Outsiders may still believe that the Green Bay Packers have a long way to go on the defensive side of the football. Yet, what they might not realize is the Packers have been collecting talented defensive players since the 2012 NFL Draft and this will be the year when we start seeing the fruits of that labor.
One area in particular where the Green Bay defense will be much improved this season is going to be the interior pass rush.
Being able to put pressure on the opposing quarterback is essential for any NFL defense to be successful. The quarterbacks and receivers are too good and the rules are too in favor of the offense to allow the quarterback time to throw in the pocket. If is happens consistently your defense will be exposed and in the past few years that is exactly what has happened to the Packers.
Since the departure of Cullen Jenkins following the 2010 season, the Packers have struggled to fill the void he left. He was and still is a tremendous interior rusher, a player that makes a greater impact than his numbers suggest. His absence clearly impacted the Green Bay defense but with Mike Daniels, a fourth round choice in 2012 and Datone Jones, a first round pick in 2013, paired together as the top interior pass rushers for the 2014 season, getting pressure up the middle should no longer be a concern.
Daniels has already established himself as one the best up and coming interior rushers in the game after an impressive 6.5 sack season in 2012. Jones meanwhile is extremely talented and racked up 3.5 sacks during his rookie campaign but injuries and adjusting to the pro game limited his impact.
That should all change in 2014. Jones is healthy and he has worked to improve his strength in order to take on bigger, strong offensive lineman in the NFL. It’s also not out of the ordinary for defensive lineman to take a little longer to develop. They can no longer get by simply by power and athleticism and it takes a while to adjust.
Therefore, if Jones can take a similar leap in year two that Daniels did is his second season, opposing offenses better watch out because the Packers interior pass rush is going to be dominant.
Let’s also not forget the potential impact B.J. Raji could have after being moved back to nose tackle, his best position within the Packers defense. Back in 2010-2011, when he was playing nose on a consistent basis, Raji posted 9.5 sacks and earned a Pro Bowl berth. Mike Neal, who is also a skilled interior rusher should also see more opportunities rushing inside with the healthy return of Clay Matthews and the addition of Julius Peppers.
Daniels, Jones, Raji and Neal form a foursome that should terrorize opposing quarterbacks from the middle of the defense. Most teams are lucky to have one or maybe two solid interior pass rushers, the Packers have four of them; and that is one reason why the Packers defense will be much improved during the 2014 season.