The Packers have been beaten on consecutive weeks by teams with a strong interior pass rush and some talent on the edge. This weekend, they’ll face the Washington Commanders, another team with a strong interior pass rush and talent on the edge.
Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne are enough to give any team fits, much less one that regularly starts Royce Newman at guard. But edge rusher Montez Sweat might be what makes Washington extra dangerous for the Packers.
Washington selected Sweat 26th overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. A truly insane athletic prospect, the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Sweat ran a 4.41 40-yard dash at that spring’s NFL Combine, posting some similarly mind-boggling agility and jumping numbers en route to an elite athletic profile.
Montez Sweat's official #RAS profile ends up with him notching top 15 all time. Insane movement skills and explosion for a guy with that length, just wish more of the agility showed on tape. pic.twitter.com/VUjEc6AbHi— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 15, 2019
By virtue of his weight and some better numbers on the bench, the Packers’ Rashan Gary posted a better RAS than Sweat, but the fact that they’re in the same neighborhood should tell you what kind of athlete he is.
Like Gary, Sweat has taken a little while to figure things out as an NFL pass rusher. More traits than tools, Sweat has still been productive in his NFL career to date. According to Pro Football Focus, Sweat has generated pressure on more than 10% of his career pass rushes and his pressure rate has consistently increased year over year.
Gary’s advanced numbers are better (a career pressure rate of 15.3% and a stronger pressure rate than Sweat every season so far), but Sweat has finished his pressures slightly more often than Gary. He’s managed 24 sacks, 29 tackles for loss, and 60 quarterback hits over his first three-plus NFL seasons; Gary has posted just 22.5 sacks, 23 tackles for loss, and 49 quarterback hits. That’s a negligible difference, though, and probably has more to do with the competition Gary had for playing time in his first two seasons as anything else.
However, Sweat’s work against the run is noteworthy compared to Gary. He’s consistently graded out as an elite run defender, a part of Gary’s game that remains a work in progress. Sweat’s consistent strength on the edge is a significant contributing factor to Washington’s strong run defense this year; they rank fifth against the run by DVOA, according to Football Outsiders.
Look at Sweat’s play strength and you can see how he’d be more than capable of setting an edge. He’ll bulldoze right through your offensive line if he has to, and he can bring that same strength in run defense.
Sweat will spend most of his time Sunday working against David Bakhtiari. Though he rushes from both left and right end, he’s been on the defense’s right for 156 of his 288 defensive snaps so far this year. The Commanders will occasionally rush him from a two-point stance, too, and that happens almost exclusively on the right side. 29 of his 34 snaps as a stand-up rusher have been from the right side this season.
The Packers have had consistent problems up front this season, especially with teams that have talent like the Commanders. Getting their season back on track starts with handling exactly that kind of attack, and slowing Sweat and the rest of the Commanders line presents a great opportunity to prove they can do it.