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.
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.