Packers vs. Colts: Film Study – B.J. Raji (Preseason 2010)
In this installment of Film Study, I decided to focus on one player I get asked about quite a bit – B.J. Raji. So I went back and watched all of his snaps in the Green Bay Packers – Indianapolis Colts preseason game and here are my observations:
From a personality standpoint, Raji hasn’t shown much of a mean streak, and that was my only real concern when the Packers first selected him. From observing Raji, and speaking to people here in NJ that knew him during his high school years, he’s a “good boy.” Polite, kind, soft-spoken: the type of kid you’d want your daughter to marry.
Of course, that doesn’t translate well to the battlefield known as the NFL. Not to say they are mutually exclusive. There have been plenty of “good guys” who would rip your heart out on the field if needed. Bart Starr, the ultimate gentleman, has been described as such by many teammates. Raji hasn’t shown me that killer instinct, yet.
In the last two preseason games, however, Raji has been starting to show some signs. He has made steady progress in each game, and against some very good Colts offensive linemen, had a positive impact on roughly 70% of his snaps.
There is one thing he still needs to work on – and that is keeping his head up and eyes on the ball while fighting off blocks. During this preseason, I have observed Raji getting turned around or playing with his head down way too often. In many cases, the ball carrier ran right by him and Raji never saw him until it was too late.
An excellent example of this was the long run by Joseph Addai. (Before we get to Raji, I just want to mention what a great cut by Addai after he clears the line of scrimmage). With one move he faked both Nick Collins and Morgan Burnett to the ground. Watch for it and watch for Charles Woodson getting held right behind them. I need to figure out how to post these in slow motion for you all… )
Getting back to Raji, he gets completely turned around on the play (and then gets mugged and pulled to the ground, but after Addai was past him).
During the Browns and Seahawks preseason games, this was a recurring issue for Raji. When I saw it again so early in the game, I thought, uh-oh, this is going to be a problem. But much to his credit, I didn’t see it happen again for the rest of his snaps. If he can keep his head up and be aware of where the ball is, Raji will make some plays you just would never expect from a nose tackle. Here’s a perfect example:
Watching this play, you’ll see Raji engaging with the offensive lineman while always looking at Manning. He follows the path of the pass to his left and starts heading in that direction. Now he is focused directly on Reggie Wayne, who makes what would normally be a safe assumption; Yeah, I can just run around this nose tackle. Of course, he was wrong. Raji pounces and Wayne is still trying to figure out how a 340 pound DL converged on him so quickly.
Raji has incredible quickness for a man his size, and if he can develop a bit of nastiness, can even be a pass rushing threat. In the Seahawks game, Raji had the most impressive pass rush attempt of any Packer outside of Frank Zombo, who recorded an actual sack. In the Colts game, Raji made an excellent attempt at Manning, tackling him around the legs just after Manning gets the pass off.
On the Play, Raji gets a running start as he and Chillar stunt to the right in an attempt to open a lane for Poppinga and Woodson, who blitz on the left side (Watch Woodson on the play for another interesting corner blitz dialed up by Capers). The Colts do a good job picking up the blitzers, but with that head of steam, Raji executes a perfect bull rush and shed, putting the OL on the ground and tackling Manning just after he releases the ball.
In the previous few weeks, when someone asked me how Raji was doing, I would answer with “not great, not awful. Playing well, but not like a top ten draft pick yet.” Well, after this week I can give a different answer. BJ Raji is starting to give us a glimpse into what he can be. To have a nose tackle that can plug the middle and at the same time, make things uncomfortable for the quarterback will go along way towards addressing last year’s pass rush issues.
It would serve Raji well, however, to learn how to “turn it on” a bit more during a game and go to that nasty place where no prisoners are ever taken. Add strongman Mike Neal to the equation, who has also shown the ability to collapse the pocket from the inside, and opposing quarterbacks may actually have to earn their completions this season.——————
Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.