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How often will Packers' eagle soar?

8/22/2011
Packers linemen B.J. Raji (left) and Ryan Pickett will have new roles in Green Bay's eagle alignment. US Presswire

They are the Super Bowl champions. Nearly every starter has returned. There has been no training camp drama to speak of. So what is getting the Green Bay Packers excited these days? For one thing, a part-time defensive alignment that moves one of their top players a few feet to his right or left, depending on the offensive look.

As Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first detailed a few weeks ago, the Packers have adjusted their "eagle" defensive package to feature B.J. Raji in the most prominent playmaking position, the one previously held by now-departed Cullen Jenkins. In the formation, Raji lines up over the guard on the weak side, similar to the "three-technique" position he played at Boston College and the same held by NFC North playmakers Ndamukong Suh and Kevin Williams in their teams' 4-3 scheme.

Ryan Pickett serves as the nose tackle in the eagle formation, and the Packers' other defensive end -- Mike Neal, C.J. Wilson or perhaps Jarius Wynn -- line up over the strong-side tackle.

The Packers' idea is to give them a look that maximizes Raji's quickness and playmaking ability. But before you get too crazy excited about it, keep in mind that the Packers have most recently spent the majority of their time in the nickel scheme that includes only two defensive linemen. Last year, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the Packers had five defensive backs on the field nearly 75 percent of their plays.

Also, keep in mind that the Packers they are still running their 3-4 alignment out of the traditional "okie" alignment as well, with both ends over the tackle and Raji at nose tackle. So based on last year's numbers, at least, we're talking about a change that could impact up to 125 plays over 16 games, or eight per game.

It's worth noting, however, that the Packers spent significantly more time in the 3-4 during Saturday's preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals. In re-watching the first three series alone, I counted 14 instances. On eight of them, Pickett was lined up at nose tackle. Raji lined up there on the rest of those plays.

I'm all for doing whatever it takes to get Raji into the backfield as often as possible. If that means shading him over the guard rather than head-up on the center, that's fine with me.

The Cardinals' typically vanilla preseason game plan gave defensive coordinator Dom Capers plenty of opportunities to experiment with his base defense. For me, it will get really interesting if opposing offenses find ways to get the Packers out of the nickel scheme that Capers clearly favors for play-making purposes. If they can, the new eagle package will impact a lot more than eight plays per game.