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.
(How’s this for absurd: Raji made the pro bowl despite having a run defense rating of -18.5 and an overall rating of -20.7.)
Pickett missed week 15 against the Chiefs and week 16 against the Bears. Without him, Pro Football Focus gave a negative run grade to three of the four Packers defensive lineman that got more than four snaps on running plays. As a team, the Packers allowed the Chiefs (without Jamaal Charles) to run for 139 yards.
Three of five Packers D-linemen got negative run grades the following week against the Bears. The Packers allowed 199 rushing yards even though the Bears didn’t have Matt Forte.
Raji had a cumulative -4.6 run defense rating in both games without Pickett.
In 2010, Pickett missed weeks six and eight and the Packers allowed 150 and 119 yards rushing yards, respectively. Pickett was second on the defense with an 8.9 run defense rating in 2010.
Get off my Lawn
The Packers have a lot of new faces on the defensive front this season. They’re hoping that at least a few of these new faces can be mixed together to patch up a defensive line that was miserable in 2011.
We might not hear much about him, and he might not always show up on our TV screens after making a glamorous play, but Pickett’s health will be a major factor in how quickly Mike McCarthy and Dom Capers find the right mixture along the defensive front.
If Pickett is on the field and doing what he does — winning individual battles, occupying gaps and taking care of business quietly like Sorvino in this scene — the Packers defense could be tough.
Maybe even as tough as Eastwood in this scene.——————
Adam Czech is a a freelance sports reporter living in the Twin Cities and a proud supporter of American corn farmers. When not working, Adam is usually writing about, thinking about or worrying about the Packers. Follow Adam on Twitter. Twitter .