Shotgun serves to protect weapons
Favre, Green suffer less pounding in formation Saturday, November 17, 2001
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Favre, Green suffer less pounding in formation

of the Journal Sentinel staff

Green Bay - Looking for the common denominator why Brett Favre and Ahman Green are healthy and the Green Bay Packers have allowed their fewest number of sacks in the first eight games of a season in 28 years?

Offensive coordinator Tom Rossley is confident that he has the answer.

"We don't get sacked and Ahman Green doesn't have to block defensive tackles in the shotgun," Rossley said. "With our scheme and personnel, we've got to do things that are best for our running back and our quarterback. I think it helps both of them."

Rossley wasn't a proponent of the shotgun formation when he joined coach Mike Sherman's staff a year ago. But after keeping Favre under center on every play in the first nine games of 2000, Rossley has seen the light.

Critics of the shotgun, and Rossley is aware of them, argue that the risks and subtle effects that the formation has on a team's offense outweigh the rewards.

Rossley respectfully disagrees.

"Protection is always first in everything we do," he said. "It's easy to draw up (pass) routes, but if you don't protect, then your passing game stinks and that's how you lose. More fumbles happen off sacks than running the football. When you protect the quarterback, you eliminate sacks and you eliminate turnovers."

The Packers have been in the shotgun on 145 of 484 plays, or 30%, and two of their 10 sacks have come from the passing formation. Miami (seven) and Chicago (eight) are the only teams that have allowed fewer sacks than Green Bay, which has its lowest eight-game yield since the 1974 squad gave up nine.

According to Rossley, the correlation in today's National Football League is keen between use of the shotgun and reduced number of sacks.

"So many people are so fast and zone blitzing now and bringing people up inside," he said. "All of a sudden, Seattle is in it a lot. There's almost not a team in the league that doesn't use it anymore because of protection problems.

"A lot of people say, 'Oh no, they're in the shotgun.' They don't see how it helps us to be in the shotgun so (defenses) can't do certain things to us. If we were under center all the time, we'd have a bunch more (sacks), probably."

The blitz package that has prompted the Packers and many other teams to employ the shotgun is fairly simple.

In NFL terminology, the space between the left guard and the center and the right guard and the center are known as the A-gaps. When defenses move a linebacker into each of the A-gaps, the two linebackers join the two defensive tackles in a four-on-three overload against the guards and the center.

Offensive linemen must protect the A-gaps because they're the shortest path to the quarterback. When one or two linebackers jump into the A-gaps, the guard must take his first step to the inside in case they shoot the gap.

Even if one or both linebackers bluff a blitz and then bail back into coverage when the ball is snapped, the guard with the threatened gap can't read minds and still must step to the inside if the quarterback is under center.

If, for example, the left guard steps inside, the defensive tackle that is lined up over him or just off his left shoulder then becomes the responsibility of the running back as long as the quarterback is under center.

"Last year, we ended up having our back blocking down linemen more than we wanted to," Rossley said. "We want to hand the ball to Ahman Green. We won't want him blocking Warren Sapp. It's just not good for your back."

In the shotgun, the guard doesn't automatically have to step inside when linebackers threaten the A-gaps. Either one or both of the running backs, depending on the personnel grouping, has the time to charge up and block a blitzing linebacker because the quarterback already is deep and doesn't have to backpedal away from center.

"It's a photo finish whether I can get to you before you hit the quarterback," Rossley said, referring to the halfback's role against A-gap blitzers when the quarterback is under center. "Sometimes (linebackers) will time the cadence and hit the A-gap just as the quarterback comes away from center. The back cannot get there."

When defenses see a shotgun formation, especially with two backs flanking the quarterback, they usually don't even try blitzing the A-gaps.

The Packers are blessed, says Rossley, because Green has had an excellent teacher of pass protection in Dorsey Levens.

"As much credit as Ahman Green gets as a runner, he's also a phenomenal pass blocker," Rossley said.

As the weather and field conditions worsen, Rossley suggested that the Packers would use the shotgun less often. That means they'll probably still use the shotgun primarily on second-and-long and third-and-long plays as well as the 2-minute offense.

"We don't want to live in it," he said. "It's third down that puts us in it, or if they know you're passing you might as well get back. But if we're getting into it too much on first down, maybe we need to re-evaluate it."

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