Green Bay Packers

Packers Pass Rush Has A Chance To Shine Against the Bears

Photo credit: Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

The Green Bay Packers defense has an immediate chance to turn its perception around after an underwhelming Week 1 performance against the Minnesota Vikings. Next Sunday, the Packers play against another divisional rival, the Chicago Bears, in primetime. The pass rush is one area where there is a big opportunity to show that last week’s game was more of an outlier than anything.

The Packers were 25th in pass rush win rate for Week 1, an ESPN metric that quantifies the percentage of plays in which the rushers beat the offensive line in 2.5 seconds or less. Green Bay’s defense was able to do that in only 33% of the plays. It’s not like Kirk Cousins was getting the ball out quickly. He had a 2.96s average, according to Next Gen Stats.

However, Justin Fields tends to hold the ball even longer, which should help the Packers. Fields had the highest average time to throw in the entire NFL in Week 1 (3.27s), significantly ahead of Carson Wentz (3.14), Justin Herbert (3.04), Russell Wilson (3.04), and Lamar Jackson (3.01). And it’s not only a matter of a small sample size. Last year, albeit in a different offensive scheme, Fields’ average time to throw was 3.08s – 35th among 38 eligible quarterbacks.

Even though the Packers only beat the Vikings in under 2.5 seconds 33% of the time on Sunday, there is evidence the pass rush was still relatively effective. According to Pro Football Focus, Green Bay pressured Cousins in 42.4% of his dropbacks, 27th among 33 quarterbacks. ESPN and PFF metrics consider different factors, but that gap means the Packers rushers were coming between 2.5 seconds and Cousins’ average time to throw right below 3s. The difference of 0.3s from Fields to Cousins may have a significant impact on Sunday Night Football.

The Packers should also expect better individual play. That applies especially to safeties after an abnormally poor performance by Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage, but it’s also true for the edge rushers. Green Bay’s highest-graded outside linebacker was rookie Kingsley Enagbare, with a 71.7 grade. However, he only played 10 defensive snaps. Rashan Gary (69.9) was decent, if unspectacular, and Preston Smith (58.8) was below average. The lack of depth is real, though. Jonathan Garvin, the third edge, played in only 12 snaps and had a 43.4 PFF grade.

The Chicago Bears surprisingly led the NFL in Week 1 in pass-block win rate, at 88%. But it is yet to be seen if the quality of the offensive line play is sustainable or if it was a product of Chicago’s weather last Sunday. The unit has fifth-round rookie Braxton Jones at LT, veteran Cody Whitehair at LG, and last year’s fifth-rounder Larry Borom at RT. The rest of the line is a question mark because of Lucas Patrick.

The Bears signed Green Bay’s former versatile interior lineman to be a center, but a hand injury has limited him. Therefore, he was in and out of the lineup as a right guard against San Francisco. He shared playing time with second-year player Teven Jenkins, who recently moved from tackle to guard. If Patrick can’t return to his original spot, 2019 undrafted Sam Mustipher will be the center again.

Even considering Chicago’s good numbers in pass-blocking rate, Justin Fields was still under pressure for 43.5% of his dropbacks against the 49ers, 30th among 33 QBs. That aligns well with Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s idea of rushing with four to drop seven defenders into coverage and still being able to apply pressure with his front without sending blitz frequently.

Zone coverage was rightfully considered the Packers’ biggest defensive issue against the Vikings. But if the pass rush can be more efficient, it allows the secondary breathing room and the possibility to play to its identity. Considering the Bears’ receiving room is not nearly as qualified as Minnesota’s, Barry’s zone-heavy scheme might be more effective. Suppose the Packers can consistently pressure Fields and expect a lack of immediate separation from the offensive weapons. In that case, the defense has the opportunity to play much cleaner and to have much more impact.

The Packers’ defense entered the season with high expectations because of how much talent it has. The first perception wasn’t great, but the unit showed signs of improvement, only allowing six second-half points to the Vikings. Now, there is an opportunity for the group to shine its potential against a worse offense before another difficult opponent, Tom Brady‘s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, next week.

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Photo credit: Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

The Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears fought for the honor of being the winningest team in NFL history this Sunday, and thanks to a late interception […]

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