Is the Packers defensive line too fat?

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What role had lack of conditioning played in the Packers plummeting run defense?

Remember when the Packers actually had a good run defense? It seems like forever ago, but as recently as October, the Packers turned into a brick wall against the likes of Frank Gore, Reggie Bush and others.

Those days are long gone now, and there are many reasons why the Packers run defense has gone from good to abysmal: Middle linebackers A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones are slow. The safeties don’t provide much for run support even when they play up on the line. Tackling, once again, is atrocious.

The Packers defensive line is also very fat. B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly all weigh in at over 325 pounds, and that’s listed weight. If I had to guess, I’d guess that Jolly is at least 15 pounds heavier than his listed weight of 325.

Remember back in the summer when reports came out that Raji and Pickett reported to minicamp overweight? I laughed it off because Raji and Pickett are fat guys and fat football players tend to get a little fatter during the offseason. No big deal. There was plenty of time to get back in shape before the season.

Jolly also had been out of football for three seasons and admitted that his weight climbed well above his playing weight before working to bring it back down and make the team.

Early in the season, it looked like I was right to just laugh off the reports of Raji, Pickett and Jolly being out of shape.

Led by the aforementioned three, the Packers only allowed one 100-yard rusher (Washington’s Alfred Morris in week 2) through the season’s first eight weeks. Since then, they’ve allowed a 100-yard rusher in four of the last five and have nearly allowed two players on the same team to top the century mark in the same game in consecutive weeks.

Are a few too many trips through the buffet line impacting the Packers run defense? Has the run defense slipped because Raji, Pickett and Jolly are wearing down due to poor conditioning after a strong start?

Only the Packers coaches and front office personnel can answer that question for sure. But as a fan watching the bottom fall out of this run defense, you can’t help but wonder if being out of shape in July is costing the Packers in November.

Of course, being out of shape isn’t the only possible reason for the diminished play of Raji, Pickett and Jolly.

Pickett is 34 and has been battling a knee injury. Father time is just as likely a cause for Pickett’s decline as his waistline.

Jolly was out of football for three years and is also 30 years old. Should we really be surprised that he’s wearing down?

Raji has no excuse. I have no idea what’s going on with him. He’s in a contract year and seems to think he deserves to be paid like a top-tier defensive lineman. The way he’s played over the last month, I wouldn’t give him the league minimum.

If you watch Raji, Pickett and Jolly recently, they don’t get off blocks and they display no athleticism whatsoever. Instead of being explosive and immovable, they look lethargic and plodding.

I know that the Packers ask these three to control gaps and occupy blockers instead of jetting upfield, but controlling gaps means more than just standing there and taking up space. You need energy and mobility. Just being a fat guy doesn’t cut it.

Packers fans and the rest of the NFL world were worried about running back Eddie Lacy being too fat as the 2013 season approached. Instead, we probably should have worried about the ballooning Raji, Pickett and Jolly.

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Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam\\\'s writing on the Packers here.

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  • http://jersyal.com tim

    I agree about Raji. He once seemed like a guy to throw a lot of money at. But, as big as he is, he’s invisible once he’s on the field. They need big bodies to clog up the middle, but they have a bunch of them, and right now Raji doesn’t isn’t standing out over the others. Don’t overspend on him!

  • http://www.lyrictrumpet.com Bearmeat

    You need space eaters up front. Any pass rush they provide (in theory) is a bonus.

  • Calabasa

    That’s the thing- Raji won’t “stand out” if he does his job. He’s supposed to clog and keep blockers off ILB’s. according to McGinn, he’s doing his job this year. But is he worth $8m/yr? Not if you ask me.

    • QOTSA1

      According to McGinn, the Packers could win without Rodgers as well.

      I agree Raji is not worth $8m a year. He looks like an average defensive lineman, who on a very rare occasion looks like he was worthy of being a top 10 draft pick.

      • Dobber

        I still blame Bob McGinn for this mess.

    • Archie

      Isn’t McGinn the same idiot that said if AROD went down it would be next man up, no worries? I thought it was stupid when I first read it and sure enough, a few days later AROD goes down. How’s that lookin for ya Packer fans? Maybe we should buy some more of this guy’s books as x-mas presents for family & friends. Another so-called Packer journalist with no cred. He’s fed inside info by 1265 and in return he publishes pro-company propaganda. MM is the greatest. TT is the greatest. The real truth is they both suck and AROD is the greatest. But we can’t take the truth. Or can we?

      • Leon

        Thank God we have Archie to tell us the truth about how 1265 works because Archie knows all.

  • larry valdes

    8m I will spend that in the best free agent dl and let him go.

  • Mike Sherman

    Raji flashes in the run game some times, but he never bats down a pass and rarely seems to really push the pocket. A high paid d lineman should do all this things. Remember after his rookie year when Jenkins left, everyone was wondering who was going to pick up the pash rushing slack opposite Mathews and raji? Raji used to play the nickel back then, almost never left the field. I think he saw picket get paid a lot of money to jus be a space eater and decided to do the same.

    • Stroh

      If Raji is single blocked he walks the OL right into the QB’s doorstep. That’s collapsing the pocket. You don’t get stats for that so you don’t recognize it. When the report came out about his contract offer, a scout said he does just that very effectively. He also said the offer was fair and slightly higher than needed.

      The Pickett/Jolly/Jenkins line was 340, 330 and 305. If Datone steps up next season they would be in the same ballpark as ’09. I would like to see Jolly drop 10+ lbs down to the 325 range. If that happens I look forward to seeing what our DL can do.

      Raji at NT, Jolly and Jones or Worthy at DE next year.

      • Adam Czech

        Raji hasn’t won a one-on-one matchup in 6 weeks.

        • Stroh

          Based on your “research” right? Whatever, I’ll take an actual scouts perspective over yours!

        • http://allpackers.com Nick Perry

          Wow it was as recent as 6 weeks ago??? Here I thought he was doing a poor job..

      • Mike Sherman

        for raji to make up for his lack of height, he needs to utilize his strength in the bull rush and short area quickness. Those are supposed to be his strengths. Watching games on TV, all you get to see when we are on defense is our line, including DL’s collapsing the pocket. The last big guy in the Green and Gold to do that effectively and consistenly was Grady Jackson. I understand that we were running the 4-3 back then but he used to push guys back and use his quickness to make plays. Forget the lack of stats, we all notice when a guy is being disruptive and Raji is not doing it much at all. Last year we reduced his snaps to keep him fresh and allow him to do more on the early downs….. I’m not seeing it and neither is anyone else that follows this team. Early in the preseason, JS had an article about how Raji would have had 5 sack last year had he just gotten off his blocks better. Right now he isn’t a force and hasn’t even been cleaning up plays buy getting the QB when he steps up or scrambles up the middle. Even Gilbert Brown was good for a couple sacks a year in his early days.

        • Archie

          Grady Jackson. Wow. More disruptive than Reggie White perhaps. He was that good. TT got rid because he thought he was too fat. Went out and signed Pickett instead. TT is an idiot.

      • John

        PFF rates Raji the 74th best DL in the league. They rate every play individually. Meaning if the play is unsuccessful for the defense but Raji did his job he would get a positive score and vice versa. Since there are 64 starting DE’s in the league and Raji is rated the 74th, he obviously is not doing the job and should not be paid.

  • Mike Sherman

    Raji’s scouting report where they said he was a bigger version of warren sapp is laughable now. If the packers are lucky, he will be another Ryan picket

  • GBPDAN

    Changing topics, just read on NFL site that Rodgers would be ‘lucky’ to play against Atlanta and if he doesn’t , and the Packers lose, they may shut rodgers down for the rest of the year. I was holding out hope he’d be ready, but, it looks like the season is over, unless fatass Raji and the rest of the Packers players rally…..never going to happen

    • Nopainnogain

      not surprising even if they win out (regardless of who is qb), they won’t get in without the lions screwing up and will only hurt draft spot by winning. If they lose to atlanta, detroit would have lose 3 of last 4 to a bunch of bad teams. Time to focus on talent evaluation. give the young guys plenty of snaps & experiment (maybe hyde at safety or something)

  • NYPACKER

    A lot of talk when Raji came out that he was better suited for a “one-gap” scheme where he could use his quickness to penetrate & disrupt. Could it be that our scheme isn’t good for his skill set?

    • packett

      I would like to see a new defensive coordinator come in before GB goes to jettison current defensive players, even if they are way under performing this year. If New Orleans can turn their Defense from worst to top 10, so could GB. These aren’t stars on our defense, but you don’t need a lot of stars, and good coach/scheme is better than trying to get star players. New Orleans didn’t have any more talent…but a new coach made all the difference. Its not just Raji, Jolly, Picket. The whole team is playing fat and Soft….so its on the coaches, not 3 out of shape players. Its time for a change.

  • John

    Good article. I think us Packer fans tend to overrate Packer talent. Using the neutral PFF grades you will see that Jolly is rated the 70th best DE and Raji the 74th. Certainly not 8M worth of talent. Picket is rated the 34th DT. All three not starters rankings. Hawk is rated the 110th ILB. The 4th worse ILB in the league! Why do the Packers let him on the field? Lattimore is ranked 8th and Jones 33rd. I realize Lattimore is hurt now, but that would be a nice ILB combo. Our corners aren’t as good as we think with Shields 110, House 137, Hyde 139. Our safeties are as bad as we think with Banjo 121, Burnett 129, Jennings 142 and McMillan 158. All non starter rankings and some shouldn’t be in the NFL. All rankings are per position. IE: Burnett is the 129 best safety.

    • Ohrmazd

      Yes, many of us certainly have overrated the team’s talent. And that includes the man responsible for this mess, Ted Thompson. But, nonetheless, for many of the “true believers” among us it is still “in TT we trust.”

  • GBPDAN

    Thanks for the stats John..wow, stats don’t lie, they may not account for some factors, but, they are a good indicator, and with rankings that low, any minor outside factors are moot. These PFF ratings are absolutely atrocious. It just goes to show how bad this D is and shiws the crappy talent TT has put on the field on that side of the ball. In Ted we trust? Really?

  • Since ’61

    For whatever reason, Raji doesn’t seem motivated. Which is strange considering this is his contract season. Unfortunately, Raji is not the only concern on the defense by a long shot. The D-line and ILBs have been bad period since Rodgers injury. The secondary has been horrible. Tackling by the defense is becoming a distant memory. I hope the defense can turn it around during the last 4 games because even Rodgers return won’t matter if the defense continues to be uncompetitive. In either case Capers need to go and we need a new DC to bring a nasty attitude to the defense. Then we need some mean DLs, intense ILBs, a shutdown corner and a safety who can deliver a hit. It looks like another draft focused on defense. Thanks, Since ’61

    • Mike

      I point to one other factor with the ILBs – Rodgers’ injury coincided with Lattimore being relegated to ST with the return of Jones and the “resurgent” play of Hawk

  • Wagszilla

    Their D-Line is built for the run, so in a way, yes they’re too fat. Look at the Giants 4-3, all pretty ripped guys.

    The problem is personnel. Both with the D-Line and LBs.

  • http://jersyal.com tim

    Their physique matches the play of the d. Soft in the middle. Ilbs, dl, safties …. Getting gashed on runs and passes up the middle. Mike points out the return of Jones (who I think is ok) and Burnett getting healthy combined with the departure of lattimore & Rodgers equals the defense and hawk going in the toilet. Kind of like a complicated math problem. My thoughts , change the equation. Defense plus lattimore minus hawk equals something better than crap ( which is about what they equal now)

  • http://jersyal.com tim

    Looking ahead to next year (which is all that I’m doing at this point) I don’t know that they are in that terrible of shape on defense. As others have pointed out, we have some nice players coming back. Re-sign a couple of the d lineman, and Shields, maybe Neal, but only at a good price, which I think can be done. I’m thinking not too many GMs will be busting down the doors to get at members of our d. It’s time to let hawk go. Right now at safety we’ve got very little. I think TT would be wise to dabble in free agency and draft at safety and maybe ILB. They’re important playmaker’s and leadership positions. They have little of either imo.

    • John

      PFF rates Neal the 74th best OLB and Perry the 41st. Since there are 64 starting OLB’s in the NFL, Neal should not be one of them and Perry would qualify. The thing about Neal to remember is that most thought Neal to be a late round pick or a rookie free agent. Plenty were shocked when Thompson used a second rounder on him. It looks like others were right and Thompson was wrong.

      • Archie

        I think Neal would be better suited at ILB in the base defense.

  • Palmer Cottrell

    Actually fat, fit, what ever there basically not good football players. So if someone is dumb enough to pay them then they should take it. It’s over for the Packers. I think it was over in the Pre season when McCarthy refused to play the starters and didn’t play to win. He fostered a group a players that don’t have the fire to win.

  • WKUPackFan

    PFF ratings are not exactly the gospel of evaluation. My understanding is that the evaluators are volunteers using a set of guidelines (not sure how specific). Not disparaging them, just saying that the use of subjective observation to form “hard” data should be taken with a grain of salt.

    It’s hard to evaluate Raji’s, Pickett’s, and Jolly’s play when only two of them are on the field so much. They could be worn down, very difficult to know for sure. They’re supposed to be huge guys, really don’t think carrying the weight is the problem. Change the tactics, play more three down linemen, get Datone and Daniels on the field on passing downs, change the scheme. In short, get a DC who can maximize the talent.

    • marpag

      Yes. PFF is what people do when they want a little bit of knowledge to be a bad thing.

  • http://allgbp.com Thegreatreynoldo

    Not sure how this article sheds any light on the issue. All our NTs have looked fat; some looked much fatter than Raji. DEs usually don’t look too fat. How about this. Dline salary cap:

    Pickett* 6.7M; Raji* 6.6M; Jones 1.4M;
    Worthy 900K; Jolly* 715K; Wilson* 642K; Daniels 555K; Boyd 441K.

    Can GB resign Pickett for a couple of million (with small amount of dead money in the last year)? Raji and Pickett cost $13.3M in cap space. Can GB find a FA DE or NT for 9-10M (probably would be a very good player but not elite)? Jolly will want a raise. IF the FA is a DE, will GB have enough NTs? I am not sure what the market will be FA Dline next year. If GB gives Raji 8M, resigned Pickett for $3M (11 of the 13M in cap space), gave the other 2M to Jolly, they would have the status quo with no change in cap space devoted to Dline (other than increases in the Rookie contracts). This doesn’t make the dline better unless the young guys improve. I think Jolly is worth 2.5 million. Tough decisions. I am clear on one thing:

    Don’t pay Raji $8 million!

  • http://grizzlymitch@bresnan.net grizzlymitch

    For $8 million, we can get all kinds of guys not to put out effort. Save the money and get a tight end, linebacker that can run, and another real fat guy. Oh, and for $8 million through in a D coordinator.

  • JC

    Most teams 3/4 D-Ends are not this big and slow. If you need to play three nose guards to stop the run you need better inside linebackers. Look at the best 3/4 D-Ends they are big but not fat.

  • Paul

    How much of these total defense ratings is based on how much time the defense spends on the field?

    i.e.: After ARod went down, the team has had a disproportionate amount of three-&-outs and other unsustained drives.

    In the pregame of the Bears game, there was talk of a possible first round bye in Green Bay. Looking at what No. 12’s injury has done to the time of possession differential and eventually, team morale, is there a more compelling case to be made for Aaron Rodgers for MVP? Keep in mind, the Broncos won a playoff game with Tim Tebow! (Just sayin’)

  • GBPDAN

    Yes, our starting D line is Fat, slow , not in shape and not athletic. ..end of story

    • Newhaven

      Chances are Raji did not take the $8 million because he is “unhappy” with his current role in the Packers Defense and wants out of Dodge!