NFC Playoffs Confidential: How to tackle Marshawn Lynch, blitz Tony Romo, more

NFL Nation reporters granted anonymity to coaches, players, scouts and team personnel to break down the NFC playoffs.

The player raved about the Cardinals' defense, knowing what happened to his own offense. He also spotted a weak spot: Arizona likes its Cover 0 blitz, but it's also an area a better offense might exploit.

When it comes to playoff teams, every one of them has something it does well -- but each also has problem areas that better teams can exploit.

In some cases, teams know how to beat a certain opponent. Take Green Bay's back-shoulder pass by quarterback Aaron Rodgers. One player said to be physical with the receivers and make Rodgers nervous with the rush. It sounds great and easy, but it's difficult to execute.

The advice we've received from players and coaches who have faced these playoff teams: get Matthew Stafford on the move, don't be afraid to attack Patrick Peterson and look at Tyron Smith's hands.

In order to get a feel on what these playoff teams do well and where they struggle, we asked a number of players, coaches, scouts and team personnel from non-playoff teams for their thoughts. Here's what else they had to say:


On stopping/tackling Marshawn Lynch:

"You put three or four more players on the field, you know? Man, you just have to grind, man. When he gets the ball, you've got to have 11 guys moving to the ball. Whether you're a defensive lineman, a linebacker, a DB, it's tough to tackle that guy one-on-one.

"That's what makes him the type of runner he is. He runs hard. He runs behind his pads. He runs angry and he runs mad."

On what makes Russell Wilson such a great runner and scrambler:

"He always keeps his eyes down the field. With him, when he runs, he still has his eyes on the field, so he can still, if you come off your man, he can throw the ball down the field. It kind of gives you a gift and a curse, where, 'OK, if I'm sitting back, he can run. If I come up, he can throw the pass.' And he's smart. He's smart.

"With that, if you have a man and he starts scrambling, you've got to clamp on to your man. As far as the front goes, the rush, if it's a four-man or a five-man rush, you've got to have an even rush to try to keep him in that pocket."

On Richard Sherman's weaknesses and how they can be exploited:

"Sherman's weakness is his lack of fluidity. Because he's 6-3, he doesn't flip his hips as well as the 5-10, 5-11 guy. He also doesn't have great top-end speed. He always has trouble with speed guys. He plays safe against them and gives a lot of cushion underneath so that he doesn't give up the deep ball. He wins because of Seattle's pass rush and the safety tandem behind him, but make no mistake, he's one of the smartest cornerbacks in football and understands route combos very well. And because he was a former WR, he has top-notch ball skills as well."

On best ways to have success against Seattle's defense:

"You have to win on early downs, keep third down manageable and not allow them to get their four-defensive end, pass-rushing group on the field. You have to score and maintain balance. When teams become one dimensional against Seattle's defense, that plays into their hands and allows them to do what they do best -- harass the QB and create turnovers. They only have 29 sacks on the season, but I'll bet that they're near the league lead in QB hits."


On stopping Rodgers' back-shoulder throw:

"That's on the corner. That's just them being physical at the line of scrimmage. I felt like before they played us, a lot of defensive backs let them have a free release on them. Our guys did a great job of being physical at the line of scrimmage, disrupting the timing."

"Really just getting after Rodgers and making him very nervous up front with our pass rush. Our defensive backs did a great job of playing off and playing on, switching up their coverages, changing their disguise. That right there is key, because if the quarterback doesn't know exactly where you are in regards to the route that's designed for him, he can't really throw the ball where it needs to be."

On minimizing Rodgers' impact:

"I think the key to beating him is, first of all, shutting the running game down. You cannot let them be able to run the football because if you do, you're going to be in for a long day. If they get the running game going, that means they've got the play-action pass going. So, first and foremost, you've got to stop the run.

"Second, you've got to be able to keep the quarterback in the pocket. I think he's probably the most dangerous when he's on the move, escapes the pocket and is throwing on the run. He'll make you look stupid, so you've got to do a great job of containing him and keeping him in the pocket.

"No. 3, you've got to be able to do all that with a four-man rush. You've got to be able to get home and be able to put pressure on the quarterback with a four-man rush and be able to play coverage behind it, whether it be [Cover] 3 or [Cover] 2, some form of zone behind it, and be able to pressure with only four guys rushing and contain him and keep him in the pocket. Once he expands plays, he's hell. He's pretty much unstoppable."

On why the Packers should run Eddie Lacy more than they do:

"I know they're going to pass the ball because they've got an elite quarterback, but they've got to be able to get Eddie Lacy going. Man, you've got to gang tackle him, too, because you hardly ever see one guy bring Eddie Lacy down. So you've got to do a great job of rallying and getting guys to the ball."


On having success blitzing Tony Romo:

"It's all about timing the cadence. A lot of quarterbacks like Tony Romo like to get up and give a dummy count, and they might see a guy flinch like he's coming [to rush]. The thing is holding disguises as long as you can and then making an adjustment at the last possible second. Like most quarterbacks, Romo's cadence is similar. He'll say, 'Set, hut, hut!', and then he takes a look around, gets back underneath and gets going. We've played this guy so many times that knowing his mannerisms certainly helps.

"We knew on first and second down we had to stop the run, and if we could force him into a long-yardage situation, then we could force him to hold the ball a little longer and our blitzes could get home. We kept bringing blitzes up the middle -- that's where we had success before. That was a big part of the game plan."

On attacking Romo before the snap:

"That's really big. You're trying to overload a side or bring it up the middle, and if you bring it up the middle, you want to give guys 5-0 protection so it's man on man and you have more air to run in. And if you run outside, you don't want them to slide that way. So it was big for us to wait until after both [center Travis Frederick] and Romo give their protection calls. It was such an emphasis in practice and the meeting room, and we were able to pick up on his snap count early in the game."

On handling Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith:

"With Tyron Smith, once he gets his hands on you, you're finished. He has such power and great strength in his hands. You have to use technique with your own hands to keep his hands off you. Once he puts his hands on me, I'm not going to be able to get off of him, so I'm looking right at his hands and making sure to do something to keep them off of me. You have to avoid his strong grip."


From a pass-rusher on Cam Newton:

"You just gotta get him down. That's the game plan. If you don't get him down, the guy thinks he's Superman, and he can play like him at times. You get him down, though, it'll be a long day for him.

"You gotta cage him. You gotta crush that pocket and collapse it quick. He's in the center, and you collapse it as quick as possible, not let him have time back there to even think 'Should I pass it or should I run?'

"The guy has a cannon for an arm and he runs fast, so he can hurt you both ways."

On Newton's running and passing:

"I think Cam Newton is the most physical runner of all the quarterbacks, but I'd say that Russell Wilson is the best runner, overall, because he's so elusive. But if you're just talking about strength or needing a yard or two, I'm taking Cam Newton before anybody else.

"As a passer, he has definitely developed. There have been some teams that think he can't throw on the outside, but I've seen him make some very, very tough throws, especially in the Seattle game against Richard Sherman. I see Cam improving as a passer, but he's not a finished product. There's still a lot he can learn as a passer. If he ever gets there, it's going to be something special."

On slowing Carolina's running game:

"When they're healthy, which isn't always the case, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are as good as any one-two punch in the league. Throw in Cam Newton's ability to run and you've got a scary backfield. But they haven't been as potent running the ball this year as in the past because the offensive line has had some changes. Honestly, this offensive line isn't very good, and you can take advantage of that. Just stay home and you'll be fine because that offensive line isn't going to knock you off the line of scrimmage."

On controlling Luke Kuechly:

"It's tough to get to him on the second level. And part of that is they've got some stout guys up front, so it's not like you're just kind of slapping at a 3-technique [tackle] and running. You're getting hit by a 3-technique that's a good player, that's explosive. And if you don't have him really outleveraged to start a play, it's tough to get to [him]. He's a guy that's going to guess a little bit. If he does get outleveraged, he'll play behind blocks. And you see that with them sometimes in games, teams that are able to get up to him, he'll try and get behind the backside block and it gets him in trouble sometimes."


On attacking Arizona's defense and Todd Bowles' blitz packages:

"A lot of blitzes, a lot of pressures that they mix in, can cause some confusion, and it gets you thinking a lot about protections as opposed to routes and concepts. They roll the dice a lot. We picked up their Cover 0, but you have to throw with anticipation. When you get to the playoffs and see really good quarterbacks and receivers, you live by the blitz and die by the blitz.

"Part of me feels that when they go up against it and keep sending [Cover] 0 blitzes and gambling, that they're going to die by it, especially when you face guys who have a level of continuity and recognition that, even without hand signals, you know what each other is thinking."

On taking advantage of weakness in the Cardinals' secondary:

"[Antonio] Cromartie doesn't move as well as he used to. Being a tall guy, his hips aren't as fluid as the smaller guys, so when he's matched up against fast guys, he does not get in and out of breaks as well.

"[Patrick] Peterson has been pressing for some reason this season and isn't playing as well as he has. He's aggressive breaking on underneath routes, which leads to him getting in trouble versus double moves because he is always peeking back at the QB. Both guys are handsy and grabby downfield, which is why you've seen a spike in penalties called against them."

On how to beat Peterson:

"He's really good, but we beat him. Pierre [Garcon] and DeSean [Jackson] beat him. I thought DRC [Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie] in New York was better. When we played him, no one ran by him. With Peterson, you feel maybe you can get a step on him. There wasn't a specific route, but I wouldn't have thought DeSean would beat him on a quick seam, but he did. Another time we took a sack, but we had Pierre wide open, and Peterson was in coverage. He wasn't blanketing him. It is there."


On making Matthew Stafford uncomfortable:

"You've got to get in his face, get some pressure, get him off the spot. When I say off the spot, I mean you can't allow him to sit there in a clean pocket. You've got to get some push in the pocket so he's not able to step up, and that's when he gets more erratic with his throws, when he doesn't have that ability to step up in the pocket. I think you want to get him on the move. He's the opposite of Aaron Rodgers that way. You don't want Aaron Rodgers on the move, but you do want Stafford on the move because he's not that accurate when he's got to move in the pocket."

On stopping Calvin Johnson, or at least slowing him down:

"You've got to roll up to him, man, unless you've got a guy that can match his physicality on the outside. If you don't, I'd say Cover 2 is a great neutralizer because you have a guy at the line of scrimmage jamming him and a guy over the top of him. When I say roll to him, I'm saying roll the coverage to him as far as having a guy jamming him at the line with a guy behind the corner helping over the top, kind of like Cover 2. That can neutralize him because it doesn't allow him to get down the field. Cover 2 doesn't allow you to give up those big plays and leave guys one-on-one with him.

"You've got to hit him and try to reduce him every chance you get. I'm not saying put any bounty on him or anything, but you've got to hit him early and often. And I mean really hit him, sometimes even outside what the rules allow because you can get him frustrated and affect his game. I'm not sure you can totally shut him down, though."

On why you have to play defensively against Ndamukong Suh:

"He's the guy that's going to do some questionable stuff as far as not playing the game the right way. (Suh was fined $70,000 for stepping on Aaron Rodgers' leg in Sunday's game.) That's one thing you've got to look out for. There's been some plays where our linemen have been completely out of the play on turnovers and he would try to cut our knees out. Just stuff like that. As far as what kind of player he is, I think he's as good as it gets at defensive tackle, obviously. Seeing him come out of Nebraska and how dominant he was there, he's a great player.

"Usually, our game plan is, if you're the guard, pass protecting him, be patient. Obviously, you want to lunge and get to a point to counteract his power, but that's the hard thing with guys like that: They're so agile, they can move so well and they're super powerful.

"You've got to play defensive, so to speak. Guys whom he's dominated don't trust their technique, try to lunge forward and get swam. You know it's bad when the guy's looking back, watching him run straight toward the quarterback. It's never a position you want to be in."

-- Compiled by NFL Nation reporters