Packers' pass rush tough to assess

September, 20, 2013
9/20/13
7:30
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers didn’t figure to have high sack numbers after the first two weeks of the season. They were facing two mobile quarterbacks, San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick and Washington’s Robert Griffin III, and priority No. 1, especially against Kaepernick, was to keep them contained in the pocket. That meant pass-rushers could not over-pursue and blitz opportunities would be rare.

So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the Packers rank 24th out of 32 NFL teams with just three sacks, or that they stand 25th in sack percentage (sacks per opponent passing attempt) at 3.8 percent, well below the league average of 6.9 percent.

[+] EnlargeClay Matthews
Benny Sieu/USA TODAY SportsClay Matthews and the Packers have not done much in the pass rush through two games.
This Sunday the Packers face a considerably less mobile quarterback in Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton, so the game should provide a better measure of where the Packers are from a pass-rush standpoint.

“Obviously we strive for sacks around here and disrupting the quarterback; we’ll see where we’re at after this week,” said Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews, who has one of the team’s three sacks this season. “Obviously we’re getting back to a more traditional offense that we’re used to seeing. So it’ll be a good test against a good quarterback, a good receiving group and a good O-line. We’ll see where we’re at after this game.”

In defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ scheme, the Packers don’t expect major sack production from their interior defensive linemen. Last year, defensive tackle B.J. Raji had what the team considered one of his best seasons, yet he didn’t have a single sack. Opportunities for defensive linemen to pin their ears back and “jet rush,” as Capers calls it, are not the norm.

As Capers explained things on Friday, when he does call for linemen to jet rush he still uses two contain rushers.

“We need to get after the passer whether we’re in a jet rush or a transition rush,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “It doesn’t matter. That’s excuse football. Whatever our assignment is when they’re passing the ball, or we’re in pass coverage, we need to get that done.”

That said, Capers may call more jet rushes than he did the first two weeks.

“We want to be cognizant of our rush lanes and rush integrity, but we don’t have the pressure – not that Dalton can’t run it, but he’s not Kaepernick or RG III – so in that sense we can allow guys like Clay, our rushers to do that a little more,” Raji said.

Last season, the Packers finished fourth in sacks with 47 and had 15 different players register at least one full sack, with Matthews leading the way with 13 despite missing four games.

Pass rushing isn’t just about sacks, although there’s no denying the impact of them. Hitting the quarterback can be almost as effective. Through two games, though, the Packers have just 13 combined hits, or 6.5 per game. Last season, they averaged 8.7 quarterback hits per game, according to team statistics.

“Hopefully this week presents us an opportunity to really pin our ears back and get after the quarterback,” Matthews said.

Rob Demovsky

ESPN Green Bay Packers reporter

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