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Seven for Sunday: Peppers, Davis need to show up again

The Bears need more meetings like this between Julius Peppers and Aaron Rodgers. (US Presswire)

Where have they gone?

Julius Peppers, the great pass rushing defensive end of the Bears, has one sack in the last four games and just two sacks in the last six games.

The playoffs are on the line for the Bears and they play Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

Peppers had two sacks on Rodgers in the first matchup and Rodgers is the most sacked quarterback in the NFL. It is time for Peppers to show up, especially with Brian Urlacher out with an injury.

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At one time 49ers tight end Vernon Davis was the most feared tight end in the NFL, but even before Colin Kaepernick took over at quarterback Davis was starting to disappear in the passing game.

Davis has one touchdown reception in 10 games and in the last three games with Kaepernick throwing the ball he only has three receptions. A loss this week at New England and the Niners are probably playing for the division title next week in Seattle. It is time for Davis to show up.

LOOKING FOR FORMER PLAYERS

This time of year teams have to take what they can get if they need players. There are some slim pickings on the free-agent market and that is why teams sign or claim former players. They already have some knowledge of the system and in the case of receivers already have a relationship with the quarterback.

The Steelers re-signed Plaxico Burress, the Patriots re-signed Deion Branch and the Jets claimed Braylon Edwards off waivers even after he called the Jets idiots last week. All three teams are still alive in the playoff race and it will be interesting to see whether the recent pickups can help their teams win.

THE MOMENT HE KNEW

I talked with Redskins offensive tackle Trent Williams this week about running back Alfred Morris. I asked him when he knew the Skins had something special in Morris and he laughed.

The answer: Morris was a fullback in minicamp after the draft and no one noticed him. Then in camp he was with the running backs and still Morris didn't catch Williams' eye. But in the second preseason game Morris was plugged into the lineup with the first offense and it happened.

Williams said the average-looking back who doesn't have great speed, size or moves got an inside zone play called and ran over Lance Briggs of the Bears. Every offensive lineman noticed Morris at that moment.

Since that day there's no looking back. Now Morris, a sixth-round pick last spring, is on the field Sunday trying to help his team make it to the playoffs. The running back on the other side of the field, Trent Richardson, was the first back taken in the draft.

HISTORY OF COORDINATOR FIRINGS

Another coordinator was fired this week, bringing the number to four. Juan Castillo, the Eagles defensive coordinator, was fired and the defense got worse. Chris Palmer of the Titans was fired and a week ago the Titans ran a QB sneak because they thought it was third-and-1 when it was really first down.

Brian Murphy, the special teams coordinator in Carolina, was fired and the special teams aren't very special. Now the Ravens made the bold move of firing offensive coordinator Cam Cameron while the team is in first place with a 9-4 record.

Last week the Ravens lost to the Redskins, but the offense scored 28 points, were 6 for 12 on third down, had 359 yards of total offense, rushed for 186 yards and Joe Flacco threw three touchdown passes. Now the Ravens play the Broncos and they are going to have to probably find a way to score 30 points to win the game -- a tough assignment for a new offensive coordinator.

Recent history says don't get your hopes up, but I'll wait and see if the move was a good one.

THE PATRIOT PACKAGE

Defensive coordinators around the league grabbed the Patriots-Texans game film to study how the Patriots put a clamp on the Houston running game. It seemed like the inside linebackers of the Patriots came downhill so fast against the run that Arian Foster never really got going and wound up with 3.1 yards a carry.

An offensive line coach told me that the Patriots scheme was so disruptive that it could change how teams play the Texans starting this week. The Colts are in Houston this week and they still have an eye on the AFC South title. Keep a close eye on those Colts linebackers.

WELCOME BACK CAM NEWTON?

The sophomore slump if that was what it really was is over for Cam Newton. In the last four games he has no turnovers, his offense is averaging 396 yards a game and he has at least 110 QB rating in each game. Last week he had the best rushing day of his career with 116 yards in the win over the NFC South-leading Atlanta Falcons.

Running with the ball is an important part of Newton's game. In his career when he rushes for 50 yards or more the Panthers are 8-6. When he doesn't the Panthers are 2-13.

Coach Ron Rivera told me that teams still use some "spy" looks against Newton, which makes sense if the person spying him is athletic enough to tackle him in the open field.

This week it is the challenge for the Chargers to contain Newton. When I look at their defense, which is pretty good against conventional run offenses, I wonder who gets the Newton assignment, especially in the red zone. It may take someone like safety Eric Weddle but be sure to watch this game to watch the chess match between Newton and the Chargers defense.

THE SACK BOWL GAME

Two quarterbacks face off this week and they spend a lot of time getting off the ground with the ball still in their hand. Aaron Rodgers was sacked five times the last time he faced the Bears and has been sacked a league-leading 42 times. He's on his way to 52 sacks for the season.

On the other side of the field is Jay Cutler and his 31 sacks. He was sacked seven times in the first Packers game. Cutler is still banged up from last week's game, Clay Mathews returns to the lineup for the Packers and it could be a rough day. I wouldn't be surprised to see these two quarterbacks sacked close to 10 times in this NFC North showdown with the division title on the line.

 
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