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"Jess reads ends as well as anyone I ever saw," says Hecker, who once was defensive back for the Los Angeles Rams. "He can look at a spread end coming downfield and tell by the way he is running whether he will cut to the inside or the outside."
Whittenton is understandably reticent about revealing the secrets of his trade. "I can read 'em," he says. "But I don't want them to know how. I got to play against them for a long time, I hope."
This peculiarly effective combination of personalities was concocted by Lombardi, Bengtson and Hecker but the principal architect of the defense itself was Bengtson, an equable man who has almost never been heard to raise his voice in complaint.
"The offensive team is graded every week and the grades put up for everyone to see," one Packer player said. " Bengtson was supposed to grade the defense, but he put it off for a long time. He didn't want to embarrass his players. You got to play your guts out for a guy like that. You blow a play, you hear from him in private."
The Packer defense is designed to contain the opposition's running attack within a close perimeter. No opposing halfback or fullback should ever be able to skirt the perimeter set up by Green Bay; this is a theory of Lombardi's, and it is a good one.
"If we can keep their attack within the perimeter of defense, the pursuit can catch the ballcarrier," Lombardi says. "We have very good pursuit on this team from everyone."
This means that the defensive ends and the corner linebackers, one or the other, are "contain" men. If the defensive end takes an inside route to reach the quarterback, the linebacker has the assignment of covering the outside so that a ballcarrier will be turned back toward the middle of the field, where the tackles and the other linebackers will have time to reach him after they have executed their first assignment. This perimeter defense insures that the Packer defenders will have a short route to the ballcarrier; if it is short enough, the ballcarrier will be lucky to reach the line of scrimmage.
The time the defenders have to execute their assignments is much shorter than appears when you watch a football game. Most coaches believe that a quarterback must release the ball on a pass play within three seconds of the snap. If he waits longer, more often than not, he is on his back with a defensive end or a linebacker resting happily on his head. On a running play, the action takes about two seconds. If the defender has guessed wrong, he seldom has time to remedy his mistake. The best he can do is pursue the ballcarrier downfield.
Charlie Johnson, the bright young quarterback of St. Louis, tended to make what might be called a cardinal error early in his career: instead of retreating seven to nine yards before setting himself to throw a pass, he retreated only five. This gave the defensive team a much shorter and more direct route to him. He spent most of his time disentangling himself from a large number of tacklers. The time difference between a five-and a seven-yard retreat is only a split second, but defenses live on split seconds.