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Packers Film Study: Rashan Gary’s elite performance vs New England

The Packers have one of the best pass rushers in the NFL.

Dan Powers / USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Green Bay Packers barely squeaked out a win over third-string quarterback Bailey Zappe and the New England Patriots. However, former first-round pick Rashan Gary put on a performance that showed the rest of the league that he’s become one of the best pass rushers in the NFL.

It was a dominant game for Gary, who finished Week 4 with two sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Gary posted an elite defensive grade of 93.4 with five pressures and five stops on the day.

The 24-year-old is now at five sacks, and if he continues this pace will eclipse over 20 sacks after never producing more than 9.5 in a single season. The All-22 film showed an incredible athlete on Sunday, but also a player who is vastly improving as a run defender.

Let’s start with the sacks because they were pretty awe-inspiring. Coming out of Michigan, Gary posted an absurd 9.95 RAS with elite explosion and speed grades. That explosiveness was on display on Gary’s sack on Brian Hoyer, but also take a look at his hand usage.

In previous seasons, Gary was a bit more uncomfortable using his hands to disengage. Here, you can see how the 24-year-old punches the right tackle, then works a rip move while flying around him to get free and into the lap of Brian (Axel) Hoyer.

Offensive tackles not getting enough depth on their pass sets against Gary are in for a world of hurt. Even from wide alignments, Gary covers space so quickly that opposing tackles have to gain depth if they want to contain him.

It’s outrageous how quickly Gary can get to a quarterback, and even with his improved technique, he can still win one-on-one matchups just through sheer athleticism.

For as impressive as Gary’s sacks were, his play in run defense has looked significantly improved from previous seasons as well. Gary has often been criticized for failing to set the edge, and while there are still some lapses, it’s important to see how he can still have a positive impact when stopping the run.

Gary showed off some teach tape on how coaches teach their linebackers to take on blockers. Early in the game, Gary took on a tight end by getting his arms extended, keeping a wide base, and keeping his feet moving to drive the blocker back in order to make a play on the running back.

Dominating a block at the point of attack like this can be hard to do, but Gary was able to dominate his opponent and make an early stop to make the Patriots think twice about running at him.

Even when the Patriots ran away from Gary, he was able to make a play. The Packers' edge rusher is showing significantly more speed in pursuit on the backside this year, which is allowing him to make even more plays against the run.

Some of the plays Gary is tasked to do in run defense have been unfairly criticized in the past. Depending on the defensive scheme, outside linebackers are often asked to “wrong-arm” or simply blow up pulling blockers who come across the formation to take them on.

The easiest way to tell if this is what an outside linebacker is being asked to do is by looking at the inside linebacker, which in this case would be Quay Walker. If the inside backer is “scraping”, or moving laterally to the outside of the tackle box, that’s usually an indication that the outside linebacker is being asked to blow up the pullers so that the ILB can scrape over and clean anything up on the outside.

On this play early on, Gary did a great job of blowing up not one, but two pullers. This should have made Walker’s job a lot easier as he scraped over, but by taking too tight of an angle towards Gary, he allowed the Patriots running back to break to the outside.

Gary is now in his fourth NFL season, and while he has yet to receive the national recognition he deserves, this could finally be the year where he starts to get some Pro Bowl and All-Pro consideration.

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