GREEN BAY—At times, Julius Peppers will speak to the defense prior to practice, to sharpen the unit’s edge.
Other times, he’s asked Clay Matthews to do it. Occasionally, Peppers speaks to defensive teammates individually, if he feels they need to hear something. Or, on days like Thursday, he’ll take the rare step of talking for a lengthy period of time to reporters at his locker, letting the media deliver the message.
Whatever the method of communication, it’s clear how Peppers wants his Packers defensive mates to process what happened in the second half Monday night against Atlanta – learn from it, but don’t dwell on it, and don’t let it take away from 4 ½ games of solid defensive play since the bye week.
“We’ll be fine, we’ll be fine,” Peppers said. “We had a bad half of football, and that’s what it is. It’s nothing more than that. The good thing is it doesn’t carry over to this game. We’re going to start fast this game and we’re going to finish this game.”
The Packers defense had been steadily climbing since the struggles in New Orleans prior to the bye. The fourth quarter at Minnesota wasn’t ideal, but the defense got the key late-game stop the following week against New England.
That kind of overall progress has been important, but at this stage of the season, now it’s each individual game that takes on greater importance. Having been on a Carolina team that reached a Super Bowl and a Chicago team that advanced to the NFC title game, Peppers knows there’s a time when tunnel vision takes priority over the big picture.
He referred to having “blinders” on as the team prepares to travel to Buffalo, where the defense may be called upon to come up big. The Bills defense has allowed more than 23 points only once all season, so another 40-point game from the Packers offense to bail out a defensive letdown isn’t likely.
“This is one of those weeks,” Peppers said. “We’ve got to raise the focus, we’ve got to raise the sense of urgency, because now is the time we need to be stepping on the gas, not letting off of it.”
The Packers defense has made its varying packages and personnel groups a calling card of sorts. The secondary looks as though it will be slightly limited this week, though, as cornerback Davon House has yet to practice and has more tests scheduled on his injured shoulder.
At linebacker, Matthews continues to shift between the middle and the outside, while second-year pro Sam Barrington is settling into his role as Matthews’ inside partner in the nickel defense, which the Packers play most often.
That change, revealed two weeks ago against the Patriots, has taken snaps away from veteran A.J. Hawk, but Barrington said neither of them is making a potentially awkward situation a problem.
“I’m not doing that and he’s not, and our lockers are right beside each other,” Barrington said. “I guess we understand it’s part of the game. I’m just trying to continue to do my best job to help this team out, and it’s evident he’s doing the same thing. We understand we’re two pieces to this defense and we’re going to give it all we’ve got.”
For his part, Hawk said he’s not worried about what the change means for him or his future. Even though he’s been relegated to strictly base 3-4 snaps the last two games, he said he’s still preparing to play in all the packages like he always does, staying mentally “in it” for whatever may arise.
“This team’s playing really well. That’s why I was even hesitant to come in here,” Hawk said in his first mid-week locker room session with the media in a while. “Nothing’s about me. It shouldn’t be about me. It’s dumb to talk about me. We’re 10-3. I shouldn’t be a storyline in that.”
The storyline is the playoff push, a potential NFC North title and perhaps a first-round bye and home-field advantage. Blinders or not, it’s all within sight.
“We’ve got something real tangible in front of us that we can attain by playing very well,” Matthews said. “It’s all in front of us. We’re just trying to put focus on that.”
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