Instead, exercising an option given all Packer receivers against the fluid defenses they have faced this year, he broke deep over the center. Only an experienced quarterback can react to such a shift in a receiver's pattern; Bratkowski, back-pedaling furiously under the threat of a Baltimore blitz, read McGee's move perfectly and hit him with the smallest of split seconds to spare—McGee was between two fast-closing defenders—on the Baltimore four. Elijah Pitts (who, incidentally, began this season as Paul Hornung's substitute) got the winning touchdown two plays later with a run over right guard.
In an equivalent situation the Dallas Cowboys would have had Craig Morton or Jerry Rhome at quarterback, and the Cardinals would have had the man who replaces Terry Nofsinger, whoever he is. Since Starr rates well above either Nofsinger or Don Meredith as a No. 1 quarterback and Bratkowski above the No. 2s, it is clear that, at the position most important in any game—and crucial in a championship game—the Packers are much better equipped than either of their possible opponents. Even after the Pitts run the Colts might have won, but a gallant drive ended when Johnny Unitas fumbled at the Packer 15. The point is not that Baltimore made a mistake; it is that Green Bay did not.
Elsewhere—aside from the asset of first-quality depth—Green Bay's superiority is not so clear-cut. On defense, there is actually little to choose between the three teams, except that the Cowboys have a soft spot in their secondary. The defenses are completely different, but each, in its way, is superb.
Of course, the key to victory in the championship game lies in the capabilities of the Green Bay offense against either of the two defenses—and what the St. Louis or Dallas offenses can accomplish against the blooded, orthodox Green Bay defense.
If the NFL championship is fought out in the Cotton Bowl, the Packers will be meeting a team that defeated them 21-3, in a preseason game there. With a healthy Meredith, the Cowboys would certainly be a more formidable foe than St. Louis, both because they have a better assortment of weapons on offense than St. Louis and a defense better suited to blunt the Green Bay attack.
Dallas' most frightening single gun is Bob Hayes. If the Packers can prevent him from catching the bomb or contain his speed after short receptions, then they must win. They will very likely do this by using a zone defense, giving Herb Adderley or Bob Jeter deep help covering Hayes. This means that they probably will have to use single coverage on the side of the field where Hayes isn't, but then no team is better than Green Bay in man-to-man pass defense. A plus for the Packers here is that the three big linebackers—Dave Robinson, Lee Roy Caffey and Ray Nitschke—are the best in football in single coverage on a back, and the defensive line, consisting of Lionel Aldridge, Ron Kostelnik, Henry Jordan and Willie Davis, has proved that it can penetrate deeply enough to pressure a passer without the aid of blitzing linebackers.
Do not be fooled by the fact that the Colt offensive line contained them Sunday. No defensive line alone can pressure a quarterback of Unitas' caliber on unsure footing, and the young Dallas blockers should have more trouble than did the veteran Colts with the wily charges of players like Jordan and Davis.
The Cowboys have used their running attack effectively this season, with both Don Perkins and Dan Reeves plowing for useful gains as an adjunct to Meredith's high-scoring passing attack. It is likely that Perkins and Reeves will be effective against the Packers, too, but it is not likely that Dallas can win on the ground. Green Bay has given up only 118 yards rushing per game and the fewest touchdowns rushing of any team—a total of nine. The rushing gains against the Packers are not long ones, because of the speed and tackling ability of the Green Bay secondary, and they are usually measured in inches when the secondary closes up against the linebackers as an opponent penetrates the Packer 20-yard line.
But defense is not a monopoly. The Packers will have no easy path to follow through a Dallas team that has limited them to 16 points in the last two games they have played. Green Bay won a regular-season game last year 13-3 before losing the 21-3 exhibition this year. The Cowboys are better equipped than any other club to negate the brutal Green Bay running attack, because they expose little daylight to run to. Tom Landry's unusual area plan, in which individual players are expected to create walls of defense rather than operate on individual preferences, has limited opponents to fewer than 100 yards per game rushing and will not be easily cracked by Jim Taylor or Pitts.
Green Bay's philosophy of option blocking—blocking an opponent in the direction in which he is moving, then allowing the running back to seek his own hole—is not as effective when the defender is moving to occupy a preset position as it is when he is moving instinctively with the flow of the play. Of course, Green Bay Coach Vince Lombardi recognizes this, as does Landry, so it is probable that there will be subtle changes in the Packer blocking assignments. With the experienced blockers in the Packer line, these changes can be implemented without fear of mental error during a tense game.