Packers B.J. Raji in 2012: Warrior or Shrinking Violet?

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B.J. Raji 2012
B.J. Raji

From the time BJ Raji was drafted in 2009, I’ve taken a special interest in this player. Maybe because he’s from a local town here in NJ, maybe because I was hoping he would be one of the linchpins for Dom Caper’s new 3-4 defense – the next “Gravedigger.”

I wrote a profile on Raji back in May of 2009, and later talked to some people who saw him in his HS playing days. “Really nice kid from a nice family,” I heard repeatedly, followed by, not sure if he has enough “mean” in his personality to thrive in the trenches in the NFL.

I discounted those comments for the most part. Surely the Packers wouldn’t have spent a top-10 draft choice on him if the Packers didn’t think he was a potential star.

B.J. Raji made the Pro Bowl in 2011, probably based on the rep earned by his 8 sacks and strong sophomore season  in 2010 (film study here).  Ironically, though, he just wasn’t that good in 2011.

Raji’s 2012 season for the Packers was noticeably better than 2011, but one major thing was missing; consistency.  It seemed to these non-expert eyes that as the season unfolded, Raji had some very strong performances, and some downright awful ones.

Raji terrorized the Bears (film study here) late in the season and a few weeks later was bounced around like a pinball machine by the 49ers offensive line. With those two offensive lines being on opposite ends of the talent scale, a thought crossed my mind; were’s Raji’s “good” performances all against “bad” offensive lines and vica versa?

While a film study would be the optimal way to examine this hypothesis, that kind of free time eludes me, especially with all our NFL Draft prep going on. So, I decided to go to the folks that examine every player on every play over the course of an entire season; Pro Football Focus.

For a little background, lets first take a look at how Raji has graded out over his first four seasons in the NFL.

Year OVERALL Pass Rush Run Defense
       
2009 -4.8 -5.5 1.8
2010 15.1 12.7 -4.3
2011 -20.8 -2.4 -21.2
2012 6.5 2.8 5.9

Looking at these numbers for the first time, I was stricken by how closely they support my “gut feelings” about Raji’s career thus far. Raji had an “ok” rookie year, especially considering that he was hampered by a nagging ankle injury for most of the season. He came on like gangbusters in 2010, especially in the pass rush department. I’ve always felt Raji then started to believe he was a pass rusher, negatively affecting his run defense in 2011. Looking at the -21.2 rating for run defense in 2011, i’d have to say, um.. yeah. Finally, Raji had a bounce back year in 2012, with a better overall performance, albeit an up and down one.

Overall, he graded out as a “positive” in 2012, but now it’s time to get back to my original premise. Did Raji fatten up his numbers against the bad offensive lines to offset poor play against the better lines? Let’s take a look:

B.J. Raji 2012 Week by Week
B.J. Raji 2012 Week by Week

(Click here for a detailed explanation of how ProFootballFocus.com grades are calculated.)

Just visually, the graph confirms the up and down nature of Raji’s season. But the real question remains;  In 2012, was B.J. Raji a warrior or a shrinking violet when the going got tough?

To help answer that question, I took the Pro Football Focus 2012 offensive line ratings and examined how Raji fared against teams with top-10 (best) lines and bottom 10 (worst) lines. Here’s what I found:

Team OL OVERALL Pass Rush Run Defense
Top 10 -6.7 -4.1 0.4
Bottom 10 6.4 -.2 3.2

(Now, before you says, hey Al, the pass and run numbers don’t average out to the overall number, let me explain. That’s because there are multiple other factors that go into the overall rating – I just chose to display the pass and run numbers for your viewing pleasure.)

Getting back to the hypothesis of this post, the overall numbers seem to support what the eye test was hinting at. Against the top-10 ranking 49ers, Saints, Lions and Vikings, Raji earned an overall negative score of -6.7. Against the bottom-10 ranking Jaguars, Bears, Colts and Cardinals, Raji got fat (no pun…) with an overall positive 6.4 score.

Admittedly, this is a cursory look at the stats.  There are volumes more statistics you could sink your teeth into at Pro Football Focus (Subscription costs only$26.99/yr.). That doesn’t, however, diminish what these basic stats reveal:

In 2012, Raji was indeed a shrinking violet against the better offensive lines he faced.

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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.

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  • steve cheez

    I’m curious how that compares to the gap a “normal” player would show vs. the best and worst O-lines.
    Does everybody have that much of a spread or is Raji’s more pronounced than you would expect?

  • Adam Czech

    Here’s a question: Is Raji the Jermichael Finley of the defense?

    Raji doesn’t anger people with his words like Finley does, but both are young, both are perceived to be very talented, and both don’t consistently play up to that perceived talent. Both will also have to be paid or cut loose by the Packers in the very near future.

    • ThomasMagnumPI

      Well put.

    • Savage57

      Yes.

  • ThomasMagnumPI

    This analysis begs the question, “What should the GBP do to fix his inconsistency?” Fewer snaps? Position change to purely DE or NT? Rotate Raji and Pick at NT only and get some more length in there at DE? Kick him in the ass? Or, after his rookie deal is up, kick him to the curb?

    I think the last option is, to say the least, very unpalatable for everyone associated with the GBP, but they really need him to produce like he did in 2010 if they are going to build a defense around him and Mathews.

    Perhaps the solution is to go nuts and trade up far enough to draft Sharrif Floyd, assuming that he makes it out of the top 10 (which seems unlikely at this point).

    • Savage57

      I don’t know how you fix the swings. Based on what we see here, it’s kind of like the Finley deal – the hype and hope supercedes the production.

      Personally I think Raji has to find some ‘bad-ass’ somewhere and bring it with him on game day. I think he gets owned by better players because he never gets PO’d about getting owned.

  • Ron LC

    Maybe it’s because I’m a fan first and analyst last, I feel Raji’s grades tend to represent how the D scheme forces him to play that particular game. Against teams were Capers likes to play safe (almost said soft) he seems to disappear. When Capers let’s the dogs out he is playing on the opponents side of the LOS. That could be based on the quality of the other team’s Oline. Whatever it is at $6.5 mil (?) this year and looking for a big increase soon, one has top wonder if he’ll be a “Cap” casualty.

    I still have hope that it is simply a matter of how they play him, not how he plays. This year is a big year for him earnings-wise. He really has to do much better than he has recently.

    • JimR_in_DC

      I hope you’re right, Ron. And I hope Capers starts playing it more aggressively, regardless of whether the Packers are playing a weak or strong team. Finally, to Al’s question…I think Raji is a Shrinking Violet. Of the big 3 upcoming signings that the Packers face, I wouldn’t be too disappointed if Raji was odd man out, in spite of his awesomeness doing the discount double check dance.

  • Savage57

    Nice work and study, Al. Numbers rarely lie.

    Are you a scientist or engineer? Or, in some other line of work that relies on concrete, finite data as opposed to abstract, theoretical observation?

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      caught me! Bio/Chem Degree. Migrated to Information Technology.

  • Tarynfor12

    Is Raji a shrinking violet against better offenses?

    The numbers would seem to demand such a belief but lets look at the numbers of CM3 and see if it applies also.

    With 43.5 sacks since 09′..17.5 have come from playing Det,Chi,Min who we know haven’t got or had great OLs.
    Adding in the 6 he gave us in 10′ in weeks 1&2 against Phi and Buf who again were below avg on the OL and then adding in the sacks he has against Ten,STL,Jets and other bad OLs during his years,how many have come against dominant OLs since 09’?
    Not as many that would justify him being what he is and yet we agree he is playing with a lack of talent as is Raji on the DL.
    This not to say CM3 isn’t a very good OLB but,just as numbers suggest Raji isn’t good or needs help,the numbers for CM3 would also determine the same if we didn’t know it was CM3 being rated.Both use the level of the opponents play to bolster stats.
    We have all at times wondered where CM3 disappeared too.

    • Oppy

      Here’s the difference

      Clay Matthews III is almost universally considered one of the top 5 pass rushers in the NFL when healthy by people in the sports trade across the country.

      BJ Raji is almost universally considered Green Bay’s best linemen by people who don’t follow the Packers that closely.

      • Tarynfor12

        I’m not arguing that point Oppy,just that if no name was attached,it could be read into the numbers that the player seems to get sacks only against weaker offenses.
        Hence,the support around a player needs to be considered as with Raji having Wilson,Neal,Worthy,Daniels as his support group.I leave Pickett off as he was the only one worthy of a B grade and even he didn’t get that in the evaluations done here.

        • Oppy

          So roughly 40% of CM3’s sacks came against division opponents, who make up roughly 38% of the regular season opponents each year, you say?

          I smell a conspiracy!!

        • BrianD

          You’re looking at the sack numbers only. PFF grades include MUCH more data than just sacks.

      • lars1

        CM 3 is the real deal. Raji, like so many DLinemen plays all out sometimes not dso hard others. Excuses aside, I think it’s the scheme. Raji was a 4/3 DT in college (as so many are) and hasn’t really done well at NT. He was awful in 2011 in that position. At RDE he’s OK, but nothing special and he’s been a consisten disappoint in the pass rush.

        Raji is already making over $6 million a year, so when people say he’s a must-re-sign I say why? CM 3 and Rodgers are the only musts on this team. Raji is fortunate the other players on the GB line are so limited. Otherwise he wouldn’t have the job security he enjoys.

        • Oppy

          Agree on all fronts

  • imma fubared

    Great thought and commentary. Living in Minny I do not get to see all the games so maybe my observation is more, seeing the forest from the outside in.
    What I honestly think is that he is drastically out of shape last year. You watch his film and he is very low to the ground on the first push off and O linemen have been towering over him pushing him into the ground where he is obviously worthless. Also, as mentioned, he has played against his foes for three years now and they know his moves or lack of better neutralizing his strenghts.
    My bottom line is still its due to his lack of conditioning.

    • Oppy

      For what it’s worth, when coaches and players talk about football being a game of leverage, and when coaches scream at linemen about dropping their asses, they are talking about playing low. They are encouraged to play with an extremely low center of gravity. Sometimes you’ll hear analysts talking about a player getting “a little high in his stance”. That’s not a compliment. The low man has the advantage. Raji being as low as you’ve noticed is a admirable trait that he has been, and I’m sure is still continually, commended for his whole entire career.

      Also, conditioning is probably something that Raji has never been questioned about in his time in Green Bay. He plays an almost ridiculous number of snaps for a player of his size. It’s a miracle he can do what he has done.

  • waldo

    BJ Raji suffers from two things:
    1) The absurd number of plays that he has per game and 2) The weight of unrealistic expectations of national media who consider him an elite player.

    Raji is a good player, not elite. I don’t know if he will ever be elite, but if I had to guess what he will look like throughout his career I would say that Raji will be a good player but isn’t the guy that will make impactful plays consistently throughout the season.

    The Super Bowl team of 2010 was special. A lot of guys had really special years, especially in the postseason. We can’t expect that to happen every year.

    Give Raji a break. Good player. Not a warrior or a flower.

  • Scott 1956

    He’s just not a Nose Tackle. He gets pushed around by good lines. Sometimes by just one player. He’s better as a DE. Good player, just not someone we need to re-sign with a huge contract. We did that with Hawk after one good year, and look what’s happened, he turned invisible.

    • JimR_in_DC

      Invisible, but assignment sure. :D

      • Scott 1956

        Now THAT’S funny, JimR!

    • Oppy

      I agree completely.

      IMO Raji is a 3 tech DT who has been completely miscast in this defense.

      You line him up in a 4-3 and let him shoot the B gap and disrupt plays behind the LOS and you might just have a monster.

      Raji doesn’t have the anchor, grit, or disposition to play true NT in 3-4, and while he’s much better as a DE in 3-4, he’s not long enough to excel at that, either.

      I believe the reason why we see him stay home when we go into sub packages is simply because the Packers play him so many downs per game, they are afraid he’ll burn out early on if they rush him.

  • Thomas Hobbes

    I guess my question to you Al is, is Raji significantly different compared to other defensive linemen when it comes to facing top 10 offensive lines? The idea that Raji dominates inferior offensive lines compared to dominant offensive lines should not come as a surprise to anyone, I would assume that even the best defensive linemen have trouble with better offensive lines. I think what would be more revealing would be if Raji’s drop off against superior offensive lines was significantly lower than other defensive linemen. For instance if the average linemen had a drop of 1 point in grading against top 10 offensive lines but Raji was 3 points lower then that would be really interesting.

  • Stroh

    So your being critical of Raji for not doing as well against the OL that dominate everyone? Seems hyper- critical to me. He played very well last year that’s all that matters!

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      Yes, lets give everyone a medal for”trying.” He’s a top-10 draft pick. He should be capable of playing well or at least holding his own against even the best linemen.

      • Stroh

        But if DL is a weakness in general as everyone seems to think and the great OL dominate others, wouldnt getting Raji more help make sense. I’m not saying he can’t play better, but he’s gotta have help. IMO a true run stuffing 34 DE is exactly what the Packers need. Pickett and Raji are fine, lets get some help to improve the DL in general. Raji playing DE is out of position.

        • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

          I agree that a true 3-4DE should be top priority. But that doesn’t excuse Raji from losing one-on-one battles…

          • Scott 1956

            Raji was drafted in the top ten, he should be really good, no matter who he’s playing with. Wilfolk of the Patriots is all-pro most years, and they have changed all the personnel. And the other D-Linemen on that team are not very good, yet Wilfolk is still playing great!

  • Buddy

    I agree why should he be treated any differently than AJ Hawk? Both were top draft picks,and Hawk is blasted all the time. The difference with the Def is the sum of all it parts. The lack of execution by the WHOLE def hurts alot of the individual results, if that makes any sense. IMO

    • Scott 1956

      That’s exactly right, Buddy! “Lack of execution”. Everybody keeps talking about how great TT is at drafting. And maybe he is, but the question’s are do they have the players? Or is it the coaching? If Capers is a good coach and TT is good at getting the right players, why are we getting killed on defense?

      • Oppy

        TT and the entire personnel dept is good at getting the best possible value out of their draft picks, and I agree with that approach.

        However, that doesn’t mean we’ve necessarily stocked the cupboards with the ideal players for this particular system.

        Remember, one of the reasons MM chose Dom Capers was that he is a very creative, flexible coordinator (despite the moaning and groaning of fans- think about how many different fronts and personnel packages Dom Capers has employed in GB, it’s mind-boggling.)

        Read between the lines and this is what I get out of it: Ted Thompson and his staff are not going to take a guy just because he’s what our scheme needs if he’s not the best value on the board at any given pick. They are going to take the guy they feel is the best football player.. So we better have a DC who can work some magic with a hodge-podge crew of talented players who may not be exactly what they’d want.

        Ted is great at his job, Dom is doing the best he can, but I fear the playing pieces just aren’t matching up quite right. TT probably needs to pacify DC’s needs a bit more, but then, I think that’s what he did last year.

        • Oppy

          easiest example is our DL roster. Justin Harrell was the closest thing to a prototypical 3-4 . the Packers ever had on their roster. I guess Philip Merling was a match, too.

          Ryan Pickett is definitely a 3-4 NT.

          Other than that, nobody on the Packers roster has been anything close to the body type you’d ideally want in the defensive line room. They aren’t bums, they’re just not 3-4 DLmen. That’s why dom runs so much sub, those 2-4-5, 1-5-5
          and 4 man fronts as well. He’s making the most of what he’s been given.

  • adroge

    As you will see in the stats Raji doesn’t start playing well until week 11. In the first half of the season Raji dealt with an ankle injury that he re-injured on two different ocassions.

    Once Raji was healthy he started to dominate. The fact is a 340lb guy who has a bad ankle is not going to be real effective.

    In the second half of the season Raji went on a tear. The guy played fantastic football. I have nfl rewind and often rewatch the games focusing on different aspects of play. What I can say is Raji was often the best player on defense during the second half of the season.

    In this case the stats are a little misleading. Raji really tore Minnesota’s line up on all three ocassions, especially both regular season games. The problem is he gets downgraded because the defense wasn’t stopping Peterson. However Raji was in the vikings backfield all day and the vikings line was no match for him. He won his matchups the other players didn’t do their jobs. In the third game capers had to have Raji and Matthews hold the line instead of disrupting because the other players couldn’t make the reads or the tackles when they blew up the plays.

    The 49ers playoff game was the only game in which he was healthy that he struggled. But compare that to the 49ers d-line who struggled in nearly every playoff game including the superbowl.

    While I do like PFF it still is an opinion based stat data base. I watch to see if the player is winning his matchups. To me it does not matter what the result of the overall play is. But that does count in the grades. Peterson and the rest of the packers defense where reasons for his lower grades in those games.

    When he was healthy last year, Raji absolutley played at a probowl level.I could go on and on about it but I don’t really want to write more. What I will say is that I watched Raji alot and he is way better than people think. He is a very misunderstood player and he really doesn’t get credit for all of the little things he does for the packers d.

    • Oppy

      I think you might be off on how PFF grades. The end result of the play is not what they grade, they interpret what a specific players assignment in on a specific snap, they grade based on whether the player did his job, failed to do his job, or excelled at it (winning performance).

      They go so far as to NOT grade the play positive or negatively if they aren’t sure of what the player’s assignment is supposed to be to avoid giving false grades.

      So a play is either a 0 (indicating a player did his job but did not give a winning or losing effort, OR the staff at PFF wasn’t clear on what the player was tasked with doing), a +1 (The player did his job and made a positive play or otherwise positively influenced the outcome), or a -1 (Player failed to play his assignment or got beat).

      They do this for every player, on every down, for every game.

      • Stroh

        And how does PFF know what a players assignment is? They can only grade a player after the play on what they THINK his assignment was. So its still subjective and largely based on the outcome.

        That’s always bden my problem w PFF and other similar sites. To really make an accurate assessment you have to know his assignment before the play.

        • Oppy

          Stroh, that’s exactly why if there is any doubt, they give a neutral grade for the play…

  • Neal

    If we had better LB’ers — other than Matthews of course — I think we’d see that Raji does his job in the middle very well.
    The problem isn’t Raji, especially when Capers wears him out as he did in 2011.
    The Packers need better play from the rotational guys to keep Raji and Pickett fresh and healthy, and they need better play from the LB’ers so offensive linemen have more to worry about in terms of pass blocking.
    Comparing Raji on defense to Finley on offense is ridiculous, to me. Finley is an over-rated cancer who thinks he’s the best TE in football. Raji is the anchor of our “D” line who shuts his mouth and does his job very well, in my opinion.
    Get rid of Finley instead of over-paying him, and get better LB’ers and the Packers will be better on both sides of the ball, in my opinion.

  • http://www.aol.com mark

    Raji is a good player. Raji is not an over powering physical presence and can be man handled by the top echelon offensive lineman. He is a good player especially at stopping the run. He needs to spend more time in the weight room and get stronger.