One of the easiest ways the Packers win on Sunday is by rushing quarterback Josh McCown.
Get him uncomfortable in the pocket.
And the group that has to get it done is the linebackers. The linebackers have 61 percent of the team’s 32 sacks this season.
But recently, the unit hasn’t really showed up. In the last three games, the linebacking corps has 3½ sacks. That’s the same unit that has Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers.
Matthews is getting $20.5 million in guaranteed money on the five-year deal that ends after the 2018 season. Peppers is getting $7.5 million in guaranteed money on the three-year deal that ends after the 2016 season.
The easiest blueprint for the first Packers win in Tampa since 2003 is for these two to bring it consistently.
Matthews made the transition inside to help the team stop the run, but that doesn’t mean he needs to forget about harassing the quarterback. Matthews may play every game this year — something he hasn’t done since his rookie year of 2009 — yet it doesn’t look like he will come close to touching his 2012 total of 13 sacks. Here’s the issue: Matthews only played 12 games that season.
And Peppers came to the Packers as a big question mark. Nobody knew how much was left in the 34-year-old’s gas tank. He showed off his basketball speed by picking off passes against Minnesota and Philadelphia and returning them for pick-sixes. But he hasn’t had a sack since Nov. 9.
Especially on the road, this defense is going to need to get off the field on third down.
And in order to minimize the efforts of gigantic wideouts Mike Evans (6-foot-5, 231 pounds) and Vincent Jackson (6-5, 230) pressure must be made on McCown. Those two have combined for 51 percent of the team’s passing targets this year. It’s not a secret that McCown will be looking to get the ball to his twin towers, so it’s easier to just prevent him from doing so.
The offense can be blamed for seven dropped passes and a quarterback having the yips last week.
This week is pretty cut and dry. The 35-year-old McCown is an NFL journeyman that has started only 47 games in his 12th year as a pro. And he owns a pretty lackluster 17-30 starting record.
McCown is 30th in the NFL with an 8.6 sack percentage this season. He has the ability to shred teams but it’s unlikely to happen if he has to do things he isn’t comfortable with or isn’t used to.
The Packers must have sound special teams, Rodgers has to make an effort to get the tight ends involved and Mike McCarthy cannot give up on the running game.
Those are all important things, but this week it’s all about the linebackers having its radar locked-in on the quarterback.
If the linebackers cannot bring down McCown, the Packers’ secondary will be in for a long day.
Cory Jennerjohn is from Wisconsin and has been in sports media for over 10 years. To contact Cory e-mail him at jeobs -at- yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter: Cory Jennerjohn