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B.J. Raji Hopes Better Defense for Green Bay Packers Means Fewer Snaps

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B.J. Raji Hopes Better Defense for Green Bay Packers Means Fewer Snaps

The defensive line is traditionally a position that sees a lot of rotation in the professional football, an attempt to keep behemoth 300-plus pound players fresh.

Unfortunately for the Packers, it was also a position that lacked depth and impact players a year ago. With no where else or no one else to turn to, an exhausted B.J. Raji was forced to stay on the field longer and more frequently than common sense said he should.

As the Packers get themselves prepared for the upcoming 2012 NFL season, Raji met with reporters last week during organized team activities to reflect upon last season's disappointing defensive performance and to look forward to what he hopes is a an improved effort this year.

"Obviously last year was a different year for us just because we weren't seeming to get off the field as much, so it had a different affect on me," said Raji. "But hopefully we'll get back to where we want to be, so that'll be different."

Before the 2011 season began, fellow defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins left for the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency, and along with him went the Packers pass rush.

In a 2010 regular season that ended in a Super Bowl title, the Packers accumulated 47 sacks, the second most in the NFL behind only the Pittsburgh Steelers' 48.

Then in 2011, the pass rush fell off the map, generating only 29 sacks, which ranked a lowly 27th in the NFL. The number 29 looks even worse considering no defense had more pass attempts against it (637) than the Packers last season.

There's something to be said about the Packers offense that was so prolific, so high-scoring that opponents had no choice but to chuck the ball all over the field in an attempt to play catch-up. Regardless, the Packers defense couldn't stop them.

Without the threat of pressure, quarterbacks stood tall in the pocket against the Packers, finding their intended targets.

So the front office set about rectifying that situation this season. In the first round of the NFL Draft the Packers selected USC's Nick Perry to play opposite Clay Matthews at outside linebacker and then traded up to grab Michigan State's Jerel Worthy in the second round to add to the talent along the defensive line.

That was in addition to signing Anthony Hargrove, Phillip Merling and Daniel Muir as free agents and drafting Mike Daniels of Iowa in the fourth round, all defensive linemen. Obviously general manager Ted Thompson was serious about improving the performance from that unit and the pass rush as a whole.

It didn't take long for the Packers to insert Worthy into the lineup next to Raji during practice this offseason on the defense's first-string nickel package.

Whether the addition of Worthy and company is going to be able to spell Raji isn't up for him to decide, however. That's something he'll let the coaches work out.

"I can't concern myself with that," said Raji. "Obviously anytime you're add a player of Jerel's caliber, I'm definitely going to get excited about that, because we could use the help up front. Any team could, to add that type of talent to the front.

"But ultimately, I won't have control over how many snaps I'm playing, so I'm not going to worry about that."

It's extremely early in Worthy's career to assume he's going to cure the Packers' pass rush woes. Before he gets meaningful game action, he has to prove to the coaches that he deserves to be on the field to begin with.

And as important as improving the Packers pass rush may be, it's still only part of the job description of Worthy, Raji and the rest of the defensive line. Stopping the run is part of the game too, and it will factor into playing time decisions.

All the players can do at this point, still a few months away from the season, is work on getting better.

To be able to do that, with the help of his teammates like quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Raji says he's thrilled just to practice and work on his craft.

"Aaron's always trying to get you to jump offsides," said Raji, "so concentration has to be at an all-time high with Aaron. But other than that, just being excited, back on the field and having a chance to get better."

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (16) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Jake's picture

There's something that seems funny to me about Rodger's trying to get the defense to jump offsides at practice. I am sure it's a great thing to practice, but I like to think Rodgers gets a bit of a kick out of making Raji jump...

PackersRS's picture

He was awful at it his first season starting. I'd even include his 2nd season. The snap count was quite predictable, and it hurt us in games, particularly against MN and their great DL.

It's amazing to me that Rodgers became the best in the league at that. He's become a master of the details (snap count, play fake, moving defenders with eyes, etc).

Mojo's picture

Speaking of jumping offsides, I wonder how many times Perry, Worthy and Daniels will be flagged this year. All three are known for their "quick first steps". Don't know how much of that is based on anticipating the count.

Brian Carriveau's picture

Worthy had a reputation of jumping offsides at Michigan State, for what it's worth.

Ah O Ki's picture

at this point, any lineman that jumps is an upgrade!

Normthe1's picture

This:

"There's something to be said about the Packers offense that was so prolific, so high-scoring that opponents had no choice but to chuck the ball all over the field in an attempt to play catch-up. Regardless, the Packers defense couldn't stop them."

Brian, I will bow to your much greater knowledge of the game than mine, but I think that your statement above is a little overstated, definitely the last sentence. The fact is we did stop them enough to win 15 of 17 games. Yes it could have been much better but it got the job done, just, but done for the most part nonetheless.

I always like reading your articles, I'm really starved for NFL reading here in Australia but I think that while they were the least successful part of the team, they still did semi-okay.

Cheers mate,

Norm

Brian Carriveau's picture

There were certain things the defense did well, such as creating turnovers. But the fact remains, they gave up the most passing yards among any team in NFL history. That's a distinction that's difficult to get over.

marcopo's picture

Is "distinction" the right word? They stank. Well, maybe that's not the right word either, but it's closer. On the subject of words, "semi-ok" should not be in the Packer dictionary.

Normthe1's picture

I get it mate, but at the end of the day, yards meant squat 15 games out of 17...

Anyway, I can't see much point in dredging this argument up again because its only our opionions and everyone is allowed to have one, this one's mine...

Cheers again.

MarkinMadison's picture

Curious to know if anyone does a stats analysis that tries to quantify how many extra yards are lost because the defender is trying for the turnover. This relates to both tackle attempts not made, or made poorly, because the defender was focusing on an interception or a strip. Wilde was talking about the general idea that the Packers D was getting too caught up in going for the turnover last week, and I don't think it's the first time someone has had that thought. McCarthy can talk all he wants about tackling fundamentals, but if all you do is draft ball hawks, and put ball hawks on the pedestal, then ball hawking may be all that you get. Don't get me wrong, turn-over differential is a great predictor of W-L, but at somepoint maybe you reach the other side of the Laffer Curve.

Brian Carriveau's picture

I've thought about that from time to time too. Seems like going for the strip is something worth doing when the opponent is in their own territory, but maybe too risky to do when they're in your territory.

marcopo's picture

Sorry Norm, but they did not get the job done. At least not often enough, or good enough, and not when it really counted. Yes, the Packers were 15-1, but give very little tribute to a defense that was very hard to watch. I had the feeling all season that this was an incomplete team. Way too many times, QB's had eternities to complete passes.
But that is one reason I'm so excited about this years team. Perry and Worthy don't have to be all pros to upgrade the defense considerably. There's going to be some great position fights all over the defense. Assuming Williams and Sheilds regain prior form, all we need is one of the newbies or yearling to step up in the secondary.

woodson4president's picture

Our offense won games for us....period. Anybody that thinks our D played well is blind. We got beat by KC remember???? Why did we get beat in that game? Because our offense finally failed to show up not because our D finally had a bad game.

PackersRS's picture

Packers lost the game because of offense = offense was the reason they won every other game.

Flawless logic.

I'm 100% certain that 10 years from now there'll be the theory that Rodgers was the only reason we won any game, that he single-handedly carried the team.

And that people will fervorously boo Rodgers' successor during training camp.

Phil-Sugarloaf's picture

Rodgers did carry the team last season, and it is amazingly beneficial to the youngsters to match against him in practice. Working against the best in the league at all those little things helps the guys on the other side of the ball become great at anticipating such things. I can see great things coming this next season!

MarkinMadison's picture

Everybody throws out that cliche. I'm not sure if it's really true for everyone. Take Sam Shields. Shortened off-season. Limited experience at the position. Going against the best of the best in Rodgers and Jennings. I wonder if some folks get the sophomore slump because they just get lost in the detail at a point in their development.

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