For anyone out there who is a true Green Bay Packers fan, you and I both know that the team we love is merely an addition or two away on defense from being a Super Bowl contender.
The offense is excellent and will only be better this year now that Aaron Rodgers has a year's experience to fall back on and once players like Jermichael Finley and Jordy Nelson have an NFL offseason to help them make that huge jump from their first year to their second year in pro football. The offensive line is solid and improving. Our playmakers are skilled and numerous. Our offensive scheme, under the direction of Mike McCarthy, works. The arrow is pointing up for Green Bay's offense.
The special teams weren't so special last year, but they have some things that worked well for them. Will Blackmon was able to stay healthy and play in every game last season and he proved to be simply electrifying on the return. We got rid of Derrick Frost, our punter, who was awful, and got a guy who isn't Frost, so there's an improvement. And for all the struggles our coverage units had on kickoffs, we did not allow a runback for a score all season long.
Defense was the real enigma last year. Some games, our defense played lights out, like in the Chicago game (the first matchup) or the game against the Colts. Unfortunately, that's as long as that list gets.
It wasn't so much that the defense was that awful, though at times they really were (MNF versus the Saints), but they just could not show up when we really needed them to, i.e. the end of a game when the Packers were trying to hold onto a lead, or merely on third down. What's so hard about defending the pass in situations like these when you know the team is throwing the ball? Well, doing it without a pass rush makes it fairly difficult.
The Packers have Aaron Kampman, but double-teams can eliminate a good player. We have Cullen Jenkins, but a season-ending injury he sustained during a Week 4 game against the Bucs could hinder him entering the '09 season as he continues to rehab. We have...oh wait, that's it I think.
That's right, no one else besides those two guys can consistently pressure the quarterback. We currently have no one who can push the pocket and prevent the quarterback from stepping up when our edge rushers actually make it around their blockers. How do we fix this? Easy. We sign Julius Peppers. And trust me, the stars are aligning in a way that this might just be possible.
First off, Peppers has publicly stated that he wishes to leave Carolina via free agency and would like to not be franchised by the organization that drafted him second overall. It seems unlikely that the Panthers would franchise him anyway because they also have another high-profile player, Jordan Gross, set to hit free agency. The team franchised Gross last year to prevent him from leaving, and with the run game being so productive last season, I would think the higher priority would be to keep that production intact.
Peppers has also announced that he would like to play in a 3-4 scheme, which Green Bay happens to be switching to this coming season. Not only that, but coaching the defensive line this year for the Packers will be none other then Mike Trgovac, who was Carolina's defensive coordinator and whom has a good working relationship with the defensive end.
Green Bay has strongly hinted at the '09 season being a must-win season. After going to overtime in the NFC Championship game and losing just two seasons ago, the realization is that, with last year's finish, this team underachieved. It has the talent to win, so this year should be big in the wins department or Coach McCarthy and GM Ted Thompson will be under fire.
The urgency is clearly evident in the dramatic and surprising firing of almost the entire defensive staff and the implementation of the very popular 3-4 defensive scheme. McCarthy hired Dom Capers to lead the changeover because Capers is an experienced defensive coach and the Packers need results now.
On the flip side, the team just hired Kevin Greene, a former player who excelled in the 3-4 defense but has never coached in the NFL regular season. He will coach the outside linebackers and hopefully bring an energy to the Green Bay linebacking corps that seemed to never show up during games last year.
With the team being under fire as a whole for the shortcomings of the '08 season, it makes sense that Thompson will go against his normal tendencies and take a plunge into free agency. Getting Peppers would be a move similar to the one former-Green-Bay-GM Ron Wolf made when he landed the best free agent signing in Packers history, Reggie White.
Thompson previously worked in Green Bay under the direction of Wolf and such a huge signing really would be reminiscent of the Packers acquiring White. Peppers definitely has the size to handle the 5-technique end in the 3-4, but he also has the athleticism to play linebacker. My guess would be that he would play the end position, but with Capers' creativity, Peppers would be dropping into zone coverage pretty frequently.
Merely the presence of Peppers on the Packers defense would force teams to game plan against him, allowing other Packers defenders to get single-block looks from the opposition. I'm sure though, that double team or no double team, Peppers will be wreaking havoc of his own. Peppers realizes he is a great player, but he wants to be elite. That kind of mind-set is what I want on our defense.
The Packers have managed the salary cap well over the years, front-loading contracts so to avoid cap trouble in later years from big-time player signings/extensions. That means we have the money to spend on Peppers.
Peppers a Packer...it just makes sense, and the dominoes are falling.