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Packers Standing Pat at Pass Rush Might Just Be Okay

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Packers Standing Pat at Pass Rush Might Just Be Okay

It’s often said that a good pass rush is the coverage’s best friend (or the quarterback’s worst nightmare). 
 
As Pete Dougherty wrote in a May article for PackersNews.com, the value of elite pass rushers shows up in the numbers: Though 23 of the top 30 highest-paid players are quarterbacks, five of the remaining seven are pass rushers. 
 
The argument that followed was that the Packers loaded up on secondary help, an indication of where the team perceived its greatest flaws, and that perhaps more should have been done to address the relative dearth of edge rushers following the departures of Julius Peppers and Datone Jones. 
 
Dougherty is a fine reporter, but based on this story alone it might come as a surprise for the reader that the offseason included signing an edge rusher to the league’s sixth most expensive contract. 
 
The Packers committed a hefty sum to retain Nick Perry after the finally-lived-up-to-billing former first-round pick’s 11.5-sack outburst and impressive grading as an edge run defender. Perry’s five-year, $60 million contract gets the finer points right, as well: guaranteed money ($18.5 million) makes up just 30.8 percent of the deal, a team-friendly benchmark. Clay Matthews, the league’s fifth-most expensive edge rusher, signed a similar deal with his 2014 extension, a five-year, $66 million deal of which the guaranteed money ($20.5 million) accounts for 31.1 percent of the overall money. 
 
Look at the four top-paid edge rushers and one of two (or both) things are true: The overall value is much higher, like with Chandler Jones ($82.5 million), Justin Houston ($101 million) and Von Miller ($114.5 million); or, the percentage of guaranteed money is much higher, like with Melvin Ingram, whose $66 million contract is nearly two-thirds guaranteed ($42 million). 
 
This isn’t to suggest that Perry and Matthews, who each have struggled to stay healthy, are on the same level as the aforementioned. The point is to demonstrate that the Packers are heavily invested in the position without making bad deals. 
 
With Jones and Peppers out, the Packers have to replace a ton of snaps, yes, but not an insurmountable level of production. Jones was impressively fourth on the team in quarterback hurries (14) but had just one sack. On a per-snap basis of production, Jones ranked below Perry, Matthews, Mike Daniels and Kyler Fackrell. Peppers finished second behind Perry in sacks (7.5) but with just 12 hurries in 715 total snaps, he made even less of a per-snap impact than Jones. 
 
Green Bay’s investment in pass rushers is often viewed through a lens of “what have you done lately?” Somewhat forgotten is Fackrell’s selection in the 2016 draft. Looking at the numbers, a higher workload for Fackrell—let’s say doubling his number of snaps from 171 in 2016 to about 350 in 2017—would mean four sacks, based strictly on his production last year. This is an admittedly simplistic projection, but not asinine considering his weakness was strength and now he’s a year stronger, and that based on the depth chart it is probable that Fackrell plays considerably more snaps this season.
 
Jayrone Elliott will have to prove more productive than his single hurry and a single sack in 136 snaps last year. His inconsistency is head-scratcher worthy, as he’s proved occasional playmaking ability. If fourth-round Vince Biegel contributes at all, and if Matthews and Perry are healthy, Green Bay could be no worse for the wear in the pass rushing department. Those are big enough ifs to feel unsettled, but in this writer’s opinion, not worthy of panic mode. 
 
Standing pat at sack production would mean the Packers finishing near the top of the league for the sixth consecutive season. Last season their 40 sacks tied for sixth. The previous four years: 43 sacks in 2015 (T7), 41 in ’14 (T9), 44 in ’13 (T8) and 47 in ’12 (4th). 
 
Over that span, they’ve usually relied on a breadwinner, most commonly Matthews, but the Packers have benefitted most from production in the aggregate. Most seasons the team’s defensive backs pitch in between four and five sacks, while Daniels is usually good for five a season. 
 
Rookie Josh Jones definitely has the potential to produce along the lines of veteran safety Morgan Burnett, who added three sacks in 2016. His oft-cited 4.4 speed adds an exciting element off the edge. 
 
Whoever lines up as a slot defender (or sub package inside linebacker) will get an opportunity to blitz in Dom Capers’ scheme.
 
Dean Lowry flashed an ability to rush the passer. Kenny Clark made his name late last season more as a disrupter in the run game, but his gap-shooting abilities and slimmer build this season bode well for increased production getting after the quarterback. Third-round pick Montravius Adams has rare burst for a player his side and appears to be the team’s third go-round at a player with his unique skill set (see Justin Harrell, Khyri Thornton and Jerel Worthy). 
 
Pass rush may well be the best friend of coverage. On the flip side, better coverage can give those rushers more time to seal the deal. And though Green Bay has clearly used its offseason to address the secondary, there doesn’t seem to be outward panic regarding the pass rush. 
 
You’ve seen this song and dance before, and reserve your right to cynicism or outright disappointment. Green Bay is banking on their bell cows producing, their young linebackers taking steps forward and the lineman and secondary to pitch in some big plays here and there. 
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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (18) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Tarynfor12's picture

" The Packers' lone offseason splash at edge rusher was resigning Nick Perry. "

You meant ' splat ' right?

dobber's picture

I guess we'll find out...

porupack's picture

David, you make a very good case for optimism, especially the points about better coverage will increase the production of pass rushers if they can cause even a split second longer hesitation by opposing QBs. I even get your optimism on Fackrell and Elliot to contribute some. I also agree with you that Capers is building some real weapons with blitzing safeties JJones/Burnett. But I just believe there were some modest veteran agents out there that could have been brought in (though I can't name any). But actually...my only gripe that remains on the defensive side is not bringing a vet ILB, which I also think there were some modest contracts to be had.

dobber's picture

For as bad as the ILB position was a few years ago, I just don't see it as a liability anymore. Maybe a sideline-to-sideline, 3 down ILB would be good to have, but with the sub packages the Packers run, I just don't see it as a necessity.

Jonathan Spader's picture

https://www.thepowersweep.com/blog/packers-have-a-pass-rusher-problem-de...

This article was written back on Feb 22nd it's called The Packers have a pass rush problem. I still don't think we did enough through adding 1 rushed with an injured foot in the draft. I hope we can find a FA for an insurance policy if nothing else.

DesertPackFan's picture

I personally don't have a problem w/ the depth at OLB. I believe the HC and GM know they have more potential pass rushers than what we lost. Just Elliot and Fackrell being given opportunities will replace what Peppers and Datone provided. They might be a little unproven, at least to fans, but I'm sure McCarthy and Thompson know what they'll get from them. I'm not counting on much of anything from Beigel either.

This is the Packers way. Draft and develop, means letting older players (Peppers) and somewhat under-productive players leave and moving on to the next in line when they have shown what they can do.

chugwater's picture

Man, you must have ice going through your veins. No problem with depth at OLB with history of CM3 and Perry health concerns? And still not expecting much from Beigel? I'm not sure the math adds up on that one.

Plus, I just don't know about Elliott. Gotta think that if he were a key player in the rotation it would have showed up last year. I can't remember one memorable play from him on defense in 2016. I think he's a bigger leap of faith than Beigel.

Hopefully they both prove us wrong.

I still think we should have kept Datone. Yeah, he is more of a 4-3 guy, but don't make the perfect the enemy of the good. He had more pressures than Elliott last year (and everyone else for that matter) and he stayed healthy. That's not inconsequential.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Of course, the issue is that the packers did not stand pat: they lost 2 OLBs. Jones and Peppers played 1135 snaps, but 467 of them came while playing with a hand in the dirt. I think with RJF, Lowry, Clark, and to a much lesser extent, M. Adams, the packers have more than replaced the DL snaps provided by Peppers and Jones, probably with an upgrade, but that still leaves 883 OLB snaps to replace from the departed pair.

Given health, Perry and CM3 can play hundreds of snaps more than they did last year. So, still need 500+ more snaps. Does anyone even know who that rotational 3rd OLB will be? Does anyone know if that player will be even NFL average, much less good? If CM3 and Perry play 14 of the 16 regular season games (which is optimistic based on their history) that 3rd string OLB has to start 4 or more games. I thiiink Fackrell is going to pan out, but we really could use 4 decent OLBs.

dobber's picture

Here's what I'll say based on the way the Packer OLBs are aligned right now: they will have to play a different style of 3-4 (or whatever hybrid nickel they choose to play as a base) than what they've been playing in recent years. Neither Peppers nor Jones were guys who were going to play in space very much. They were liabilities playing that way. We've seen how many snaps they played last year...the Packers are going to need to use their personnel in a different way, and the guys they are counting on to do that--Biegel, Fackrell, and Elliott (or as I call the three-headed monster: Biegrelliott)--are going to be better in space (maybe not so much Elliott, but Fackrell and Biegel) and bring flexibility to the defense. I'm not saying the OLB position will be better, but out of necessity will be used differently.

I've been clamoring for a quality edge player since the season ended. I felt that was the best way to go early in the draft--based on the fact that there were plenty of good CBs and that they'd signed House--to help the defense, and that they might have to dip there twice just to make sure they were covered (especially if they cut CMIII loose after this season) given the uncertainty in the depth players they have. OLB and the pass rush in general could be riding the edge of the knife this season. Cross your fingers.

CJ Bauckham's picture

Biegrelliot, lmao. That's fantastic.

BPEARSON21's picture

I like the points about how the production (or lack there of) from Jones and Peppers is replaceable. That's a good way of thinking about it that I hadn't realized before, but it's true. Yes Peppers is a big name in the NFL and Jones was a former first rounder but their production is replaceable at half the cost that they got elsewhere with our young rookies still on their first contracts. So that seems like a smart move by TT to me.

I also like Dean Lowry and Fackrell, at least enough to give them a shot. They're unproven I suppose, but this year they'll have a sufficient amount of snaps to show us what they've really got. I've attached a link to an ESPN article that came out yesterday about the Packers off-season. It basically sums up exactly what I've been complaining about all off-season on this blog (as most of you probably know lol). It's a quick concise good read. I generally hate ESPN articles about the Packers because they're so surface level but this one I appreciated.

http://www.espn.com/blog/green-bay-packers/post/_/id/39142/green-bay-pac...

Arthur Jackson's picture

I look at that list and I see that, while QB position is by it's nature, the most important position, the NFL rules have put the position far above any other. Hence we see guys like Kirk Cousins, Joe Flacco and Eli Manning in the top 10 and guys like Brock Osweiler and Sam Bradford at 17 ahead of guys like JJ Watt.

Looking at pass rushers, while it seems it is an extremely tough position to have success, you can be unbalanced and succeed as a team. IE you can cause problems for an offense if you are really good like Watt or Von Miller with a jag on the other side. In coverage it's sure nice to have a dominant corner to shut down a #1 receiver, but it's more important to have a minimum level of competence across the board or the offenses are just going to hit that weak spot all game long. One terrible cover guy can be exploited far easier than one terrible pass rusher.

PackEyedOptimist's picture

Personally, I think Capers is going to do a lot of creative blitzing with the new roster. I think we're going to see at least 3-4 sacks from both Josh Jones out of ILB and D Randall out of the slot.
A real dark horse in the pass rush is M Adams--I don't think he'll be able to do it as a rookie, as that rarely occurs, but he has the strength and quickness/burst to make a difference in an "attacking" defense.
The "need" for pass rush from the outside linebackers may become a false truism...

egbertsouse's picture

TT is trying to solve another problem by using the "cross your fingers and close your eyes and wish really hard" approach. I agree that if Perry and Fabio stay injury free this year and all the young guys live up to their potential, the pass rush will be fine. The operative word in the last sentence is "if." I think that outcome is a long-shot.

dobber's picture

I tend to agree in that TT seems to be in a "well, let's roll with it and see what happens" mode. It's making many of us more than a little uneasy.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

SF paid Dumervil 2 yrs, $8M, with $1.5M guaranteed. The 2nd year is actually an option that SF can exercise for an additional $500K. I never went back and looked at film of Dumervil's last few games, when some articles suggested that he started to regain his form. Seems a bit pricey to me, but again, didn't watch any film on him.

[The OTC figures actually make no sense to me, particularly the prorated bonus #s and dead money numbers. Niners nation has essentially the same info.]

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Sorry, I can't post the link to OTC. This site frequently won't allow a post if there is even a single link.

Jersey Al's picture

There are other links posted above, so what do you mean?

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