Four Downs: Packers look like throwbacks

This week, Four Downs takes a inside look ahead at four of the matchups in Week 17 and what could be key factors.

1. Green Bay has been looking like a true throwback team. They featured the true I-formation on 40 of 74 offensive snaps against the Giants last week. The reason you don’t see it in the NFL often is because it’s not a great formation for pass protection in what is now a passing league. The Packers run out of the formation quite a bit, but they also pass out of it often. Both running backs — Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn — are excellent at stopping after a fake and picking up blitzes to give Aaron Rodgers extra protection. The Packers were able to play keep-away two weeks ago against the Patriots and again last week. They’ll give it to the Bears this week as well. It’s a throw-back formation you don’t see anymore, and the Bears will have to deal with it. I like the Packers in this game.

2. What was impressive about the Saints’ win over the Falcons on Monday night was the game plan of DC Gregg Williams. His design basically took Matt Ryan, Michael Turner and Roddy White away and limited the Falcons in all phases of the game. How did they do it? They pressed White at the line of scrimmage to slow his release and knock him off his routes, with a safety over the top. On third downs they doubled Tony Gonzalez and wouldn’t let him off the line. They manned-up and got physical with all of the other receivers at the line, making it tough for Ryan to find anyone open. Turner had 12 carries on first-and-10, and gained 34 yards. The Saints took everything away and had a game plan for every down. It’s basically the same thing they will have to do against the Bucs with LaGarrette Blount, Josh Freeman and Mike Williams. Even though I’m in love with the Buccaneers and how they play the game, even after so many injuries, Williams and the Saints will get it done at home.

3. The defensive front four will be a huge factor as to why the Rams win on Sunday. The Rams are going to Seattle to win the division at 8-8, but it’s an incredible jump from 1-15 last season. You have to give credit to Sam Bradford and Steven Jackson. But take a close look at the front four for the Rams. James Hall has 10.5 sacks this season. Chris Long, a No. 2 overall pick, has 8.5. Fred Robbins started a Super Bowl for the Giants three years ago. And Gary Gibson is also contributing. Those four┬áreally dominated the win over the 49ers last week. They allow Steve Spagnuolo to not rely on blitzes every time he wants to get pressure on the quarterback on passing downs, which can ease the pressure off the secondary. This front four has been very, very good at times this season. They play the game with a lot of hustle, to go along with some talent.

4. There’s no doubt in my mind the Steelers beat the Browns to win the AFC North and claim home-field advantage. The Browns, really, aren’t a difficult team to defend. Here’s an amazing stat: The Browns have 28 touchdowns this season, and Peyton Hillis has 13 of them. Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has to be wondering who will beat him if they take Hillis out of the game. Hillis had 41 yards in the first matchup, and he’s the key again, because there’s no one else on the Browns that can even scare you. The Steelers can be a difficult team in the playoffs. With a healthy Troy Polamalu, the Steelers are consistent on defense and can limit opponents to 10-15 points. It doesn’t matter at that point what the offense does. The Steelers are always going to be in games and they never get too far behind. Ben Roethlisberger knows this. The Steelers are as dangerous as anyone in the AFC, and I’m guessing LeBeau will have a better game plan if they see the Patriots again.

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