Seven Reasons the Packers Will Lead the NFL in Quarterback Sacks in 2014

Will Clay Matthews be leading an improved pass rush in 2014? I overwhelmingly think yes.
Will Clay Matthews be leading an improved pass rush in 2014? I overwhelmingly think yes.

Ever since the 2010 Super Bowl run, the Green Bay Packers’ defense has been very suspect. Whether it was a rash of injuries, lack of depth, too complex of a scheme, or a sieve secondary, the defense didn’t strike fear into many.

However, the 2014 season will be different. In fact, I am making the bold prediction that the Packers will lead the NFL in quarterback sacks. Here are seven reasons why:

1.  The re-emergence of Julius Peppers. It wasn’t too long ago when Peppers was the premiere pass rusher in all of football. Over his 12-year career, he’s averaged 9.9 sacks per season, and that was largely done with no pass rushing help opposite of him. While he’s getting a little long in the tooth, he still has freakish ability and is turning heads at training camp. Pairing him up with Clay Matthews should give opposing quarterbacks nightmares. Also, Peppers is motivated to show everyone he still has a lot in the tank.

2.  Clay Matthews finally gets some help. While he has been plagued with injuries the last few seasons, no one can argue that Matthews is one of the most feared pass rushers when healthy. Over his career, he’s averaged 10.0 sacks per season, and like Peppers, those numbers have come without much help occupying other blockers. If Matthews can stay healthy and put his broken thumb behind him, the presence of even an aging Peppers should bolster his numbers. Dom Capers has already tipped his hand a little about moving him around the formation to find the best match ups to exploit. If he’s able to slash through gaps, opposing quarterbacks could be in for some very long days indeed.

3.  Mike Daniels breaks out. He is a beast waiting to happen. Last season, he had 6.5 sacks and started making a name for himself. In the off season, he said he wanted to bring nastiness to the defense, and said he would punch someone in the mouth to get it. That type of piss and vinegar and angry play has been missing from the defense for years. Hopefully, it’s infectious throughout the defense and we see a new nastiness this season.

4.  The new starting safety combination solidifies the back end. Whoever starts at safety this year will undoubtedly be an upgrade from the unmitigated disaster it was last season. Safeties are one of the most important positions in Dom Capers’ defense, and one could argue that their combination with an effective pass rushing defensive end are what make the defense run. Look no further back in time to 2010 when the Packers had Cullen Jenkins and Nick Collins. This training camp, Micah Hyde, Sean Richardson, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix have shown a lot. If they can improve upon last year and cover receivers longer, the pass rush can get home more often.

5.  Nick Perry and Mike Neal contribute in specialized roles. These men have not been healthy for a full season, but they do have the potential to be something more than disappointments. If Mike McCarthy and Dom Capers are true to their word about implementing the elephant end, these two are the most likely candidates to join Peppers at this unique position because of their ability to play in either two-point or three-point stances. They aren’t being asked to cover receivers very often, but instead are asked to contain the run and go chase the quarterback. I don’t think Perry and Neal strike fear into many receivers, but if they’re healthy and on the field with Peppers, Matthews, Daniels, and the new-look safeties, they should be able to pick up some key sacks and fulfill the promise they haven’t yet up to this point.

6.  Dom Capers simplifies his scheme. We’ve heard numerous times this off season that McCarthy wants to get back to fundamentals on defense. Translation: less scheme, more playing. Rather than confusing players with some genius scheme, Capers and McCarthy will let the players do what they do best and get after the offense. By letting pass rushers chase the quarterback and safeties covering receivers in less complex assignments, everyone is more sure of their assignment, more instinctive, more confident, and can play more naturally.

7.  The Packers offense will score a lot. With Aaron Rodgers and company doing what they do, which is finding the end zone, the Packers will often be sitting on a lead. That means the opposition will be playing catch up and will probably become pass happy. Once the offense becomes one-dimensional, the Packers’ pass rushers can tee off and go chase down quarterbacks and have a feast.

No one doubts the Packers offense can score points. But, the defense must deliver if the Packers hope to make a deep playoff run. I think this year could have the best Packers defense we’ve seen since the 2009 and 2010 seasons. If everything goes to plan, the pass rush could be even better.

We must also remember that sacks don’t tell the whole story. Simply forcing the quarterback out of his rhythm or batting down the ball is good defense and the hallmark of a good pass rush. On paper, the 2014 Packers pass rush is scary good. Let’s hope perception is reality.

Also, if Datone Jones can finally contribute something, which he has yet to do much of this training camp, that’s just gravy and an embarrassment of riches.

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Jay Hodgson is an independent sports blogger writing for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WIsports.com.

Follow Jay on twitter at @jys_h.

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  • Packett

    I find #2, 3 and 6 compelling for a big change in pressure on quarterback. As for #1; well, this idea that someone is extra motivated just to show this, or prove that is just overblown. Some guys just have a motivated character and some don’t ever really show motivation. I think Peppers is motivated, and was motivated last year….so any increased production will be result of scheme change and/or pairing with Matthews. As for #7, we’ve seen lots of leads melt away, or nearly lost because defense couldn’t seal the deal. Remember McNabb on 4th-21? As to simplifying the scheme? I’m not sure what to think. Aren’t these players professionals, and why can’t they learn this stuff? But ok,I guess it will force players to succeed more on grit and technique rather than gimmicks and disquise….so, I guess we’ll see what caliber the players are, and will be more obvious which/if some players are under-tooled.

  • Archie

    I had to laugh when I read your title. Although your observations in support of your hypothesis are sound, until I see this group of coaches and players turn it around, I won’t believe it. Capers is a dinosaur and falls asleep during games while play calling. What does that tell you about the man? Time to go maybe? And Winston Moss and his ILBs. Gimme a break. With teh exception of the Packers’ ILB, who will hold this defense back once again, I do see reason for hope. The DL should generate more pressure. An aging Peppers may or may not help. He looked pretty awful 90% of the time last year. Neal/Perry may or not be healthy on opening day. They are both tweeners. The secondary looks to be improved as well assuming Burnett bounces back or is replaced. Unfortunately I fear another Hawk situation there. But, yeah, absent another rash of major injuries, I see the PAcker defense taking a step forward this year. Lead the NFL in sacks? Don’t think so. Pack’s schedule looks much tougher this year, and division continues to improve. Pack will need to be better to have the same W-L record. If AROD goes down again, season is over. Probably ditto for CMIII. But if those two have MVP seasons and everyone else has a decent year, the Pack could get to the SB. Same could be said for all NFL teams right now. Just as easily, they could finish as also-rans again, finishing either 0-1 or 0-0 in the post-season.

    I think fans are overlooking strength of OL. That plus run game should allow AROD to have a big year. Can Capers/Moss turn this defense around? No but the players themselves can raise their level of play some as they mature. S seems to have been addressed adequately. ILB not so much. A career ending injury to Hawk might be the best thing that could happen to this defense. A healthy Brad Jones playing next to a real ILB could surprise us all.

    Great time of year as we all look forward to having a great football team. Nationally televised game on Aug 16 is fun too. Team depth looks better than ever. AROD is in his early prime. If only the defense can climb to about 10th best, our top 3 offense can do the rest. Another finish near 25th would mean another wasted year year for AROD and offense. That is the storyline for Packers football in 2014. Why Murphy wouldn’t wait for that to play out before deciding to extend TT is beyond me. Fast forward to January – Pack finishes tied for last in division and is drafting in the top 10 – a very realistic scenario depending on the defense, would you want Teddy back? On the other hand, if defense shows significant improvement and top 10 status, the team makes a deep run in the playoffs – then Teddy has earned his extension. Why was Murphy afraid to let this season unfold before extending Teddy? Bad business decision.

  • Kyle Marinac

    It’s not that hard to believe the group last year was 8th in sacks without Matthews, Perry, and Peppers that will anchor the OLB spots this season. Hell you had Andy Maulumba and Nate Palmer starting at points last year as the most vital position on the defense. Throw in a healthy Datone Jones now on his second year, Raji back at his natural position and playing for his livelihood, Daniels who is a monster, Neal who finally played 16 last year and has now dropped more weight, and the Youngsters in Thornton, Boyd, and Bradford drafted over the last two seasons I can easily see it happening. You’re out with the old in Pickett and in with a young and inexperienced but nasty and tenacious front…I couldn’t be more excited Go Pack Go

  • Since ’61

    Jay – Your very hopeful and upbeat article covers some good points but before we get that far there are 2 other issues which should be included for the Packers pass rush to improve in 2014. 1. The Packers eliminate or reduce significant injuries in 2014. 2. The defense can stop the run. Obviously #1 means that we will keep our starters on the field for most of the season and they will become more consistent as the season progresses. This helps to make your items 1-5 happen. However, if we can’t stop the run our pass rush becomes less effective and less likely to improve. Whether or not this defense will stop the run remains to be seen. With Raji returning to NT and Mike Daniels improving there may be some hope. But as Archie and others point out, can the ILBs get the job done? Have we improved our ability to get off of blocks and to make tackles? Yes, the offense will score points, but if we can’t stop the run they will be kept off the field, as in the first Chicago game and the Eagles game last year. While you have made 7 good points which should improve our pass rush, we need to be major injury free and to stop the run if they are to become a reality. Time will tell. Go Pack Go! Thanks, Since ’61

    • dobber

      In recent years, this has been a Packers team that uses its offense to put pressure on the opponent’s offense. If you know that you likely need to score 30 to win, your play-calling is going to skew to the aggressive side.

      Even with a team that forgot how to stop the run 5 games into last season, they still were able to get to the QB…I think we confuse the “clutch” sack with a team’s general ability to get to the QB.

      That aside, I don’t see this team leading the league in sacks this season, but–and as you say, avoiding key injuries–they should be in the ballpark even if the run D isn’t much improved, and my hope is that we’ll see the number of “clutch” sacks increase.

  • Baboon

    I like the optimism – pass rush and secondary are so closely linked, improve one, improve both. Quietly confident.

  • http://WWW.HAGENSONSTV.COM Trent

    Jay … 100% agree! This team is primed for greatness!!!

    1 MORE thing that is usually a prerequisite for winning … “NEW STADIUM”

    • http://allgb.com DUHAWKS

      A new stadium? What for? There is nothing wrong with the one they have. It is home and has all the things a team needs for winning. If you think we need something new to play in way not move it to Madison and make it like like all the others. The Packers are like no one else. They play in a stadium like no other. We have to leave well enought alone. We are The Packers!

      • http://rmitchell@beachtrans.com grizzlymitch

        A whole lot of “ifs”. If fishes were wishes and horse turds were biscuits, we’d all be rich. Yet, I do share the same optimism. The front seven should take the heat off the back four this year. Go Pack!

      • http://WWW.HAGENSONSTV.COM Trent

        LOL … SORRY – I forgot who I was dealing with. I’ll try harder to simplify my comments so most can understand.

        They have a “NEW STADIUM” Do they not?

        PRE – usually means before hence They have a “NEW STADIUM” – Now they WILL win – with 2 HOME play-off games for the next 3 years!

        • Oppy

          They renovated the atrium, AKA “the place where the shops are” and relocated the Packers HOF. I don’t know that I’d call that a “new stadium”.?

  • Steve Cheez

    Guess I mis-read the headline, at first I thought it said we would lead the league in sacks allowed…

  • Tim

    Jay, I think you could write the same article and title it why the pack will win the superbowl. With their offense and a truly improved defense, there’s no reason why they can’t.

    There is nothing to compare to the optimism and enthusiam of the packer faithful going into another year. I am among them. I like what is going on in green bay.

  • BubbaOne

    This could help the Packer pass rush vs Dud Bears…projected # 3 WR Marquess Wilson broke his clavicle in practice. The sports talking heads say Eric Weems (more of a ST stalwart)is next in line.

  • marpag

    Sacks may well be the more OVER-rated stat in all of football. Wanna know who lead the league in sacks last year? The top ten were… MIA, JAX, CLE, BUF, BAL, TB, NYJ, PHI, GB, SEA.

    How many of those teams actually had a real defense? SEA was #1 in scoring defense, MIA was #8, BAL was #12. All seven others were below average in scoring defense. The average ranking of these seven was 22nd.

    In total yards, the ten leading sackers have an average rank of 16.3… just exactly average.

    JAX was first in sacks, but 28th in BOTH total D and scoring D.

    Wanna know what else is massively overrated? INTs.

    Everybody yammers on about how “Packer safeties had no INTs last year… not ONE SINGLE INT!!!” (as if this somehow meant they sucked). Well, they DID suck, but INTs had very little to do with it. Almost nothing, in fact.

    Wanna know which teams snagged the LEAST INTs last year? SF and KC followed by PHI, SEA, IND, DEN, NE, STL, SD, TB. See any playoff teams in there? There are eight… all except STL and TB.

    And who had the MOST INTs? NYG, BAL, ARI, HOU, NYJ, JAX, CIN, OAK, CLE, DET.
    One playoff team… ONE!!

    Based on last year’s stats, you could almost argue that sacks and INTs have an INVERSE relation on defensive success. I’m not saying that’s true, but dang, look at the numbers.

    So, yeah. The Packers might lead the league in sacks next year. And maybe their safeties will even grab a few INTs. It doesn’t mean that they’ll be a good defense. It doesn’t even mean that they’ll be better.

    • marpag

      Sorry, JAX was *second* in sacks…

    • dobber

      Sorry, but your stats are indicating offensive sacks and Ints surrendered, not those generated by the given team’s defense.

      The top 10 sack-generating defenses were…
      CAR, BUF, StL, NO, NE, KC/AZ (tie), GB/SEA (tie), Cin

      The top 10 defenses in Ints were…
      SEA, BUF, KC/TB (tie), CIN/AZ/CAR (tie), CHI/PHI (tie), MIA/SF (tie)

      So there is a correlation between playoff teams and leading the league in those stats.