Packers seeking 4th straight NFC North title

August 27, 2014

St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford is hit by Green Bay Packers linebacker/defensive end Julius Peppers in the second quarter during an NFL preseason football game, Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014,
in St. Louis.

GREEN BAY Julius Peppers didn't seem very impressed with his first preseason sack with the Packers.

The hope in Green Bay is that it will be the first of many big plays from Peppers once the real games begin.

It's early, but coach Mike McCarthy's plan to boost the defense in 2014 looks as if it's working so far.

Keep this up and Green Bay will be poised for a deep playoff run given the offense is already in good hands with quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Peppers, who was signed as a free agent after being a salary cap casualty in NFC North rival Chicago, is far from satisfied with the preseason progress.

"Everything. We need to get better at everything, wrap up better and tackle, we need to rush better," Peppers said after the 31-21 preseason win over the Oakland Raiders. "There's always going to be room for improvement."

The season opener doesn't get any tougher at Seattle on Sept. 4 against the Super Bowl champion Seahawks.

Things to watch this season with Green Bay going for a fourth straight division title:


Green Bay Packers' Mike Neal runs with the ball after recovering a fumble during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Oakland Raiders Friday, Aug. 22, 2014, in Green Bay, Wis.

DECADE OF RODGERS: Hard to believe, but the quarterback is entering his 10th season in the league. He looks as good as ever.

The throws are sharp and the up-tempo offense is running well. Rodgers did more yoga as part of his offseason routine, something that the 30-year-old quarterback has said helps with flexibility as he gets older.

The Packers were poised to pull away in the division last season until Rodgers went down with a collarbone injury. With a full year of Rodgers and Offensive Rookie Player of the Year Eddie Lacy in the backfield, the offense could be potent.

"We might be able to be a little bit more balanced, but we're still going to attack people with our timing in the pass game and be able to do things in the run game that we haven't done maybe in the last four or five years," Rodgers said.

"I've always felt like our short passing game is extended handoffs, and we're going to be slightly more pass than run."

WHAT A RUSH: Peppers pairs with Clay Matthews to give the Packers a high-profile duo of prolific pass rushers. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers likes the depth at the position, too.


Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy, center, leaps into the crowd after rushing for a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders during the first half of an NFL preseason football game Friday, Aug. 22, 2014, in Green Bay, Wis.

Mike Neal emerged last season with six sacks. Former first-round pick Nick Perry, who was hurt for much of last season, showed a glimpse of his potential after forcing a fumble on a sack of Matt Schaub last week against the Raiders.

Matthews is back from a thumb injury that sidelined him for parts of the 2013 season. Now, Green Bay can be creative with the pass rush with Peppers and Matthews on the field at the same time.

"It's nice to have Clay back out there healthy. Clay has been able to take all of his reps through the preseason, which has been a real positive," Capers said.

WHAT A RUSH, PART II: Lacy has received limited work in the preseason, but get ready to see a lot of him in the regular season. He regularly works on pass-catching during practice, and McCarthy wants all his running backs to prepare for three-down work.

James Starks and DuJuan Harris provide the Packers with a deep group in the backfield.

"You can never have enough running backs," McCarthy said. "We want to line up and keep playing and we don't want to get into substituting backs based on down and distance.


Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) signals a touchdown after the Packers scored against the Oakland Raiders during the first quarter of an NFL preseason football game Friday, Aug. 22, 2014, in Green Bay, Wis.

SEEKING HYDE: Safety was an issue last season after the Packers failed to get an interception from the position group. Veteran Morgan Burnett, who started 2013 with a hamstring injury, is back after getting over a couple of minor injuries this preseason.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was drafted out of Alabama in the first round. But it is converted cornerback Micah Hyde who appears to have taken over as the other starter next to Burnett, though Clinton-Dix figures to see plenty of time in the rotation. McCarthy likes the potential of the personnel, including Sean Richardson.

INJURIES: Few teams last season were as affected by injuries as the Packers, who had Rodgers, Matthews and receiver Randall Cobb on the injury list.

McCarthy instituted some conditioning changes that seem to be directed at reducing ailments such as muscle pulls, and those tweaks appear to be working. It could also help with McCarthy's desire to push the tempo on offense.

Still, Green Bay must move on from two significant injuries from the Raiders game. Defensive lineman B.J. Raji was lost for the season with a torn right biceps. Center J.C. Tretter is out several weeks with a knee injury.

Chiefs starters unlikely to play vs Green Bay

KANSAS CITY, Mo. Jamaal Charles has confidence that the Kansas City Chiefs offense will be in synch when the regular season rolls around a week from Sunday.

Evidently, so does Andy Reid.

The Chiefs' coach said Tuesday that he is unlikely to play any of his starters in Thursday night's preseason game in Green Bay. Reid had hinted last week that he may break from his norm and play at least some of them after lackluster performances in their first three preseason games.

The Chiefs have struggled while dealing with a rash of injuries and suspensions that could keep several key players off the field in Week 1 against Tennessee.

"I'm going to try to give the guys an opportunity to show. That's one reason I normally hold the one's, so I can get a peer evaluation of these young guys and see what they can do," Reid said. "Right now, we have good competition on this team. And then if they don't make your club they have some worthy plays on tape that other clubs can evaluate."

This is the final opportunity for many players to make an impression. The Chiefs must trim their roster from 75 players to their final 53 by Saturday afternoon.

Reid said that Chase Daniel will lead the No. 2 offense through the first quarter against the Packers. Aaron Murray and Tyler Bray, who are competing for the No. 3 quarterback job, will split the final three quarters with the rest of the reserve players.

"I'm probably going to use all the under guys," Reid said.

That's just fine with Charles, who only received three carries in the entire preseason. The Pro Bowl running back skipped the last two games after hurting his foot while carrying a box, but he's been practicing full speed and said he'll be ready for the regular season.

"I've been in the league a long time. I've had plenty of carries," Charles said. "Having three carries in the preseason won't make me because those stats don't even count. I mean, the real game counts, Week 1 against Tennessee, and that's all I'm worrying about."

Charles also isn't worried about a suspect offensive line that has struggled with injuries, illness and suspension, and has been a big reason why the first-team offense failed to score a touchdown in 16 series covering the first three preseason games.

Right tackle Donald Stephenson is suspended for the first four games for violating the league's performance-enhancing substance policy. That has led to a massive reshuffling along the line Jeff Allen has shifted from left guard to right tackle, and several backups are trying to earn the nod to replace his normal spot at guard.

Making matters worse, left tackle Eric Fisher missed Tuesday's workout in triple-digit heat with a bout of the flu. The expectation is that he will be healthy by next week, though.

"I don't have no worries about that. Those guys are going to come around. It's preseason," Charles said. "They're still trying to work with each other. They're young. But they got to go. Doesn't matter who's there, they got to go."

That goes for the group of players trying to lock down spots at wide receiver.

Dwayne Bowe missed practice again with a groin injury, and his preferred backup Junior Hemingway has been out with a hip injury. That means Frankie Hammond, who was struggling just to make the team a few weeks ago, could starter the season opener against the Titans.

Hammond spent last season on the Chiefs' practice squad.

"I mean, Frankie had a great camp, and a great offseason, so it certainly wasn't out of the realm of possibilities," Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said. "But once again, you focus on what's on your plate and getting better and doing what you need to do to make your offense go."

Just like Charles, Smith believes the Chiefs are close to where they need to be.

"I think we got some good work and some things to learn from," he said, "but I feel good about what we're doing. Preseason is a great tool for things like that."

Notes: Chiefs LB Tamba Hali missed practice with a swollen knee. WR Mark Harrison was ill. ... The Chiefs waived OT Ryan McKee and CBs Kevin Rutland and Damond Smith to reach the 75-man roster limit by Tuesday's deadline.


Associated Press