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.

1

February

Cory’s Corner: Helping Rodgers should be Packers’ priority

Aaron Rodgers needs to be surrounded with weapons and protection.

Aaron Rodgers needs to be surrounded with weapons and protection.

Super Bowl XLVIII is a collision course of two different team-building philosophies.

In 2012, the Broncos paid 36-year-old Peyton Manning, the owner of four neck surgeries, a five-year $96 million contract to take them back to the promised land. Many saw it as a surprise because nobody knew how Manning would respond to contact and if his arm strength would return.

The Seahawks, on the other hand, decided to spread out most of its resources. Sidney Rice ($8.5M), Russell Okung ($7.06M) and Marshawn Lynch ($7M) are the three highest-paid players on the team. But that doesn’t mean Seattle doesn’t spend money. The Seahawks were the second-highest payroll in the NFL this year with over $103M in salaries.

But the difference is at the quarterback position. Russell Wilson is the 44th-highest paid player on the Seahawks, making just $526,217 this year. Obviously that number is going to skyrocket when he’s a free agent in 2016, but until then Seattle is going to ride the wave of an efficient and cheap quarterback while they fill holes on the rest of their team.

Which is exactly how the 49ers have approached their quarterback position. Colin Kaepernick is the 26th-highest paid player on the roster with a salary of $740,844. San Francisco will have some difficult choices to make when he’s a free agent in 2015.

But it speaks to an interesting philosophy. The quarterback is and always be the most important player on a football team. However, if a team can strike oil in the draft with a rookie that doesn’t make a flurry of mistakes while adjusting quickly to the faster NFL game, it definitely behooves them to go with the unproven rookie.

The 49ers and Seahawks have been playing with house money ever since Wilson and Kaepernick became household names.

The Broncos meanwhile are going all-in for a potential Super Bowl streak with Manning. But in order to do so, they have left gaping holes in the secondary and on the offensive line but Manning has been able to overcome those.

After showing Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews the money last April, the Packers have to decide where their priorities lie. Jordy Nelson becomes a free agent in 2015, which will limit money spent on expiring contracts this spring.

7

January

Game Balls and Lame Calls: 49ers 23, Packers 20

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers couldn't get past the 49ers, so their focus now shifts to 2014.

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers couldn’t get past the 49ers, so their focus now shifts to 2014.

It was a different final score but the same result for the Green Bay Packers when their season clock expired Jan. 5 against the San Francisco 49ers.

San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick didn’t have 181 rushing yards, as he did in last year’s playoffs. But he had 98 on just seven carries.

Kaepernick fell short of the second 400-yard passing day of his career after racking up 412 in September’s season opener. But he moved the chains through the air and threw a dart to Vernon Davis for the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter en route to extending his record against Green Bay to 3-0.

As things currently stand, the San Francisco 49ers of the 2010s are to the Green Bay Packers what the Dallas Cowboys were in the 1990s. Sunday’s game was a nail biter. In fact, it wasn’t decided until Phil Dawson’s field goal snuck through Davon House’s arms and inside the right goal post as time expired. But the win over the Packers was the 49ers’ fourth in two seasons. It was Green Bay’s second postseason loss to the 49ers in as many seasons.

But, top to bottom, the NFL is probably the most competitive of the major sports on a weekly basis. Anyone can beat anyone, and the Packers–yes, the same team that has allowed 132 points in its last four games against San Francisco–can beat Kaepernick and the 49ers.

They just haven’t yet.

While much of Packer Nation continues to reflect on the 2013-14 season and wonder what might have been, let’s look ahead at the future. And despite some obvious holes on the defensive side of the ball and the likely reappearance of Packer the Injury Bug, the team’s future is bright.

Because the offense has the potential to be phenomenal.

The Packers took a giant step forward this season by relying on a steady running game behind Rookie of the Year candidate Eddie Lacy. The Packers’ second-round pick shouldered the load all season, as he carried the ball at least 20 times in 10 games. Due to injuries at the quarterback position, Lacy became the focal point of the Packers’ offense, and they managed to squeak into the playoffs.

4

January

Cory’s Corner: Vernon Davis is a nightmare for Packers

When the weather is under 40°, Vernon Davis has four catches for 70 yards and a touchdown.

When the weather is under 40°, Vernon Davis has four catches for 70 yards and a touchdown.

Packers fans have taken a beating by many folks leading up to Sunday’s playoff game.

The green and gold faction has been accused of being soft for the biblical cold that is supposed to engulf the upper Midwest like a tiny blanket that always keeps your feet freezing.

But thanks to sponsors that kicked in the final dough to mark the 320th straight sellout on Sunday while keeping the last time the Packers didn’t sell out was January 1983.

So, a blackout and empty frozen aluminum bleachers won’t be a problem.

But Vernon Davis will be.

At a chiseled 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, Davis might be the most impressive looking athlete on the field Sunday. He’s a huge target that can catch, run and he regularly makes safeties and cornerbacks fold up like lawn chairs. Think of Davis as a carbon copy of Packers’ tight end Jermichael Finley, except a little more sure handed and sure headed.

In a game in which it will feel like -17° at kickoff and drop 7° three hours later, the ball will contract which will make the vertical passing game much more difficult.

Enter Davis. He is second on the team in targets and he has set career highs with touchdowns (13) and yards per reception (16.3). The eighth year tight end has shown this year he’s a favorite of Colin Kaepernick when it matters because of his 52 grabs, 38 percent of them have been made on third down.

Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers wants to keep this worn and weary defense off the field as much as possible. And now with Michael Crabtree back from injury and playing well, the Packers won’t have the luxury of double teaming Davis because they also have to deal with quasi tight end Anquan Boldin as the other receiver.

Which means, a linebacker will more than likely be matched up with Davis for much of the game.  Which is music to San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh and Davis’ ears. He can run circles around just about any linebacker in the league — sans his own — and he can run over most defensive backs.

3

January

Packers Periscope: Wild Card vs. San Francisco 49ers

The Past: Do we really need to remind ourselves of the past?  Sometimes it seems like certainly match-ups become one sided rivalries; in the 1990′s the Packers seemed never able to beat the Dallas Cowboys and recently it’s seemed like the Packers have always gotten better of the Atlanta Falcons and Chicago Bears but the team that seems to give the Aaron Rodgers Packers the most problems is the Jim Harbaugh lead San Francisco 49ers.  Quarterback Colin Kaepernick stole the show in their last playoff meeting, setting a new record for yards on the ground for a quarterback and added 263 yards in the air and two touchdowns.  On the other side of the ball, Aaron Rodgers just couldn’t get anything going against the stout 49ers defense and was stymied into a 1 dimensional passing attack.

The Packers drew the unfortunate luck of having to see their rivals right out of the gate this season with similar results. Again Aaron Rodgers couldn’t get much going against the defense, the running game lead by two rookies just wasn’t ready and the defense fell apart, this time only through the passing game as Kaepernick threw for 412 yards and 3 touchdowns and made aging receiver Anquan Boldin look like the second coming of Jerry Rice.

Since then the Packers have mostly been licking their wounds quietly with bigger issues to fry such as replacing Rodgers for 8 games while his shoulder blade recovered, or having to find a new defensive line and linebacking core as players shuffled in due to injuries.  Getting to the playoffs was essentially a pipe dream until week 17 (the Packers at the lowest had a 6% shot at getting into the playoffs), when they secured their playoff berth with a miracle 4th down touchdown from Rodgers to Randall Cobb, who was also coming back from a horrific bone break of his own.  While neither the Packers nor the Bears were really expected to fare all that well in the playoffs, getting in is an accomplishment on its own, especially considering the wretched season they had to endure just to get to this point.

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.

11

September

Should We Support Clay Matthews’ Late Hit?

I think everyone agrees Clay Matthews made a bone headed decision by trying to take down Colin Kaepernick on 3rd down; but deep down, especially after the miserable loss to the 49ers in the playoffs last year, we all cheered.  Admit it, you were happy when Colin Kaepernick hit the turf (I’ll admit it).  I’ll even wager some Packers fans kept cheering as Matthews and the rest of the defense got in the ensuing brawl.

This in my mind was a sort of collective validation for Packers fans, who were sick and tired of listening to the allegations of the Packers being a “soft” team and were looking for some example to show everyone otherwise.  On Green and Gold Today, surprisingly multiple callers chimed in that they had no problem with late hit and wouldn’t mind seeing Matthews do the same again.

To me this is a very dangerous slippery slope; it’s one thing to play aggressive and at the edge of the rules, it’s another thing to break them.  You simply have to look east to see what happens when a team takes it’s aggressiveness too far.

The Detroit Lions to become the first ever team in NFL history to go 0-16 after 7 years of catastrophically poor management by general manager Matt Millen.  Obviously with such a dumpster fire there was a clean sweep within the organization and the Lions ownership sought to bring in a new mentality to the team.  Starting with head coach Jim Schwartz, the Lions sought to be “tougher”, a team that wouldn’t be a push over and get back to being a relevant organization.  Sounds like a good plan, but ultimately I think it’s backfired; in the past couple seasons the Lions have been a far better team than their record suggests, which is directly due to their “toughness” literally losing them games.

Since Schwartz’s hiring, the Lions have perennially been one of the most penalized teams in the NFL and are now famous for their lack of control and abundance of head scratching personal fouls.  Ndamukong Suh has been voted as the dirtiest player in the NFL after multiple questionable hits and some very stupid mistakes including the EDS stomp, the Matt Schaub’s stomp and just last week the John Sullivan low block that apparently will cost him $100,000.