Transitioning from one season to the other can often be a challenging process for teams to bare.
The 2015-2016 transition has already shown to be a very atypical one for the Packers, especially on the defensive front seven.
Two key players on the Packers’ front seven are no longer on the roster, (Mike Neal and B.J. Raji), and Mike Pennel is serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
With the apparent holes on the Packers D-line, many fans may be skeptical to the amount of output the defense will be able to generate in 2016.
However, the Packers have a variety of talented pass-rushers, primarily falling to the Outside Linebackers. The Packers run a 3-4 style defense under Defensive Coordinator, Dom Capers, he based the defense off of the Steelers‘ defense in the 90’s, and has continued to run this defense since is debut in Green Bay in 2009.
The 3-4 is the counterpart to the 4-3 defense, which is implemented by teams like the Lions, Seahawks, and the Rams to list a few. The 3-4 defense relies on the three interior defensive lineman to clog up the inside of the line, while quicker Outside Linebackers rush the edges. The Packers addressed their interior lineman issue in the draft by selecting UCLA’s Kenny Clark, and Northwestern’s Dean Lowry, now the focus turns to the edge rushers, and naturally, the Packers have an abundance of them.
Clay Matthews highlights the list; as an ex-Outside Linebacker who was forced to make the transition to Inside Linebacker due to a lack of depth, he will be setting the edge once more in 2016. Matthews did not record a 10+ sack year in 2015 and fans are expecting that with his transition back to the outside, his sack totals should closer resemble his 2010 statistics. Matthews, 30, is an eight-year veteran whose output is yet to decline, and he is expected to land the starting LOLB position with ease.
Julius Peppers was the other starting Outside Linebacker for the Packers last year. Regardless of Peppers’ age, he has consistently wreaked havoc in the opponent’s backfield. Standing at 6-foot-7, the lengthy Peppers is setting the trend for what a prototypical Outside Linebacker should look like throughout the league. Other Packer pass-rushers may substitute in for the 36-year-old in order to give him downtime, but Peppers will still be a contributing factor in the pass-rush throughout the 2016 season.
Pass-rushing up-and-comers have shown a lot of poise thus far as well. Players like Jayrone Elliott, Nick Perry and Datone Jones have contributed to several of the Packers’ wins; including Elliott’s game-saving interception, as well as a forced fumble, finished off the Seahawks in week 1 last year.
Elliott, out of the University of Toledo came onto the Packers’ practice field in 2014 after being undrafted. His explosiveness, as well as his determination kept him on-board. Elliott was labeled as one of the best players in the preseason league-wide. Posting a total of five sacks in the 2015 preseason, Elliott looked like he could receive a lot of first round repetitions when the regular season began. In the regular season, Elliott recorded three sacks as well as 35 total tackles, despite sporadically playing in only 14 games.
Nick Perry, is another talented pass-rusher that the Packers have in their arsenal. Perry has yet to show Packer fans his true potential, as he has been injury-plagued over the past several seasons. Despite the lingering injuries that Perry has faced, he has still been able to average over three sacks every season since his rookie season. Now in 2016, Clay Matthews’ move back to LOLB may prevent Perry from receiving an excelled amount of playing time; however, the USC alum who was signed to a one-year deal this year, will be fighting to prove his worth in the 2016 season.
Another dynamic pass-rusher that the Packers possess, is Datone Jones, a third-year player of out UCLA. Jones was drafted in 2013 as a project, he originally played as a lineman at UCLA, however the Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson noticed that Jones was undersized, and would struggle on the defensive line. Now, in 2016, Jones is still adjusting to the position and with three sacks in the 2015 season, fans are hoping that Jones continues to gain a grasp on the new position.
The Packers’ newest addition to the edge is Kyler Fackrell, a rookie out of Brigham Young University. Fackrell is an intriguing prospect, with a good mixture of size and speed Fackrell was able to record five sacks and 82 total tackles in his senior year of college. He also intercepted four passes throughout his college career, which shows that Fackrell is not a one-trick pass-rushing pony, but that he can drop into coverage as well.
The Packers have a high magnitude of pass-rushing ability, and in 2016, it will be interesting to see how McCarthy and Capers include all of their pass-rushing talents.