This week we have been asking ourselves what is different about the Packers since week 1. Evan did a great job looking at the roster changes for the Packers and the Niners earlier this week. I want to look at something a bit smaller, a little talked about position switch that has reaped big dividends.
The Packers defense has changed greatly since week 1 of this year and a large reason for those changes has been because of injury. Most of us have seen this through rise of guys like Casey Hayward and Brad Jones, but of the more interesting moves happened along the defensive line with Ryan Picket taking the nose tackle spot and B.J. Raji taking defensive end. Originally the move of Pickett was prompted by an ankle injury to Raji, causing him to miss a couple games. Pickett played so well at this spot that the coaching staff decided to keep Pickett there when Raji came back healthy.
Pickett’s success at the nose shouldn't be too much of a surprise. Pickett was the nose tackle when the Packers first made the switch to the 3-4 back in 2009. He played very well there and the Packers had the best run defense in the league. This year Pickett has helped improve the Packers run defense which has shut down some of the most talented backs in the league and has only allowed two running backs to run for more than 100 yards against them all season.
The more surprising end of this switch has been the improved play of Raji. PFF noted on Wednesday that over the first twelve weeks of the year Raji had a run defense rating of -2.4, but over the last five weeks of the year and the wild card game against the Vikings Raji had a run defense rating of +10.4. This is a staggering turnaround and has occurred after the switch to DE. In addition to his improvement in the run game, Raji has also displayed more push in the pass rush as well. A great example of this came last week against the Vikings where Raji was able push the pocket and force Webb toward the waiting arms of the Packers’ outside linebackers.
In week 1 the San Francisco 49ers and Frank Gore gashed the Green Bay Packers and set the tone for the game. If the Packers are going to continue their path to the Super Bowl they will need to stop the Niners’ running attack and try to place the fate of the game on the arm of Colin Kaepernick. The move of Raji of DE has seemed to help the run defense tremendously and should help the Packers in this goal.
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