Packers Defensive Line Has Some Weighty Issues

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Kenny Clark goes up

The Green Bay Packers, like about half of NFL teams, have utilized the 3-4 defensive formation for many years – though in the past few years they have varied things through various subpackages. Players in the 3-4 alignment simply can’t be compared to those in a 4-3.

As exposed by Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons, the pass rush in the Packers’ 3-4 formation has been slipping. We know the Packers aren’t about to make any big changes in scheme or strategy, so the question becomes: who, or what kind of athletes, do they need to have a better pass rush?

First, some preliminaries. Though the three linemen and four linebackers that make up the 3-4 format have both run-stop and pass-rush responsibilities, I’ll be concentrating here on the pass-rush role.

Starting in the middle, the nose guard position is usually manned by a 320+ pound widebody. The two defensive ends are usually smaller, around 280 pounds or so, as they have twin functions: run stop (primarily) and also rush the passer.

In the 3-4 scheme, it’s the linebackers who are supposed to dart through the gaps created by the down linemen and harass or sack the quarterback. The best pass-rush linebacker is typically the outside linebacker playing on the right side of the defensive formation (ROLB), as he attacks the blind side of right-handed QBs.

On some teams – but not the Packers – it’s the two inside linebackers (ILBs) who are most effective in getting to the QB. ILBs are often able to go right up the middle through gaps the defensive line has created. But ILBs also often have to drop back into pass coverage, and when blitzing they often have to battle through the block of a running back, while OLBs often do battle with tight ends.

There are endless options and combinations for getting to the passer in the 3-4 alignment, and defensive coordinator Dom Capers employs a great many of them in the course of each game.

The 3-4 has its drawbacks. It’s hard to find defensive line athletes. If you lack a premier nose tackle, you are vulnerable to the rush. Defensive ends also must be versatile, as they must be quick enough to get around blockers and into the backfield in a hurry, but they also have to out-wrestle offensive linemen who often have a 40-pound or so weight advantage. Without quality defensive ends, the defense has to rely on blitzing, including by defensive backs, to reach the QB.

Good quarterbacks can shred a defense that relies too much on blitzing, as it frees up receivers. ILBs who cannot fend off blockers, won’t be effective blitzers. More and more, both ILBs and OLBs need to possess a blend of speed and strength.

Green Bay’s Current Defensive Line Group

Includes the player’s size, age and where he was drafted.

NT Letroy Guion: 324, 6’4”, 29, Rd. 5
NT/DT Christian Ringo: 298, 6’1”, 24, Rd. 6

DT/DE Mike Daniels: 291, 6’, 27, Rd. 4
DT/DE Kenny Clark: 314, 6’3”, 21, Rd. 1
DT/DE Brian Price: 318, 6’3”, 22, undrafted
DT/DE Dean Lowry: 296, 6’6”, 22, Rd. 4
DT/DE Reggie Gilbert: 274, 6’3”, 23, undrafted

Notes: The team roster currently shows Reggie Gilbert as a linebacker, but he played defensive end in college. Gilbert and Price aren’t shown on the team’s depth chart because both spent 2016 on the practice squad. There’s no consistency by the Packers in referring to the non-nose tackles as either a tackle or an end, so I’ve grouped them all together.

Assessments and Questions

Guion, though he’s added 21 pounds since college, is still below-average size at NT. At age 29, he is in decline and no longer starter-quality. His performance already markedly dropped off in 2016.

Understudy Ringo is way too small – and he doesn’t have the height to put on much more weight.

Clark got off to a decent start, especially considering he’s only 21, and it’s expected he’ll add 10-20 pounds to his frame in next couple years. Expect him to shift over to nose tackle, especially while Guion is suspended. I’m optimistic the Packers’ hopes that this first-rounder will be the anchor of the defensive line for years to come will come true.

Though Daniels stats were down (sacks have gone from 6.5 to 6 to 4 to 4, tackles 30 to 27 to 25), he consistently puts pressure on opposing QBs. He’s in his prime and hopefully he has yet to peak.

Lowry is tall, heavy, and athletic for his position. He’s been referred to as quick, powerful, and explosive, with a good motor, and best in one-on-one battles. His two sacks in limited play show promise.

I like Clark in the middle, flanked by Daniels and Lowry, but the rest are basically practice-squad level. The Packers will need some better backups by preseason.

To show how things change, when the Packers last won the Super Bowl, B.J Raji, Ryan Pickett, and Howard Green were run-stopping linemen who averaged 339 pounds.

Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at the Packers’ linebacker group.

About The Author

Rob is currently twiddling his thumbs on Whidbey Island in Washington. He likes to do research, although he has no shortage of opinions. He saw his first live Packers game in 1958, the only win of the year.

7 Comments on "Packers Defensive Line Has Some Weighty Issues"

  1. Not sure that Daniels is 297? The Packers to me run more of a 2-4-5 defense than a 3-4. The problem the Packers may have this year (or maybe it is a good thing) is they will not have Peppers and Jones putting there hand in the ground as the two defensive lineman on third and obvious pass downs.

    To me if you are going to run a 3-4 you need tall and strong defensive ends preferable 6-4 to 6-5 min. And 300 to 310 min. A nose in today’s passing league to me needs to be min. 6-3 and 310 to 320. It is almost better to have a quick NT in todays passing game. If you have two strong and tall DEs that can push the line and a quick nose tackle with some length you should be able to force the O line to double team at least one if not two. QBs hate nothing more than having a D line push the middle. If the D line can’t get there by speed or strength then long arms up. This is what creates openings for linebackers, safeties and corners to blitz.

    It is maddening that TT has persisted in drafting 6′-3″ or less D lineman that don’t fit a 3-4 scheme. Worthy, Neal, Thornton, Ringo, Jones (could have maybe worked if put on weight) and yes even Daniels. Daniels is an exception to the rule. Clark (NT) and Lowery (DE) actually fit a 3-4 defensive lineman. You just can’t excpect a lot from defensive or offensive lineman in their first year. They are not strong enough or have the proper technique to go against NFL veterans.

    • Robster

      I agree with Howard top to bottom. Height is as big a factor as is weight for D-line. Lowry, at 6’6” is the new prototype. Daniels is flat-out substandard as to height, which is largely why he seems to have peaked out at six sacks per season. I have to add that Daniels made Eddie Lacy look svelte last year – I don’t think the 15-20 extra pounds he was carrying around his waist helped him a bit. The days of Dave “Hog” Hanner and Frank “Donut” Winters should be consigned to the past. Daniels compensates for his shortness with sheer willpower. Agree also with the 2-4-5 taking over for the 3-4 – how else would DB Micah Hyde have been on the field for 79% of defensive snaps, along with Ha Ha, Burnett, Randall, and Rollins? I might have included snap counts in the chart: Guion 44%, Clark 32%, Lowry 15%, Pennel 10%, Ringo 7%, and Price 1%. The days of the three-down defensive lineman seem to also be passe.

  2. Chris H

    During the playoffs when it comes to hot&hurt and hot&healthy there will always be a blowout. I do not feel that they could pass rush effectively at that point. Heart breaking. Almost like watching a dog die of old age.

  3. PF4L

    “QBs hate nothing more than having a D line push the middle.”

    Which is why i predict Rodgers is going to have a painful season, IF things stay status quo. And if Linsley gets hurt and Barclay has to play center….forget about it.

    • PF4L

      And then when Rodgers runs for his life, trying to make a play and gets sacked, we can all play QB God and bitch that he holds the ball too long.

  4. PF4L

    The only chance the Green Bay Packers have, to win in this league, is on the arm and head of Aaron Rodgers. So what does Ted do….? Dismantles the line sending 2 Pro Bowlers packing, letting your most talented back up walk. And starting player(s) who barely qualify as a back up in the NFL. And God help us anyone gets injured. But we added Kendricks who no one wanted for cheap, so we got that going for us.

    Yep, i’m venting again….Mark it down bitches 3/18/17. Because i’ve been wrong, but not often.

  5. MJ

    “Starting in the middle, the nose guard position is usually manned by a 320+ pound widebody. The two defensive ends are usually smaller, around 280 pounds or so, as they have twin functions: run stop (primarily) and also rush the passer.”
    Agree on the NT’s mass. But the 3-4 DEs should be heavier than 280. Datone Jones was heavier than that coming out of college (290s) and was still undersized for the position. Probably in the 310-320 range, I’d say for two-gappers in a 3-4 scheme. The difference between a 3-4 DE and a 3-4 NT is that the NT will be slightly heavier, but shorter and sturdier, more able to generate traction. And at DE they wouldn’t be so well off because of the larger space available outside and them being shorter, not able to catch guys escaping from either side of their blocker. At the same time, the DE’s in the base 3-4 attack from the 5-tech position, meaning that even if they manage to push their OL back, the OL can still yield some ground and be fine, so a Raji-type guy wouldn’t benefit from his traction there. Towards the middle of the OL the guys cannot yield so much ground or the pocket would deform appreciably, so there is where you want the Rajis and Picketts playing.

    About the LBs Rob said: “… it’s the two inside linebackers (ILBs) who are most effective in getting to the QB”.
    And no, when you send the ILBs charging, you are basically blitzing. The ones that charge by default are the OLBs. Of course the DC can scheme and send an ILB blitzing up the middle and sending an OLB back in coverage, creating a temporary confusion in the O line. But that is not the default procedure. Most of the time, the OLBs will rush the passer on the outside, and the ILBs will be assigned to RBs or to cover the box.

    “In the 3-4 scheme, it’s the linebackers who are supposed to dart through the gaps created by the down linemen and harass or sack the quarterback. The best pass-rush linebacker is typically the outside linebacker playing on the right side of the defensive formation (ROLB), as he attacks the blind side of right-handed QBs.” —> This is better. The ILBs will shoot gaps in running plays, trying to stop the run at the line or even generate a loss. Occasionally the ILBs are sent to blitz, or you do so if you are not generating enough pressure otherwise.

    Two cents about Howard’s words:
    “It is maddening that TT has persisted in drafting 6′-3″ or less D lineman that don’t fit a 3-4 scheme. Worthy, Neal, Thornton, Ringo, Jones (could have maybe worked if put on weight) and yes even Daniels. Daniels is an exception to the rule. Clark (NT) and Lowery (DE) actually fit a 3-4 defensive lineman. You just can’t expect a lot from defensive or offensive lineman in their first year. They are not strong enough or have the proper technique to go against NFL veterans”.
    Daniels, Thornton, Ringo, have the body type of the 4-3 under tacke, someone who tries to get penetration from the middle of the line, normally a 1-gap assignment. They don’t have the length needed to be 3-4 DEs. Daniels of course is somewhat of a freak, he has great explosiveness and is able to generate a push, but he is more the exception than the norm. These three guys have the height of 3-4 NTs but maybe are a bit undermassed for that, since in that position you get double teamed every time buy 320lb OLs, so you need a bit of strength advantage, and still the NT gets tired quickly and needs rotation. Clark and Lowry are good picks for the 3-4 scheme. As you say, Howard, Clark is already quite bulky and compact, and him being 21 means he has not reached full physical development, so it is totally reasonable that he can become much stronger by the professional level conditioning and his expected development tied to his age. Lowry has short arms for that position, but he has already got some sacks, and 3-4 DEs aren’t the ones that typically get the sacks (unless you are named J.J. Watt). With technique and explosiveness he can offset the arm length deficit against OLs, and his strength will even get better for this upcoming season.

    Cheers, folks.

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