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Credit Capers, Matthews for Improved Pass Rush in 2012

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Credit Capers, Matthews for Improved Pass Rush in 2012

In spite of his vitriol for the Packers, Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall might have been onto something on Wednesday when he called defensive coordinator Dom Capers the "player MVP" during the teams' first meeting this season, a 23-10 Green Bay victory back in Week 2.

Marshall ripped into Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson for perceived slights at his ability, but he gave credit to Capers for rolling safety help to Marshall's side of the of the field, effectively taking him out of the game.

"Coach Capers did a great job of game-planning us and game-planning me," Marshall said at a press conference. "I didn't beat double- or triple-coverage or whatever they were throwing at us."

Apart from a savvy plan for how the Packers would play their coverage, Capers––along with linebacker Clay Matthews––are deserving of recognition for improving a pass rush that was among the worst in the NFL last season.

Only two teams in the entire NFL had fewer than the 29 sacks the Packers managed to rack up last season. After losing Cullen Jenkins to free agency, the Packers couldn't find a complement to Matthews' pass rushing ability.

The Packers' 29 sacks a year ago is a statistic that looks even worse considering the high amount of times teams dropped back to pass, a league-high 637 times, while in catch-up mode trying to keep pace with Green Bay's prolific offense of 2011.

Fast forward to 2012 and the Packers still haven't found any one player capable of replacing Jenkins' production, but Capers has schemed his way to 35 sacks, sixth-most in the NFL with three games still to go.

Outside of Matthews' nine sacks in nine games, no one else on the roster has more than three. Instead, it's been a true team effort: 14 different players have at least one sack this season, a statistic that ranks No. 2 in the NFL (only the Cleveland Browns have more players with at least one sack with 16).

The pressure is coming from every level of the defense, a tribute to Dom Capers figuring out a solution to what was a major weakness of last year's version of the Packers and a reason they were bounced in the divisional round of the playoffs.

This season the playing time of B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett has been scaled back, which has allowed them to stay fresh and at the same time, gotten defensive linemen who are better suited to rush the passer in suitable down-and-distance situations.

Guys like Mike Daniels, Jerel Worthy and Mike Neal have chipped in two sacks apiece playing primarily in the nickel and dime packages, while C.J. Wilson has added 2.5.

At outside linebacker, the Packers have been able to rotate players opposite Matthews when availability has allowed them to do so. No single player is doing exceedingly well, but the combined production from Erik Walden, Dezman Moses and Nick Perry is eight sacks, which has been more than adequate.

Meanwhile, at inside linebacker, the decision to replace Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith with Brad Jones has turned out to be a welcome development. Relying upon previous experience as an outside linebacker, Jones seems to have a knack for rushing the passer and has teamed up with Hawk and Smith for a collective four sacks from the inside.

Even from the secondary, a couple of well-timed blitzes from Charles Woodson, Morgan Burnett and Davon House have resulted in 4.5 sacks in 2012.

To be sure, the presence of Matthews has helped to take pressure off the rest of the defenders on the team, and his participation on Sunday will be a windfall to a Packers team lacking in pressure without him.

In the first nine games of the season with Matthews in the lineup, the Packers had only one game with zero or one sacks. In the four games without Matthews due to a hamstring injury, the Packers have had three games with zero or one sacks, all of them coming in the past three outings.

Matthews alone had 3.5 sacks in the first Packers-Bears meeting earlier this season, and assuming he's healthy, could be able to do more damage against a Bears offensive line that's beat up and hasn't been very good.

"When you have a good day rushing the passer, it might not equal sacks directly," Matthews told the media on Wednesday, "but ultimately, if you feel good as a pass rusher, you get into a routine, a rhythm and a groove, and I definitely feel that was the case the first time we played them.

"We're going to have to break off a little bit of the rust, obviously sitting out a few games, but ultimately, as I continue to say, there shouldn't be a drop off or I hope there isn't."

What's clear is that the combination of Matthews' ability and Capers' schemes and personnel decisions have helped the Packers defensive improve from allowing a league-leading 411.6 yards per game a year ago to 351.8 in 2012, a improvement of nearly 60 fewer yards per game.

The pass rush has been a big part of that progress.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (27) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Mike's picture

Don't forget - a lot of Clay's early season success can be tied to Perry's ability to collapse the opposite side of the pocket. I'm not saying Perry was even as important to the improved pass rush as Clay has been, just that he was indeed an integral part, especially in terms of the return of Matthews sack numbers to pre-2011 levels. I do think that Clay's return will no doubt improve the pass rush - Woodson's return will help some too. I hope we'll get to see some of those OLB-DE stunts with Clay and Neal or Daniels. That was proving to be a great weapon for the defense, especially against teams with issues up front (cue the Bears...).

However, what this period of Clay-less defense has done is all but signed Walden and Zombo's tickets out of town at the season's end.

Derek's picture

35 sacks with 3 games yet to play is a much improved stat, although our pass rush as been anemic with CM3. Here's to a return to our 5 sack games. I predict a huge game from CM3. 3.5 sacks.

Derek's picture

of course I meant to type "anemic without CM3"

Brian Carriveau's picture

The Packers had 28 sacks in nine games with Matthews in the lineup, an average of more than three per game. I wouldn't call that anemic.

Lou's picture

Perry not only collapsed the pocket but held the point, his speed/strength ratio is in the top tier, all he needs is reps. Walden will has regressed AGAIN late in the year, there is a reason someone has been cut that many times, McGinn is usually right on on analysis of players but wanting to give him a contract extension was his "Terrell Buckley" moment, he is a special team player and nothing more. They may have to move Jones back outside next year, he is better than Walden and Zombo (who is just a shell of what he was 2 years ago).

Derek's picture

I think it's about time to think about drafting another OLB for depth, and get rid of Zombo and Walden once and for all.

lebowski's picture

I second that emotion

kennypayne's picture

Well stated. I'd also like to add another DLineman who can rush the passer on obvious passing downs, along with Daniels & Worthy. Thought Neal might be that guy but he simply can't be counted upon. 3 run stuffers (BJ, Pickett, and CJ) and 3 pass rushing DLineman would make for a nice rotation.

Jamie's picture

I agree with this more so than drafting another outside linebacker. Our defensive line has been really poor in terms of pass rushing this season outside of a few individual glimpses from people like Mike Neal and Pickett of all people. I'd really like to see a strong edge rusher added to the line to fill the Cullen Jenkins void and spark a return to the more dynamic blitz packages we utilized in 2010.

Our pass rush schemes this season have been far more vanilla and straight forward more so than in years past, although the absence of Desmond Bishop has a big part in this.

imma fubared's picture

One game Perry and Mathews were side by side watching the QB scrambling to the right. Mathews took two steps and caught up to the QB and Perry was left in the dust. That is his problem, he has top speed but lacks that first two step quickness to be a pass rusher in the NFL.
Maybe he can learn to play linebacker if he has the smarts or not. Looked confused at times to me.

PackerLaLaLand's picture

The guy went from playing with his hand down as a DE to standing up. He's also a good twenty pounds heavier than Clay. I don't believe his quickness is the issue, its his ability to play in space that needs development. He was improving right up until that injury took him out of the Texans game.

PackerLaLaLand's picture

Lou, clearly Walden has proven over the last two seasons, he isn't starting caliber linebacker. But he's great for depth and he can fill in handily when injuries are a factor. To say that he's signed his ticket out of town is premature.

Remember, even when Perry was healthy, Walden was getting over 50% of the snaps at LOLB. Next to Matthews and Perry, he's our best OLB, and he sets the edge well against the run. This will be a commodity come play-off time.

It may be that he's fatigued from increased snaps over the last four games, McGinn cites in his article that Walden was in on 202 of 209 defensive plays. With Matthews back, I wouldn't be surprised to see Moses split some snaps with Walden(even though Moses has been playing at ROLB), and I bet his play improves.

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

"Next to Matthews and Perry, he’s our best OLB"

Personally, I'd go Moses.

bearbarf's picture

I can see your argument for that. But to me Moses is still raw and the only push he seems to get at times is when he tries to jump the snap. I do think he may end up being the better pass rusher, but Walden is still the better run defender.

woodson4president's picture

With Clay back I see Waldo and Moses both having better games come sunday, its almost impossible for them not to.

Pack Nation's picture

If you know anything about football you would know that sacks/pressures starts inside/out. If your DL are not getting any pressure up front then ur OLB's are not going to get pressure. So stop blaming Walden like he's the only player in the front 7. The Pack run a zone defense meaning the quarterbacks are taking 3 step drops and the ball is out. I don't care who you have at OLB, if your DL can't flush the QB out of the pocket then the defense will continue to struggle getting pressure.

bearbarf's picture

Not necessarily true in a 34 defense. Your d-line's primary responsibility is to two-gap and hold the point. The linebacking corp is mostly responsible for the pass rush. Of course, like any scheme you try to mold it to your players strengths...

imma fubared's picture

That would be great if it worked. Funny neither the Giants or Lions use this defense. They rush four and keep everyone else back to stop the pass since its a passing game now.

Bearbarf's picture

Its hard to find a stable of talented pass rushing DEs like the Lions and Giants have. The 34 talent pool is deeper because the scheme is more flexible. The top two defenses in the league (Pittsburgh and San Fran) run the 34, so clearly it does work, if you have the talent. Players not plays.

GBPDan's picture

Clays coming back with fresh legs and body..look out Jane cutler

KurtMc's picture

+1 on sacking Zombo and Walden.

At one time, I thought Walden could be a pass ruush DE, but he has just regressed too much

imma fubared's picture

IMHO I believe the Pack has the worst pass rush in the entire league bar none. Raji is being manhandled and the pressure up the middle to collaspe the pocket is non existant and neither is our outside pass rush.
I was hoping the addition of Perry and Worthy could help improve it, even though neither received glowing reports from the sports analyst, I had hope.
I have to question if Worthy is even playing at times. Never hear his name and didn't hear Perry's all that much when he was playing.
Mathews even isn't as effective either being double teamed all the time.
Mike Neal for example when he isn't hurt, sucks. He has done nada.
The Giants and Lions both effectively rushed Rogers with 4. We rush 6 or 7 at times and still can't put any pressure on.This defense like last year, just can't get off the field. Its pathetic.

WisconsInExile's picture

Funny how some fans here are the only one saying this. I had the misfortune of listening the Vikings Radio Network during that game, and the otherwise non-stop hating by the announcer did not extend to Raji, who was frequently given credit for making plays and was treated with respect. Larry and Wayne often high on Raji's play as well, as are TV commentators. I have been making an effort to see the supposed aweful play of Raji, but am just not seeing it. Of course there is usual occasional whiff, like every player has. But I just don't see the basis for the Raji hating. I would love for someone to put together a definitive post.

Bohj's picture

"Worst pass rush in the entire league"
Yeah good point. Sixth most sacks in the league = worst. Totally agree.
"No pressure up the middle from Raji"
Yup. That's what Nose Tackles do in a 3-4. Another good point.
"Perry. No help from him."
I agree totally. Hard to help from the bench. And to your point about Perry being useless when he was in: he had better stats than Clay did at the same point his rookie year.
"Matthews being doubled all the time."
Good. Creates more opportunities for other guys, thus creating sixth best pass rush in the league. Not bad for a team that's missing 3 out of 4 starting linebackers. Linebackers: you know, the guys responsible for the pass rush in a 3-4. Therefore, comments about Mike Neal or Worthy.... rethink that strategy. Nosetackles and DEs are selfless positions which wont get too many stats or mention. Same reason the two best D's in the league (Pitt and SF) you can't name their Nose or DE's. You heard of Aldon Smith, Lamarr Woodley and James Harrison. Yeah....Linebackers. Lay off our DE's people. We've done well with the second and third string passrush we have.

Bohj's picture

One more point: we never rush 6 or 7. Two DE's and one NT hold the point of attack. They do not rush the QB except occasional 3rd and longs. They are responsible for gap control. They hold the blockers so the LB's can make the plays. We may rush 4 LB's at a time. Or maybe 3 LB's and a safety or corner. I've hardly ever seen Dom rush more than 4. It's just that he changes which 4.

Wagszilla's picture

Sacks per-game:

SF - 4
CHI - 7
SEA - 1
NO - 2
IND - 4
HOU - 3
STL - 3
JAC - 2
ARI - 2
DET - 5
NYG - 1
MIN - 0
DET - 1

I don't think those numbers are exactly spectacular. You have your outliers (Detroit and Chicago) but their offensive lines are notoriously terrible. The San Francisco game everyone was healthy and it was the first game of the season. Rust, etc.

The other games they got picked apart by QBs and only held on due to some good secondary play. This is more or less the same defense as last year only there's superior talent in the secondary and a little more talent on the D-Line.

And Jones "has a knack for rushing the passer"? What games are you watching? When he first started he made a couple good plays, yes, but the past couple of games he's been late to the ball and he always takes a poor angle on his 1-on-1s. Not to mention that there has been no pressure up the middle from anyone. Capers sends the house but no pressure. Flashbacks to MIA and WAS 2010, anyone?

This all being said, the LB play has left a lot to be desired since Smith went down and the defense while improved, hardly deserves praise.

Save us Obi Wan Clayobi. You're our only hope.

Viking Goddess's picture

Stop being ridiculous. Ultimately a sack is just a stat. What matters is that QB pressure helps the coverage, if we can get that plus some sacks in a game to create favorable down and distances for our defense, that is a good recipe for success.

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