Collins, Peprah step up
One’s a three-time Pro Bowl selection, while the other was an afterthought at the beginning of the season.
But combined, they’ve teamed up to provide the Green Bay Packers with solid safety play all season,
Nick Collins and Charlie Peprah are a big reason the Packers have one of the best defenses in the NFL and finished the season ranked No. 2 in scoring defense, giving up an average of 15 points a game, trailing only the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The last time the Packers finished that high in scoring defense, they won the Super Bowl in 1996.
It remains to be seen whether the Packers can even qualify for the Super Bowl this season, let alone win it, but Collins and Peprah give them a chance. Never has their play been so important as it was in the regular-season finale against the Bears, whom the Packers beat to qualify for the playoffs.
Both safeties had crucial interceptions that kept the Bears out of the end zone and kept the Packers on top in a game in which the Green Bay offense also struggled to put points on the scoreboard.
Even Peprah admitted his third-quarter interception of Jay Cutler in the end zone was probably the biggest play of his career.
“So far. We’ll just say that I guess. So far,” Peprah said after Sunday’s game. “Hopefully, I can outdo myself in weeks to come.”
Peprah will have his work cut out for him, starting Sunday in the wild-card round of the playoffs when the Packers play Philadelphia against the Eagles and dangerous quarterback Mike Vick, as well as talented receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.
“It’s going to be a tough matchup like it was in Week 1,” said Peprah. “It’s going to be fun, going on the road.
“All we can ask for is this opportunity, so no matter what they put in front of us, we’re just grateful, and I think we’ll go in and play hard and see if we can get a ‘W.’ ”
Going into the season, Peprah was lucky to even make the Packers’ roster. Likely one of the last guys kept on the 53-man roster, due to his special teams play, Peprah’s role has expanded greatly this season.
He stepped into the starting lineup when rookie Morgan Burnett was lost for the season with a torn ACL. Had Atari Bigby not have been injured, Peprah probably would have been behind him, too.
But he wasn’t. Peprah took the starting job and ran with it.
His biggest contribution this season probably has been his aggressiveness in playing the run, lining up inside the box. His play against the pass
hasn’t been bad, either. Any long pass plays over the top of Peprah have been few and far between.
Peprah doesn’t take all the credit, though. He recognizes the pass rush as one of the keys to his success, like it was against the Bears when the Packers got six sacks and hurried Cutler on his interceptions.
“I think he got pressured and kind of started moving a little bit in the pocket, it looked like to me,” said Peprah. “He kind of just threw it up, made an easy play for me to make on the ball.”
Collins agreed Peprah’s sentiment on the pass rush.
“That’s all you can ask for,” said Collins. “You know, as long as we can put a little pressure on him, knock him off his timing and eventually, just some plays will come our way.”
While Collins hasn’t had as impeccable a season as he had the previous two, he’s still one of the league’s premiere safeties in defending against the pass. He has accounted for four interceptions this year and ranks tied for third among all players at his position in passes defended with 12.
For his efforts, Collins was voted into his third consecutive Pro Bowl.
The interceptions by Collins and Peprah in the Chicago game are now in the rearview mirror, however, and attention turns to the playoffs—with every game for the Packers being on the road.
“It felt real great, and I’m just glad it’s over,” Collins of the battle to qualify. “We got our ticket to the dance, and let’s go.”