When discussing what ailed the Green Bay Packers defense following another early playoff exit this past January, defensive coordinator Dom Capers had this to say:
“I’ve always believed this,” Capers told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “to be a real top-notch defense, you have to have two or three guys that basically are what I consider difference-makers where sometime within a 60-play game you’re going to see two or three plays that really have an impact and influence the game.”
In the playoffs, when playmakers are needed the most, the Packers defense was sorely lacking. Their only true difference-maker last season was Clay Matthews and he missed a big chunk of the season, including the playoffs due to injury.
Sam Shields and Tramon Williams both had good seasons and are very close to being put in that difference-maker category. Nevertheless, to win in the NFL, you have to pressure the quarterback and when push came to shove last season, the Packers simply couldn’t it consistently enough.
Now, with Julius Peppers in the fold, the Packers believe that’s all going to change.
There has already been speculation about where Peppers will line up next season and my answer is — everywhere. I mean why limit Peppers to one position. He can play defensive end in the 3-4 base, he can play the elephant position, he could stand up as an outside linebacker and even be a defensive tackle in pass-rush situations.
Peppers can do all those things and to get the most of his talents, the Packers would be wise to use him at every one of those positions.
However, at age 34, the Packers should be aware of Peppers health and keep him on a snap count. At least, reserve most of his snaps for pass rush situations because that’s where his presence is needed most.
Not only is Peppers the impact player Capers has been looking for but his athleticism and versatility will allow the Packers to get creative with how they deploy their pass rushers.
For instance, we could see an alignment with Matthews and Peppers rushing from the edge, with Mike Daniels and Mike Neal in the middle, which I believe is their best group but with Datone Jones, Nick Perry, B.J. Raji and Josh Boyd all in the mix, the options are plenty.
There has been talk that Peppers isn’t the player he used to be and there is no arguing that. He is not who we was in Carolina but he can still be an impact player, as evidenced by his dominant effort against the Packers on a Monday night in Green Bay this past season when he notched a sack, an interception and batted down two passes.
The 7.5 sacks he posted for the Bears in what has been termed a down year is more than any Packer other than Matthews and if allowed to focus on rushing the passer, there’s no reason why he can’t reach double digits again.
Another thing to consider is that Peppers has always been the focus of opposing offenses. He gets the double teams; he gets the extra attention — that will not be the case in Green Bay with Matthews opposite him. Because of this, the 6-7, 280-pound freak should get many one-on-one match-ups, which is a frightening thought to quarterbacks everywhere.
Peppers also is motivated and driven to win a championship, something he talked about after his signing with the Packers was announced last Saturday, which is why when he dawns the Green and Gold this fall, we can expect him to be at his best.
“That’s the most important thing. I haven’t won a championship. That’s where my focus is. I feel like the team is set up to make a run and I feel I can help get it there,” Peppers told Packers.com. “I have a lot left in the tank. I have a lot left to give, a lot left to offer. I want to show people I can still play the game at a high level.”
Looks like Capers and the Packers defense finally got the other difference-maker that’s been needed for so long.