2

October

Mike Daniels Fitting in Nicely with the Giants Along the Packers Defensive Line

Mike Daniels tries to chase down RGIII

While Packers first-round pick Datone Jones got the hype, Johnny Jolly grabbed the headlines and B.J. Raji wondered aloud about a new contract, Mike Daniels kept plugging away.

The undersized fourth-round pick out of Iowa made the team out of training camp and has been the most disruptive Packers pass rusher on the defensive line this season.

Despite playing only 74 of a possible 198 snaps Daniels leads the defensive line in QB hurries (3) and is one of only two defensive lineman to record a sack. He also has four solo stops — the same as B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett, who have played 115 and 95 snaps, respectively.

Daniels won’t overwhelm anyone with his size and strength, but he makes up for it with explosiveness, athleticism, and a motor that runs on high all the time. He’s kind of the DuJuan Harris of the defensive line — a rolling ball of butcher knives that is all over you before you know it.

Take a look at this video of Daniels sacking Andy Dalton.

Daniels didn’t dominate the offensive lineman and make a highlight-reel sack, but he stood his ground and used his quickness and burst to disengage and make a play once Dalton tried to escape the pocket.

Do Raji, Pickett or Jolly have the athleticism to make a play like that? Maybe. But Daniels for sure has it, and he’s an excellent complement to the slower behemoths that make up the rest of the Packers defensive line.

As Jones goes through the same struggles that most rookie defensive lineman go through, Daniels has stepped up and provided the pass rush and versatility that many thought Jones would provide out of the game.

Now that Daniels has put several exceptional plays on film, we’ll see if he can keep it up as more teams become aware of his ability.

Raji, Pickett and Jolly provide a nice base along the Packers defensive line. Daniels is an excellent change of pace that can provide some much-needed pass rush up front. Will Daniels become more than just a nice change of pace? You could argue that he already has.

We’ll see if he can sustain it.

1

March

Take a Moment and Enjoy Packers DT Ryan Pickett Blowing Up Offensive Linemen

Ryan Pickett

Packers DT Ryan Pickett getting after it.

If you’re an NFL fan who subscribes to Game Rewind and likes to re-watch games in order to see what happens away from the ball, Packers defensive lineman Ryan Pickett is your type of player.

The 330-pound 33 year old doesn’t make many plays that garner immediate attention on the game broadcast. To appreciate what Pickett does, you have to watch the film. That’s when you’ll nod your head at the veteran’s quickness off the ball. You’ll pump your fist when he shoves two blockers backward and frees up a linebacker to make a tackle. You’ll notice that Pickett is often the reason why a mess of players pile up at the line and the ballcarrier fails to pick up a short-yardage first down.

After 12 seasons, Pickett should be slowing down. Instead, he looks as strong and nimble as ever. It’s not a rarity to see space-eating defensive linemen play effectively as they creep into their mid-30s and beyond — Casey Hampton, Ted Washington and Pat Williams come to mind as older, run-stuffing linemen who excelled as they aged.

I planned to do an in-depth study of stats and numbers to tell you just how great Pickett has been the last few years, but I said the hell with it. Pickett’s worth goes beyond *numbers.* Let’s watch some film instead.

Here’s Pickett wrecking the Houston Texans offensive line:

 

I know Pickett is in there to stuff the run, but I love when he does get after the quarterback.

Wasn’t that awesome? I told you watching Pickett on film is fun.

After watching Pickett, I sometimes wonder why B.J. Raji can’t consistently play with the same energy and passion as his veteran linemate.

Some of it probably has to do with playing time. Raji played 124 more snaps than Pickett in 2012. Part of it probably has to do with assignments and responsibility. Raji is asked to do a little more than Pickett.

Can Pickett’s success continue this season? He’ll be a free agent. In addition to wanting to prove that he still is an upper-end defensive lineman, I’m sure he’ll be playing for one last multi-year contract.

I know I can’t wait to fire up the film and watch me another season Ryan Pickett making offensive lineman 10 years his junior look silly.

14

February

2013 Packers Position Group Analysis: Defensive Line

Next up in the AllGreenBayPackers.com’s positional group analysis is the defensive line, who while showed some improvement from their disastrous 2011 season was still probably the reason behind their playoff collapse this year.

Where Are We Now

Here are the current suspects;

  • BJ Raji (1st round, 2009)
  • Ryan Pickett (1st round, 2001)
  • Mike Neal (2nd round, 2010)
  • CJ Wilson (7th round, 2010)
  • Jerel Worthy (2nd round, 2012)
  • Mike Daniels (4th round, 2012)
  • Philip Merling (2nd round, 2008, cut week 4)

So that’s where we are.  Thompson has made quite an effort to shore up his defensive line, with three 1st or 2nd rounders in the last four years.  However, despite Thompson’s focus on the defensive line, not much good has happened.  BJ Raji hasn’t been as dominant a force as he was in the 2010 Superbowl season, Mike Neal is essentially starting his sophomore campaign with all the injuries he suffered and rookie Jerel Worthy looked like a raw rookie before suffering an ACL injury.

  • Raji: Raji spent considerably more time as a defensive end this year than as a nose tackle (536 snaps at DE vs. 123 at NT) and overall as I’ve written in my previous articles this is probably the best move for the Packers as defensive ends are much more important to a 3-4 defense than nose tackles.  While Raji definitely had a better season than his lackluster 2011 campaign, it still pales in comparison to his 2010 season where he earned the nickname “the freezer”.  One distinct possibility is that Raji is starting to wear down due to all the snaps that he’s had to take since there were no other viable DL around, but the addition of Worthy, Neal and Daniels will hopefully allow the Packers to have a decent DL rotation.
  • Pickett: Pickett again was a consistent performer in the middle, while he’s never going to really get the sacks or tackles to make fans notice, he does hold up double teams and do the dirty work for the rest of the defensive linemen and linebackers.  However at 33 Pickett is certainly in the twilight of his career but surprisingly is playing more snaps ever year since 2009; this obviously can’t continue to happen for a guy at his age and size so chances are good with Raji perhaps spending the majority of time at DE, we could see the Packers look for a replacement at nose tackle.
16

August

Packers Defensive Line: A Healthy Ryan Pickett Commands Respect

Ryan Pickett

Packers D-lineman Ryan Pickett

Packers defensive lineman Ryan Pickett reminds me of two actors in two memorable movies: Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino and Paul Sorvino in Goodfellas.

In Gran Turino, Eastwood plays a retired Detroit auto worker who is trying to cope with his neighborhood changing (i.e. getting younger and more diverse). He also yells at people to get off his lawn and behaves like that crumudgingly (and racist) old white guy many of us probably know in real life.

Sorvino plays a mob boss in Goodfellas who quietly lurks in the shadows and oversees a large-scale crime ring. Sorvino doesn’t have a leading role in the film, but when he’s on screen, there’s little doubt that his character is in charge and that the other characters respect him.

Now don’t take those comparisons too literally. I don’t know Pickett personally and I’m not saying  he’s a racist or a Mafia Don. But when I watch Eastwood’s and Sorvino’s characters, I can’t help but imagine that Pickett has certain traits of both.

Pickett is the elder statesman on the Packers defensive front. Like Eastwood getting annoyed about having to adapt to younger people who might be a little different than him, I can see the older Pickett getting annoyed by Clay Matthews and his long hair or B.J. Raji and his dancing.

I also see a lot of Sorvino in Pickett’s deliberate (some might call it slow) movements and overall presence. Like Sorvino, Pickett might not appear to be very impressive, but everyone looks up to him. He commands respect. Running backs and quarterbacks know that Pickett is too slow to catch them, but they’re scared of him anyway.

On the Field
Analogies are fun, but let’s get to the bottom line: Ryan Pickett is a hellvua football player and very important to the Packers defense.

According to Pro Football Focus, Pickett led all Packers defensive linemen last season with 20 stops, which measures the total number of solo tackles made that lead to an offensive failure. He also finished with a run defense rating of 8.4, second on the team behind Desmond Bishop (10.7) and way ahead of C.J. Wilson, who was the next best d-lineman (3.2).

Pickett finished fourth on the defense with an overall defensive rating of 2.6 and was one of only three defensive starters to finish with a positive overall rating.

1

August

Keeping Perspective While Following the Latest From Packers Training Camp

Mike Daniels

Packers D-lineman Mike Daniels

Remember my post yesterday about three players raising eyebrows at Packers training camp?

Well, those players might already be yesterday’s news. The new eyebrow-raiser at camp is Mike Daniels.

Mike Daniels
Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press Gazette says Daniels has gotten plenty of snaps, especially in Dom Capers’ dime package. Like they do in the secondary, the Packers have a bunch of bodies on the defensive line and are hoping that somebody, anybody, steps up and makes the entire position group better. I suppose Daniels could be that guy. Like fellow rookie D-lineman Jerel Worthy, Daniels created chaos in college. And that’s what the Packers need up front. No more tying up blockers and calling it a day.

Wait a minute….Never Mind
Looks like Daniels might already be yesterday’s news, too.  He dropped out of practice Tuesday with an injury.

I wrote my original eyebrow raising post on Monday evening. It was posted Tuesday afternoon and it already felt like old news. I began writing this current post over lunch on Tuesday and by time I got home from work to finish it, it also already felt like old news.

I didn’t even finish writing the post yet and it felt like old news!

What’s this world coming to when a blogger can’t even keep up with the news cycle?

Anyway…
I’ll stop venting now, but if you take one thing from this all-over-the-place post, make it this: Don’t get too caught up in the latest training camp flavor-of-the-day player. Most of us know that by now, but it’s always nice to get reminded. I know I need an occasional reminder.

In camp, all the rookies look like studs and all the veterans look like pro bowlers. The bad players look like they improved over the offseason and the guys who were out shape a season ago are in the best shape of their lives. The players who told the coach to eff off and can’t stay out of jail are suddenly born-again and couldn’t be better teammates.

Hell, Jarrett Bush is suddenly a starting cornerback.

Keep your eyes and ears open. Stay informed. Cross your fingers that nobody gets hurt. But other than that, don’t take every twist and turn of training camp like it’s a major ordeal.

11

July

Gilbert Brown, B.J. Raji and Creating Havoc on the Packers Defensive Line

Gilbert Brown

Former Packers great Gilbert Brown created plenty of havoc in his day.

Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel caught up with former Packers defensive lineman Gilbert Brown on Tuesday. After Brown talked about his football camp and what it’s like coaching the Green Bay Chill, he shared some thoughts on B.J. Raji and the Packers defense.

Here’s Brown’s best quote on Raji:

“B.J. has all the tools to be great. I think he has the drive, he has whatever he needs. But he has to turn it up a notch I would say. Because if he gets out there, creates havoc and makes noise, it’s contagious. Everybody wants to be like that. B.J. has it. He’s the monster in the middle. He has to set the tone for the team.”

Create havoc. I love that phrase. That should be the No. 1 goal for Raji and all Packers defensive linemen.

I’ve gotten into some spirited discussions in the comments section of this blog about what the role of the Packers defensive line is in a 3-4. I say that there is no rule against a 3-4 lineman dominating opposing blockers, maybe even making a play every now and then. Others say it’s unfair to expect a 3-4 lineman to get the glory or pile up stats. A 3-4 lineman’s role is to tie up blockers.

When I hear the phrase “tie up blockers,” I shudder. I think of battling the offensive lineman to a draw. Draws are worthless. You need to win your battle with whomever is trying to block you. Period.

In today’s NFL — with its super QBs, talent-rich WRs, freakish TEs and an endless stream of fresh RBs — a draw is actually a win for the offense. If the Packers defensive line goes into the season with a tie-up-blockers mindset, this defense will show little, if any, improvement.

To be clear, I’m not saying every defensive linemen should be gunning for the QB, leaving their gaps, and trying to make the big play by themselves on every snap. That would be reckless.

But the Packers need to ditch the tie-up-blockers mindset. They need their linemen to create havoc. Creating havoc means winning your individual battle, not merely tying somebody up and settling for a draw.

30

May

Packers Draft Picks Compared to their Current Players

Jerel Worthy and the many position battles on the defensive line will be worth watching in training camp.

I’m reading Michael Holley’s War Room: The Legacy of Bill Belichick and the Art of Building the Perfect Team. It’s a great read so far and I regret not getting around to reading it until now (it was released in November). The book tells the story of how the Patriots dynasty came to be with excellent insight into modern-day NFL scouting, team building and football operations.

The Patriots evaluate college players by comparing them to a player that is already on their roster. This requires scouts to know the pro roster as well as they know the college kids they’re scouting, and ensures that scouts are looking for more than just how big, strong and fast a guy is. Factors like how a player fits into the Patriots’ overall scheme and specialized skill sets also are taken into consideration.

This strategy has proven effective for the Patriots over the years and also makes an excellent topic for a blog post. How do the Packers draftees compare to their counterparts currently on the roster? Of course, we don’t know as much about the draftees as an NFL scout might, but we can at least give this exercise a try.

Nick Perry vs. Erik Walden/Frank Zombo/Brad Jones
If a wooden fence post was compared to Walden/Zombo/Jones, most Packers fans would probably give the edge to the wooden fence post. In terms or raw talent, there’s not much comparison between Perry and the others. The only question is fit. Can Perry play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme? Or is he a better fit as a 4-3 defensive end?

The answer to this question is who cares? I know I just spent the opening paragraphs of this post talking about scheme fit and all that other stuff, but given the Packers desperate need for a pass rusher, they weren’t allowed to be too picky with their top draft choice. There’s no rule against the coaching staff adjusting the current scheme to fit the roster if needed, and that’s what Dom Capers will do if necessary with Perry.

Winner: Perry.