Green Bay Packers: Colin Kaepernick

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It is not uncommon for NFL contracts to become outdated in a hurry.

Someone is always signing a new deal or an extension to become the highest-paid this or the highest-paid that.

Rodgers
Rodgers
So when Colin Kaepernick signed his contract extension with the San Francisco 49ers last week, the initial reports suggested his deal contained more guaranteed money than Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the NFL’s highest-paid player.

On paper, Kaepernick signed a six-year, $114 million extension that contained $61 million in guaranteed money. But in this case, the definition of guarantee is a loose one.

As ESPN’s John Clayton pointed out in his weekend Mailbag column, Kaepernick's deal is much more of a pay-as-you-play contract than the five-year, $110 million extension Rodgers signed on April 26, 2013. Rodgers’ deal was loaded with real guarantees.

Rodgers' signing bonus of $35 million followed by a guaranteed roster bonus of $9.5 million that was paid this March and another one worth $9.5 million due next March brought his guaranteed money to $54 million in real dollars.

For those who were outraged that Kaepernick received more guaranteed money, a closer examination of the deal revealed that those were "soft" guarantees. Kaepernick's yearly guarantees don't become such until April 1 before each season, meaning the 49ers can get out from under the deal at any point without paying those so-called guarantees.

So for the time being, even though Kaepernick has the potential to collect more than Rodgers, it's not accurate to call him the higher paid at this point.

Perhaps the best measure when comparing contracts is a three-year window. Looking at it that way, here's a breakdown of the top quarterback contracts by average per year, according to ESPN Stats & Information salary data:
Three of the quarterbacks on the list -- Ryan, Cutler and Kaepernick -- signed their deals after Rodgers did his 14 months ago. In that time, Rodgers' contract has held up. He remains the highest-paid quarterback with a $22 million-per-year average over the life his deal.

Maybe Russell Wilson, the next quarterback likely to cash in, will surpass him. But Kaepernick's deal did not.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Let's get this out of the way from the top: We know Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson does not draft for need -- or so he says.

But in the months leading up to this week's draft, Thompson and his scouts have spent hundreds of hours not only discussing the prospects who will be available to them but also their current roster and its strengths and weaknesses.

With that in mind, let's break the 12 position groups that make up the roster into four parts based on the following categories of draft needs.

We will define them this way:

Part 1: Negligible -- positions where there is little or no need.

Part 2: Non-essential -- positions where there is a need but it is not paramount to fill.

Part 3: Secondary -- positions where there is a need but not at the critical level.

Part 4: Pressing -- positions where it is imperative that help be found.

On Monday, we looked at the negligible needs, Nos. 10-12. On Tuesday, it was the non-essential needs, Nos. 7-9. On Wednesday, it was the secondary needs, Nos. 4-6.

Finally, the pressing needs.

1. Safety: The Packers thought so little of their 16-game starter at free safety last season, M.D. Jennings, that they did not even offer him a restricted free agent tender, and he signed a one-year, minimum deal with the Bears. Coach Mike McCarthy has said he plans to use Micah Hyde, who played a slot cornerback position last season, at safety this season. But it remains unclear whether that's enough to ignore this position in the draft for a second straight season. The Packers remain committed to strong safety Morgan Burnett, who signed a four-year, $24.75 million contract last July, but his play must improve. There are two sure-fire first-round safeties -- Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville's Calvin Pryor -- but both could be gone by the time the Packers pick at No. 21.

Possible players of interest: Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois; Terrence Brooks, Florida State; Deone Bucannon, Washington State; Brock Vereen, Minnesota.

2. Inside linebacker: A.J. Hawk is coming off perhaps his best season, and the coaches love his durability and leadership. However, the other spot, occupied most of last season by Brad Jones, could be up for grabs even if they don't draft a possible starter. Jamari Lattimore and Sam Barrington could get a look there. But the Packers could use some speed up the middle of their defense, a weakness that was exposed again in the playoffs by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Possible players of interest: C.J. Mosley, Alabama; Ryan Shazier, Ohio State; Chris Borland, Wisconsin; Preston Brown, Louisville.

3. Tight end: The highest-paid tight end on the roster is Andrew Quarless, who signed a two-year, $3 million contract this offseason. That's hardly starter money anymore. The coaches have high hopes for Brandon Bostick, but he remains a bit of a project. Jermichael Finley is still unsigned, having so far failed to get clearance to return from his neck injury. That still could come, but the Packers probably can't afford to sit around and wait. They'd love a crack at the top tight end, North Carolina’s Eric Ebron, but he almost certainly will be gone by the time they pick.

Possible players of interest: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington; Jace Amaro, Texas Tech; Troy Niklas, Notre Dame; C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa.
Colin KaepernickRonald Martinez/Getty ImagesColin Kaepernick has beaten the Packers three times since becoming the starter in San Francisco.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Every offseason for three straight years in the 1990s, then-Green Bay Packers general manager Ron Wolf gathered his staff of personnel advisers in a room and discussed the same topic.

Why couldn't they beat the Dallas Cowboys?

In some ways, it became an obsession in the Lambeau Field offices.

Twice, the Packers lost to the Cowboys in the divisional playoff round -- 27-17 following the 1993 regular season and 35-9 following the 1994 regular season. Then there was the 38-27 loss in the NFC Championship Game following the 1995 regular season.

Wolf and his staff thought they had to solve the Cowboys puzzle if they were ever going to get to a Super Bowl.

“And you know what?” the long-since retired Wolf said in a phone interview. “We never could beat them.”

Luckily for them, they didn't have to. Finally, in 1996, the Packers' road to the Super Bowl didn't run through Dallas. They went 13-3 to garner the NFC's top playoff seed and then had the Carolina Panthers to thank for taking out the Cowboys in the divisional round.

Nearly two decades later, replace the Cowboys with the San Francisco 49ers and the Packers find themselves in practically the same situation.

Except that, unlike the Packers of the 1990s, it doesn't sound like they're sitting around obsessing over how to beat the 49ers, who have knocked the Packers out of the playoffs two years in a row and have beaten them four times, including three with Colin Kaepernick at quarterback, in the past two seasons.

“Colin has played very well against us; that's stating the obvious,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said last month at the NFL scouting combine. “Really, the discussions we're having on defense isn't really about one player on an opponent's team.”

[+] EnlargeMike McCarthy
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsMike McCarthy said he's hoping that a season opener in Seattle will mean added focus for the Packers in training camp.
Perhaps they should be.

Otherwise, a repeat of the 1990s could be coming.

To be sure, the Packers have to take care of things in the NFC North first to even worry about the 49ers, who aren't on their schedule in 2014. And plenty of differences exist when comparing the Packers' problems with Dallas in the 1990s and the 49ers today. In Wolf's opinion, the biggest one back then was having to play at Texas Stadium.

“We felt that was an AstroTurf team,” Wolf said. “And they had [Emmitt] Smith and [Michael] Irvin and some very, very talented players. We always felt that if we ever got them on grass, we could play them.”

Wolf was right about that.

In a 1997 regular-season game, the Cowboys came to Lambeau and got blasted 45-17. But by then, Dallas' days as the NFC's dominant team were over.

The Packers haven't been able to beat the 49ers anywhere of late, whether it be in Green Bay (the 2012 opener and last season's playoff game) or San Francisco (the 2013 opener and the playoff game following the 2012 season).

McCarthy and his coaching staff did spend part of last offseason on an extensive study of the read-option offense that Kaepernick used to torch them in the 2012 playoff game, but last season Kaepernick proved he also could beat them with his arm.

“I've seen it done before where you set your philosophy or what you need to do because of one player,” McCarthy said. “I think you're losing sight of what really needs to be done.”

This offseason, they're taking a bigger-picture approach to their problems.

“The things we're going to do more on defense -- and we'll do this more in detail when the players get back in April -- we have to do a better job of utilizing our personnel,” McCarthy said. “We've had a situation with our defense where there's a lot of change, a lot of moving parts, and we have to do a better job of planning for that and training that way starting in April.”

Wolf, who still follows the league, stopped short of imploring that his old team learn from the mistakes of the 1990s Packers, but he did say that perhaps the best way to solve the 49ers might be to emulate them.

“They have a pretty good model,” Wolf said. “So if you're going to imitate another team, that'd be a pretty good one to do it with. They have receivers, they have offensive linemen, they have a good front group on defense, a really good linebacker group. If you're going to try to copy a team, I would think that'd be a team to copy.”
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Three Green Bay Packers ranked among the top 50 NFL players in total retail sales of items in their names.

In a release by the NFL Players Association at this week’s Super Bowl, quarterback Aaron Rodgers (No. 6 overall), outside linebacker Clay Matthews (No. 12) and receiver Jordy Nelson (No. 43) were among the league leaders in sales from September through November of 2013. Both Rodgers and Nelson missed time because of injuries during that period.

NFL Players Inc., the marketing and licensing arm of the NFLPA, releases the data quarterly. The players association said the list is compiled from “overall total sales of all licensed products from online and traditional retail outlets as reported by more than 65 NFLPI licensees.”

The top-six players on the list all were quarterbacks. Seattle’s Russell Wilson was first followed San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick, Denver’s Peyton Manning, Washington’s Robert Griffin III, New England’s Tom Brady and Rodgers.

Matthews was the third-highest ranked defensive player behind Houston’s J.J. Watt (No. 7) and Seattle’s Richard Sherman (No. 11), while Nelson ranked eighth among receivers.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers were on the field for 2,216 plays combined on offense and defense this season and several hundred more on special teams.

For the next 10 weekdays, we will examine 10 plays, subjectively chosen, as the ones that most shaped the Packers’ season that ended with Sunday’s 23-20 NFC wild-card playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field.

Here’s No. 10:

Date: Jan. 6, 2014

Location: Lambeau Field

Game: Packers vs. 49ers, NFC wild-card playoff game

Hyde
The play: Cornerback Micah Hyde's near interception of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the fourth quarter.

Why it mattered: With the game tied at 20-20, the 49ers took over with 5:06 remaining. On second-and-10 from their own 31-yard line, 49ers receiver Anquan Boldin ran a short out route toward his own sideline. Hyde broke on the ball and undercut the route. He jumped for a ball that was thrown high, but it went through his hands and was incomplete. Hyde might have returned it for a touchdown. At the very least, he would have given the Packers the ball deep in 49ers’ territory. Six plays later, Kaepernick scrambled for 11 yards on third-and-8 from the Packers’ 38-yard line to set up the game-winning field goal as time expired.

Quotable: “It was a catch I should have made,” Hyde said. “I make those catches all of the time in practice. It was just a difficult catch I should have made.”
Colin KaepernickAP Photo/Kiichiro SatoColin Kaepernick didn't set any records on Sunday, but his 98 yards on seven carries proved crucial.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- On this day, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers thought his defense did enough.

In Sunday's NFC wild-card playoff game at Lambeau Field, the Packers held the San Francisco 49ers to merely 23 points -- their lowest output in four meetings over the past two seasons. Four times on Sunday quarterback Colin Kaepernick led the 49ers into the red zone, and three times the Packers held them to field goals.

But, of course, Dom Capers' defense can never seem to do enough against the 49ers, who knocked the Packers out of the playoffs for the second straight season with a 23-20 victory in front of 77,525 frozen fans who braved 5-degree weather at kickoff that only got worse as the game progressed.

Several members of the Packers' offense took the blame -- among them Rodgers, who said he did not play his best game; and receiver Randall Cobb, who beat himself up over not getting into the end zone when Rodgers escaped a sack and found him for a 25-yard gain to the 49ers' 9-yard line. The Packers settled for a field goal that tied the game at 20 with 5:06 remaining when a touchdown would have forced San Francisco to score a touchdown rather than the kick the game-winning field goal as time expired.

"Defense holds them to 23 points, we should win that game," said Rodgers, who completed 17 of 26 passes for 177 yards with one touchdown and no interception while facing heavy pressure for much of the game.

Rodgers may be right. But if the early playoff exits the last three seasons have taught the Packers anything, it's that more often than not their defense has held this team back.

In this case, that's not an indictment on Capers, whose plan against the 49ers may have been one of his best.

"I have to give credit to Dom because he called a heck of a game," Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji said. "I'm sorry we weren't able to execute for him."

The 63-year-old veteran coordinator, if he indeed returns next season, is in desperate need of more playmakers. Capers' contract situation remains unclear, although he may have been in the final year of his contract.

"If Dom's under contract, I expect he'll be back," cornerback Tramon Williams said. "He's been a vital part of our defense, too. We won the Super Bowl with Dom and our entire coaching staff."

Count Williams among those who made his share of plays on Sunday. He came up with a second-quarter interception when Kaepernick tried to float a pass down the sideline. Williams returned it 17 yards, at the end of which he tried to run over the 49ers quarterback.

"I guess you could say it was a message," Williams said. "But we needed some momentum at that point, and we got it."

Even the Packers' best defensive performance in three tries -- all losses -- against Kaepernick wasn't enough. On the game-winning drive, Kaepernick scrambled for 11 yards on third-and-8 from the Packers' 38-yard line when Capers dialed up an all-out blitz. Late in the first half, Kaepernick scrambled for 42 yards to set up a Frank Gore touchdown.

[+] EnlargeGreen Bay's Tramon Williams
AP Photo/Jeffrey PhelpsTramon Williams said he sent a "message" by barreling into Colin Kaepernick during a return of an interception.
It wasn't the record-setting 181-yard rushing performance Kaepernick turned in against the Packers in the playoffs last season, but 98 yards on seven runs was too much.

Maybe the Packers were playing with house money after getting into the playoffs despite playing nearly eight full games without Rodgers because of his broken collarbone, but it also should serve as a reminder that success can be fleeting.

"These opportunities are pretty special, and you've got to make the most of them," Rodgers said. "It's nine years [in the NFL] for me now. Blessed to play that long and would love to play another nine if possible, but this is an opportunity we let slip through our fingers."

Which is what happened to rookie cornerback Micah Hyde on the final drive, when he read Kaepernick's eyes and saw he was going to throw to Anquan Boldin in the left flat. On second-and-10 from the Packers' 31-yard line with 4:14 left, Hyde made a leaping attempt at an interception, but the ball went through his hands. At worst, he would have given Rodgers a short field. At best, he might have returned it for the go-ahead touchdown.

"It was a catch I should've made," Hyde said. "I make those catches all the time in practice. It's just a difficult catch I should've made."

When asked about his team's defensive performance, coach Mike McCarthy: "We were probably one play away. We were one play not good enough."

General manager Ted Thompson, however, will have to ask himself how many players away his team is from having an impact defense. His best player on that side of the ball, linebacker Clay Matthews, was sidelined with a broken thumb, while starting cornerback Sam Shields and starting outside linebacker Mike Neal were lost to knee injuries on Sunday's first drive. At one point, the Packers had to play rookie defensive end Datone Jones at outside linebacker, something the first-round draft pick never did in the regular season.

Those were among the issues on Sunday, but it doesn't explain why the defense nose-dived in the second half of the season. It would appear Thompson overestimated several of his positions on defense, inside linebacker and safety chief among them.

Two years ago, Thompson used his first six draft picks on defensive players. Last year, he took Jones with the 26th pick in the draft.

It wasn't enough.

"I think it's always been close," Williams said of the Packers' defense. "It's just been so inconsistent."
Each week, I will ask for questions via Twitter with the hashtag #PackersMail, then will deliver the answers over the weekend.



The Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers have met so often of late that they’re becoming like division rivals.

Sunday’s NFC wild-card playoff game at Lambeau Field will be the fourth meeting between the two teams in the past 17 months. They played in Week 1 of the 2012 season and again in the divisional round of the playoffs that season. They opened the 2013 season against each other again.

The 49ers won all three games.

ESPN.com 49ers reporter Bill Williamson and Packers reporter Rob Demovsky discuss what, if anything, might be different this time around.

Demovsky: Bill, the Packers have seen quarterback Colin Kaepernick beat them with his feet like he did in last year’s playoff game, when he rushed for 181 yards, and also beat them with his arm, like he did in the season opener this year when he threw for 412 yards. What has he been doing better lately, running or throwing, and how do you think coach Jim Harbaugh will try to attack the Packers’ defense this time around?

Williamson: Rob, he’s been a pass-first quarterback all season as he showed in Week 1. That was his best game of the season. But Kaepernick has been playing at a high level in the past five games with Michael Crabtree back on the field. Kaepernick’s Total QBR during the past three weeks is the highest in the NFL. Rob, I’m intrigued to see what the offensive attack is going to be. We all remember the cat-and-mouse game in Week 1 about the read-option attack that never materialized. I could see the 49ers hitting the Packers with it early to get them off-balance and try to go back and forth throughout the game.

Rob, what do you think the Packers are expecting from Kaepernick this week?

Demovsky: I’m not sure they know what to expect. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers pointed out that last year, the 49ers had the bye week in the first round of the playoffs and therefore had plenty of time to tinker with their game plan and install new looks like the read-option. They don’t have that luxury this time around. That said, maybe Harbaugh didn't use much read-option during the season because he wanted to keep his quarterback from getting hit. Now that it’s win-or-go-home time, maybe he’d be more willing to risk it. Either way, the Packers know they have to limit the big plays -- whether on the ground or through the air -- that have killed them in the previous meetings.

In the opener this year, receiver Anquan Boldin dominated the Packers. Now that Crabtree has returned, what dimension has he added to the offense?

Williamson: It’s changed everything. This is a much better, varied, dangerous offense. Crabtree is not 100 percent, but he is still able to help. It makes Boldin even more dangerous. He was double- and triple-teamed because the 49ers didn't have many weapons. With a trio of Crabtree, Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis, Kaepernick has some firepower.

Rob, do you think the Packers are giving Boldin extra thought this week because of the damage he caused in Week 1?

Demovsky: I’m sure they are, but they've changed the way they cover since that game. They’re more willing to match up Sam Shields on the opponent’s best receiver now, whereas early in the year they simply played Shields on one side of the field and Tramon Williams on the other. They’re also cognizant of what the return of Crabtree means for the passing game. Also, the Packers didn't have safety Morgan Burnett in the Week 1 game and although Burnett has had an inconsistent year, they’re hoping his presence on the back end helps slow down the 49ers' passing game.

From here, the 49ers look as though they have one of the NFL’s best group of linebackers with Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks. What makes those guys so effective and how can the Packers attack the heart of the 49ers' defense?

Williamson: And don’t forget Aldon Smith. The young star has been playing at a high level for the past month-plus. He came back in November after missing five games while receiving treatment for substance abuse. But you are right; Bowman, Willis and Brooks all made the Pro Bowl. They are dominant. Bowman has been playing out of his mind and he is a legitimate NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

Rob, do you think containing the linebackers is the key for offensive success from Aaron Rodgers’ unit?

Demovsky: That’s certainly going to be one of the keys, because they could impact both the passing game when their ability to pass rush and the running game because of how they can clog up the middle, where Eddie Lacy likes to churn out yards. The Packers’ second-level blocking is going to be more critical in this game than perhaps at any time all season. If they let those linebackers get loose, it could spell trouble.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- First there was 579, and then there was 412.

The first number -- the total yards the San Francisco 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick-led offense piled up last January, much of it on the ground, on the way to their 45-31 playoff rout of the Green Bay Packers -- haunted those around Lambeau Field for an entire offseason.

The second -- Kaepernick’s passing yards in the 49ers’ 34-28 victory over the Packers in Week 1 of this season -- showed those in Green Bay that all the work they did in the offseason, all the time they spent devising ways to stop the 49ers’ read-option offense, didn’t help because Kaepernick can throw the ball, too.

[+] EnlargeDom Capers
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsPackers defensive coordinator Dom Capers has had his share of woes in trying to stop explosive 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick.
What happens in Sunday’s wild-card playoff rematch at Lambeau Field could define Dom Capers’ tenure as the Packers’ defensive coordinator.

“Dom Capers is a competitor,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday. “It’s a very important game to all of us. This isn’t a contest to see who this game’s more important [to]. We’re a football team. We know that one area needs to play to the other and so forth.

"But the defense needs to play its best game of the year. We need to improve off of how we’ve performed here in the past. Offense, we need to get better, too. There’s improvement coming off of our last performance that we can be better, and definitely on special teams.”

The 2012 season was bookended by losses to the 49ers, in Week 1 at Lambeau Field and then in the divisional playoff game in San Francisco. This season began the same way with the loss at Candlestick Park.

In those three games, the Packers allowed 1,450 yards combined, and were doomed by their inability to shut down certain players.

In last year’s playoff game, the 49ers rushed for 323 yards, including 181 by Kaepernick (the most rushing yards ever in a game by an NFL quarterback). That prompted Capers and his staff to launch an exhaustive offseason study of the read-option offense only to see Kaepernick turn into a pass-first quarterback in the opener, when 208 of his 412 yards passing went to veteran receiver Anquan Boldin.

“We go back and look at all of it,” Capers said. “So we’ll put together what’s worked well against them and what hasn’t worked well. You evaluate it and then you take the guys you’re going to have out there playing and decide what you think they can do the best.”

The Packers go into the playoffs with a defense that looks more like the 2011 unit that ranked last in the NFL in yards and passing yards allowed than the group that rebounded to finish 11th in both categories last season. Capers’ unit finished this regular season ranked 25th in yards allowed, 25th in rushing yards allowed and 24th in passing yards allowed. At different points during the season, the Packers ranked as high as 11th, third and 20th in those three key statistical categories.

No one has defended Capers more vigorously than veteran linebacker A.J. Hawk, who regularly insists that whatever defensive shortcomings they have are the result of player execution and not Capers’ scheme or play calling.

But Hawk hears the criticism of the 63-year-old Capers, whose unit has allowed 45 and 37 points in each of the Packers' last two playoff losses -- to the 49ers last year and to the New York Giants the previous year. And the eighth-year linebacker understands the importance of Sunday’s game, especially to those on defense.

“He’s even-keeled and tries to stay positive and coach us up so I’m sure in his mind, yeah, it’s a huge game,” Hawk said. “[It’s a] big game for everybody, though.”

Capers will have to manage without four-time Pro Bowl linebacker Clay Matthews, whose second thumb injury of the season has him sidelined indefinitely.

Yet listen to McCarthy talk about that oft-criticized unit, and he exudes confidence in his players and his veteran coordinator.

“I love our defense,” he said. “I love our football team. Throw the stats out the window. We could sit here and roll around in that stuff all you want. You can throw the bad ones at me and I’ll throw the good ones back at you. We’re a playoff football team. Our identity has changed. It’s kind of gone different directions of how we have to go play to win a game. This team’s embraced it, and we know it’s going to take the full game to get it done, and that’s the way we play.”
A roundup of what’s happening on the Green Bay Packers beat.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A hearty Happy New Year to all, and hope no one is feeling too, um, sick this morning.

Speaking of being sick, you would have never known it from his performance, but Packers receiver Jordy Nelson apparently had an upset stomach on Sunday during the 33-28 win over the Chicago Bears that sent the Packers to the playoffs.

Nelson caught a career-high 10 passes for 161 yards in the game at Soldier Field.

“He was throwing up on the bus afterwards,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said Tuesday on his ESPN Milwaukee radio show. “It was kind of gross.”

Nelson made no mention of it after the game. In fact, one of the things he talked about was how pleased he was that he made it through all 16 games without any health problems after missing four games last season because of a hamstring injury.

In playing 96.5 percent of the Packers’ offensive snaps this season, Nelson led the team and established career highs for catches (85) and receiving yards (1,314).

“It’s been great just to play every game,” Nelson said after the regular-season finale. “The numbers will happen if you get to play 16 of them. Last year was a struggle for multiple reasons, I’ve never experienced that. This year has been great. I’ve been healthy, haven’t missed anything and knock on wood hopefully it stays that way. It’s been fun. It’s been up and down, though, but it’s been fun and it makes it that much more enjoyable now that we made the playoffs.”

In case you missed it on ESPN.com:
  • The Packers still had 11,000 unsold tickets for Sunday’s NFC wild-card playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field. They weren’t the only team with tickets still available for this weekend, but they were the most surprising one given their history of sellouts and their lengthy season-ticket waiting list.
  • Rodgers made it through the Bears game – his first since he broke his collarbone on Nov. 4 – without any problem, but it was a freak fall last week while shoveling his driveway that convinced him he would be OK.
  • On his radio show, Rodgers also addressed what he called “crazy rumors” about his personal life.
  • The Packers’ Super Bowl odds increased significantly when Rodgers returned from his injury and beat the Bears.
  • See where the Packers finished in the final ESPN Power Rankings of the regular season.
  • An analysis of the individual snap counts from Sunday’s game against the Bears can be found in the weekly playing-time breakdown.
  • ESPN 49ers reporter Bill Williamson and I previewed Sunday’s game in video form.
  • Also, the Packers made one roster move, signing guard Lanier Coleman to the practice squad. He took the spot that previously belonged to cornerback Jumal Rolle, who was promoted to the active roster last week. The 6-foot-4, 322-pound Coleman is technically a rookie but he left Louisiana-Lafayette in 2009. Before going to training camp with the New York Jets this past summer, he was working as a strength and conditioning coach at the University of California. According to his Jets bio, he was 27 years old during training camp this past summer.
Elsewhere:
  • At ESPNWisconsin.com, you can listen to Rodgers’ radio show in its entirety. For those keeping track at home, it was the longest show of the season, at 49 minutes, 29 seconds.
  • In the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Pete Dougherty wrote about the challenges that the Colin Kaepernick-led 49ers offense presents for defensive coordinator Dom Capers.
  • In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tom Silverstein wrote that the Packers’ poor special-teams coverage units could be problematic in the postseason.

Quick Take: 49ers at Packers

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
10:20
PM ET
Three things to know about the Green Bay Packers’ matchup against the San Francisco 49ers next weekend in an NFC wild-card playoff game at Lambeau Field:

1. Fourth time the charm? This will be the fourth meeting between these teams since the start of the 2012 season, and the first three did not go the Packers’ way. From the season opener in 2012 at Lambeau Field to last year’s NFC divisional playoff loss at Candlestick Park to this year’s season opener back in San Francisco, the Packers have come up short each and every time.

2. Up to Capers: This is a chance for redemption for Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers. In the 45-31 playoff loss to the 49ers last season, his defense was embarrassed. It was completely fooled by the 49ers’ read-option plays and gave up 579 yards, including 181 yards rushing by quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Part of Capers’ defensive plan will have to center around receiver Anquan Boldin. In Sunday’s win over the Arizona Cardinals, Boldin had nine catches for 149 yards against his former team. It was reminiscent of what he did to the Packers in Week 1, when he caught 13 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown in the 49ers' 34-28 win. Capers’ defense has struggled in the past three meetings with the 49ers, so it will be up to him to devise a different game plan.

3. The Rodgers factor: As long as the Packers have Aaron Rodgers, they have a chance. That was proven once again on Sunday when he returned after missing seven starts because of a broken collarbone to lead the Packers to their NFC North-clinching win over the Chicago Bears. If Rodgers looked rusty in the first half, he quickly regained his old form in the second half.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews deserved to be fined for his late hit out of bounds on San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

The amount -- $15,000 as was announced by the NFL on Friday -- is debatable.

[+] EnlargeClay Matthews
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsGreen Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews denies the accusations that he's a dirty player.
What should not be questioned is Matthews’ integrity as a player.

In no way should he be lumped in with players like Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who last season was voted the NFL’s dirtiest player in a poll of players conducted by The Sporting News.

There’s nothing in Matthews’ history to suggest his play resembles that of Suh or the rest of the players on that list.

A check of Matthews’ past shows this is hardly a pattern.

Since entering the league in 2009, Matthews has never been penalized more than once in a season for a personal foul. As a rookie, he was called for one roughing the passer penalty (against Baltimore on Dec. 7). In 2010, his lone personal foul was a facemask (against Chicago on Sept. 27). In 2011, he had one roughing the passer infraction (against Minnesota on Oct. 23). And last season, he also had a roughing the passer (also against San Francisco on Sept. 9).

Before this week, the only one of those penalties that drew a fine was the facemask of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler in 2010. Matthews was docked $5,000 for that. At least one of those penalties, the 2011 hit on Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, could safely be considered a bad call.

The rest of Matthews’ career penalties all have been minor infractions.

There’s no doubt Matthews plays hard and plays to the whistle. All great players do, and Matthews certainly qualifies as such. In some ways, he resembles his position coach, Kevin Greene, an aggressive player who holds the NFL’s career record for sacks by a linebacker.

“I just know that I’m going to coach them one way and, generally speaking, you get what you emphasize as a coach,” Greene said on Friday. “I’m coaching, ‘Hey, you play with your heart and all of your drive and desire and determination and fire -- and that’s play after play after play after play, and never let up. You want to hunt and hunt and keep hunting. That’s what I’m hoping to get from all of my kids.”

Matthews has taken that to heart. Since he entered the NFL in 2009, only four players have more sacks than Matthews’ 43.5. He also is an underrated run defender.

“Clay, he’s got a motor and he’s a talented guy that has a motor,” Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III said on Wednesday. “Anybody with that immense amount of ability that plays every snap like it’s his last is a dangerous guy. We’ll be aware of him. You’ve always got to respect your opponent, and I respect Clay Matthews as a player, and that’s all you can say. My team respects him as a player, and that’s the way we have to go about it. You’ve got to prepare, there’s going to be great players in this league that you have to play against, and he’s one of them.”

And anyone who plays with the kind of intensity that Matthews brings is bound to go overboard every once in a while. But that doesn’t make him dirty. Before 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh insinuated this week that Matthews was a dirty player, there had never been even a whisper of that during his first four NFL seasons.

As Matthews said earlier this week, “I think my résumé is pretty good right now. I think we’re doing all right.”

Double Coverage: Redskins at Packers

September, 13, 2013
9/13/13
12:00
PM ET
Eddie Lacy and Robert Griffin IIIAP Photo, Getty ImagesEddie Lacy, left, and Robert Griffin III are among the keys to Sunday's Packers-Redskins matchup.
The Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins, NFC division winners last season and playoff hopefuls this season, both lost in Week 1.

That means, barring a tie, when they meet Sunday at Lambeau Field, one of these teams will be in an 0-2 hole to start this season.

“It’s not about, does it make or break your season,” Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III said this week.

ESPN Packers reporter Rob Demovsky and ESPN Redskins reporter John Keim break down the key elements to this matchup.

Demovsky: John, let’s get right to perhaps the most closely watched knee rehabilitation in recent NFL history. You’ve watched Griffin’s every move in his comeback from the knee injury. You have chronicled practically every step he has made since, and by now, you’ve dissected the film of Monday night’s loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. What limitations, if any, did he play with?

Keim: Griffin did not look the same and showed the effects of not playing in a game in the preseason -- and of recovering from major knee surgery in January. Was his knee 100 percent? Everyone says it is, including the doctors. But his game was not 100 percent, as should be expected. Jon Gruden pointed it out a few times on Monday night, showing how Griffin wasn’t always transferring his weight onto his front leg when he threw. In some cases, the line was getting shoved back and provided him no chance to step into a throw. But it was evident early, even when he had that room. It seemed like his reactions in the pocket, especially early, were not where he would want them to be. He also made the worst passing decision of his career, throwing an interception into triple coverage to a receiver who never even appeared open. He finished strong, though most of the passes he completed during this stretch were short throws. Still, he showed a better rhythm. It’s going to take him a few games.

The Packers just played a mobile quarterback; how did they take away Colin Kaepernick's legs -- and how did it leave them vulnerable to the pass?

Demovsky: The Packers did a good job limiting Kaepernick’s running opportunities by playing a lot of zone coverage. That kept the defenders’ eyes on the quarterback, and they rarely had their backs turned to him. However, that meant they couldn’t play as much press coverage as they normally would, and the result was that they gave up massive amounts of yardage to receiver Anquan Boldin, who caught 13 passes for 208 yards, and allowed Kaepernick to throw for 412 yards. Now, it should be noted that the Packers were missing two key players in the secondary, safety Morgan Burnett and cornerback Casey Hayward, who both missed the game because of hamstring injuries.

How much, if anything, do you think Redskins can learn from watching the way Kaepernick and the 49ers attacked the Packers?

Keim: I’m sure there is a lot to learn, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they anticipate different looks in the secondary because of who might be back for Green Bay and because Griffin needs to prove himself as a dynamic threat again. Until he does, I wouldn’t be surprised to see teams play him more aggressively, or at least without as much fear. I’m not sure how long that will last; until he makes them pay, I suppose. But I also think what Washington needs to do more than learning from Green Bay's game is learn from its own. The Redskins killed themselves with penalties and poor decision-making. That meant their bread-and-butter run game could never get going, and their offense sputtered until it was 33-7.

Are Burnett and Hayward expected to play Sunday? If so, how big a difference will that make for the Packers?

Demovsky: Hayward won’t play. He already has been ruled out and is likely to miss at least another game or two. This is the second time he pulled the same hamstring. The first time, he missed a month. He reinjured it Aug. 23, and if it’s as severe, he could be out for a while. Last season, his six interceptions were huge for the defense. Burnett’s injury didn’t seem as bad, and it was somewhat surprising that he missed the 49ers’ game. The Packers hope he can play, because their safety play with M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian was subpar at San Francisco.

Speaking of the secondary, the Redskins were 30th in the NFL last season in passing yards allowed. Are there any signs that will improve this season? I would think Aaron Rodgers would be licking his chops to play against this defense.

Keim: It’s debatable how much they’ve improved. Long term? I think they’ll be helped because two rookies -- starting free safety Bacarri Rambo and cornerback David Amerson -- are playing key roles. Rambo’s big issue is tackling, mostly in the open field. His coverage has mostly been fine, but I don’t think he’s been challenged in a way that Rodgers could on Sunday. I like Amerson’s future, if he remains disciplined with his technique. He’s a better tackler than anticipated. But Washington has issues at strong safety because of Brandon Meriweather's constant injury issues (missed Monday with a groin injury). The Redskins used a cornerback who had never played safety before in his place (E.J. Biggers), and he struggled. Their corners, DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson, do some good things but are not top-line starters. What this group needs more than anything is a better pass rush.

Speaking of the rush, how is the Green Bay offensive line holding up without Bryan Bulaga, and where is it susceptible?

Demovsky: Perhaps surprisingly, Green Bay's young tackles, rookie David Bakhtiari on the left side and second-year man Don Barclay on the right, held up well against the 49ers. Aldon Smith beat Bakhtiari a couple of times for sacks, but Smith does that to a lot of tackles. It’s why he had 19.5 sacks last season. But other than those two plays, Bakhtiari’s first start went fine. Barclay is much improved over last season, when he filled in for Bulaga the final six games. As a unit, the run blocking needs to get much better. Eddie Lacy didn’t have much running room, and when he did, there were penalties -- three of them on left guard Josh Sitton, who is normally pretty clean -- that wiped away the Packers' longest rushes of the game.

Looking at the big picture, one of these teams is going to be 0-2 after this game (barring a tie). If that’s the Redskins, how devastating would that be for them? I know they finished strong last season, but I’m sure they don’t want to put themselves in a hole again.

Keim: It’s a hole they could dig out of with games against the Detroit Lions at home and on the road against the Oakland Raiders in the following two weeks before their bye. But I don’t think any team wants to start off 0-2, especially one that has designs on accomplishing grand things in the postseason, which, if healthy, the Redskins should have. I also think it would depend on how they look against Green Bay. If they play well and lose a close game, it still suggests they’re on a certain path (no moral victories, but more about being headed in the right direction). If it’s an ugly game like it was for nearly three quarters Monday? Then it suggests other issues. That would be difficult for them to swallow. But the one thing I’ve seen with this group, last season and in the previous few, is that they are resilient. Their mindset is a good one for a 16-game season.

I would think if there’s any formula for stopping the Green Bay offense, everyone would use it. But is there a theme to when teams are able to slow this attack?

Demovsky: For about the past year and a half, teams have played the Packers predominantly one way -- keep both safeties back and dare them to run the ball. That’s why they drafted Lacy in the second round. The hope is that teams will start respecting the Packers’ running game and bring a safety in the box to stop it. That would give Rodgers more open space to throw in the secondary. Lacy did not get off to a strong start against the 49ers, but he did have one impressive series late in the game in which he gained 26 yards on five carries. Problem was, he couldn’t get much else done the rest of the game.

RG III has no issues with Matthews

September, 11, 2013
9/11/13
12:30
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Robert Griffin III apparently doesn’t plan on getting Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews riled up.

Matthews
Griffin
In advance of Sunday’s game against the Packers at Lambeau Field, the Washington Redskins quarterback had nothing but good things to say about Matthews, who might be public enemy No. 1 in San Francisco after his late hit on 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick on Sunday.

On a conference call with reporters at Packers headquarters on Wednesday, Griffin called Matthews “a great player.”

“Clay, he’s got a motor and he’s a talented guy that has a motor,” Griffin said. “Anybody with that immense amount of ability that plays every snap like it’s his last is a dangerous guy. We’ll be aware of him. You’ve always got to respect your opponent, and I respect Clay Matthews as a player, and that’s all you can say. My team respects him as a player, and that’s the way we have to go about it. You’ve got to prepare. There’s going to be great players in this league that you have to play against, and he’s one of them.”

Also on the conference call, Griffin said he will not be any more hesitant to run the ball despite coming off reconstructive knee surgery.

“I feel good,” he said. “You have to trust your preparation. You trust your foundation. I put the work into the offseason to make sure that I was OK coming into the season, and that’s what you trust. You trust God that he’ll protect you, and you go out and you play fearless.”
A roundup of what’s happening on the Green Bay Packers beat.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The NFL planned to review the hit Packers linebacker Clay Matthews put on San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick during Sunday’s game, but the league made no announcement about any fine or disciplinary action on Tuesday.

Perhaps they were too busy dealing with Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who was fined a whopping $100,000 for his hit on Minnesota Vikings center John Sullivan on Sunday.

If Matthews is fined, which is likely, don’t expect it to be anywhere in the neighborhood of Suh’s penalty. Matthews doesn’t have a history of disciplinary problems like Suh does.

The NFL typically announces fines on Friday, but Matthews likely would have received notice of a fine by now.

Elsewhere:
  • Our ESPN coverage included the playing-time report from Week 1 with snap counts for every player who appeared in the game against the 49ers, plus the weekly Power Rankings, in which the Packers dropped two spots, and Aaron Rodgers, from his weekly radio show, talking about the tackle he made after his interception at San Francisco.
  • In the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Pete Dougherty’s analysis focused on Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, who is coming of reconstructive knee surgery. Dougherty wrote: “Last year, there wouldn’t have been much difference between playing against Griffin and Colin Kaepernick, two of the young starting quarterbacks who revolutionized NFL play calling with their combination of big-league throwing talent and a halfback’s running ability. But after Kaepernick beat them in the regular-season opener last week in San Francisco, the Packers this week won’t see the same Griffin who was the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year in 2012 for the Washington Redskins.”
  • Dougherty also had his scouting report on the Redskins.
  • In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Lori Nickel wrote about how the expanded seating at Lambeau Field could create a “wall of sound.” Bob McGinn had a scouting report on the Redskins.
  • At ESPNWisconsin.com, you can listen to all of Rodgers’ radio show.

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