B.J. Raji

Raji could be in a better position to make plays on the outside.

Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator [intlink id=”305″ type=”category”]Dom Capers[/intlink] is a master at putting players in a position to succeed.

Unlike other defensive coordinators, Capers isn’t tied to any alignments or formations. Although he’s a 3-4 coordinator, he adapts to the skill set of his players.

So it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that Capers is tinkering with the defensive line alignment.

In order to maximize the talent of their personnel, the Packers are experimenting with [intlink id=”473″ type=”category”]B.J. Raji[/intlink] on the outside and [intlink id=”252″ type=”category”]Ryan Pickett[/intlink] back in his traditional nose tackle position.

[intlink id=”1033″ type=”category”]Mike Neal[/intlink] completes the trio as the other defensive end.

Raji played nose exclusively last season and Pickett was shifted to defensive end. The since-departed [intlink id=”163″ type=”category”]Cullen Jenkins[/intlink] played the other end.

Last season, Capers’ Eagle alignment had Pickett straight up on the strong-side tackle, Raji was shaded toward the strong side over the center and Jenkins was on the outside of the weak-side guard. The Eagle put Jenkins in position to make plays, while Pickett was essentially there to hold the point of attack.

This year’s version of the Eagle could see Raji in Jenkins’ old position, put Pickett back in his traditional spot and have Neal over the strong-side tackle.

The change makes sense for three reasons.

First, Raji is the playmaker. Putting him over the guard means either the opposing quarterback or running back is going to get killed or the offense will have to double-team Raji. In passing situations, this latter scenario should leave an outside linebacker one-on-one with a running back. On running plays, the middle linebackers should a have better opportunity to get to the ball carrier before he gets to them.

Second, word on the street is Pickett is better at nose tackle than he is at defensive end. That makes sense, since he played the position for nine seasons before switching to defensive end last year.

Third, Neal is supposedly a bull, which is something Pickett is not. Pickett was the consummate pro last season. He moved to defensive end and didn’t complain because he knew the Packers had to get Raji on the field. He did what the team asked of him, but Ryan Pickett isn’t a pass rusher. Neal is going to be a pass rusher if Capers gives him the green light.

While Capers is sacrificing pressure up the middle by switching Raji and Pickett, he’s opening up the outside. If both Raji and Neal are able to generate pressure on passing downs as expected, they’ll make the outside linebackers’ jobs easy.

It’s an element the Packers defense didn’t have last season and that’s kind of scary.

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