GREEN BAY, Wis. – In 2018, Preston Smith had just four sacks for the Washington Football Team. In 2019, his first season with the Green Bay Packers, Smith had 12 sacks. That was a career high and as many as he had the previous two seasons combined.
The rise was inexplicable. So has the fall.
Through 10 games, Smith has 1.5 sacks. By the official league count, Smith had 29 quarterback hits last season. He’s got five this season, which puts him on a pace for only eight.
“He’s not rushing the way I want him to rush right now,” outside linebackers coach Mike Smith said on Wednesday.
At 265 pounds, Preston Smith is a big man. He needs to play like one.
“I just think with him he needs to use his power more,” Mike Smith said. “I’ve talked about this with you guys earlier in the year, when things aren’t going well and you’re not rushing great, you start stressing things and start doing things that’s not normally what you do.”
In the first five games of the season, the Packers faced three of the fastest-to-throw quarterbacks in the NFL in Detroit’s Matthew Stafford, New Orleans’ Drew Brees and Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady. Through those five games, Smith had one-half sack and one quarterback hit. At the same point in his debut season, he had 5.5 sacks.
“You start getting frustrated,” Mike Smith said. “There’s just so many things, they read this, they read that, they hear this, and then they start just panicking. Early in the year, and I’m not telling you something I haven’t told Preston, he just has to use his power more. When you’re dancing in place, shaking back and forth, all that type of stuff, you’re going nowhere.”
So, Mike Smith has been impressing on Preston Smith to use his tools: his size, his strength and his length.
Perhaps the payoff is coming. According to the official stats, he has one sack and three quarterback hits in his last three games. Pro Football Focus credited him with seven pressures the last three games compared to eight pressures in the first seven games.
“God gave you long arms for a reason,” the coach said. “You can scratch your ankles standing up, so get that long arm in there and start getting these guys to set and swipe. That’s the thing I’ve noticed the last couple weeks with him. I think it’s going to start coming around for Preston, because I know he wants to be good, and he’s frustrated.
“Even five-year vets [like Smith], I’ve had Justin Houston, 10-year vets, get frustrated. They all do. It’s easy for me to sit up here and say, ‘Hey, don’t get frustrated. I only have two sacks and the media has you 10 pressures’ or whatever it may be. It’s easy for me to say that, but we all get frustrated at work. I get frustrated with my work. I get frustrated when things aren’t right, and I’ve got to sit back and calm down. He’s a good pass rusher, he knows what to do. He’s a smart kid. I’m hoping it’ll turn around for him.”