Edge Rusher Depth goes from Concern to Potential Strength

As good as the Green Bay Packers have been at pressuring the QB, there were always concerns around the edge rusher depth. But it would appear that is no longer an issue.

Even with the ups and downs from the Green Bay Packers defense this season, one area that they've been consistently good at has been pressuring the quarterback--ranking top-5 in total pressures generated.
 
Kenny Clark posted 64 pressures along the interior, the fourth-most among interior defensive linemen and the second-most of his career. Dean Lowry, who typically isn't someone to show up on the stat sheet, logged 42 pressures--the most of his career.
 
On the outside, Rashan Gary and Preston Smith were two of the most productive edge rushers in the NFL. Gary's 81 pressures were the second-most while Smith's 62 pressures were tied for 10th. 
 
However, despite the overall success that this defensive unit has had getting after the quarterback, when looking at the edge rusher position specifically, the production has been very top-heavy, and the depth of the unit is a real concern entering the playoffs. 
 
Without Za'Darius Smith for much of the season and Whitney Mercilus sidelined since Week 10 vs. Seattle, Green Bay has had to rely heavily on the inexperienced Jonathan Garvin, Tipa Galeai, and La'Darius Hamilton--unfortunately, it's not as if Gary and Smith can play every snap. 
 
While there is certainly upside, all three are only in their second seasons, with Garvin being a seventh-round pick and both Hamilton and Galeai going undrafted in 2020. So in short, there was a very noticeable difference when Smith and Gary were on the field compared to when they weren't.
 
Hamilton would play just 64 total snaps and tally three pressures; Garvin, meanwhile, was on the field for 224 pass-rush snaps and generated 25 pressures with two sacks. Galeai would record six pressures and a sack in his 82 pass-rush reps, according to PFF. Not to mention that their play against the run hasn't been that great either.
 
Andy Herman of Packer Report, who grades every play for every player over the course of the entire Packers season, has Garvin as his lowest graded defender through Week 17, while Galeai is the fifth-lowest graded Green Bay defender.
 
The Packers have still been able to thrive from a pass rush standpoint, even with the opponent being able to take advantage of Gary and Smith being on the sidelines. But in the playoffs, where everything is magnified, particularly a team's weaknesses, and the competition level is kicked up several notches, Green Bay's lack of edge rusher depth was certainly a cause for concern.
 
However, just like several other positions on this Packers team, the edge rusher position has received a shot in the arm with both Za'Darius Smith and Whitney Mercilus -- who saw that one coming? -- returning to practice and being designated for return from IR. 
 
Smith was on the field for only 18 snaps Week 1, but in his previous two seasons, he would total 164 pressures, 32 sacks, and was named a second-team All-Pro. With the Packers, Mercilus was used specifically on third downs and in obvious passing situations, logging 10 pressures, a sack, and from Weeks 7 through 9, he ranked 32nd out of 105 eligible edge rushers in PFF's pass-rush productivity metric--which measures efficiency as a pass-rusher.
 
During the 16 games that Garvin played in this season, he averaged about 25 snaps per contest, with Galeai averaging about 22 in his seven games. If Z. Smith and Mercilus can come in give the Green Bay defense roughly 25 snaps per game each, it will be a massive upgrade for this defensive unit. 
 
As impressive as Z. Smith's first two seasons have been, he has missed pretty much the entire season and is working his way back from injury, while P. Smith and Gary have been two of the most productive edge rushers in football. My guess is that they continue to take a majority of the snaps, and Mercilus was always destined for a rotational role.
 
Regardless of how the playing time shakes out, one of the very few concerns surrounding this Green Bay Packers team entering the playoffs, the edge rusher depth, all of a sudden may have become a strength. As we all know, the name of the game in football is pressuring the quarterback, and Green Bay's already stout pass-rush just became much deeper.

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Born and raised in Green Bay, WI and I still call it home. After my family, watching the Packers, sharing my opinions on the team through my writing and interacting with other fans is my greatest passion. You can find me on Twitter at @Paul_Bretl. 
 

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7 points

Comments (23)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
AnotherLombardiPlease's picture

January 14, 2022 at 11:54 am

A strong pass rush is always a great thing to have, especially in the playoffs against better teams! Of additional value is the fact that our opponents won't have tape of the new Packer pass rush units to game plan against.

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Coldworld's picture

January 14, 2022 at 12:03 pm

Mercillus is interesting, my view is that, when he was injured we were just seeing him get established in this system. I think his role would have broadened and perhaps already was, at the cost of snaps for Garvin and Galeai. Third down rusher is the easiest place to insert a player without real knowledge of a defense.

The back up player that interests me is Hamilton. A small sample, but he seems like he might have some ability. I was disappointed we only saw him get 4 snaps last week. I’m sure he won’t feature again based on that, but might be worth keeping on the PS.

10 points
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Turophile's picture

January 14, 2022 at 03:47 pm

The Packers pass rush has been mediocre or worse for quite a while............in the past.

What changed was the acquisitions of the Smiths - and even with them added, Rashan Gary got taken with the 12th overall pick. Fast forward to 2021 and even with what had been the best pass rusher out all season (Z.Smith of course) they had enough to get by on and more. They had little depth behind P.Smith and Gary, but they were enough.

It's pretty much dialled in that they lose Zadarius after this year, their cap situation kind of demands it, but at least for the playoffs they have a deeper rotation (especially with Whitney Mercilus returning). I do hope they can keep Preston, but it would be very difficult to manage. Maybe both the Smiths are gone (fairly strong possibility that happens), so I'm guessing the Packers go edge, in one of the first two picks this year. At least it is an exceptional year for good sized edge guys. You could find one anywhere in the first three rounds and this year you could get a gem beyond round one.

3 points
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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

January 14, 2022 at 04:55 pm

T,
I would agree an OLB will be one of the first two draft choices of the Packers this year. The other pick will be WR.

Of course should there be an ARod trade the aforementioned might be impacted because an OLB and WR might be included.

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Turophile's picture

January 15, 2022 at 04:00 am

Yep. I have the first three picks as Edge, WR, TE.

1 points
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Coldworld's picture

January 15, 2022 at 08:19 am

I would a S (deep variety) and an ILB to the list. 2 areas where our depth is currently minimal.

1 points
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mrtundra's picture

January 15, 2022 at 08:30 am

And we probably don't have either of the Smiths, or Gary, if we had acquired, the often injured, TJ Watt, back when we picked Kevin King as our first pick, of that draft. Yes, I think that Zadarious may be gone, after this season, but we may be able to keep Preston. Gary stays, no matter what. We could lose Aaron Rodgers to retirement( The Last Dance??) or to a trade, and who knows what happens to Davante after this season? I am surprised that Davante was not extended after trading camp, this Spring. Hopefully, Russ Ball can work magic with what little he has to work with, in our salary cap situation. This team will look a lot different, next season, and that's about the only sure thing we can count on! The pressure is on MLF to win, now, and on Gute and Co. to find and keep the talent needed to keep us competitive, in the League.

-1 points
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relleum61's picture

January 14, 2022 at 12:04 pm

The thought of a 13 win team adding back 3 all pro starters and other important pieces both on offense and defense just fires me up. The possibility of having Z and Mercilus as the rotational edge rushers has me seeing constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Something like this... https://twitter.com/herooine/status/1481697140493754375

12 points
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Starrbrite's picture

January 14, 2022 at 12:20 pm

Good post relleum61.

2 points
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Minniman's picture

January 14, 2022 at 12:26 pm

Love it!

.... Just not sure how Bakh feels about now having a "rack"! Maybe they're "chesticles"??

Great Post - Go. Pack. Go

3 points
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jeremyjjbrown's picture

January 14, 2022 at 12:39 pm

I'm excited about Gary and P Smith getting breathers on long drives and after offensive 3 and outs as well. That's huge for the run defense.

7 points
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Minniman's picture

January 14, 2022 at 01:06 pm

I think that this can also translate to KC getting more breaks too. Lancaster and Slatton can handle NT duties and pressure is still being exerted on the QB via sustained high quality edge rushing (at least in theory anyway!)

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Spock's picture

January 14, 2022 at 03:01 pm

rell61 that twitter post is awesome!

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relleum61's picture

January 14, 2022 at 03:50 pm

credit goes to erin alyce
@herooine. Just an amazing piece of fan work!

3 points
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Since'61's picture

January 14, 2022 at 06:58 pm

relleum61, love that Twitter video. Go Pack Go! Thanks, Since '61

2 points
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Houndog's picture

January 15, 2022 at 06:16 am

That's cool as hell relleum61.
Thanks!

2 points
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jlc1's picture

January 14, 2022 at 01:21 pm

Edge rushing I think also means containing the edge. If so that is almost as important and definitely a weak spot at times.

6 points
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Turophile's picture

January 14, 2022 at 03:49 pm

Not Z.Smith's strength...........and not Gary's either............but Z is probably gone next year and Gary has been constantly improving - he's an athletic monster.

2 points
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PeteK's picture

January 14, 2022 at 07:05 pm

I don't know how much we'll get out of Z in our first game as he hasn't practiced for that long and back injuries are very tricky because it could prohibit any activity.. Even Bak was winded in his first start back. I would be happy with a dozen snaps on passing downs. When we get to the championship game that number could double.

6 points
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CoachDino's picture

January 14, 2022 at 07:36 pm

Depending on the health and availability of Z and Merc the snaps could be more than just replacements for the current 3rd and 4th edge guys. I'm sure certain certain formations/personal sets that may have had, Burks, Bayrnes, IDL even a box safety might be used with Z or Merc so to have 3 or even 4 of your best pass rushers in the game. Love to see Preston, Z, Gary, Kenny and Cambell all in at the same time lined up across the line of scrimmage throw in Keke and the new Dean L and you have 6 legit (5 good to elite) pass rushers across the line that are still big enough to play the run. Let's see what JB can draw up with all these tools. Then to have Stokes and Jaire at CB and Amos and Savage at Safety - - all are good to elite in coverage for their position.

3 points
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Ferrari-Driver's picture

January 15, 2022 at 12:14 am

Having an abundance of top quality edge rushers will help a great deal in pass protection and portends the potential of more interceptions by the defensive backs. Add the return of our all pro Alexander to our current list of defensive backs and the Packers have one powerful unit against the pass.

An area of our defense that I feel improved a great deal is at inside linebacker with All Pro Campbell. Gute made a tremendous signing there. And adding Douglas and now Moore in season were great moves by this GM and I hope he is appropriately recognized by being named GM of the year.

5 points
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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

January 16, 2022 at 11:30 am

Somehow I am looking at next week's game being the most important playoff game of all for the Packers. With a half dozen quality players (assuming all are ready to play next weekend vs not being ready for a few more weeks) healthy and ready to play they need to be rotated in and out of the lineup without disrupting the Packer tempo so that they are ready for bigger assignment and contributions in the NFCCG, and hopefully the Super Bowl. Integrating these players back without disrupting the teams success just might be the most difficult challenge MLF has going into next weekends game. Going to be very interesting to watch!

0 points
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Avrumi's picture

January 18, 2022 at 03:05 pm

𝐈 𝐠𝐞𝐭 𝐩𝐚𝐢𝐝 𝐦𝐨𝐫𝐞 𝐭𝐡𝐚𝐧 $𝟏𝟒𝟎 𝐭𝐨 $𝟒𝟓𝟎 𝐩𝐞𝐫 𝐡𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐰𝐨𝐫𝐤𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐨𝐧𝐥𝐢𝐧𝐞. 𝐈 𝐡𝐞𝐚𝐫𝐝 𝐚𝐛𝐨𝐮𝐭 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐬 𝐣𝐨𝐛 𝟑 𝐦𝐨𝐧𝐭𝐡𝐬 𝐚𝐠𝐨 𝐢𝐢𝐥 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐚𝐟𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝐣𝐨𝐢𝐧𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐬 𝐈 𝐡𝐚𝐯𝐞 𝐞𝐚𝐫𝐧𝐞𝐝 𝐞𝐚𝐬𝐢𝐥𝐲 $𝟐𝟒𝟔𝟓𝟐 𝐟𝐫𝐨𝐦 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐬 𝐰𝐢𝐭𝐡𝐨𝐮𝐭 𝐡𝐚𝐯𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐨𝐧𝐥𝐢𝐧𝐞 𝐰𝐨𝐫𝐤𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐬𝐤𝐢𝐥𝐥𝐬 .

𝐒𝐢𝐦𝐩𝐥𝐲 𝐠𝐢𝐯𝐞 𝐢𝐭 𝐨𝐩𝐞𝐧 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐬 𝐥𝐢𝐧𝐤 𝐇𝐄𝐑𝐄,,..,,... 𝘄𝘄𝘄.𝗟𝗶𝘃𝗲𝗝𝗼𝗯𝟮𝟰𝟳.𝗰𝗼𝗺

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