Whether the primary impulse has come from defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, Coach Matt LaFleur, or GM Brian Gutekunst, someone has put a stamp on Green Bay’s 2019 defense: they are going to pressure, harass, and disrupt opposing quarterbacks to an extent Packer fans haven’t witnessed in years. That firm commitment has been made.
If things work out as planned, gone are the days (in 2018) when Kirk Cousins (MIN) goes 35 of 48, C.J. Beatherd (SF) goes 16 of 23, Cousins goes again for 29 of 38, Mitchell Trubiski (CHI) goes 20 of 28, or Sam Darnold (NYJ) goes 24 of 35. By allowing these chumps so much undisturbed time to throw last year, Green Bay made them look like all-stars. Credit the new leadership of the Packers for vowing to change all that.
The manner in which Clay Matthews and Nick Perry were let go was one early indication. They failed to apply any semblance of pressure in 2018, and were unceremoniously shown the door. That’s what accountability is all about.
The team’s focused approach on acquiring edge rushers Za’Darius and Preston Smith, and how much they quite willingly agreed to pay them, renders the Packers’ commitment to harassing quarterbacks unmistakable.
Not satisfied, the Pack utilized its rare early Round 1 selection to land Rashan Gary. While it’s not clear if he’ll share time with the two new edge rushers or spend some time as a somewhat undersized defensive lineman, it is clear that he’s intended to be a pass rusher as well as a run stuffer. Gary is viewed as being versatile.
As if that wasn’t enough, Green Bay then went out and got defensive lineman Kingsley Keke in Round 5. Pro Football Focus just rated him as a “steal” in this draft.
The Packers’ scout for the Southwest region, Charles Walls, gave this assessment:
“(Kingsley Keke) is a big guy, who is athletic, can play across the front, he’s long, he’s got feet, hips and closing speed. Had production in the SEC. Another big guy with athleticism who adds versatility to us.”
At Texas A&M, Keke had lots of tackles for losses, and he registered four sacks as a sophomore and six as a senior. He could develop into a solid D-lineman.
In 2018, the Packers defense produced a respectable 44 sacks. They did so by spreading the chores around – I believe 16 defenders contributed to that total. Last year’s sack leaders were OLB Kyler Fackrell (10.5), DE/NT Kenny Clark (6), and ILB Blake Martinez (5). They are all returning, and are all young and still getting better.
Also, Mike Daniels is bound to improve on his down year, in terms of sacks – though he’s had five or more sacks in three seasons, he had only two in 2018.
Speaking of Daniels, he packs 310 pounds onto a six-foot frame. Too much of that weight is not muscle. Back in the day, Packers’ center Frank Winters 1992-2002) was nicknamed “Ol’ Bag o’ Donuts.” Defensive end Dave “Hawg” Hanner (1952-64) got his moniker for similar reasons. Both became Packers’ Hall of Famers despite high body fat content.
That hasn’t cut it, though, in the NFL for a couple of decades. My opinion is that Daniels would be more effective if he dropped about 20 pounds, thereby gaining some quickness and agility. Daniels needs to be Flab shouldn’t be optional on this team. I’ll be watching to see if LaFleur puts Mike on the scales daily until he drops well below 300 pounds.
Where was I? Oh yes, the Packers’ sack total last season was quite misleading. I’d say that on one out of every three plays Packers defenders provided virtually no pressure on the quarterback for three, four, and sometimes five or more seconds. No defensive back can be expected to maintain good coverage for that amount of time. And even low-quality quarterbacks can march down the field under those conditions.
For that reason alone, it could be that Packers’ DBs got somewhat of an unfair rap last year. If we can cut a second off many of the times-to-throw, we might see guys like Oren Burks, Josh Jones, and Josh Jackson showing more talent than they seemed to possess a year ago.
Pressuring the quarterback affects a great many things: completion percentages, ability to throw deep balls, interception totals, making third down conversions more difficult, making long drives rarer, and so on.
Almost all the off-season attention has been lavished on the defense. There will be no excuses this season, for Pettine, Gutekunst, LaFleur, or Mark Murphy. This defense must perform. For me, anything less than a top-seven rating in yards, and points, given up will be a disappointment.