Nijman at RT. Jenkins at RG. Zach Tom as the 6th man.

And 12 needs to stay IN the system and help the WRs grow. Dink and dunk if you need to and RUN the damn ball. 12 was atrocious (again) yesterday.

-2 points
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NJ-RICK's picture

September 12, 2022 at 01:26 pm

Did you ever think maybe the Defense is not as talented as you think...? Stokes looked like a JV player out there against Jefferson. Za'Darius Smith gets the last laugh yesterday. Maybe its time Packer MGT move on...? Take the Bears plus the points next week.. The Packers were out played, out coached and out managed yesterday. Plain and simple... So much for not playing your starters during preseason...

2 points
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JohnnyLogan's picture

September 12, 2022 at 01:57 pm

Good players can look bad if put in untenable positions. That is what I believe happened. The coaches coached soft. They didn’t attack either on offense or defense. And the personnel mistakes on the offensive line really cost them. Every Packer preseason blog dealt with Hanson as a weak link. What did the coaches think would happen once the bullets started flying? Again, bad coaching can negate talent.

6 points
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Renllaw's picture

September 12, 2022 at 02:46 pm

100% agree with this article. I'm just really tired of always having a D-Coordinator that is conservative. When I watch the good defenses around the league I see aggressive, attacking, in your face play. When you face a good NFL QB, vanilla zone coverage is going to get eaten up ALL DAY. The rules favor the offense already. Don't make it easier on them by presenting easy pitch and catch scenarios. You have to frustrate and confuse the QB or its game over. Stunts up front, in your face bump coverage, sprinkle in some blitzes... Don't be afraid to get beat here and there if you are being disruptive to their offense. We seem often to be playing not to lose on defense and we have way too much talent for that.

5 points
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gpt999's picture

September 12, 2022 at 03:33 pm

Why is everyone generally blaming the defense for this loss? Yes, it was another reminder that Joe must get out of his passive "comfort zone" and get more aggressive! Remember the 2nd game in Detroit last year? Joe played passive and the Lions shredded the Pack D by halftime. Then Joe got aggressive from that point on in the season. Let your talented players play aggressively! You've got some great DBs - let them play man when zone isn't working!

Yes, 23 points against is not good. But scoring only 7 on offense with the MVP QB from the last 2 years who makes $50M per season are a lesser problem? That's pitiful! From the moment Watson dropped that first pass, it looked like AR went into his childish, frustrated routine again! An MVP should act and play like one. He did neither.

And MLF? He has exhausted his standard excuse "I have to be better prepared". Duh! If you're not prepared, how can your team be? No wonder he is never voted Coach of the Year. He keeps making the same mistakes, year after year. Matt, you amassed great regular season records over your 3 years. But someone should give you a big in the backside when you keep making the same mistakes over and over again...

6 points
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coolhand's picture

September 12, 2022 at 06:13 pm

I would agree 12 was not good yesterday, but I would say the O line play was atrocious. The pass pro was pathetic, and the Vikings D covered our receivers. Why did we not cover theirs?

1 points
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Leatherhead's picture

September 12, 2022 at 07:12 pm

Rodgers got poor protection on several occasions and took way too many shots for a 39 year old man with a concussion history. But all-in-all, he only threw 12 incomplete passes all day. The first one, then one in Doubs direction, a few throwaways, the bullet that bounced off Jones.

On most throws, people were open and he made an accurate throw which was usually caught.

0 points
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jont's picture

September 12, 2022 at 06:30 pm

Minority opinion here, but I think the D was not as bad as it looked. Jefferson's numbers were wild and inexcusable, but the vikes are loaded at the 'skill positions' and Cousins, though fun to laugh at, is a good QB. Holding them to 20 or 23 should be good enough to win. (I'd predicted 16 or 17 thinking MN wouuld have their own first game mis-steps and that the GB offense would have better time of possession.)

Now, from my couch it seems like GB has three good cover men so designing a zone-based defense seems unwise to me, but Greg Olson had a couple good observations on this during the game. He thought JA could handle Jeffferson but noted that following him around would force the others in the secondary to make reads, adjust, and switch very quickly. If the defense scheme is not built around this, a mid-game switch from zones to man is very difficult.

1 points
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Leatherhead's picture

September 12, 2022 at 07:04 pm

If you're a bottom line guy, the bottom line is 23 points. The Purple are a better than average offensive team, especially at home, so holding the Vikings to 23 in their own place is better than quite a few teams will do.

We need a better plan for the next time we play Jefferson. I don't care if we have to put Alexander AND Amos on him, we have to slow him down some. We have a good pass rush, but you have to keep guys covered long enough for the rush to reach home. There are two plays involving him, in particular, that I'm almost certain were blown coverages.

A bitter truth: After Week1, the most potent offensive weapon in the NFC North is the Cousins to Jefferson connection. I wouldn't look to Chicago or Detroit to change that.

1 points
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13TimeChamps's picture

September 12, 2022 at 08:35 pm

Green Bay didn't hold the Vikings to 23 points, the Vikings did. They could have scored 30 or 37 points if they had decided to run up the score instead of backing off with a 16 point cushion the 4th qtr.

I'm actually surprised you can't figure that out.

1 points
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Guam's picture

September 13, 2022 at 07:38 am

The Vikings scored 23 points. Woulda, coulda, shoulda doesn't count. If they did, the Packers would have scored on the first pass to Watson and Dillon would have punched it over from the one yard line too.

I wish you two would stop going out of your way to find fault with the other. You both have quality observations and comments, but you diminish them with this incessant personal grudge match. I probably should not post this comment and just shut up, but you two are both so much better than this.

0 points
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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

September 13, 2022 at 03:16 am

It should not be a minority opinion. The defense wasn't bad, yet Jefferson's numbers were also inexcusable, which leads to some ambivalence.

1 points
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Qoojo's picture

September 12, 2022 at 09:00 pm

I expected the offense to suck because it's the first time they all played together in a game situation, and because Jenkins and Bak were out.

The defense was just disappointing. On one run play, 3 or 4 guys watched as one guy tried to tackle the ball carrier, then got bowled over when the OL guys showed up resulting in about 5-7 extra yards.

0 points
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BAMABADGER's picture

September 12, 2022 at 10:20 pm

What is it going to take to get a play called, offense lined up over the ball such that our brilliant MVP can get a play off before the play clock hits 10 seconds. If they did , three timeouts would be available at the end of the 2/4 quarters. An occasional up tempo is not a bad thing.

0 points
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DeezNutz's picture

September 13, 2022 at 05:11 pm

Joe Barry’s defense has the illusion of competency.

0 points
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