16

April

Matthews Still Recovering From Injury

Clay Matthews

Matthews says he will be ready for training camp. The Packers hope he’s right.

A recent conversation between Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews and USA Today’s Tom Pelissero revealed that Matthews is still not 100% healed from a repeat thumb injury suffered late in the 2013 season.  ESPN’s Rob Demovsky featured the conversation in a recent article at ESPN.com.

Matthews explained, in more detail, what happened with each injury and how doctors chose to address the second break in December.  Here is an excerpt:

“And unfortunately, on a sack of Roethlisberger, the tip of my thumb [hit] my teammate’s helmet. All that pressure went down the cast, broke it again. So then, to make it tighter, we took part of the tendon, turned it around, drilled some holes and they almost tied a knot through. It’s stronger than [the left one]. Now it’s super tight.”

The Packers defense is just not the same without Matthews on the field.  Since appearing in at least 15 games in his first three seasons, Matthews has missed 11 games over the past two years, including last season’s wild card playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers.  Had the Packers advanced and made a serious push for a Super Bowl appearance, Matthews may have returned and played.

It still bears mentioning that a player who plays with the type of intensity as Matthews does is likely to be more vulnerable to injury.  Although Matthews says he will be ready by training camp, everyone heals differently.  The thumb can be a tricky injury with all of the bones and tendons connected to both the hand, wrist and arm.

Matthews should be able to make a return but even if he does and based on averages, he will likely miss some time this upcoming season for whatever reason.  The Packers need to prepare accordingly at the outside linebacker position.  With a healthy Matthews and Nick Perry, the possibilities are many and scary for opposing offenses.  But the “healthy” part has not come easy in the two seasons that tandem has existed.  They have appeared together in just 14 games over those two years.

15

April

Cory’s Corner: Julius Peppers is No. 56…remain excited

I’ve never seen a number unveiling get this much excitement.

And for those of you that may not know, Julius Peppers will be wearing No. 56 next season for the Packers.

Julius Peppers will be wearing No. 56 next fall as he will play a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker position called the elephant.

Julius Peppers will be wearing No. 56 next fall as he will play a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker position called the elephant.

That’s quite a change for someone that was consistently coming off the edge as a defensive end in a three-point stance wearing No. 90.

But Peppers isn’t just an end. Thanks to Dom Capers and his crazy names, which have brought us the ‘Psycho’ defensive package, Peppers will be playing a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker called an elephant.

Personally, I don’t care if you call it strawberry shortcake because the name of Peppers’ position is meaningless. His stats and his motor speak for themselves. He’s been under double-digit sacks in a season just four times in his 12-year career.

The thing I like about Peppers most is his drive. I realize that he’s 34 and might be reaching the final leg of a strong NFL career. But the last time he didn’t play a full 16-game season was in 2007. That really says a lot to me. Especially for a guy that has played through a sprained MCL in his left knee, a broken right hand and a right knee sprain among other things. And the season that he suffered his right knee sprain was in 2007, a season in which he tallied his lowest sack output of his career with 2½. Yet he still managed to lead the Panthers in quarterback hurries.

Peppers is a guy that the Packers desperately needed. He’s a guy that will come in and not only contribute with a pass rush that has been forgotten, but he’s a vocal veteran that wants to win.

That’s a great combination for a team that has youngsters like Nick Perry and Datone Jones, who the Packers are counting on to break out and flourish.

Is it fair to compare Peppers to the 31-year-old Reggie White when he signed with Green Bay? No way. And I’m surprised I’ve seen people even make that comparison because it’s not not even close. White was a once-in-a-lifetime pass rusher who may never be copied again.

But that doesn’t mean Peppers doesn’t have plenty to play for.

5

April

Cory’s Corner: Solidify backup QB job and sign Matt Flynn

Last year proved just how important a backup quarterback is not for just the Packers but for any football team.

Having a bona fide star quarterback is an advantage that coach Mike McCarthy may have gotten a little too comfortable with. He got used to the 50-yard rollout passes on a dime and being able to whistle a fastball into tight windows.

Matt Flynn finished with a 2-2 starting record for the Packers last year. He is an unrestricted free agent after earning a prorated veteran minimum $715,000 by the Packers.

Matt Flynn finished with a 2-2 starting record for the Packers last year. He is an unrestricted free agent after earning a prorated veteran minimum of $715,000 by the Packers.

They say you never really know what you have until it’s gone. Well, that couldn’t have been truer for the Packers last year. With Aaron Rodgers shelved for seven games, the Packers nomadically spun their wheels until Matt Flynn was able to play good enough to fix the leaks and right the ship.

Now I realize Flynn doesn’t exactly strike anything resembling fear into opposing defenses. But he is a six-year NFL veteran and more importantly, he’s a 4½-year vet of the Packers.

Which is exactly why I am surprised that the Packers haven’t signed the unrestricted free agent yet. His 3-4 career starting record may not be anything to brag about but his ability to win over a huddle and lead a team — especially when your No. 1 option goes down — are things you want in a substitute.

Flynn turns 29 this summer and even he must realize that his days of being a starting quarterback are over. After having dreams of leading the Seattle Seahawks, he was upstaged by Russell Wilson. To make matters worse, he was upstaged by Terrelle Pryor in Oakland and the Bills barely kicked the tires before sending him on his way after just 21 days.

The opportunity to become a starting quarterback in the NFL is ever-shrinking, especially with all the dynamic college quarterbacks that are now bursting on to the scene.

The only sticky point could be money. Flynn was paid a pro-rated veteran minimum salary of $715,000 last year for Green Bay. With that money, he salvaged a 16-point deficit against Minnesota, which ended in a tie. And he orchestrated comeback wins vs. Atlanta and the thriller at Dallas.

28

March

Xs and Os: Do the Packers Have an Elephant in the Room?

Julius Peppers hopes to be a disruptive force for the Green Bay Packers defense.

Julius Peppers hopes to be a disruptive force for the Green Bay Packers defense.

When the Green Bay Packers signed defensive end Julius Peppers in free agency, lots of speculation about his future role with the team erupted.

We heard rumors circulating about a possible deployment of a “hybrid defense” and the “elephant end” position.

The reason for this speculation is Packers’ defensive Dom Capers employs a base 3-4 defense, which utilizes 3 defensive linemen and 4 linebackers.

However, Peppers is a 4-3 defensive end. The 4-3 defense utilizes 4 defensive linemen and 3 linebackers.

Because of this alignment difference, the defensive ends between both schemes have different body types and responsibilities.

Typically, 4-3 defensive ends are usually between 260-285 pounds and are long, fluid athletes. On the other hand, 3-4 defensive ends are between 300-340 pounds and are more of the wrecking ball type.

The reason for these different body types has to do with defensive gap control.

Gap control is how the defense puts its players in proper position, mainly for stopping the running game, but also secondarily when establishing pass rushing lanes.

The 3-4 defense typically uses a double gap system, meaning that each defender in the front 7 is responsible for defending 2 gaps in the offensive formation.

This is very much a read and react system where each player anticipates where the ball will go and move to that location as the play develops. At the snap of the ball, the defensive linemen stand up their blockers, clog the position, and move to the lane where the ball is.

Linebackers also have double control and flow to the ball as the runner hits the lane.

Legend: T = Tackle G = Guard C = Center TE = Tight end DE = Defensive end NT = Nose tackle S = Sam (strong side linebacker) M = Mike (middle linebacker) W = Will (weak side linebacker) J = Jack linebacker

Legend:
T = Tackle, G = Guard, C = Center, TE = Tight end, DE = Defensive end, NT = Nose tackle, S = Sam (strong side linebacker), M = Mike (middle linebacker), W = Will (weak side linebacker), J = Jack linebacker

The 3-4 defense relies on strength to control the gaps, which is why the defensive linemen are large. However, the Jack linebacker, such as Clay Matthews, is free to roam and do damage over a large portion of the field, including rushing the passer.

In contrast, the 4-3 defense is traditionally a single gap defense, which means each front 7 defender controls only 1 lane.

Legend: DT = Defensive tackle

Legend:
DT = Defensive tackle

15

March

Cory Corner: Ted Thompson’s loyalty will pay dividends

Instead of bringing outside free agents, Ted Thompson has opted to reward loyalty and sign players to stay in Green Bay.

Instead of bringing in outside free agents, Ted Thompson has opted to reward loyalty and sign players to stay in Green Bay.

Ted Thompson is proving that devotion and dedication mean more than stats.

The Packers general manager has stuck to his draft and develop philosophy. He has signed four free agents in Sam Shields, Mike Neal, Andrew Quarless and even B.J. Raji to come back and play their home games at Lambeau Field.

I’ve seen and heard numerous people bash Thompson for not bringing in free agents from other teams in order to help the Packers win their fifth Super Bowl title.

Frankly, the fact that Thompson likes to embrace loyalty and reward his guys shouldn’t be overlooked.

Remember, when you bring in outside guys, there is a bit of a transition period as the newbies get acquainted with how things are run. They must get acclimated to the playbook, varying types of schemes for different types of situations and know what and how is expected.

Obviously, former players already know that. They’ve already got strong bonds with teammates, which doesn’t hurt the all-important team chemistry, but most importantly, they already know their roles.

Neal is coming back after a season in which he was tied for third on the team in sacks. It would be ridiculous to even assume that he would demand a Clay Matthews role as the focal point of the defense. But if the Packers had brought in a guy like DeMarcus Ware, Jared Allen or Julius Peppers who’s to say that wouldn’t have happened?

Same thing on the offensive side. Quarless all-of-a-sudden isn’t going to demand Jordy Nelson or Randall Cobb targets because he knows his role in the delicate Packers ecosystem.

There were, heck there still are, decent guys available. Brian Orakpo is still hanging around, but since he was franchised by the Redskins nobody wants to part with two first round draft picks for a guy that is now arguing with Washington about whether he should be franchised as a linebacker or a defensive end. (It should be noted that the franchise designation as a linebacker is $11.455 million as opposed to $13.116 million for a defensive end).

30

January

Clay Matthews 2013 Green Bay Packers Evaluation and Report Card

Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers, Clay Matthews headshot, Clay Matthews Packers.1) Introduction:What else can be said about Clay Matthews that hasn’t already been said?  With the departure of Charles Woodson, Matthews officially became the heart and soul of the Green Bay Packers’ defense.  Aside from Aaron Rodgers, Matthews is the one player the Packers can ill afford to lose to injury.  For the past few seasons, he has been pretty much the entire Green Bay pass rush though GM Ted Thompson selected players in the past two drafts to try and alleviate some of that pressure on the Claymaker.  Unfortunately, Matthews is also usually good for one or two injuries a season, and it’s probably his hamstring.  With a brand new contract in hand that he signed before the 2013 season, Matthews is clearly the MVP of the defense and big things were expected in 2013.

2) Profile: Clay Matthews III

  • Age: 27
  • Born: 05/14/1986 in Northridge, California
  • Height: 6’3″
  • Weight: 255
  • College: USC 12.
  • Rookie Year: 2009
  • NFL Experience: 5 years
  • Career Stats and more

3) Expectations coming into the season: Now that he is the richest linebacker in NFL history, Matthews was expected to carry the defense on his back.  Though Thompson had brought Nick Perry in 2012 and Datone Jones this season to aid the pass rush, Matthews still was the center of the defense. Another double digit sack season and Pro Bowl appearance is in order every year for a player of his caliber and 2013 was no different.  In fact, thanks to the presence of Perry and Jones, it was expected to be an unleashed Matthews that was on the field in 2013.

4) Player’s highlights/low-lights: Matthews had one of his best games of the season in the 26-26 tie against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 12 which was his only multiple sack game of the season. He also had two forced fumbles in the loss to the Bengals in Week 2 and had eight tackles and a sack against the 49ers in Week 1.  It was arguably Matthews who kept the Packers in position to win the season opener at San Francisco.  His biggest low-light of 2013 was his thumb which he managed to break twice during the season.  His missed Weeks 6-9 and then broke the same thumb again in Week 16, causing him to miss the regular season finale and the wild card game against the 49ers.

2

January

All eyes on Packers’ linebackers against Kaepernick, 49ers

Although not on the radar before the season, outside linebacker Andy Mulumba is playing a key role for a beaten-up Packers defense as the playoffs are set to begin.

Although not on the radar before the season, outside linebacker Andy Mulumba is playing a key role for a beaten-up Packers defense as the playoffs are set to begin.

A year ago, San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick set a single-game NFL record for a quarterback by rushing for 181 yards against the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round of the playoffs.

Kaepernick totaled 444 yards of total offense and four touchdowns, as the Packers were perplexed by the 49ers’ offense throughout the game, allowing 45 points to the 49ers despite a Sam Shields pick-six in the first quarter.

The Packers’ secondary, too, had its fair share of problems, as did the defensive line, but perhaps no position group was overmatched against the 49ers’ offense more than Green Bay’s linebackers. Erik Walden signed a four-year contract worth $16 million with the Indianapolis Colts this offseason, but money can’t buy instincts, and Walden is still looking for Kaepernick almost a year after last season’s dud in the playoffs.

Entering the 2013 season, the Packers were determined to be better prepared for the 49ers offense–and specifically, Kaepernick–as a rematch was scheduled for opening weekend in San Francisco.

And the Packers got mixed results. While Green Bay was able to contain Kaepernick to just 22 yards rushing, the quarterback racked up a career-high 412 yards and three touchdowns through the air. Clay Matthews and Nick Perry started for the Packers at outside linebacker that game and helped keep Kaepernick in the pocket, but four months later, Matthews is out with a (re)broken thumb and Perry, due to battles with injuries and subpar play, is now merely a rotational player.

Last January, Walden’s debacle against the read-option left many clamoring for Perry’s return to the lineup after he suffered a season-ending wrist injury as a rookie. Because, at the very least, the 270-pound Perry would be a significant upgrade over Walden setting the edge against the run, right?

As one Lee Corso might say, “Not so fast, my friend.”

Perry played a season-high 57 snaps (of a possible 81) against the 49ers in the season opener, but he played just 12 snaps last Sunday against the Chicago Bears in a must-win game. Mike Neal–still in his first season at outside linebacker–played 47 of 51 snaps against the Bears, and undrafted rookie Andy Mulumba played 43.