In terms of pass rush effectiveness, last season was sort of a revelation for the Green Bay Packers. They didn’t have an amazing pass rush by any means, but considering how dreadful they were in that area the three seasons before last, it felt like they were elite.
The Packers ranked 13th in the NFL in overall pass rush by Pro Football Focus for the 2014 season. While that does not sound impressive, they ranked 29th, 27th, and 27th the three seasons before that by PFF. So 13th sounds pretty damn great after those previous three seasons.
Mike Daniels showed that his 2013 season was not a fluke by putting together an even better 2014 and emerged has a bonafide threat from the defensive line.
Clay Matthews was great, per usual. Posting double digit sacks for the fourth time in his six seasons and once again leading the Packers in that category. He also managed to play in all 16 games last year for the first time since his rookie season.
Mike Neal, Letroy Guion, and Nick Perry all had respectable seasons as compliments to the star pass rushers on the team.
Most importantly, Julius Peppers was fantastic. He may have only put up seven sacks on the year but he was continuously a disruptive force and ended up leading the Packers in QB hurries and QB hits. He looked refreshed and rejuvenated last season and was the spark this defense needed.
Which is the problem.
The Packers didn’t add anything in free agency to improve their pass rush and seemingly didn’t do anything that will impact it immediately with their draft.
That means the Packers will need to count on the same players that were on the roster last year to replicate what they did last year, if not improve upon it. This is not an impossible or unreasonable task, especially with a healthy Raji coming back to play nose tackle and with Datone Jones hopefully stepping up a little more than he has shown thus far in his pro career.
I truly believe that Mike Daniels can replicate his season from last year, if not improve upon it.
However hoping that Matthews, Neal, and Perry can stay healthy for a full year and be productive at the end of it is a little bit of wishful thinking. Throw in Letroy Guion having another solid season and it starts to make things even more iffy, even if he is going to be less relied upon with Raji back.
Finally and probably most importantly, hoping that a player who will turn 36-years-old in the playoffs this year to be the same athletic freak and disruptive force that he was last season, seems like you are asking a lot. If Peppers falls down to Nick Perry levels of productiveness, the pass rush takes a major hit.
We have seen for five seasons what the pass rush looks like if there isn’t a solid compliment to Matthews rushing the edge on the opposite side of the defense and it isn’t good.
If the pass rush starts to fail, more pressure gets put on Matthews and he may be forced to stick at outside linebacker instead of being moved around the defense to where he can be of most help like he was last year. This hurts not only the pass rush, but the run defense as well.
If the pass rush ends up closer to the 2011-2013 form than where it was in 2014, suddenly there is a lot more pressure put on a secondary that will have two rookies stepping into non-minor roles this coming year.
I look at the pass rush this year just as I did coming into the season last year; a complete unknown. Just because Peppers was great last year and Matthews was able to stay healthy, doesn’t mean either should be counted on to happen again.
A lot is riding on Matthews, Neal, and Perry staying healthy, as well as Peppers continuing to defy time and be a defensive force in the twilight of his career. If those things don’t happen, there is a fair chance that the defense takes a big step back this year. That may be fine in terms of winning the NFC North (once again) but it makes it incredibly tough to win the Super Bowl.——————
Mike Reuter lives in the Twin Cities and is a graduate of the University of St. Thomas. He is a mobile tech enthusiast, a 19 year Gopher Football season ticket holder and a huge Packers fan. Mike is a writer with AllGreenBayPackers.com and you can follow him on twitter at @uofmike.