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Is Playing Time Catching Up With Raji?

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Is Playing Time Catching Up With Raji?

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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Fan friendly comments only: on Comments (29) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Willie's picture

From Bob McGinn:

When the two interior players are permitted to go after the passer without restrictions, the Packers refer to that as their "Jet" rush.

In 2009, the Packers rushed four on 64.2% of passes. That number crashed to 49.2% in 2010 and is down even more this year to 40.2%.

"I'm sure B.J. would like to have some more 'Jet' rushes," said McCarthy. "There's not a guy that doesn't want to have more 'Jet' rushes. But we're not doing it as much as we did last year. If you want more production from a pure pass-rushing standpoint, put them in 'Jet.'?"

Usually when the Packers pressure, the two defensive linemen are moving sideways in an attempt to tie up blockers and free the blitzers.

packeraaron's picture

Right, I saw that. My main concern is when they are in base on early downs. Maybe he's being asked to "move sideways" - but that's not what I see on film. I see a guy trying to get off at the snap of the ball and who is being stood up. Maybe the section you've highlighted is part of the issue, but I think there's something more to it.

That said - you never know without knowing the calls. Could be something, could be nothing. Just going by what I see.

Jay's picture

The "Puttin on the Blitz" article seems to attribute Raji's lack of performance to not getting Jet assignments--instead reading and reacting--and not so much to fatigue. The treatment for either of these causes of Raji's (relative) ineffectiveness is still the same, though: give the 2 gap assignments to Green and Pickett, and let Raji go more all out.

NoWayJose's picture

That 'putting on the blitz' article is the most depressing thing I've read about my 7-0 ballclub. The sad thing is that it's starting to feel like a pipe dream that Mike Neal will be a solution to the base-rush problems.

Putting that aside, I agree with Nagler. The next best thing may be to maximize Raji's attacking ability and use Green for his big-body functions.

manolito's picture

Big-body functions? Someone better have a mop on the sidelines.

NoWayJose's picture

Hahaha. Didn't catch that. Yeah, let's definitely hope they give Raji a break when that time comes!

Bearmeat's picture

Quick Answer: Yes.

Probably more accurate answer:

It depends on the calls being made. It's not secret that no one outside of CM3 is getting near enough to the QB consistently to worry opposing offenses.

IMO Raji is getting more attention than he did last year with Cullen. I don't think it's a coincidence that Raji's most impactful games also featured one moderately healthy Cullen Jenkins. This team is short pass rushers. Everyone knows it, most especially opposing OC's that spent the entire lockout gameplanning the reigning champs sans Big Sexy.

t's picture

I see Neal this year, as I did James Starks last year. We know he will be ready for the last part of the season and playoffs and will give the Packers the jolt they need. In this case a pass rush. Fresh body and hopefully injury free.

Norman's picture

I was hoping Vic So'oto was going to be this year's James Starks.

NoWayJose's picture

I like your optimism, but I think it's a reach say we know that Neal will help us in the stretch run.

We've been getting some sketchy reports on him not definitely playing this year. Plus, history is not on our side, even if he does get in...

petr's picture

I asked this question in the jsonline insider chat thing on Wednesday. I'm glad more people are seeing this too as I worry about Raji's snaps.

However, as I said there, when will there be an play that you don't want him on the field for? A 75% Raji V a 100% anyone else? That's a tough choice. When Neal comes back he can take some pass-rushing snaps (play Wynn as the other in the 2-4-5) but until then it'll be Raji around 90% of snaps per game.

I really hope we draft a d-lineman in 2012. Not only because Pickett and Green's years are increasing but to keep Raji off the field on 20% of snaps at least!

Tommyboy's picture

The problem, I believe, is that it's more like 33% Raji. I was watching him specifically in the Falcons and Vikings games. By the 4th quarter, I wasn't sure he was going to get out of his stance anymore. The dude swatted a few times at the o-lineman, and really got no penetration. I think I'd take a 95% Wilson than a 33% Raji.

Jay's picture

I understand that 75% (or lower) Raji is better than others at 100%. But Raji is playing 90% of the snaps. If was only playing on passing downs he'd only be in on 60% of the snaps. Green is being underutilized (only about 10% of snaps) for rushing downs as of a few weeks ago (http://packersnews.greenbaypressgazette.com/article/20111014/PKR01/11101...). If Green subbed in for even half of the rushing downs (it's right at about 36% of defensive snaps) it would give Raji more energy for 3rd down

Tommyboy's picture

I've said since about week 3 that Raji looks absolutely GASSED by the third quarter. He's in there a lot, but I'm not sure it wouldn't be better to rotate a little more.

jmac3444's picture

I think the loss of Cullen Jenkins has a lot to do with Raji's lack of production because now teams are focusing in on him on the line because who else on the line do they have to worry about? Jarius Wynn?

PackersRS's picture

IMHO is Capers dialing down the pass rush (as said by McGinn), it's the snap count, and it's him getting more double-teamed with the absense of Cullen Jenkins.

Though none of those factors isolated would be enough to impair his play, not to this noticeable extent, combinated they do.

It's similar with Matthews, the injury, the double teams and less calls for him to just rush the passer are affecting his perceived production.

redlights's picture

The NFL is changing IMHO. Every year we see more QB's being more mobile. That equates to gap discipline. QB pressures are not an end all.

We are 7-0; Capers was the biggest free agent acquisition two years ago. I'm content.

PackersRS's picture

That is very true but the elite QBs are still hardly mobile. Rodgers aside, Brees, Brady and Manning don't present that option.

And in their cases you ABSOLUTELY should bring pressure up the middle.

We need to be able to do that.

redlights's picture

I missed the Saints game, but Newton, Ponder, Vick are all really mobile. Plus MM has stated to stop the run first. Even Cutler had a run or two for nice gains. My point is simply that sacks and pressures are not an end all. I also think that you'll see more twists later in the year.

But, yes, a DL would be on my draft list. Keeping 7 might not be bad, either, since DL's are hard to replace.

packeraaron's picture

Capers has spoken to this effect actually - not so much about QBs being mobile, but teams combating pressure by getting the ball out quicker. As Dom points out - the Packers lead the league in interceptions. Now, I don't think you just throw up your hands and say "Well then, we don't need to worry about pressuring the QB" - it all goes hand in hand.

PackersRS's picture

It's the old adage that good coverage generates sacks and good pressure generates interceptions. I get that. I understand that Capers' scheme is focused on perceived pressure, that it is better to confuse the QB and make him make mistakes (why Matthews plays the left side and not the blind side).

All I'm saying is, against the trully elite QBs, not the Newtons or even the Roethlisbergers, I'm talking about the QBs who can kill you with the pre-snap reads and who also don't get confused if post-snap it's a completely different thing (see Warner, Kurt), there isn't the option to do one or the other.

We won't be able to get into Brady's head with perceived pressure and confusing coverage schemes. He won't make stupid mistakes. He'll simply trust his (excellent) protection and find the open man.

packeraaron's picture

"We won’t be able to get into Brady’s head with perceived pressure and confusing coverage schemes."

Why not? If Rex Ryan can do it, I'm pretty sure Dom Capers can.

PackersRS's picture

I wouldn't say that over 70% completion, over 300 yards and 9.7 YPA is getting confused... Of course, only 1 TD and 1 INT (though IIRC it was a tipped pass).

But you might have a point. That, considering Brady's standard, can be counted as a positive outing for the defense.

And if you're talking playoffs, their interior DL had a lot of pressure on Brady that game. Shaun Ellis by himself had 2 sacks.

packeraaron's picture

Ah, but here's the thing - both sacks by Ellis in that playoff game came from Brady holding the ball because he couldn't figure out where to go with it.

I don't pretend to think the Packers could "stop" Brady. But the Jets and the Cowboys have certainly shown there's a way to slow him down - by mixing coverage looks as often as possible. That's one of the reasons the Pats have gone with the up-tempo offense. It makes it much tougher on the defense to give them different looks/coverages each snap.

PackersRS's picture

I agree, but nonetheless he got those, and 2 other fellow DLinemen got 1. We haven't exactly gotten that finish from our DLinemen.

And also, their coverage unit was able to play conservatively and sound, covering their receivers for more than 6 seconds. That's really not our strenght as a coverage unit.

I don't think we can simply copy that kind of gameplan against Brady, we need to play our brand of football, perceived pressure and hurried throws. For that we need better inside push.

Ruppert's picture

You can't give Green and Pickett a ton of snaps do to age and the consequential risk of wearing down as the season rolls on. Risk of injury might factor in, too.

Even if Neal is not the savior when he shows up, he will at least enter the rotation to keep the other DL reps down.

Aside from Burnett and Tramon returning to 100% health, I think this defense would benefit most from the OLB opposite CM3 performing better. Without analyzing every play, it just seems to me that Walden-Jones-Zombo is very, very average at best this year.

Cole's picture

Does anyone think that Dom is almost not trying to generate pressure with anything but base, almost like he's hiding how the defense is going to be near the end of the year. Just doesn't seem like the same defense from last year (creativity wise). It's like he knows we're going to the playoffs because our offense is so good so why use the good stuff now, wait it out, let our O outscore teams in the regular season. Then when it comes playoff time, pull out all the stops?

Vince M's picture

I think we might be taking the too easy explanation for Raji's supposed pass rush woes. Other than as a possible aside, no one was stressing about his playing time last year. We were raving about his athleticism and endurance. I am way more willing to blame the way Raji is being used and how he is being asked to rush the passer than to say he is being worn down with too many snaps. There is no doubt that if he continues this incredible pace of play that he will eventually slow down. I don't think it's going to be during his 3rd year of play (2nd at this rate).

MarkinMadison's picture

A couple of pretty basic thoughts that no one seems to have commented on. One, we don't know what his off-season conditioning was like this year relative to last year. Two, shifting Raji to the outside by a hole or two has taken him from dealing with C/G combos to G/T combos. His first step might not look as initially quick relative to the outside guys than the inside guys. Centers are at a slight disadvantage due to the physical and mental nature of the position, and are often relatively less athletic. Raji just may be having a harder time splitting or otherwise beating the G/T combos.

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