Two turnovers in their first three plays from scrimmage contributed heavily to a 17-0 deficit at the end of the first quarter, and even though the Packers eventually tied the game, the rough start was one they weren’t able to completely recover from in the 51-45 overtime loss to the Cardinals.
“We weren’t going to let our big games start that way anymore,” running back John Kuhn said. “We were going to try to come out and start fast and score some points on offense and limit them on defense, and I think we have done a pretty good job of that all year.”
That they have, with the Packers outscoring their opponents 88-40 in the opening quarter of games this season, including the three playoff contests. Green Bay’s 41-point first-quarter scoring advantage in the regular season ranked No. 5 in the league, and the 33 points allowed by the defense tied for No. 1 in the NFL.
Extending it out even further, on the initial three possessions by each team in games this season (including the postseason), Green Bay has outscored its opponents by an 83-point margin (140-57).
“I think this team is always just ready,” guard Daryn Colledge said. “We come into games prepared. We need to get after teams right away. You know when you score right away you have a chance to turn the tables quickly. We know we bring a talented defense, and we feel like if we can put it in their hands and put them in the position they want to be in, we have a chance to win every week.”
Wide receiver Greg Jennings said coming out of the gates quickly has always been a focus under Head Coach Mike McCarthy, but he feels like the message has been delivered even more this season in both meetings and practice.
“We start practice off with pretty much a two-minute drill or a move-the-ball drill, so we are moving the ball methodically, trying to get some progress done, move the chains, things like that,” Jennings said. “I think we try to carry that over to the game. Coach always emphasizes starting fast.
“Especially with the defense that we have that can stop opposing teams and get the ball back in your hand. It’s great to get a jump on a team and let the defense pin their ears back.”
Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said the team’s plan for opening the game really comes into focus following Thursday’s practice when a vast majority of the game plan has been installed. The next step is identifying some of the top plays they want to use in the game and work more on those during Friday’s practice before some final review during Saturday’s meetings.
The offensive staff also finalizes some of the personnel groups that the unit will utilize early on, giving the players a comfort level with how the game will likely begin for them. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers said the preparation is similar for his side of the ball as the unit tries to script their first 10-12 plays for how they would like to see the game start.
“I think the key is at least our guys feel confident knowing the direction we are headed in terms of the game and how we are going to play the game,” Philbin said. “We want to be known as an up-tempo, fast-paced, aggressive style of offense. So with that in mind, playing fast right off the get-go and establishing that tempo and establishing that rhythm early is only helpful to you.
“It doesn’t necessarily equate to touchdowns all of the time, but I think the mentality of a fast-starting, up-tempo, aggressive team is something our guys have bought into.”
That philosophy has been on display during the postseason, with no greater example than in the NFC Championship Game at Chicago. The Bears won the coin toss but elected to defer, and Green Bay started things off from its own 16-yard line.
On the first two plays, quarterback Aaron Rodgers connected with Jennings on back-to-back completions of 22 and 26 yards, respectively. Rodgers found wide receiver Jordy Nelson for a 22-yard pickup down to Chicago’s 1-yard line three plays later before taking it in himself for the score to finish off the 7-play, 84-yard touchdown drive to quiet the Soldier Field crowd. Green Bay’s defense did its part as well, giving up just one first down in the opening quarter as the Packers built a 14-0 halftime advantage.
Those efficient starts have become more pronounced in the playoffs, with the Packers outscoring their opponents 56-17 in the first half compared to an even 34-34 mark in the second half. Green Bay has also more than doubled its opponents’ yardage total (698-334) before halftime.
“For me, it’s a game of momentum,” Capers said. “You would like to set the tone, especially if you are on the road. I think it is a big factor when you are playing on the road. We have been on the road now three straight games, three straight playoff games.
“What you don’t want to do, I think in the playoffs the emotion of the fans runs higher than in the regular season. The worst thing that can happen is if you go out and the home team has success early because that gets the crowd into the game.”
While the Super Bowl won’t be a road game, both teams are expected to have sizeable fan contingents in attendance at Cowboys Stadium that could make crowd noise a factor. Even though the atmosphere on Sunday will be like nothing they have experienced before, the goal for the Packers is to hold true to their fast-starting identity.
“I think the coaches have done an outstanding job of calling plays and matching us up well, taking shots when necessary down the field has also helped out,” center Scott Wells said. “Then the execution; guys are dialed in to start games and we know the importance of that through the coaches emphasizing it.
“I think there will be some nerves, but at the same time I think once you get through the first couple of minutes it comes down to playing football and you really rely on your muscle memory, your practice, and what you do. It’s emphasized to us to trust our brand of football with the Packers and do what we have done to get here.”
Additional coverage - Feb. 3