World’s Best Preview Two-Minute Drill: Playing Telephone

Here’s a quick-hitting final look at tonight’s game between the Green Bay Packers (6-1) and Kansas City Chiefs (5-2).
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Here’s a quick-hitting final look at tonight’s game between the Green Bay Packers (6-1) and Kansas City Chiefs (5-2).

Playing telephone: Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Kansas City Chiefs and site of tonight’s game against the Green Bay Packers, is the loudest stadium in the NFL.

During the first quarter of a September 2014 victory over New England, the fans’ roar was measured at 142.2 decibels – the loudest ever, according to the “Guinness Book of World Records.” Maybe it won’t be quite that loud tonight but the Packers will face their biggest challenge of the season in terms of communication.

The Packers spent the week practicing with the music blaring to get ready. To further drive home the point, coach Matt LaFleur found some video of Chiefs fans.

“The key when you’re playing in a tough environment is to make sure you’re really good on all the checks, because a lot of them are going to have to be nonverbal,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “I think we do a good job of making all those look very similar. A lot of the checks are very similar as far as how they look when you’re taking them off the film. We have to be locked in on that, locked in on the verbiage and just try to go out and execute.”

The communication starts with Rodgers shouting adjustments to center Corey Linsley, and then the word funneling down the line from Linsley to guards Elgton Jenkins and Billy Turner and then to tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga.

“It’s kind of like playing a game of telephone and you hope that the message gets down to you and you understand,” Bulaga said. “Aaron’s going to go up to Corey and make the call. Corey’s going to hear the adjustment and give it out. Billy’s the closest to Corey over there and Elgton’s the closest to Dave, and then it goes out from there. There’s some adjustments that we can anticipate but then there’s some where we may be totally changing something up and we need to know. It’s going to be a challenge. I’m not going to make a bigger deal out of the noise than I normally do. Seattle’s pretty damned loud, Chicago was pretty damned out this year, Dallas was loud, especially at the beginning. I’m not going to make a huge overstatement about how loud it’s going to be. We’ve just got to go play. The noise, it’s a factor but as long as we’re on the same page and we can communicate and we make sure we pass everything down, everything should be fine.”

That’s the right attitude, because the Chiefs’ homefield advantage hasn’t exactly been overwhelming.

Over last decade, the Chiefs are 48-27 at home, a .640 winning percentage and plus-322 scoring (plus-4.29 per game). On the road, they’re 41-35 (.539) and plus-43 (0.57 per game). For comparison, Green Bay is 58-17-2 (.766) and plus-680 (plus 8.82 per game) at home and 37-37 (.500) and minus-61 (minus-0.82 per game) on the road. In other words, the home vs. road advantage for the Chiefs is 3.72 points but 9.64 points for the Packers.

Running game pays off: It’s not as if the Packers are running the ball a lot. In fact, headed into Sunday’s games, the Packers were merely 18th in the league with a run rate of 40.6 percent. However, with Aaron Jones going for more than 100 yards against Dallas and Jamaal Williams for more than 100 yards against Detroit, they’ve shown that they can and will run the ball.

One of the specific payoffs of an effective running game are the big-play passes to the running backs. The general payoff comes in play-action passes. According to Pro Football Focus, Rodgers is 44-of-58 for 587 yards and one touchdown on play-action passes, good for a 113.2 rating. Rodgers ranks fourth in the league with a play-action completion rate of 75.9 percent – 14.2 percent better than on standard passes.

Going in motion: The weekly newsletter from Sports Info Solutions focused on the Rodgers-LaFleur offense. According to SIS: “The Packers usage is up from 27 percent to 44 percent this season, the second-largest increase behind Houston’s 19 percent jump.

Using pre-snap motion does more than help a quarterback determine whether the defense is in man or zone.

“I think anytime you motion, there’s communication that has to take place on the defensive side of the ball,” LaFleur said. “Sometimes communication gets a little messed up. It also allows you the ability to disguise some things, as well, with the fly motions and whatnot. It also gives you some misdirection. There’s a lot of reasons why we use motion. Some games, we’ll use it more. Some games, we’ll use it less.”

No Mahomes: With reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes out with a knee injury, the Packers will face backup Matt Moore. The 35-year-old Moore has made 30 career starts but spent last year coaching high school football.

Clearly, the quarterback situation works in Green Bay’s favor. The Packers’ top defenders, however, said they were disappointed.

“Nah, I’m competitive. I want the best,” said cornerback Jaire Alexander, who likely will travel with big-play receiver Tyreek Hill. “Even against the best, there’s still opportunities to make plays. I want the best. Aaron Rodgers, if we’re at practice, I want him. Te (Davante Adams), I want the best. That’s how you stay elevated.”

Beating the blitz: Earlier in the preview, we talked about the aggressiveness of the Chiefs defense under first-year coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Kansas City blitzes 28.2 percent of the time, the 12th-highest rate in the league. On the other hand, opponents have blitzed Rodgers 19.6 percent of the time – the third-lowest blitz rate in the league.

Here’s why: According to Inside Edge, Rodgers has averaged 12.7 yards per attempt against the blitz this season, the best in the league and far ahead of the league average of 7.5.

History lesson: In regular-season matchups, Green Bay is just 3-7-1 against the Chiefs. That’s the worst record among current NFL franchises, with a .318 winning percentage. Miami (5-10; .333) and Buffalo (5-8; .385) are the only other teams in which the Packers have beaten at less than a .400 clip. Of course, the Packers won Super Bowl I 35-10.

YAC attack: According to STATS, the Chiefs lead the league with 1,177 yards after the catch. The Packers are second with 1,010. Mahomes leads quarterbacks with 6.97 YAC per completion while Rodgers is tied for ninth with 5.70. That will put a premium on tackling in the secondary.

Big-play receivers: We used a lot of words on Hill in the Inside the Chiefs portion of the preview. However, since Week 6 of last season, Marquez Valdes-Scantling leads the league with nine receptions of 40-plus yards. Hill and Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans are tied for second with eight.

The last word: While the Packers are an impressive ninth with 19.9 points allowed per game, they’re a woeful 26th in total defense (381.0 yards per game), 24th against the run (128.9) and 21st against the pass (252.1).

While, ultimately, nothing matters beyond the scoreboard, that’s not good enough for defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.

“We have standards that we want to play to and, when we don’t, then we want to make sure that we get that corrected,” he said. “Just, ‘Hey we won, it’s OK,’ that’s not our mentality. When we make mistakes, we want to get them corrected and make sure they don’t happen again. Sure, we want to be good at both. We want to not give up a lot of yards, but points is the No. 1 priority. 

“But we also don’t want to give up yards because then yards usually equates to time. We want our offense on the field. I mean, that’s when we play our best defense is when we’re sitting on the bench. Some of those stretches where we’ve given up the explosive plays has been a concern, and it’s something we need to continue to improve on. The nice thing – and I said this before – for where we are, we know we can just be so much better, and hopefully whether it’s this week or when we get to the point when we start putting complete games together, then I think we’ll feel really good about where we are.”

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