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Za’Darius Smith, Packers lead the NFL in pressuring the quarterback

Brian Gutekunst made an enormous investment in the pass rush this offseason. Through two weeks, he’s built the best group in the NFL, spearheaded by his biggest (literally and financially) free agent acquisition.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
Za’Darius Smith has been the most disruptive pass rusher in the league through two weeks.
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

When the Green Bay Packers led the league in pressures after one week, confusing and harassing Mitch Trubisky, it could have been dismissed as an aberration. After all, Mike Pettine sewed a chicken suit for Trubisky in Week 1 last year as well. But then in Week 2, the Packers not only matched their dominant pass rush performance from Week 1 — they beat it.

After racking up 19 pressures against the Bears, Kenny Clark, Za’Darius Smith and Co. brought down the house on Kirk Cousins to the tune of 25 pressures against the Vikings. They now lead the league once again through two weeks and World War Z tops the NFL individually.

This is an appropriate reminder that while sack numbers are nice, they’re not everything. Green Bay put up excellent sack numbers last season, but struggled to create consistent pressure. The opposite has been true this season, though they still rank in the top-10 in sacks. Their adjusted sack rate is just 11th, half of league-leading New Orleans. They aren’t sacking the QB with as much regularity as they are disrupting him, but that’s not actually a problem. Getting after the quarterback, forcing him to move off his spot, creates opportunities for the “Snow Fly Zone” to make plays on the back end.

And the Packers’ defensive backs are making those plays. What’s truly remarkable is the Packers are among league leaders in turnovers despite failing to recover one of their forced fumbles in Week 2 and dropping at least four interceptions through the first two games. In other words, they aren’t relying on an unsustainable turnover rate to get defensive stops.

The last time we saw a pass rush and secondary working in tandem like this in Green Bay, the Packers were a second-half collapse in Seattle away from a Super Bowl. This defensive front looks to be significantly better. In fact, this looks like the most talented defense the Packers have had since Charles Woodson was patrolling the secondary.