Outside linebackers have quarterbacks living in pressure cooker

Bill Huber

Sacks are the ultimate measuring stick for pass rushers but they’re hardly at the forefront of outside linebackers coach Mike Smith’s mind.

Speaking to reporters a day after the Green Bay Packers beat the Dallas Cowboys, Smith wasn’t even sure how many sacks his players produced in that 34-24 victory.

“I don’t even know how many sacks they had,” Smith said. “Was it one or two or three?”

The answer was three. With one sack, Preston Smith bumped his total to 5.5 for the season, which ranks fifth in the NFL. With two sacks, Za’Darius Smith improved his total to 5.0, which is tied for sixth.

Led by free-agent additions Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith, Green Bay’s outside linebackers have been a constant nuisance to opposing quarterbacks. Against the Cowboys, the outside linebackers delivered 15 total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. According to the coaches’ count, they contributed the three sacks and 13 additional quarterback hits.

“I know they affected the quarterback. That’s what I care about and that’s what I praise,” Smith said. “That’s the first thing they’ll tell you about me.”

While Clay Matthews is off to a rousing start with the Los Angeles Rams with his six sacks, Green Bay’s edge rush has been phenomenal. According to PFF, the Packers’ outside linebackers have provided 71 total pressures (a combination of sacks, quarterback hits and quarterback hurries). That’s second only to Minnesota’s 73. Za’Darius Smith has 30, which is tied for fourth, and Preston Smith has 24, which is tied for 11th.

(Note: Scroll down for the full list of edge-rusher pressures.)

Last year, the Packers’ outside linebackers had 85 for the entire season, led by Matthews’ 30 and 21 apiece by Fackrell and Reggie Gilbert. Za’Darius Smith needed five games to equal Matthews and Preston Smith needed five games to surpass Kyler Fackrell and Gilbert.

To be sure, Mike Smith has some talent at his disposal, with the Smiths joined by first-round pick Rashan Gary and fourth-year pro Fackrell, who had 10.5 sacks last season. Talent plus preparation equals production – whether it’s a sack or not.

“You shouldn’t have a bad week affecting the quarterback,” Mike Smith said. “If you sit there and say, ‘These guys didn’t get a sack, they must have had a bad week rushing the quarterback.’ We don’t have bad weeks because we’re aggressive, we’re savages, we’re mean. We keep coming. We don’t stop. That’s why when we first get in here (Tuesday), I’m going to praise them for affecting the quarterback. They affected the quarterback (Sunday).”

Edge rusher pressure totals from PFF

Minnesota: 73

Green Bay: 71

New Orleans: 67

San Francisco: 62 (in four games)

Carolina: 61

Philadelphia: 61

Houston: 59

L.A. Rams: 54

Indianapolis: 52

Dallas: 51

L.A. Chargers: 46

Seattle: 45

Chicago: 44

Buffalo: 44

Arizona: 43

Denver: 41

Kansas City: 40

Tampa Bay: 39

Cleveland: 39

Detroit: 38 (in four games)

New England: 37

N.Y. Giants: 37

Pittsburgh: 36

Jacksonville: 36

Atlanta: 36

Baltimore: 35

Tennessee: 34

Oakland: 33

Washington: 32

Cincinnati: 30

N.Y. Jets: 28 (in four games)

Miami: 22 (in four games)