For the first two and a half seasons of B.J. Raji's NFL career, the Green Bay Packers have seemingly done precious little to regulate the number of snaps their most valuable defensive lineman plays each game.
Prior to Sunday's game against the Vikings, Raji had been in on 87.5% of the defensive snaps. Then, against the Vikings, Raji played 60 of 66 snaps - or 91%.
This is all after Raji spent 2010 playing 85% of the defensive snaps. (1,070 of the 1,259)
Is it starting to catch up with him?
I'm not here to say that Raji isn't playing good football. Nothing could be further from the truth. But what I am wondering about is the lack of explosion, especially on passing plays, that we are seeing from Raji off the line of scrimmage.
When the Packers switched Raji to defensive end this summer, I was excited about the move. The thinking seemed to be - get Raji's quickness in Cullen Jenkins' old spot and let him use his suddenness to wreak havoc in the passing game when the opposing offense would throw.
The problem is - this hasn't happened. In fact, if anything, Raji has disappeared when opposing offenses decide to throw early. Part of the reason is due to the fact that many teams have decided to leave in extra blocker in pass protection, allowing the offensive linemen to double team Raji on occasion.
But last year Raji was able to use his quick first step to knife through the occasional double team and get into the backfield and disrupt the play. So far in 2011, we're just not seeing that.
I think what he's doing well - two-gapping in the running game, staying disciplined in his assignments, etc - could be done by giving Howard Green more snaps in the base defense, something that defensive coordinator Dom Capers seems to be doing the last two weeks.
Ryan Pickett and Green are playing well against the run - on the other hand, neither one can come close to giving the Packers what Raji could on passing downs if he were perhaps a bit fresher and not playing as many snaps.
Capers has started blitzing quite a bit more than we're used to seeing from his defenses the last couple of weeks, with little to show in the way of results. Instead of sending extra guys, he should look at easing up on Raji's snap count ever so slightly to hopefully give him some extra bounce on passing downs when he goes to his 2-4-5 nickel where Raji has been teaming, for the most part, with Jarius Wynn. That extra rest might just be the difference between the Raji we've seen so far this season and the Raji that was trashing offensive lines late last year.
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