Packing the Stats: The Green Bay Packers Pass Rush Under Dom Capers

Stats on Packers' Dom Capers defense - Mike Daniels

The Green Bay Packers pass rush under Dom Capers has been a hot-button issue seemingly since the fall of the Roman Empire (which happened right around 2011 if my public school education serves me right).

Each season seems to see the Packers fail to generate any kind of pass rush opposite Clay Matthews. One of the things that stood out during the 2010 Super Bowl run was how much the pass rush from Cullen Jenkins coupled with Clay Matthews helped the defense succeed. After three poor years, Dom Capers seems to have figured things out. The numbers show that the Packers have generated the best pass rush that they have had since Capers became the defensive coordinator in 2009.

The Packers knew going into the off-season in 2014 that they needed help with the pass rush and so Ted Thompson patiently waited and was able to get Julius Peppers late in free agency, a signing that has worked out well for the Packers. The table below shows that despite having the best outside linebacker to work alongside of Clay Matthews that the Packers have had, the sack numbers don’t look all that different than in years past.

[table id=16 /]


The Packers have had a fairly uneventful season by their sack standards under Capers. At 41 sacks the Packers ranked 10th in the NFL. That puts them with the fourth highest amount of sacks and fourth highest NFL ranking that they have had in Capers’ six seasons with the Packers. Something that does stand out however is that the Packers have been pretty good at generating sacks over the last six season. Five of the six seasons the Packers ranked in the top 11 in the NFL in sacks and twice in the top five.

Sacks alone do not tell the entire story however. There are multiple things that come into play when looking at sacks and at the pass rush in general. Sacks as a whole can be inflated by the number of times a team passes against you. Sacks aren’t everything either, if you are getting sacks but not getting consistent pressure, you’re going to have a tough time as a defense.

Getting to the quarterback and hitting him, as well as forcing him to move around in and out of the pocket play a big part in making a quarterback uncomfortable, which helps force the quarterback to make poor reads and inaccurate throws. Consistent quarterback hits as well as quarterback pressures are every bit as important as sacking the quarterback.

One of the reasons why sack totals are not a great measuring stick is because as you can see from the table below, teams attempt to throw a lot on the Packers, a lot more than those teams usually do.

[table id=17 /]


More so than anything else, the Packers offense forces teams to throw a lot on the Packers defense to try and catch-up. In 2010 through 2012 teams threw an average of 10 pass attempts per game against the Packers more than they typically would. Peaking at a staggering 48.4 dropbacks per game in 2010, 11.2 more dropbacks than the NFL average. 2009, 2013, and 2014 saw a much more reasonable average of two to three dropbacks more per game against the Packers than the average team.

It is not hard to see how the Packers got a lot of sacks over the last six seasons, teams drop back to throw on them a lot. What is more impressive is just how bad the 2011 pass rush was. The 2011 pass rush had the 5th least amount of sacks in the NFL, despite seeing 763 drop backs.

Looking at pass rush stats as a percentage of opportunities gives a much more accurate depiction of how the pass rush is doing from year to year. Instead of just looking at sacks, the tables below also include quarterback hits, and quarterback hurries to see how often the Packers defense is disrupting the quarterback.

[table id=18 /]


This season has been the Packers best season in terms of pass rush under Dom Capers. They set new highs for sack percentage (6.8%), QB hurry percentage(27.3%), and tied their previous high for QB hit percentage (9.2%) under Capers. While the sack totals and sack percentage is not extraordinarily high this year, they have been getting to the opponent’s quarterback a ton compared to the previous five seasons. Their QB hit percentage is almost twice as high as it was last season and the frequency in which they hurry the opponent’s quarterback is almost 10 percent higher than it was in 2012. The Packers have also dominated their 2010 pass rush percentages across the board this season.

When looking at a possible reason for the extra success that this team has had at rushing the passer this year, the easy explanation is to point to Julius Peppers, and that would not be a bad choice. Peppers is 2nd on the team in sacks, tied for first on the team in QB hits, and first on the team in QB hurries. Peppers was a great addition to the team and for the first time in six seasons there is a solid counterpart working outside linebacker opposite of Clay Matthews for the entire season.

However while Peppers has been a good addition to the team, he may not be the main catalyst for success in the pass rush. Looking at the percentages in the above table, 2009, 2010 and 2013, 2014 were better years than 2011 and 2012. What did the Packers defense have in 2009, 2010, 2013, and 2014 that they did not have in 2011 or 2012? A good pass rushing defensive end. Cullen Jenkins in 2009 and 2010 and Mike Daniels in 2013 and 2014.

Mike Daniels has been a stud this year and last. Daniels is tied with Julius Peppers for the team lead in QB hits and is first in QB hit percentage. Daniels is also third on the team behind Peppers and Matthews in sacks and hurries this year.

Last season no Packers player hit the quarterback more frequently than Mike Daniels. He was second on the team in sacks and hurries as well as leading the team in QB hits. The impact from Daniels being able to generate a consistent pass rush from the line  cannot be denied. This season has been head and shoulders above Jenkins’ pass rush percentages from 2009 and just shy of the season Jenkins had in 2010 in terms of sack percentage and hurry percentage, while having a higher QB hit percentage.

Using the Pass Rush Productivity metric from Pro Football Focus that combines sacks, QB hits, and QB hurries, only J.J. Watt has been a better 3-4 pass rushing defensive end than Mike Daniels over the last two seasons.

The Packers have seen their most productive pass rush this season in any of the six seasons under direction of defensive coordinator Dom Capers. The Packers are no longer dependent on Clay Matthews to carry the load for the pass rush, even though he still has. Peppers, the rotation of Neal and Perry at left outside linebacker, and the great season from Mike Daniels have allowed Clay Matthews to switch to wherever he is needed between outside and inside linebacker.

Since they started rotating Matthews between inside and outside linebacker, the Packers have seen their average rushing yards per carry allowed go down from the fourth worst in the NFL at a pitiful 4.78 yards per carry to the third best in the NFL at 3.43 yards per carry.  All the while maintaining their overall pass rush effectiveness.

Finally, I just thought I’d share some of the random interesting stats I noticed while doing this piece:

-A.J. Hawk has by far and away the highest QB hurry percentage when rushing this year at 13 percent. The next highest is Clay Matthews at 7 percent. Under Capers typically there is one very good inside linebacker that is good at forcing hurries, I would assume mostly due to the unexpected nature of them rushing. However the 13 percent for a QB hurry percentage from Hawk this year would be the second highest of any player under Capers.

-Clay Matthews has led the Packers in sacks every season of his career, probably not a surprise as much as it is impressive.

-The man who couldn’t rush standing up, Aaron Kampman, had the highest single season QB hit percentage of anyone under Capers.

-In his first two seasons Nick Perry recorded six sacks and had the highest QB hurry rate of any player on the team, yet he didn’t record a single QB hit. This year he recorded his first, and only, QB hit.



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 and you can follow him on twitter at @uofmike.


18 thoughts on “Packing the Stats: The Green Bay Packers Pass Rush Under Dom Capers

  1. Good information Mike – thanks. All-in-all, the numbers are pretty good for this unit. Until Peppers arrived, we were a one trick pony and basically lacked the talent to get to the QB AND stop the run. Capers did as good as could be expected to get any kind of rush after the departure of guys like Jenkins. To further complicate the issue, our weakness at ILB and the lack of a true NT prevented us from letting the hounds lose. When teams are running through you, it is hard to attack the QB. If we can bottle up Demarco Murray early, the Cowboys will dump the game onto Romo. I hope that Capers brings some creativity to this dance…

    1. McCarthy did say that they had something special planned for the playoffs on defense… here’s hoping it’s something good!

  2. Hindsight can be as irritating as hell. Nobody saw it at the time, but it would have been worth it if we had traded every 2011 and 2012 (With Randall Cobb and Mike Daniels being the only 2 exceptions) pick to trade up for J.J. Watt. I don’t think there would have been any limit to what the defense could do then.

    We could get just one, just.. ONE really good Linebacker or DL, this D would have unlimited potential. It really feels like we are just one really good player away from being a top 5 D.

    PFF had a really good article on how most pass rushers take 2-3 years to develop into their full potential e.g. Greg Hardy. I know I’ve been saying it for too long now, but I’m still clinging onto hope that Datone Jones will be that guy.

    1. That’s what I call hope. D. Jones is weak at the point of attack and doesn’t have enough power to walk back OGs in pass pro either. He has some moves. He’s fast for a big guy. But that’s not enough.

      Perry is the opposite for a 34 OLB. They’re both busts. Role players at best. 🙁

      1. Both should have been drafted by 4-3 teams and bulked up/developed as DE’s in that system.

      2. Fear always with guys like Jones is that he might turn out to be a “tweener”. I loved Tuitt during the last draft, but always worried he was a tweener (kept hoping he would fall to #53). I still like Perry. Even if you consider them busts because they might not live up to their draft status, both will be in the NFL for ten years.

        1. I don’t think either of them will be in the league 10 years. Very, very few players make it 10 years. They have to be extremely good or do a lot of things pretty well at the very least. Perry and D. Jones are slightly above replacement level players – when healthy (which neither has been). And both have a rather limited skill set.

    2. While he doesn’t have the sacks or QB hit numbers, Jones was actually fourth on the team among the DL/OLBs in hurry percentage behind Matthews, Peppers, and Daniels. He saw that percentage jump almost 50% from last year going from creating a hurry on 4.5% of pass rushes to 6.7%. I’m not saying he’s going to turn into anything, but at least there is still hope. Although his in ability to actually get to the quarterback is a little unsettling and maybe a red flag. Hopefully keeping him healthy and getting him reps is all he needs to have his break through year in year three.

      Don’t forget, we may have Raji coming back at nose next year, a position that seems to suite his skill set a lot better and if we can get Raji to rotate with Guion to keep Raji fresh he could have a big year.

      I’m not sure if Peppers will still be around or even as productive as he was this year, but if we can maintain productivity at every position, get Raji back, and have Jones take a step forward… that could be the defense you’re looking for. It might be asking a lot, but I’d rather there be some semi-realistic hope with the players we have than banking on getting a superstar in the draft.

  3. Great work Mike….but again stats can be angled as proof for any direction,unless staggeringly dominate in one direction or in number apart from others.What isn’t seen is the who and and why these numbers were achieved singularly against which will make for different angles of viewing….our best play numbers are put up at home and yet the record of those faced are a below .500 group and the lesser numbers are on the road against the better competition.

    This stats do offer up a must for next season which begins with draft picks of ILB,OLB,DL(NT) as another year of Peppers could prove unlikely (reasons are evident), the ‘role’ players would be relied upon to take center stage which is a role they have shown utterly inept to perform on a every two/third week basis much less a weekly one.

    I believe also that these stats bare witness to the defending of Capers remaining as opposed to be fired arguments…without the player(s) that can execute or be a player of viable substance(Daniels and Peppers for this purpose) that allows others to execute better,every/any scheme will look to be a failing one.

    Like a Big Mac or other fast food may quench a hunger at times but one surely doesn’t want a constant diet of it…unless one is easily convinced it is actually good and can endure via over looking its low quality of some its makings.

    The Packers have a huge chance of getting a SB win this season,but if thinking the same will hold true next season with the front seven…..Big Mac anyone?!!!!! 🙂

    1. I wasn’t saying “yay or nay” for keeping Capers, simply showing what the pass rush has been for the Packers this year and how it stacked up against the pass rush in previous years under Capers as a reference.

      You can’t knock Capers for there finally being talent on the pass rush this season, just like you can’t blame him for the pass rush being bad in previous seasons.

      The pass rush as a whole has had their best year under Capers this year and it’s still not great, it’s simply above average in terms of the rest of the NFL. Take that for what you will. The pass rush has been an issue the last 6 years.

      1. I’m not “yaying or naying” on Capers either as a point,but rather how an addition and a tad higher level of play from two players was able to register a better statistical look for the defense but the truer reality of the defensive play is still in need of better talent at positions that are obvious in lacking irregardless of the stats.

        1. Taryn – everyone has these issues. Just at different positions. The Seahawks WRs suck because Schneider has struck out drafting and in FA multiple times. The 9ers suck at CB for the same reason. The Bears suck at QB. You can’t have a roster of all stars at every position. At least not for long. TT has struck out at OLB in the draft opposite CM3, at DE opposite Daniels and hasn’t invested in ILB.

          We’re better at OLB this year because of Peppers, but you’re right, that won’t last. That’s not Capers fault.

  4. “A.J. Hawk has by far and away the highest QB hurry percentage when rushing this year at 13 percent.”

    Wow, are people just not paying attention to him or is he just a sneaky devil?

    1. If I had guess, it’s just the element of surprise but he definitely has to be a little crafty/sneaky getting through the line with all things considered. It kind of stood out to me because AJ has definitely lost a step or two or three this year.

      Does it mean much? No, not really, because it’s not like he’s rushing all the time, but it was definitely still surprising.

  5. The first bold sentence is ridiculous and awesome. The second not as much when you look at the opponents we’ve faced since the switch, but still impressive.

    1. Kinda. The teams they played definitely helped in the second half of the year, but they were still a little better than the yearly ranks show.

      Chicago ran for almost 200 yards on the Packers in their first match-up and only 55 in the second match-up. Detroit and Tampa were both in the top 10 in the NFL in yards per carry in the last few games of the year. The Vikings were 11th in the NFL in yards per carry and both Philly and Buffalo rely heavily on the run.

      No doubt their opponents weren’t amazing in the second half of the season in terms of rushing the ball, but dropping your yard per carry allowed average by almost a yard and a half is still pretty good and 3.4 yards per carry is a very good number.

  6. big time equate GB’s qb sacks,hits and hurries relative to opponents dropbacks and just for the fun of it add interception total/ratio and fum.forced and recovered.They were ok this year.prior to 2014 they stunk.Now lets analyze the last 3 min. of the worst loss in GB history.Watch it again and ask yourself in an incredibly violent game where is our ‘killer instinct”.Capers plays 1990 defense when the game is on the line.I don’t even want to touch on idiot Slocum!!

  7. Iget as sick of wondering why Mathews was on the side line 2 min. to play.I found out he was drained,but nobody else!Just primadonna Clay.Sherman wincing in pain didn’t take himself out.Some guys have all the talent and energy one could hope for yet use it at their own discretion.When Mathews took a breather watch it again how our defense fell apart.IT affects your teammates CLAYwhen you do that.come back in but its to late -momentum was handed to SeattleCapers .Shouldn’t 7 secondary players stop at least some passes ?At least contest ’em.Aprevent D is supposed to prevent the opponent from scoring….not prevent you from winning..

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