Preston Smith has Opportunity to Build Off Sunday's Performance against Struggling Eagles OL

It's been a quiet season for Preston Smith, but he is coming off his best performance of the season and has a great opportunity to build off of it against a struggling Eagles' offensive line. 

The Green Bay Packers' pass-rush has been a hot topic of conversation for much of the season up to this point; however, not for the same reasons that it was a year ago. In 2019, Green Bay was top-5 in the NFL in pressure rate, but this season they rank 29th through the first 12 weeks. 
 
There is no one reason for this steep dropoff in quarterback pressures, but a significant contributor has been the lackluster play of Preston Smith. 
 
As you can imagine, there has been plenty of speculation surrounding what the issue might be; most notably being that Smith has been asked to drop into coverage more this season. But a quick look at the numbers shows that just isn't true. Smith dropped into coverage 148 times last season, but he's on pace to do so just 114 times in 2020. The harsh reality is that Smith just hasn't been playing that well for a majority of the season.
 
After posting 12 sacks in 2019, which was the eighth-most and 62 total pressures, the 15th most among edge-rushers, prior to Green Bay's Week 12 matchup with Chicago, Smith was on pace for only 24 total pressures and three sacks. On top of that, by Pro Football Focus' ($) pass-rush productivity metric, which measures the rate at which a player generates a pressure on a per snap basis with a heavier weighting towards sacks, Smith ranked 91st out of 113 eligible edge-rushers. Yikes--a far cry from the production we saw from him just one year ago.
 
In fact, OLB Coach Mike Smith was very candid when discussing Preston's play recently, saying that "he's (Preston) not rushing the way I want him to rush right now."
 
Mike Smith would also add: "“He just has to use his power more. When you’re dancing in place, shaking back and forth, all that type of stuff, you’re going nowhere. You got that, and then some high rushes. You’ve got long arms. God gave you long arms for a reason. You can scratch your ankles standing up, so get that long arm in there and start getting these guys to set and swipe. That’s the thing I’ve noticed the last couple of weeks with him. I think it’s going to start coming around for Preston because I know he wants to be good, and he’s frustrated.”
 
Well, it was only one week, but Mike Smith was right about Preston coming around as we saw a glimpse of the old Smith from 2019 as he put together one of his best performances of the season against the Bears. In recent weeks we've seen Smith making plays here and there, but Sunday was his best all-around game. 
 
There was the forced fumble by Za'Darius that Preston was able to scoop and run in for six points. But he also added a crucial third-down sack that put the Packer offense back on the field and two quarterback hits. Additionally, Smith was excellent at handling the RPOs, something that has given him issues this season. Teams haven't been afraid to run at Smith because he has either been swallowed up by a blocker or he's lost contain. However, that wasn't the case against Chicago as he held up quite well against the run. 
As great as it was to see Smith come to life, there's still improvements to be made--most notably, more consistency rushing the passer. As former Head Coach Mike McCarthy used to say, Smith needs to start "stacking success." And the good news is that he will have another terrific opportunity to do so this Sunday against Philadelphia. 
 
Coming to Lambeau for Week 13 is a bad Eagles' offense with one of the worst offensive lines in football. With a plethora of injuries, some poor play, and Carson Wentz holding on to the ball for too long, Philadelphia is allowing over four sacks per game, which is the most in football, and their 191 pressures given up is also the most. 
 
This should mean plenty of opportunities for Smith -- as well as the rest of the Packer defensive front -- to get after Wentz, record some sacks, force a few turnovers, and get the ball back to Aaron Rodgers in what hopefully turns into another blowout. 
 
In order for this Green Bay Packers' defense to reach their full potential, they need Preston Smith to be at his best, and so far, he hasn't given them that this season. With that said, he's coming off his best performance of the year, and he has another tremendous opportunity in front of him this week to make some serious noise. So let's see if he can do it again and get hot for the final stretch of the regular season. 

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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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Comments (9)

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Lphill's picture

December 04, 2020 at 01:16 pm

The Eagles defense will be smacking the Packers around like last year, the Packers D especially the Smiths better answer back in a big way.

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canadapacker's picture

December 04, 2020 at 04:34 pm

As long as the Oline can give AR 2 seconds of clear pocket -- we will be good. I expect that the tight ends and running backs will profit from their pressure and get into the middle. Once they soften up Adams will have his chances against Slay.

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Lphill's picture

December 04, 2020 at 05:26 pm

I'm not worried about the Packers offense, its Mike Pettine and his soft deep coverage , just watching on sports center the analyst's picking the Eagles in an upset , saying Wentz has to take what the Packers give him, that usually means an easy 8 or 9 yards a pass with the defensive backs so far off.

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CoachDino's picture

December 04, 2020 at 06:34 pm

I'm always suspect when I guy improves from just playing harder. I can't imagine a player not giving 100% if not for himself but for his teammates. I do agree though he was lost and last week looked more like his old self.

I also wonder what impact the packers being a much more dominant team this year and being in positions to move away from a pass rush rush focus to a Prevent/Coverage focus. The allowance of holding also impacted numbers but to the authors point as a team vs league ratio the Packers overall are down. Possibly the refocus on the run will impact the teams pass rush. Last year and through games this year I see a great deal of players selling out their run D assignment for pass rush advantage.

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Stroh's picture

December 05, 2020 at 04:52 pm

That is the essence of the Ryan/Pettine D. Its all about disrupting the backfield, or more specifically the QB. They play the run on the way to the QB. Basically as almost an afterthought.

The more you focus on one the more the other suffers.

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mnbadger's picture

December 05, 2020 at 09:13 am

Let's not rush wildly and forget about our Achilles heel, stopping the run. The addition of Anthony "Mount Rush-LESS" (tip of the hat for the nickname to knockthesnotoutofyou) may allow edge rushers a chance to attack on passing downs without compromising the entire D-line. GPG

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PhantomII's picture

December 05, 2020 at 07:36 pm

Let's just hope there is a passing down. Pretty much every down is a rushing down. I hope Pettine uses the proper size and number of players on the DL for down and distance and they execute to their ability.

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egbertsouse's picture

December 05, 2020 at 09:58 am

I’ve been reading articles stating “Preston has turned it around” this season. No, he had one good game, we’ll see if he’s turned it around in the next few games. I applaud this writer for not hopping that bandwagon.

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PatrickGB's picture

December 05, 2020 at 11:24 am

If Z can’t play Sunday then the other Smith will definitely need to pick up his game. It’s good that Gary is rounding out to form because that’s all we have for pass rushers.

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