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Nick Perry must become X-factor again for Packers to make postseason push

While Mike McCarthy and the offense have come under fire, Perry must become more visible in the season’s second half.

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NFL: Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

When the Green Bay Packers gave pass rusher Nick Perry a five-year, $60 million contract in the spring of 2017, they thought they were investing in a 26-year old cornerstone of the defense. But after Perry’s 11-sack season in which he made a career-high 12 starts in a semi-healthy season, Perry has been noticeably quiet the past two years.

As The Athletic’s Ben Fennell mentioned in the most recent episode of the APC Podcast, Perry has been battling back from ankle surgery in the offseason and still is not one-hundred percent. But in reality, that has been the book on Perry since arriving in Green Bay as a first round selection in 2012. Last year alone, Perry was shut down in late December after a season of ankle, foot, shoulder, and hand injuries, playing with a club for a few weeks early on. While Perry has played in 63 of 72 possible games over the past five seasons, it has not been a healthy 63 games, a factor that has led to detrimental ineffectiveness at times. The Packers took a gamble on Perry’s injury history and so far, they have been burned.

Whether the ankle injury truly is a severe hindrance this season is tough to assess for those outside of 1265 Lombardi Avenue. However, it is evident that he is not the same bull-rushing edge rusher he once was as a former defensive end. While Perry was never a high-impact speed rusher, that part of his game has almost disappeared. Perry’s seven sacks a season ago were misleading with three coming in one game against a porous Chicago offensive line and his total of just one through eight games this season is far from impressive. As Fennell discussed, Perry has not consistently won one-on-one battles and also has been quiet as a result of dropping into coverage more in Mike Pettine’s defensive scheme. Pro Football Focus rates Perry the 98th-best edge defender this season with an “average” grade and the clips below provide substance behind that number.

As a result, Green Bay’s pass rush from the edge has been an achilles heel. It’s been covered up on some third downs by Pettine’s willingness to bring overload, all-out blitzes. The Packers have gotten to the quarterback by going this route, but the strategy has also left the defense susceptible to quarterbacks that correctly predict the blitz at the line and get the ball out quickly. Being able to game plan around an elite edge rusher would open up many doors for Pettine, which is what the Packers paid Perry to be. But even Pettine acknowledges things still are not right for the former USC standout.

It’s easy to say that the Packers front office should have addressed the edge rushing position last offseason, but the talent simply was not there. An unusually weak draft at the position, coupled with a lack of potency in the free agent market left Green Bay in an awful position. It’s also easy to say Green Bay should not have signed Perry at all. But at a position that has proved elusive in terms of finding playmakers, could the Packers really have let Perry walk? The past two years have led to somewhat of a lose-lose situation for Green Bay.

Still, on a defense that has an aging Clay Matthews and two role players in Reggie Gilbert and Kyler Fackrell taking on significant pass rushing roles, it’s time for Perry to be the X-factor he has proven he can be when healthy. The Packers finally have a promising group of cornerbacks and seem committed to figuring out the most effective safety combinations. Blake Martinez has been reliable, if not a strong point, at many parts of the season at inside linebacker. Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels have really stepped up their interior push over the past couple of weeks. The Packers are missing that consistent edge presence, despite having a top-ten sacks mark in the NFL with 26. And with the offense stumbling, the Packers need help on the defensive side of the ball as much as they ever have to stay in games.

When Green Bay signed Perry to his extension, Head Coach Mike McCarthy said that he was excited to have him remain a Packer. “I’ve enjoyed watching his development as a player and leader over the last five seasons,” said McCarthy. “Nick is a core member of our team and he will be an important part of our success moving forward.”

If the Packers are to make the postseason in 2018, Perry surely must be “an important part” of their success.