For every reason the Julius Peppers signing doesn't make sense for the Green Bay Packers, there's another reason it does.
Some crtiics will point out that Peppers is over the hill at 34 years old. But with those years comes veteran savvy and experience, something new teammate Tramon Williams complained was lacking on this perpetually-young Packers team.
The argument can also be made that with big 325-plus lb. bodies like Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly currently no longer under contract, the Packers defense is getting smaller and less stout with Peppers replacing them on the roster. On the other hand, Peppers brings an element of pass rush those run stuffers never had.
But perhaps one of the best reasons the new $30 million investment makes sense for the Packers is that Peppers essentially improves two positions at once. Meet Clay Matthews, the Packers' newest inside linebacker.
Julius Peppers wasn't kidding when he predicted "something different" in the aftermath of the his signing.
No, Clay Matthews probably isn't about to become a true inside linebacker anytime soon. But for anyone wondering how the Packers are going to put their best pass rushers and arguably their best athletes on the field all at the same time, lining up Matthews at a traditional inside linebacker spot makes the entire Green Bay defense a whole lot scarier.
Skeptics will wonder why the Packers would move Matthews from his outside linebacker position as an edge rusher. "If it's not broke, don't fix it," they'll argue.
But the addition of an equally effective pass rusher like Peppers will essentially offset any concerns about where the pressure off the edge is going to come from.
When the Packers are in their nickel and dime packages (which is majority of the time), their front four players on the line of scrimmage could theoretically include some dangerous combination of Mike Daniels and Datone Jones as the interior rushers and either Mike Neal or Nick Perry lining up opposite Peppers on the edge.
Rather than have Matthews or any of the afore-mentioned players sitting on the sidlines, the Packers can instead take either A.J. Hawk or Brad Jones out of the game, replaced by Matthews.
As the saying goes, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. And Matthews can get pretty darn close to the quarterback from inside linebacker, especially if the QB is lining up under center. With Matthews' cat-like quickness, the Packers can really take advantage of situational football.
Voilà. The Packers defense just got a whole lot more athletic, multiple and unpredictable.
Is Matthews going to blitz or drop into coverage? If he blitzes, is he going to the right side or the left side of center? Are Daniels and Peppers going to run a stunt? Or is it Neal and Jones?
No one knows the answers to these questions, least of all opposing offenses.
To think Matthews at inside linebacker is a stretch, it's not as if this isn't something the Packers haven't done already. Granted, it's not something they've done frequently, but they've already utilized Matthews as a pass rusher, charging up the gut. They've also used him there to spy athletic quarterbacks.
By no means is anyone suggesting a full-time conversion to inside linebacker is in the works. Matthews taking on guards, filling lanes and spilling runs probably isn't something the Packers are interested in seeing, or at least not very often.
Whenever the Packers are in their base 3-4 front, Matthews lining up at his old outside linebacker spot is still probably where he's his most effective. Maybe even at left outside linebacker, thereby allowing Nick Perry to rush from right side, where he seems to have his most success. And that's only if Peppers isn't there first.
The addition of Peppers also guards against injury, as observers of the Packers have become so used to seeing the past several seasons. If Matthews is hurt, the Packers can get by with Hawk and Jones at inside linebacker. But it's nice to know that could be Plan B, not Plan A.
The same goes for any of the edge rushers. If Perry, Neal or Peppers is hurt, Matthews can just as easily line up where he always has the first five seasons of his career too.
That's what makes the addition of Peppers such a genius move.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].
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