Despite players dropping left and right, the Green Bay Packers are sitting at 6-1 atop the NFC North, and third-year edge rusher Rashan Gary is playing a big part in the team’s success.
Gary had arguably the best game of his career in Sunday’s win over the Washington Football Team, coming up with seven tackles, two sacks, and a forced fumble. His 3.5 sacks this year don’t tell the full story of the impact he’s having defensively, especially as of late.
Pro Football Focus (subscription required) has credited Gary with 35 QB pressures already this season, just 11 away from his total last season. Those 35 pressures are tied with Shaq Barrett for fifth-most in the league. Meanwhile, his pass-rush win rate of 24.3 percent is good enough for third in the NFL behind only Maxx Crosby and Myles Garrett (minimum of 100 snaps against the pass).
Although he’s been perceived as a straight-line pass rusher in the past, the tape is showing that Gary is continuing to work on his craft. With the development of his technique and a variety of pass-rush moves, Gary is starting to become a legitimate force at outside linebacker, and Sunday’s game was a great opportunity for him to show that.
At 6’5” and 277 pounds, Gary is still a phenomenal athlete. He’s had issues overshooting the pocket when rushing with speed in the past, but he’s beginning to get the right angle and bend the edge to get to the quarterback.
Love to see Gary bending the edge here!— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) October 26, 2021
Unfortunately, rushing lanes weren't kept and Heinecke had a ton of space to run. pic.twitter.com/ij6sd0eNuH
If the interior pass rushers of Dean Lowry, Kenny Clark, or Kingsley Keke are able to generate push into the pocket, this would have been a sack for Gary. Unfortunately, Clark and Keke are pushed out wide while Lowry is stonewalled, leaving a wide-open lane for Taylor Heinecke to step up in the pocket and take off for a huge gain.
It’s clear the Packers coaching staff has worked with Gary to help him avoid gaining too much depth on his rush, which has washed him out of plays at times by getting behind the quarterback. This play in the red zone was a good example of Gary recognizing when to bail on getting around the edge, and instead regrouping to try and generate pressure.
Another nice rep from Gary here.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) October 26, 2021
Overshoots the pocket, retraces, cuts back outside when Heinecke tries to escape. Keeps the pressure on the QB. pic.twitter.com/NLyshYIUfC
The play could have ended in a touchdown, but Gary’s awareness and motor had him stick with his rush to keep pressure on Heinecke as he rolled out of the pocket rather than washing himself out of the play.
Hand usage is something that is a huge part in being a successful pass rusher. It allows the defender to disengage from offensive linemen, creating just enough space to gain an edge and wreak havoc in the pocket. This was something that was going to take some time for Gary to refine coming out of Michigan, but it looks like he’s figuring out how to win with technique in a variety of ways.
Arguably Gary’s biggest play of the season came on just the second play from scrimmage of the second half. With the left tackle’s arms extended and locked on, Gary used a great rip move to disengage while using his elite athleticism to get around the corner just in time to get to Heinecke.
This might be Rashan Gary's best rep of the season.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) October 26, 2021
Initial pass rush doesn't work, so Gary resets and hits the LT with a killer rip move. Gets to the QB for the strip sack.
So good. pic.twitter.com/PxXwJZE15W
The strip-sack was a huge momentum boost for the Packers, who scored a touchdown just three plays later to go up 21-7. Without that rip move, Heinecke would have had no problem getting his throw off.
Gary is so athletic and strong that his hand usage doesn’t always have to be the most technically impressive, either. He was able to generate pressure again in the red zone simply by shooting his arm into the right tackle’s chest at the point of attack.
Good example of importance of hand usage.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) October 26, 2021
Gary shoots his arm as OT engages him. Watch how it gets the tackle's hands off of him.
Creates enough separation to attack around the edge and get to the QB. pic.twitter.com/uh3yLYdTYq
Gary had a season-high 10 pressures in this game, and almost all of them came from around the edge. One of the veteran intricacies of top-tier pass rushers is setting up blockers throughout a game before pulling a move against them that goes completely against what they’ve expected from you.
This last highlighted play from Sunday was a perfect example of Gary setting up his blocker all game long. After consistently attacking the outside, Gary won with speed cutting inside, and Washington’s right tackle was completely unprepared for that possibility.
Gary was setting this up all game.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) October 26, 2021
After constantly rushing around the edge, Gary just cuts inside straight to the QB. The tackle is completely unprepared. pic.twitter.com/IPMcuBSV2D
It’s worth reiterating that what we saw from Gary on Sunday is the result of years of working on his craft. The athleticism and power have always been there, but the technique, hand usage, and ability to set up his assignments are new weapons that he’s added to his arsenal in 2021.
If Gary can continue to build on his Week 7 performance, then the rest of the NFC is going to be in big trouble.