Expect to See Greater Emphasis on Interior Pass Rush in 2018

Recent quotes from Mike Pettine indicate there will be a bigger focus on interior rush this year.

Most people who cover the Packers, in addition to national draft experts, generally agreed that the Packers' biggest area of need this offseason, behind only cornerback, was an edge rusher, be they a linebacker or hybrid lineman/linebacker similar to the position Julius Peppers played with the Packers for several years.

However, the Packers did not take an edge rusher until the seventh round of the draft and did not go after any veteran free agent edge rushers in free agency. A recent report by Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette  goes into this issue, and it's worth reading.

Here's the key quote from defensive coordinator Mike Pettine: "People talk about the exterior pass rush, but I think the interior pass rush is as important or maybe potentially more important."

If the Packers are truly placing a greater emphasis on interior pass rush this year, the Muhammad Wilkerson signing makes even more sense than it already did. Wilkerson, if he lives up to his potential, gives the Packers a formidable presence inside to go along with Mike Daniels, a pro-bowl player, and Kenny Clark, who was arguably the Packers' best defender in 2017 and is already a pro-bowl caliber player himself at only 22 years old.

That's a whole lot of power and mass inside. Those three are capable of rushing the passer themselves, but more importantly will be able to wear down defenders and eat up blocks for other rushers to come in through the interior.

Another key passage from that article that sheds a bit more light on Pettine's strategy:

"In Pettine's four seasons with the Jets (2009-12), he never had an outside rusher with more than eight sacks. But inside linebackers David Harris and Bart Scott combined for 25-1/2 sacks in those four years. In contrast, over the last four seasons the Packers' inside linebackers combined for only eight sacks (that includes one of Josh Jones' two sacks last season coming as an inside linebacker."

Clearly, Pettine enjoys pushing for inside pressure. Of course, the question still remains who will be providing that interior pressure beyond the three big men in the middle.

Clay Matthews has played a lot of inside linebacker in past seasons, and if Pettine intends to use the inside linebacker spot for more pass rushing purposes, he could easily be moved around to try to win some matchups on the inside. But in general, the Packers are going to have to hope for big-time progress from a lot of their younger guys as pass rushers this season if that strategy is to work.

This is perhaps one of the things I'm looking forward to most about training camp and the exhibition season--finally getting a chance to actually watch the kinds of schemes Pettine will employ with his defense so we can get a sense of what to expect out of that unit this year.

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Tim Backes is a lifelong Packer fan and a contributor to CheeseheadTV. Follow him on Twitter @timbackes for his Packer takes, random musings and Untappd beer check-ins.

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Comments (43)

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The TKstinator's picture

June 08, 2018 at 06:12 am

Yes! Very eager to see how they align. Do they keep all 3 (Mo, Clark, Daniels) on the field even in nickel?
I also really like Pettine’s comments AGAIN about “how they play” is more important than “what they play”. Looks like GB is finally getting some players who can consistently beat the guys across from them.
Let’s have at it!

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dobber's picture

June 08, 2018 at 07:25 am

My hunch is that we'll see more even fronts in obvious passing situations and that Wilkerson/Daniels/Clark will rotate on the inside with Perry in one outside spot and a mish-mash of players occupying the other, depending on how they want to deploy CMIII.

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Rak47's picture

June 08, 2018 at 02:47 pm

Idk why everyone is so worried about an outside rush. This is not Caper's 3-4 front, in fact I expect to see more 4-3 and Nickel based on their personnel currently on the roster. Pettine has shown great flexibility over the years in mixing up his fronts and I expect this year will be no different. I can see him putting Wilkerson,Lowry, Daniels, and Clark on the field at the same time with options at LB in Mathews,Perry,Martinez, Gilbert, Biegel,and Burks. The Packers have a lot of talent on defense and those who doubt or question will see soon enough that it was Caper's overly complex and antiquated scheme that held most of the young talent back. on another note I still think people are sleeping on Gilbert, even in the article above he is only mentioned in passing while the author mentions Biegel and Fackrell twice. I hope they all develop but I wouldn't count on it with Fackrell who is like 28 years old now. But yet the draft picks are always mentioned first even though they're both smaller,slower,less powerful setting an edge and don't have the production combined of Gilbert in his very limited time on the field. A real head scratcher to me for sure. Anyway I expect Big things from the defense this year under Pettine as well as marked improvement by both Biegel and Gilbert.

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The TKstinator's picture

June 08, 2018 at 03:17 pm

Did you say “worried”???

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dobber's picture

June 08, 2018 at 03:28 pm

Beep Beep!!

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dobber's picture

June 08, 2018 at 03:36 pm

"I still think people are sleeping on Gilbert, even in the article above he is only mentioned in passing while the author mentions Biegel and Fackrell twice. I hope they all develop but I wouldn't count on it with Fackrell who is like 28 years old now."

There's draft capital invested in Fackrell and Biegel. I think there are expectations and hope there. If they fail, it's viewed as lost opportunities. Gilbert is like found money.

Not to defend Fackrell, but he turns 27 in November.

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Rak47's picture

June 08, 2018 at 09:13 pm

I hear ya Dobber. I too have high hopes for Biegel but not so much for Fackrell. There's always a chance he physically matures but most of these guys in the NFL are physically mature by 24. Being a Bucky fan I've always liked Biegel's game and potential, I think he was vastly overlooked in that Badger defense. But just going strictly by film he nor Fackrell have produced like Gilbert has in his limited action. I really hope Biegel gets the chance to show what he can do this year. My hopes for Fackrell at this point are sailing off into the sunset, but my hopes for Gilbert & Biegel blossoming this season still loom large

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The TKstinator's picture

June 09, 2018 at 02:56 am

I wish someone would tell us about their first job out of high school.

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Tundraboy's picture

June 10, 2018 at 09:40 pm

Everything you said makes sense to me. Don't understand the dislikes on this one.

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PackEyedOptimist's picture

June 08, 2018 at 06:19 am

I've wondered if they might play more of a 5-2-5 with Perry and Lowry on the outside, holding the edges, while penetrating with the interior three. Then, you have Martinez playing the run, and Matthews roaming as a "free blitz/run" piece. This would use everybody's strengths, which Pettine is supposedly famous for.

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ejr450's picture

June 08, 2018 at 07:38 am

This would be awesome. It’s 12 guys, but the concept is there.

Just pokin fun - I think we will see a fair bit of ol’ Fritz’s 3-3-5 nickel this year. It’s a stout run front if you have 50 in the middle and for 3rd & long you can put in Burkes (sp?) there for the coverage.

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dobber's picture

June 08, 2018 at 07:56 am

The smaller and faster you get in your LBs and DBs, the more dominant your DL needs to be (I avoided using the word 'bigger' because we can all come up with dominant interior DL who weren't tremendous space eaters). This is the direction this defense has moved, and it's not a radical shift (at least, up front). It's a natural play toward their personnel.

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marpag1's picture

June 08, 2018 at 12:32 pm

I'd be pretty surprised, I guess. Who plays a true five man line these days, except perhaps in goal line? It's just not the way the NFL seems to work today. Of course, there is always more than one way to win, and building a front that is so brutally dominant could work... at least in theory. But offenses have gotten very good at getting the ball out quick, and aside from Tramon, our secondary is barely out of middle school. At least at the beginning of the year, I don't expect we'll want to leave those guys on an island more than we have to.

I've always agreed with those who say that the best defenses are the ones who can generate consistent pressure WITHOUT committing extra guys to the line of scrimmage.

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dobber's picture

June 08, 2018 at 02:33 pm

^^THIS^^

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realitybytez's picture

June 10, 2018 at 10:39 am

ah, the old 5-2-5. that would give the packers a real edge.

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NickPerry's picture

June 08, 2018 at 06:27 am

Can't wait, can't wait, can't wait.....Those who post here often know I've been on the D-Line bandwagon since the Wilkerson signing. My friend RC really helped me see that Kenny Clark was already a "Beast" and on the verge of becoming a MONSTER inside for the Packers. Daniels is already a beast and has 25 sacks to his credit with most coming while being double or triple teamed. When you think about Daniels 25 sacks over 5 years, most coming while he didn't have a lot of help, you have to wonder what kind of numbers he'll put up with all the help he has now.

It wouldn't surprise me a bit if Wilkerson, Daniels, and Clark combined for 20-25 sacks this year. Add in Lowry and Adams for depth and you have the makings of a truly dominant front. Can't wait, can't wait, can't wait!

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RCPackerFan's picture

June 08, 2018 at 07:31 am

Clark was somewhat easy to miss because he didn't get the stats. But watching him he was truly a beast.

The part I liked though was late in the year he was getting the stats. He was getting to the QB. He was starting to get the recognition that he deserved. He had 4.5 sacks on the season. All of which came from week 13 on.

I expect huge things from Clark in year 3. Especially after adding Wilkerson. Wilkerson could make our very good DL into a great one.

The signing of WIlkerson to me was one of those moves that said Guttekunst isn't Thompson. Thompson likely would have looked at his DL and said we have Daniels, Clark, Lowry and Adams and think we are good. No Guttekunst looked at it and said we can add Wilkerson who could make that group special. Also they aren't relying on Adams who honestly they don't know exactly what they have in because he missed most of his rookie year.

The player I am really curious to see is Adams. Essentially missing all year due to injury. He got to play which should help him learn what he has to work on.

Like you said, I can't wait!

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dobber's picture

June 08, 2018 at 07:46 am

Adams is a key piece going forward. I suspect Wilkerson is a one-year rental. Based on his history with the Jets, I don't want to see the Packers schlep him a big contract no matter how well he plays in 2018. Maybe he's learned his lesson, but I don't want the Packers to be the test case to find out.

That said, they need a player who will be able to step in and play in his place in 2019, and hopefully not be forced to burn a high pick to do it. I'd assert Adams is a better match for that role than Lowry or Looney. Adams will get this year to work his way into the rotation, but he's got to be able to step up to allow the Packers to free-wheel their high picks in 2019.

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Tundraboy's picture

June 08, 2018 at 08:40 am

Agree on Adams. Intriguing.

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Matt Gonzales's picture

June 08, 2018 at 08:42 am

Agreed - Mo is a powerful player that allows the other rotational guys to further develop, in hopes that one of them shines enough to take a bigger place next year. And, if they don’t, they have flexibility to hit that spot next year with two other established leaders on the line and established strong rotational depth.

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holmesmd's picture

June 08, 2018 at 12:05 pm

I’m very high on the Adams draft pick but he’s got to put it together. I’ll say it now, if the DL is top 10-15, Wilkerson WILL get a 3-4 yr contract offer from GB, as he would deserve if he plays to his potential IMO.

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dobber's picture

June 08, 2018 at 12:15 pm

Yep. Someone will pay him if he plays well: that's how the league works. If it's the Packers, I hope Pettine knows how to keep him playing hard.

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Tundraboy's picture

June 08, 2018 at 08:38 am

"Thompson likely would have looked at his DL and said we have Daniels, Clark, Lowry and Adams and think we are good. No Guttekunst looked at it and said we can add
Wilkerson who could make that group special."

Yeah that would have certainly been the most likely narrative with Thompson. The change in itself speaks volumes as to why I'm so excited about this year. Starving to hear positive information on Adams., my under the radar hope for a breakout player.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

June 08, 2018 at 09:40 am

When we drafted Montravius Adams, I approved because even though we had more dire needs, I thought Adams had just too much talent to pass on. He was, to be kind, unimpressive as a rookie, even was a healthy scratch.

Still, just one year, was injured, was a rookie DL which typically take time, blah, blah. Yet I am still intrigued and still a believer. Like those above, I am watching him closely for 2019 as well.

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Tundraboy's picture

June 08, 2018 at 08:31 am

"Can't wait, can't wait, can't wait.."

Sums it up for me. Way to go NP.

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Rak47's picture

June 08, 2018 at 02:52 pm

lol,I love this post because I can totally relate. Can't wait! Should be the new slogan for the season. :}

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RCPackerFan's picture

June 08, 2018 at 07:07 am

With the current defense they will have the ability with the DL to get to the QB. They have Mathews and Perry outside. I would not be surprised if we saw Mathews playing ILB some too.

ILB might be the position we see getting more blitz opportunities. Schematically I think we will see them used more in the pass rush under Pettine.

One former player that doesn't get enough recognition is Desmond Bishop. His ability to provide pressure from the ILB gave the defense a lot of flexibility. After he got hurt the defense missed that ability. It wasn't until they moved Mathews to ILB that they had someone at ILB that could be a real threat to rush the QB from the inside. Since the 2014 season we haven't had that same threat at ILB.

Martinez hasn't shown a lot of ability to get to the QB, but he hasn't had that many opportunities either. We have seen Jones when playing ILB (Bengals game) having an ability to get into the backfield. But he looks like he will be playing S.
We don't know what we have with Burks yet. But with his speed he might be able to get to the QB.

I think we will have a lot more pass rush from the interior DL, but I am hoping we have an ILB or 2 that can take advantage of the blitz opportunities they get. That would make our defense better.

I am excited to see what our defense will look like.

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Razer's picture

June 08, 2018 at 07:20 am

I too would like to see a stronger more aggressive D-line. Never been a fan of the passive, eating up the blocks style that Capers had in place. With more push from the D-line, I am hoping to see better overall pressure from multiple people/positions.

Given the new emphasis, I would like to see another stud DL added in the next year. We need to keep the big men fresh and there isn't much behind our starting three.

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dobber's picture

June 08, 2018 at 07:35 am

" But inside linebackers David Harris and Bart Scott combined for 25-1/2 sacks in those four years. In contrast, over the last four seasons the Packers' inside linebackers combined for only eight sacks (that includes one of Josh Jones' two sacks last season coming as an inside linebacker."

Two players, four years? That's about 3 sacks per player per year. The Packers were getting that from 2011-2013 from the likes of AJ Hawk and Brad Jones (sorry to my colleagues for bringing those names up)...before they descended into the morass of players that was Sam Barrington and Nate Palmer. Is that scheme or just the player, himself?

I don't care who gets to the QB, or where he lines up: just get there.

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Tundraboy's picture

June 08, 2018 at 08:43 am

Your apology is accepted! Had to shake off hearing those names.

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dobber's picture

June 08, 2018 at 12:16 pm

I won't pay for the therapy, though... ;)

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Tundraboy's picture

June 08, 2018 at 04:44 pm

Too far gone anyway. I was reading about all the injuries to our 70s stars so I'm trying to cheer myself up. Good team summaries in the 100 Seasons section of Packers. Com Btw.

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stockholder's picture

June 08, 2018 at 07:38 am

It wouldn't surprise me if Pettine goes to the 5-2-4. Nick Perry puts his hand in the dirt more. And Lowrey goes against the RT more. In situations we'll see a BIG, BIG, 5 man line. By the end of the season, I believe the elephant position will be dead in GB. And so will be that Hybrid Rusher. I think the ILBs will shoot the gaps like 60s great,Ray Nitscke. The only reason they play the 3-4-4 is because of Perry and Mathews. More Rush from the middle says; we'll be Much like the Eagles. Adams will be playing more this year. I'm Looking for the jump.

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Matt Gonzales's picture

June 08, 2018 at 09:20 am

You draft players that roughly fit your system, and then adjust the scheme to the strengths of your team. I still wouldn’t expect much pressure at all from the ILB group outside of blitzes and the occasional stunt, but a stronger and beefier defensive front is going to take a lot of pressure off the ILBs and the SS/nickel linebacker in the run game, and give them the ability to better play the short passing game and to have their head up on the shallow/medium depth crossing routes.

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4thand10's picture

June 08, 2018 at 06:49 pm

And it was rarely a 3-4-4 with Capers. It was mostly the 2-4-5 with attempted pressure from the outside. It was just a shear miracle Daniels was still able to get sacks from the inside. Guy is a beast. I'm excited to see if a bigger stronger 3 or 4 man front is in the cards. I'm excited to see the changes.

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Bearmeat's picture

June 08, 2018 at 08:37 am

This is very exciting!

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Handsback's picture

June 08, 2018 at 08:39 am

Watch for Mt. Adams...nuff said.

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Since'61's picture

June 08, 2018 at 09:39 am

Pressure up the middles has always been important in the NFL. Why? Because it clogs up the running lanes versus the ground game and it forces the QB to move off his spot. If the pass rush can force the QB to move, unless you are playing against Aaron Rodgers, its advantage for the defense because even most of the mobile QBs cannot throw on the run as well as Rodgers.

Get Brady, Matt Ryan, Cousins, Stafford and numerous other QBs to move off their spots and see what happens when they throw on the run if they are not sacked first. It's a matter of making the QB uncomfortable in the pocket.

Capers approach was the zone blitz approach of trying to overwhelm a particular point on the OL. It worked back in the '90s and early 2000s, but teams figured it out years ago and besides CM3 the Packers have not had the talent to pull it off anyway.

Pettine will keep the offense honest by throwing in a CB blitz from time to time but his defense (Rex Ryan's) while he was with the NY Jets made their living with the interior DL and LBs. They reached the AFCCG twice and they didn't have Rodgers at QB. However they did have Revis island at his best and he shut down one side of the field which helps the pass rush tremendously.

If one of the Packers young CBs can step up and shut down or at least hang tough on one side of the secondary we should see some havoc wreaked on opposing QBs. It may take a while for this defense to gel but if they can stay healthy I believe it's coming and it's going to be fun to watch finally. Thanks, Since '61

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PatrickGB's picture

June 08, 2018 at 10:54 am

Again, I don’t get the love for M. Adams. He has shown nothing. Mo is at the tail end of his declining career. Daniels is good but doesn’t have the size of a premier Dlineman. Clark has potential, but is not there yet. Let’s all wait and see before we proclaim this line the be dominant. Good, yes but hardly dominating.
And before I get slammed over this post please know that I WANT to be wrong and really hope that I am.

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marpag1's picture

June 08, 2018 at 11:59 am

"The love for Adams is that it's like getting another 3rd round pick in 2018."

I'm not arguing, JS, but ideally I'd be hoping for a bit MORE than an average third round pick. Although he was injured, he did have at least a little time to get acclimated to NFL game speed, to work on strength in the weight room, to practice technique, etc. But the thing that I think has people excited about Adams is that Daniels positively gushed about Adams' natural pass rush moves when he first came in last year. Daniels does have a bit of a motor-mouth now and then, but still...

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TheBigCheeze's picture

June 08, 2018 at 04:34 pm

..if in fact this is Pettine's scheme.....why advertise it?......you KNOW the purple pukes are hanging on our EVERY word.......

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4thand10's picture

June 08, 2018 at 07:02 pm

There isn't a scheme that anyone in the NFL hasn't seen or heard of.

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The TKstinator's picture

June 13, 2018 at 12:35 am

Except my pyramid scheme that’s going to earn me one million smackers!

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