When a team goes as far south as the 2016 Green Bay Packers have, there’s not a lot left to do except look to see which players have played below expectations and which positions need to be shored up going into next year.
Among the Packers defensive linemen – by which I’m including down linemen and outside linebackers – it’s not easy to find anyone having a good year. The one bright spot is Nick Perry, who has 41 tackles and seven sacks. His projections for the entire year are: 66 tackles, 11 sacks, 2 interceptions, and five passes defended.
Rookie Kyler Fackrell has also shown progress in his limited opportunities. His line is 16 tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and a pass defended in just 145 snaps.
Many have brought up the unimpressive numbers compiled by Julius Peppers, but last week he defended himself by pointing out he’s been kept off the field far more than in his previous two years with the team. Peppers has 10 tackles, 4.5 sacks, one forced fumble, and three passes defended on the year, but his snap total is only 303.
In 2015, he had 10.5 sacks, and he had seven in 2014. He projects to have eight sacks this year. His sack of Kirk Cousins on Sunday moved him to No. 6 on the NFL’s all-time sack list.
Peppers is playing almost exactly half of the defensive downs so far this year. That number would be even lower if not for Clay Matthews missing so much playing time. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers seems determined to stick to the rationing plan he devised in the preseason for the 36-year-old Peppers.
I’d say the clear winner – or actually the loser – is Mike Daniels. In 388 snaps, he has 17 tackles, two sacks, no forced fumbles, and one pass defended. In seven of his 10 games, he’s had only one tackle.
He projects to finish the season with 27 tackles, three sacks and two passes defended. In 2015, Daniels had 49 tackles and four sacks, and in 2014 he had 41 tackles and 5.5 sacks. Unlike many of his teammates, Daniels has avoided injuries in 2016.
In addition to his mediocre defensive play, Daniels has committed some stupid and costly penalties, including a taunting penalty in the third quarter against the Titans. It came on a drive that led to the touchdown that gave the Titans an insurmountable 41-22 lead. If that wasn’t embarrassing enough, Daniels proceeded to throw a tantrum after the game in the locker room, which was not well received by his teammates.
This wasn’t the first time Daniels has lost his cool at a bad time. In Green Bay’s devastating playoff loss to the Seahawks following the 2014 regular season, another taunting penalty against Daniels moved the Packers from a 1st-and-goal at the 4-yard line to 1st and 10 from the 19.
Last December, Daniels signed a four-year, $42 million contract extension. The $10.5 million annual average made him the third-highest-paid 3-4 defensive end in the league – ranking behind only Houston’s J.J. Watt and Arizona’s Calais Campbell.
Between Peppers and Daniels, the Packers are paying over $20 million this year or around $2 million per (projected) sack. When the year-end accusations turn to general manager Ted Thompson, these two payouts will be some of the ammunition aimed his way.