Packers Must Produce Pressure On Opposing Quarterbacks Without Top Edge Rushers

The Green Bay Packers defense has another challenge on its hands this week. Joe Barry’s group will face the Rams on Sunday, a team with the fourth best passing offense in the league based on average yards passing per game, but they will have to do it without several of their top edge rushers.

The Packers have been without Za’Darius Smith since the season opener against the Saints. Since then, he was placed on the injured reserve after underdoing back surgery. No timetable has been given for his return.

Rashan Gary and Preston Smith have been the starters in Za’Darius Smith’s absence. Gary missed the game in Minnesota with a hyperextended elbow. Gary is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Rams, although he was a full participant in practice on Friday and the Packers are hoping he can play some role on defense on Sunday, even if he won’t be able to take his full number of snaps.

The team is also missing many of its depth pieces at edge rusher. Whitney Mercilus was lost for the season two weeks ago with a biceps injury. Mercilus had a sack against Seattle and provided the team with good situational pass rush off the bench. In the four games he played for the Packers, he was credited with four pressures, two hurries and one knockdown. Now, Mercilus is done for the year.

The Packers are also without backup edge rusher Jonathan Garvin who was recently placed on the Covid reserve list. Garvin had 1.5 sacks and nine pressures on the season according to Pro-Football-Reference.com and was starting to show signs of becoming a dependable contributor off the bench. It is unclear how long Garvin will be out of action.

Gary didn’t play at all against the Vikings, but the Packers were still able to pressure Kirk Cousins on more than 40 percent of his drop backs. Most of the time, when you get that kind of consistent pressure on a quarterback, it reduces the effectiveness of his play. That didn’t happen to Cousins last Sunday as the Vikings signal caller completed 24-of-35 passes for 341 yards and three touchdowns. He was not intercepted and had a quarterback rating of 128.4. The Vikings scored 34 points and won the game on a last-second field goal.

The Packers pressure did force three near interceptions. One was called back on a penalty and the other two were dropped before they could be completed with one of those two being overturned by instant replay. If the Packers had intercepted any one of those passes, they would have likely won the game.

The Packers will face a familiar foe on Sunday in Matthew Stafford. Stafford has faced the Packers 20 times during his NFL career with all those games coming when he played with Detroit. The Packers won 13 times while intercepting Stafford 20 times and holding him to a quarterback rating of 89.9. But Stafford has a better supporting cast in Los Angeles.

Barry will have to devise different blitz packages to try to get pressure on Stafford this Sunday. He may have to resort to A-gap blitzes like he did last week when inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell came up the middle and pressured Cousins twice, forcing incompletions.

The Packers also have Tipa Galeai who has seen more playing time since injuries struck at the edge rusher position. Last week, Galeai played 36 snaps on defense and blitzed the quarterback three times. He did not get any official pressures but did make some plays including three total tackles. He came close to making a tackle for loss on one play and showed flashes of ability to be a contributor. Obviously, the key is doing that consistently.

The Packers will also have to rely on their defensive line to get more pressure on Stafford on Sunday. Kenny Clark has three sacks on the season and eight quarterback hits. He has the ability to get a push from the interior of the defensive line and has an advantage in his matchup against Rams center Brian Allen.

Kingsley Keke is back in the lineup and could also add pressure from the interior line. It was Keke who wiped out one of the Packers three near-interceptions last week with a roughing the passer penalty. Keke has 2.5 sacks and four pressures in nine games. When he’s on his game, Keke is a capable pass rusher.

The Packers may have Gary back and that is good news as the former Michigan star has been Green Bay’s most consistent pass rusher this season. He has 5.5 sacks but changes the game even when he doesn’t tackle the quarterback with the ball. Gary has 25 pressures and 19 quarterback hits this season which means he is disruptive of the pocket on a regular basis.

If the Packers can’t get pressure on Stafford, they will be vulnerable to the Rams talented receiving corps. The Rams offense is predicated on the pass so the pass rush will be critical for the Packers. When injuries strike, the expression is next man up. So far, the Packers defense has played well despite their long list of missing players. They need that to continue Sunday against the Rams.

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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Comments (8)

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PatrickGB's picture

November 27, 2021 at 12:32 pm

It does not look good. Stafford can make all the throws when he has time and I think he will. So that means that it’s up to our banged up secondary to hang in there a tad longer. The pass rush might have to come from the inside or by blitzes.

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packer132's picture

November 27, 2021 at 07:57 pm

Any NFL QB can make all the throws with time. Packers pressured Cousins but were just a split second late many times. The key is to get in Stafford's face and hopefully a few sacks. Barry spent 4 years with the Rams, and his play calling might be the difference between a win and a loss.

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dobber's picture

November 28, 2021 at 09:57 am

Stafford isn't like Murray or Mahomes, though. He's like Cousins and wants to play from the pocket. I'd be looking for blitzers, especially early.

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ricky's picture

November 27, 2021 at 12:57 pm

There are reports that Beckham will be on the field more during the game. And if he is, expect Stafford to feel pressured to get him the ball, perhaps forcing it at times. That could lead to chances for the Packers secondary to get an interception or two. And if the opportunity arises, this week, they need to make that play. Both of these teams have chosen to go "all in" this year, and have faltered the last few weeks. It will be interesting to see who will come to play, and who will keep faltering.

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ImaPayne's picture

November 27, 2021 at 08:37 pm

Ya they did get some pressure of Cousins but he got the ball of quickly and we had to rush more then 4 to do it leaving the field wide open for the very fine viking receivers.

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KurtMc's picture

November 28, 2021 at 09:21 am

Would like to see Heflin get some time on DL. Thought the kid had a great camp and could contribute to QB pressure. Also need another LB (Barns/Burns) to step up.

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packer132's picture

November 28, 2021 at 10:11 pm

Heflin looked great in training camp, though must not look good at practice. He has been inactive almost every week, and is not as good as others on the depth chart. He will compete next year to possibly start, but at least he adds depth.

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dobber's picture

November 28, 2021 at 09:55 am

"The Packers will also have to rely on their defensive line to get more pressure on Stafford on Sunday."

I think the Packers will be scheming pressure and bringing extra rushers all day today. They're going to try to stop Henderson in the backfield, and force Stafford to take hot reads so he's not going downfield.

The bottom line is that either Sean McVay doesn't know how to stick with running the football or doesn't care...I think it's the latter because in 2020, when Goff was under center, the Rams were top 10 in rush attempts. They were middle of the league in 2019. Stafford is better than Goff by a wide margin but he'll still make mistakes. If the Packers can take care of the ball and force a couple turnovers they can come out on top. I think Jalen Ramsey will be the difference maker today, though. He got brutalized when the Rams came to Lambeau last January, and I expect he--and the rest of that defense--will want to make a statement today.

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