GREEN BAY, Wis. – Nothing gets Mike Smith’s heart pumping like his outside linebackers making life difficult for opposing quarterbacks.
Through most of the Green Bay Packers’ first five games of this season, those quarterbacks have been more comfortable than miserable.
With the proven firepower of Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith, the forgotten member of the Smith Bros. is confident his guys will once again be bringing the heat.
“I know what type of players we have. I know the guys that love football, that love to work, that always work,” Mike Smith, Green Bay’s outside linebackers coach, said on Thursday. “The last thing you want to do is freak out and then you start doing things that aren’t what we do. You see it around the league – guys panicking, you’re trying to get sacks on run plays, you get up the field, because everybody’s talking about it. ‘Hey.’ You know what? You’ve got to attack what we’re doing and believe in what we’re doing. I’ve done this for long enough and I know what it looks like. It’s going to be fine. I’m not even worried. I’m not even stressed about it, haven’t lost sleep over it. When it all gets rolling, everybody’s feeling good and everybody’s back into it, it’ll change.”
Through five games, the Packers have 12 sacks. Projected over 16 games, that would equate to 38 sacks – not too far off last year’s 41.
The big difference is the number of pressures. Pressure is what matters most to Smith. By the official league count, the Packers have registered 24 quarterback hits. Put over 16 games, that equates to 77 quarterback hits. Last year’s team had 94. The Packers have 53 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. That puts them on pace for 170 – far distant from last year’s 304.
The Smith Bros. have been responsible for a big part of the drop-off. After registering an NFL-high 93 total pressures last season, Za’Darius Smith has 13 and is on pace for 42. Preston Smith had 55 pressures last season; he has seven this year for a pace of 22.
To be sure, Mike Smith acknowledged, his players must be more productive. But there is a story for every stat. In Week 2, Green Bay faced Detroit’s Matthew Stafford. In Week 3, it battled New Orleans’ Drew Brees. Last week, it was Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady.
Of 31 quarterbacks with at least 100 dropbacks, Stafford is the sixth-fastest in average time to throw, Brady is ninth and Brees is 11th.
The other games were against Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins (25th in time to pass) and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan (23rd). The Packers produced 11 hurries against Cousins and 18 against Ryan. That’s 29 of the 53 pressures.
“There’s times that we won’t have a lot of opps. I’s not going to be a stat game,” Smith said. “You play quarterbacks who get rid of the ball quick – I’m not making excuses, but that plays a factor when you play the Bradys and the Brees and the Staffords and those type of guys. We understand that but they’re still affecting the quarterback.”
Sunday’s game at Houston features a difference challenge against Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. Watson is No. 21 in the NFL in average time to pass but his ability to extend plays isn’t unlike that of Aaron Rodgers. According to Pro Football Focus, Watson ranks second in completion percentage and eighth in passer rating when he holds the ball for 2.5 seconds or longer.
That means it will be a totally different pass-rushing plan than last week. There will be opportunities, with Houston ranking No. 29 with a sack given up every 9.45 percent of passing plays, but Watson has the wheels to make defenses pay for a reckless approach.
“Like I said, it starts with me. We’ve got to get better,” Smith said. “But I think you guys will see once we get everybody healthy and everybody playing together and out there, it’s going to change. We got too many guys who love football and love to work and they know how to do it. Like I said, I’m not losing any sleep over it. We’ll be fine.”