Samuel not only led the NFC in interceptions this season with seven, but he compiled that number in just 11 games, missing five contests due to injury.
Even more impressive is Samuel’s track record in the postseason. Playing for both the Eagles and New England Patriots, over the four-year stretch from 2005-08 Samuel posted seven interceptions in the playoffs and returned a whopping four for touchdowns, league highs in both categories over that span.
“He’s a smart player,” Packers receiver James Jones said. “He’s been around the game a long time, has seen all types of plays. He knows what’s coming. He studies film hard. He’s a gambler, so we have to make sure we run precise routes so he doesn’t jump on our routes and change the game.”
That last notion is certainly true, but Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin disagreed with the idea that Samuel is a major risk-taker. He attributes his penchant for those game-changing plays to picking his spots carefully moreso than putting his team in jeopardy with acts of daring.
“He kind of lays in the weeds, but he can strike, and when he strikes he’s usually pretty effective,” Philbin said. “He’s not a guy that gives up a ton of big plays. I think you usually associate a gambler with a guy that’s going to make big plays and then give up a lot of big ones. I don’t see him as necessarily that kind of guy.”
What he does see is a veteran defender – this is Samuel’s eighth season since entering the league as a fourth-round draft pick by New England in 2003 – who has developed the instincts and anticipation that make him dangerous. Philbin said Samuel will often position himself to be able to read a quarterback’s eyes, and much like Charles Woodson of the Packers, he’ll file away a lot of information over the course of a game.
It’s probably no accident that four of Samuel’s last five interceptions in the playoffs have come against opponents his team played during that same regular season. He studies, processes and attacks when the moment is right.
“He’s obviously been productive intercepting the ball, because he’s got a boatload of them over the last few years,” Philbin said. “Good player.”
Whether the Eagles will match Samuel against the Packers’ top receiver, Greg Jennings, most of the game or move him around to cover other receivers as well remains to be seen.
But while it may be risky to challenge Samuel too much, the Packers feel their overall depth at receiver should give quarterback Aaron Rodgers plenty of other options if he senses Samuel is processing one of those reads and getting ready to pounce.
“That’s how we think going into every game … We’ve said for a long time we think our fourth and fifth receiver are better than their fourth and fifth DB,” receiver Jordy Nelson said. “It puts them in a bind. Either they’ve got to play a bunch of coverage with linebackers or they’re going to bring pressure and then we’ve got the matchups we want. If it comes down to that, we’re ready for it.
“Just like any other week, we’ve got everything installed from no receivers to five receivers. We’ll be prepared.”
Good memories, good vibes?
It isn’t lost on kicker Mason Crosby that arguably the two biggest field goals he’s made in his four-year career have come against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Crosby hit a 42-yarder with two seconds left in his first NFL game, back on Sept. 9, 2007, at Lambeau Field to beat the Eagles 16-13, which still stands as the only last-second game-winner of his career. Then in the season opener this year, back on Sept. 12, he drilled a franchise-record 56-yarder at Lincoln Financial Field at the end of the first half to give the Packers a 13-3 lead on their way to a 27-20 win.
“My wife and I talked about it a little bit the other day, but then … it’s just that next game,” Crosby said. “I prepare for them all the same. I have had some success against the Eagles, and obviously in the playoffs we want to carry that over as much as we can.”
If either of those kicks mean anything heading into Sunday’s Wild Card game at Philadelphia, the record-breaker from earlier this year probably means more because it came in the same stadium as the upcoming game. Kickers always have to get a feel for their environment, and even though temperatures will be in the 30s now and not in the 60s like they were four months ago, it’s a boost of confidence Crosby can take with him if he needs to trot back out there for a big kick.
“I think so,” he said. “Going to an away stadium, somewhere you’ve hit a good kick, going back there you already have a little bit of a feel for it. Those situations, who knows, we may get another one right at the end of the half where I try another long kick. I did watch the film from that game and saw how the stadium set up, how the field set up. We have to make sure we go out there and perform.”
For his career, Crosby has played in three playoff games. He is 14-of-14 on extra points and 3-of-4 on field goals in the postseason. He made two field goals in the 2007 NFC Championship at a frigid Lambeau and was 1-of-2 in Arizona in the Wild Card round last year, missing from 54 yards.
Pep talk from the past
The NFL Network will have legendary Packers coach Vince Lombardi kick off each weekend of their playoff coverage with a pep talk for the fans. Well, not the real Lombardi of course, but the current character being played by Dan Lauria in the Broadway production of “Lombardi,” which just extended its run until mid-June.
Lauria, also known for playing the father on the longtime television series “The Wonder Years,” will open each weekend of the NFL Network’s playoff coverage with a special monologue. The first one will appear on NFL GameDay Morning at 11 a.m. (CT) Saturday. For a sneak preview, click here.
Defensive end Cullen Jenkins (calf) was a limited participant in practice for the second straight day, but Head Coach Mike McCarthy said he did more in Thursday’s workout than the day before and he continues to make progress.
Fullback Korey Hall (knee), on the other hand, was downgraded from limited to did not participate, and McCarthy said his chances are “decreasing” to be able to play.
Also downgraded on Thursday, from full to limited, were cornerback Charles Woodson (toe) and defensive end Ryan Pickett (ankle). Tackle Chad Clifton (knees) and safety Nick Collins (ribs) were both upgraded from limited to full.
Safety Atari Bigby (groin) and linebacker Frank Zombo (knee) both sat out practice again, while linebacker Clay Matthews (shin) remained limited.
For the Eagles, guard Todd Herremans (calf) was downgraded from limited to did not participate on Thursday. The rest of Philadelphia’s injury report stayed the same as Wednesday, including a second straight day of full participation for both quarterback Michael Vick (quad) and Samuel (knee).
Additional coverage - Jan. 6