NFL meets NASCAR: Speed usually rules in both sports

Jeff Gordon (left), driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, is much smaller physically than Julius Peppers of the NFL's Green Bay Packers. But they both like to move fast.

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When it comes to speed on defense, the National Football League in general — and the Green Bay Packers in particular — are turning more and more to NASCAR.

Well, the "NASCAR" package, that is. When Julius Peppers signed with the Packers this past offseason, defensive coordinator Dom Capers looked at his roster and saw an area of strength — or more specifically, speed — that he wanted to take advantage of. With four versatile players who fit into what he termed the "elephant" position, Capers wanted all of them on the field at the same time.

Soon, what Capers called the NASCAR defensive package was added. It featured Peppers, Clay Matthews, Mike Neal and Nick Perry on the field together, with all the true defensive linemen out of the game. By relative NFL standards, these are smaller but speedier guys — even though the average weight of the four is 273 pounds. Peppers alone is 6-foot-7, 287 pounds, yet runs like a gazelle.

To put that in NASCAR perspective, one of these guys makes up about two Jeff Gordons.

But while there may be a huge size discrepancy physically between Gordon and a guy like Peppers, they do obviously share some important common ground: both of them like to move real fast.

Anyway, in the NFL "NASCAR package," two of these defensive behemoths line up across from opposing guards (sometimes with both players having their hands in the ground, other times with just one player doing so), while the other two serve as more traditional outside linebackers.

The New York Giants introduced a similar package into their system in 2012, and last year the Seattle Seahawks altered it slightly and used it to help win the Super Bowl. It is believed that the Giants actually were the first team to refer to it specifically as the NASCAR defensive package.

The Packers used it on a few plays earlier in the season, but it mostly went unnoticed. However, when Capers called for the NASCAR package five times against the Carolina Panthers recently and had great success with it, it couldn’t stay a relative secret any longer. That was especially true after head coach Mike McCarthy unveiled the name of it in his Week 7 post-game press conference.

"As you start to talk in the offseason, what kind of packages can we build around our best players?," Capers said. "Let’s figure out who our best players are first and let’s try to have some packages built around getting our best players on the field. I think that became pretty obvious in terms of the four most athletic guys up front are those four guys who played elephant for us."

For now, it’s a third-down situational package. But if Green Bay expects a pass on third down, it gears up for NASCAR time.

Could it be coincidence that Capers used to serve as head coach of the Panthers, right in the heart of NASCAR country in Charlotte, N.C.?

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