There’s an old saying in the NFL that has come en vogue again after last year’s Super Bowl: “Offense wins games, defense wins championships”. Within a defense, there is nothing more valuable than an elite pass rusher. Last year’s Packers’ defense put little pressure on quarterbacks in the absence of Clay Matthews…and we didn’t win a championship. That is about to change.
This year’s Packers defense has worked hard to shore up the safety position AND get deeper at that position with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. No matter who starts at the position, it will be an upgrade with a talented backup and person to split time with. Even if Ha Ha ends up on second string, he will get plenty of playing time. But upgrading the safety position was filling a glaring hole. The Packers have also upgraded their pass rush with the signing of Julius Peppers.
Does Julius still have it?
Questions have been asked as to whether Julius Peppers is washed up. Has time caught up with him? He had many productive seasons with Chicago but last season was not considered one of them. The guy has 118.5 career sacks, has one down year, and the Bears let him go. The Packers didn’t risk much (7.5 million guaranteed) and in particular, only counted 3.5 million against the cap. This for a guy who averaged almost 10 sacks a year while with the Bears.
The the NFL is a “what have you done for me lately” league. Peppers will have to prove it on the field wearing Green and Gold now, but I am one who believes he still can be a dominant pass-rushing threat. I watched every snap of Julius’ play against the Packers in last season’s week 17 NFC North Championship-deciding matchup and here’s what I found:
- Julius still commands a double-team whenever the play calls for a five or seven step drop. The Packers struck gold with rookie David Bakhtiari and the kid played well against Peppers. But one on one, Julius still had the speed to beat Bakhtiari and also bull-rushed him effectively. Containing Julius Peppers required a chip from a tight end or a running back to double team.
- Julius still commands the attention of coaches and offensive coordinators. The Packers clearly game planned with Julius Peppers in mind. They spent the whole night running away from him, throwing over his pressure, and trying to force him back into mis-matched coverage. The Bears moved Peppers around a lot, trying to trump that plan, and when they got it right, Peppers made plays.
- Peppers still has pass-rushing ability. The play everyone remembers from the Packers Bears week 17 game last year is the pass to Randall Cobb. Also noted is the fact that Julius Peppers would have sacked Aaron Rodgers if it wasn’t for his fleet feet and a chip by John Kuhn. But that play was FAR from Peppers’ best of the night. In fact, there was a miscommunication on the play and Peppers was completely unblocked. In that game, Julius was responsible for the strip-fumble of Aaron Rodgers that was picked up and run into the end-zone for a Packers TD. Those points were the difference in the game and came on Peppers’ best play of the night. But Julius was very close several other times on the night and regardless of what side of the field he played, wreaked havoc when one-on-one collapsing the pocket virtually every time. The Packers offense had too many weapons and a good game plan in place. Julius Peppers, on the other hand, was the only playmaker on the Bear’s defense besides perhaps Lance Briggs.
- Julius Peppers is gap-sound and good against the run. It will be great to have another veteran on this team. Julius Peppers plays like a guy whose been around the block. He knows all the tricks and doesn’t get caught out of position particularly against the run. Against the Packers, he even ran down Eddie Lacy a time or two when we ran away from him! This guy still has sideline to sideline ability and speed.
Assault and Peppers
Well Packernation, now Julius Peppers is one of us. When he and Clay Matthews are on the field together, it is gonna be pick your poison time for opposing offenses. Peppers has never won the big one and he knows the Packers are his last, best chance. He has been to the big dance once and lost to New England, gone back to the NFC Championship game twice and lost…most recently in Chicago to the Packers who went on to win it all. He is gonna be motivated and hungry and that should scare opposing quarterbacks. Teamed up with Clay Matthews, the Packers pass rush got a much needed shot in the arm with Julius Peppers. Credit Green Bay for recognizing a talent, upgrading a pass rush, and building in the potential for greatness on this year’s Packers defense.
Time will tell if the defense reaches it’s potential but we will soon find out…It all starts with the Seattle Seahawks so the competition doesn’t get any better. Here’s to a new season, and here’s to a much needed shot in the arm for our Packers defense. I can just see Clay Matthews looking Julius in the eye and sayin’ “Hey man…race you to the quarterback!”