As this weekend's NFC title game quickly approaches, players from both teams spoke this afternoon about the upcoming matchup in Seattle. Below are highlights from today's session from the Green Bay Packers with bits from quarterback Aaron Rodgers, linebacker Julius Peppers, receiver Jordy Nelson, and head coach Mike McCarthy.
What adjustments have the receivers had to make the last two weeks?
There's not that many second and third reaction plays like we've had in the past. It depends, that touchdown to Richard (Rodgers) was kind of a second reaction play. If the line is giving me time there might be some opportunities for that, but there's not going to be as many 'run out the pocket' plays like that.
How do you keep things leveled on this type of stage?
You keep doing the same thing you're doing. I think it's great that there is more attention, so that gives other guys who don't get the media attention some chance to have some people are their locker. There's a lot of personalities in the locker room, I would advise to get out there and interview the people who don't get a lot of opportunities. I'm sure they've got some interesting things to say, they've been saving up all year for you guys.
How much better do you feel about the offense since Week 1? What's changed?
Corey (Linsley) has 17 starts, Davante (Adams) and Richard (Rodgers) have 17 games played so I feel better about that. Davante's coming in with a lot of confidence the way he played last week, and Richard's gotten better every week. We spread it around well, we have good balance, ran the ball really well the last three weeks, and the offensive line has been playing really well.
What stands out about the rookies?
Probably the preparation. It's been great, and you expect those guys to hit some kind of wall in the year ... and you haven't seen it. As much as Davante's production might have dipped there after the New England game, some of you guys might have wondered what was going on with him. It's just a matter of matchups and you've seen it when he's had a positive matchup, where we feel like it's a mismatch for us, the ball has gotten to him. He's making plays and has made a lot of plays for us.
Richard Rodgers' preparation kind of speaks for itself. The tight ends have a lot of their plate with run blocking and pass blocking, and he's done a great job. And then Corey, he's been fantastic for us.
Is this the best offensive line the team has had in a while?
I think so, and the difference is, they've been healthy. We haven't had a line like this be able to play the majority of the season together, and it's because of that, that's why they've played so well.
What do you remember from your last NFC title game?
I'd like to play a lot better than the last one. My best play was the tackle that day, so I'd like to play a lot better. Other than that, it was about the way our defense played that day. Our defense played excellent, good enough to make up for some of the offensive struggles. Hopefully it's a little different from the offensive side of the ball this week.
What elements helped this team win close games?
The second half of the season, you look at our numbers and our defense has been playing really well stopping the run. We've been flipping the time of possession a lot better. First half of the year, we averaged below 60 plays a game, which was very low for us. Production was up, but the plays per game was down. Second half of the year, the defense was stopping the run better, which was allowing us to get the ball back a little more often, and on the flip side, we've been running the ball a lot better. We've kind of flipped the time of possession which has helped keep our defense off the field to sustain drives and put more points on the board.
On his impact with the team:
Statistically speaking, I'm not sure. I think more of a leadership impact in the locker room and leadership wise has been bigger. Just trying to help where I can help young guys and help the defense overall. My play on the field has been decent as well, but I think more so off the field, trying to help in the leadership aspect.
I didn't really want to be comfortable in that leadership role. Over the course of my career, I've become comfortable doing what I had to do in that role. Whether it had to be pulling a young guy to the side, trying to make a correction on the field, or speaking in front of the team.
Did you expect to have this kind of impact coming in?
I did. I had expectations coming in. I was familiar with these guys, so as far as the respect, leadership thing, I was familiar with these guys. Some of them were familiar with me. To come in and earn trust of the team ... that was something I was proud of. The impact on the field was expected as well. It was a new position getting into the defense, and I think the transition was smooth there as well.
On facing Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch:
It's pretty tough. He's one of those guys. One of the hardest runners I think in football in my opinion. Very physical and violent runner, that's definitely a challenge for us this week going up against a guy of his skill set. We're looking forward to it.
How has it been like playing for head coach Mike McCarthy?
It's been great. It's been a heck of a ride. He's a players coach and a strong leader of men. You never have to wonder what he's thinking because he shoots it straight. He's a great leader, so it's been a pleasure to be here and work for him.
Has this worked out as well as you hoped?
It's worked out so far, the rest is to be determined. Hopefully it works out and we get to where we want to go to.
What is this team's identity on the defensive side?
A hard-playing, high-effort group. We got a little nasty attitude on team tackling, things of that sort. Overall, we've come a ways from training camp.
How does this run today compare to the one four years ago?
I think four years ago we had to win a lot of games to get in. I think we're playing quality football like four years ago when we got into the playoffs. Our defense is playing well, I think towards the end of that year in the playoffs, we had a good running game going, so that's similar.
How do you get open against this defense?
Just execution. I mean, it's going to depend on how they decide to play. Just running routes the way that we've been taught, understanding our schemes and plays we have installed for their defense, and trying to create as much separation as possible. That's all that we can do, and you can't do anything outside of your normal ability and what you've done all year.
How physical is their coverage?
I think it varies. Going back to Week 1, I don't think it was anything crazy, but I think it's been times where it has been, so it just depends on the game. It'll be a lot of intensity, a lot of energy, but it's always an adjustment in every game depending on how DB's play and how the flow of the game goes.
What's been different about Aaron and how he's led the playoff journey?
How vocal he is and allowing these guys to understand how great of a journey this can be. For these young guys, to understand that it's not guaranteed, and to cherish the moment and make the most of it.
Head coach Mike McCarthy
How would you describe where Aaron is today compared to last week at this time?
He's doing everything he can, I do know that. We did a little more today than this time last week. We're dealing with it.
How important is it to have guys at this time that don't have the experience?
I think it's important because at the end of the day, every team's different. The new guys are just as important as the older guys. They bring a different element, different talents, they bring different attitudes. Definitely an ability to grow, I think you see that every year. It's a process that you go through from game one to today, and you put your best foot forward.
On how vital the offensive line has been:
I think the offensive line has been the most important component of their success. I think our guys have really grown. The experience we have with two guards, getting Bryan (Bulaga) back, and bringing Corey in who's doing a great job. For David (Bakhtiari), I can't say enough. He's started every single game since he's been here.
Has Peppers made the impact you were looking for?
Julius Peppers was definitely the impact we were looking forward. I didn't know him on a personal level, but just watching him be a part of our team, he's been an outstanding leader for our football team. Couldn't have more credibility for what he's accomplished, and I'm glad to have him.
On having all 53 guys practicing this week:
Health is very important. All hands on deck. It's with your preparation. We're taking all of our practice squad guys to Seattle. I'm very pleased with where we are as a football team.