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Pickett's Play Quietly Keys Run Defense

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Pickett's Play Quietly Keys Run Defense

The Packers early camp experiment of having Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji swap spots is already paying dividends, though perhaps not in the way most people expected.

Raji has created some havoc in the passing game, one of the main ideas behind the move, but its the play of Pickett that has led to the turnaround against opponents running games.

Pickett's move back to the middle has tightened up what was sometimes a soft spot in the Packers run defense. Not that Raji was soft, mind you, but the strength of Raji's game was and continues to be his quickness off the ball and his ability to shoot gaps in the offensive line. This trait, however, would sometimes end up working against Raji and the Packers when the offense would have happen to have the right call on or the back would see the hole open up where Raji had just been. This led to gains up the middle that simply aren't happening with Pickett on the field. His expert two-gaping and ability to diagnose plays while engaged with offensive lineman is making it much tougher for opponents to find any daylight between the tackles - that's how much his presence means inside.

Of course, the flip-side of this coin is that Packers opponents are rarely turning to the run to move the ball against them. Their leaky pass defense is too attractive an option, especially when the alternative is to try and run the football against what is shaping up to be a formidable front against the run.

As defensive coordinator Dom Capers stated when he was hired, the most important ranking is scoring defense - where the Packers are ranked a problematic 21 out of 32 teams. But the Packers 1st overall run defense is a great foundation from which Capers can build. As he told Tom Silverstein:

I just see the elements there, starting with the run defense. The areas that we have to continue to improve in is we have to tackle better and we have got to eliminate the big plays.

Yes, the run defense is there. Thanks to an almost anonymous effort from Ryan Pickett.

UPDATE: After posting this, I received this note on Twitter from long-time NFL scout Dave Razzano:

Ryan Pickett one of the most underrated players in league. one of Thompson's best FA signings over the yrs. goes unoticed

I could not agree more.

Comments (10)

ZaphodBeeblebrox's picture

Pickett does not get the attention that he should. Signed around the same time that Woodson was, he's been an anchor on the D-line. Two plays to note in the Packers' Super Bowl run: first, he's the one that hit Cutler causing the knee injury. Secondly, "spill it Pickett!" - watch the Matthews-Pickett "sandwich" of Mendenhall. Ryan makes a tremendous move around the blockers - while Matthews gets almost all of the credit. Watch, too, the submarining of the Saints O-line on the last play of the season opener.

Raji gets all of the attention, but Pickett is well worth every dollar the Packers are paying for him...

packeraaron's picture

Excellent recall on the Mendenhall play. I remember thinking live that Pickett's helmet helped force the ball out. That turned out not to be the case, but as you say - it was a great play by Pickett to compliment Matthews' stellar effort.

Ryan's picture

This is starting to sound more like the 09 Defense then last years. If I remember correctly we were #1 vs the run that year too, so the good teams decided to just throw it all day (Steelers and Wild Card Playoff game come to mind). Is there a way to get the "best of both worlds" so to speak? Probably not, especially now with Collins out...

But great stuff as always Mr. Nagler...looking forward to Transplants tomorrow!

MarkinMadison's picture

I think the comparison is good, but the difference is that the system was still new to the Packers in '09. The Packers pass D generally did o.k. in '09, but was really exposed by superior quarterbacks.

Last year the depth in the secondary looked less confused (e.g. they figured out how to deal with the stack formations that Arizona used so effectively). To me, the QB pressures that we're worrying about so much this year are a little pre-mature. The media likes to note that CM3 had 6 sacks in his first two games last year - but that means he only had 7.5 over next 17 games.

My point is we just don't know what this defense will look like yet. Jury is out (or should be out) on the pass rush generally and CM3 in particular. Shields doesn't look as good as last year, but Williams was out against Carolina, and they need to be given a little time to adjust to the loss of Collins. Let's be a little patient and let this D unit develop.

PackersRS's picture

What the Packers have going on for them right now is an incredibly stout front 7 against the run and a playmaking secondary.

Even if they can't generate much more pressure in the passing game, with the correction of the assignment mistakes and with better tackling, all which WILL happen as the season goes on, this will be a great defense again.

I'm certain of that, specially considering the offense we have, which will force opponents to take shots, playing to our secondary's strenghts.

Ken's picture

Did an all-word job of getting underneath Krutz's pads for the goal-line stand in the opener.

Spiderpack's picture

Thanks for pointing this out Aaron. And the link back to your film study on Okie and Eagle referenced me to the only post of yours I missed in the preseason to help complete my 2011 education. Its really fun knowing the team and players this well. Thanks.

packeraaron's picture

Thanks Spirderpack.

Kathy's picture

I think Pickett and Howard Green are both so underrated. Sure Raji gets the attention because of his effusive personality and the Freezer Hula, but everything on our defense starts up front with the wall of three.
I'd even venture that a ton (pun intended) of the success Raji has had has a direct line to the experience both Green and Pickett bring. And I may be talking out of my hat here, but the extra coaching that the more experienced players bring to the youngsters is valuable beyond our imagination. I don't know if other teams have the sharing of knowledge between players that Green Bay enjoys. Might be worth a study - this team is a team in all aspects.

Ryan's picture

Atta boy Aaron, and I could not agree more. After Pickett's charge in the Super Bowl I stormed the house in a half-drunken rant about Pickett's play being underrated, "Management knows!", and high-fiving any other Packer fan who would listen.

I thought he was dominant in Year One of the Capers' Regime. Let's not forget that whole off season the Pack was worried about how they were going to hold the fort at the Nose. Seems like forever ago that was even an issue.

Good column.

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