It’s already been a different kind of offseason in Green Bay.
Around this time of year Packers fans are usually sitting by waiting for the NFL draft to roll around. More often than not, we’re usually watching other teams make moves in free agency and wishing that the Packers would one day be aggressive in free agency like many other teams. Sure, there might be a signing here or there but nothing to get excited over. Well, I have good news for the Packer faithful: those days are over.
We have seen three exciting free agency moves made by the Packers this offseason with the addition of Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Adrian Amos and Billy Turner. The very first thing I did, of course, was fire up the film to take a look at each new Packer. I have to say, the player that excited me the most was Za’Darius Smith. I had a notebook by me, as I usually do when I watch film, and jotted down a few notes. Here is what I had after watching a game or two that he played in:
- Nasty inside rush
- Violent hands
- Wins the battle at the line of scrimmage
- Smart, instinctive player
- Finishes plays
Those are things that fit the type of edge rusher that every team is looking for. With the news that Clay Matthews is no longer with the team, it was even more important to have a player the caliber that Smith is.
Lets start with one of the things I liked the most about Smith’s game: his ability to get pressure on the quarterback from the inside.
When watching film, I always note 3 things each play. Those are:
- Assignment. What is the players assignment on each play? This can usually be determined by where he lines up.
- Alignment. Where is the player lined up before the ball is snapped?
- Technique. What kind of technique did the player use during the play? Did it help him get the job done or was he beat?
Lets take this play for example. His assignment was to control the A gap. I judge this mainly because of how quick he is to rip towards the A gap. Not many players will shoot this A gap if lined up in a 3 technique. Within the first couple of steps, he’s in the A and getting to the quarterback.
Next, his alignment. As you can tell in the clip, Smith is aligned in a 3 technique. This is the outside shade of the guard. There is a number for everywhere that a defensive lineman or edge player lines up on the line of scrimmage. Alignment can be key in determining what a players job is.
Finally, the technique. Smith’s job was to stunt the A gap and get pressure on the quarterback. Notice how he gets a strong rip with his inside arm and keeps the feet moving in pursuit to the quarterback. He also slightly dips the inside shoulder so the guard couldn’t get a hand on him. The best thing about this play is his get off. He is off of the ball at lightning speed. Had he been slow and stood straight up the guard would have washed him out of this play. When coming off of the ball you want to be slow, in control, have the head up and control the gap. Smith does all these things and forces Rivers to quickly get rid of the ball.
This rush was almost as sweet as the first one that we saw. Again, Smith lines up in a 3 technique in an over front look. I’ve noticed several times that Smith is set towards the wide side of the field. If the ball is in the middle of the field he will generally be set to the strength.
Again, we see the same things that we saw before. Quick ball get off, rips across the lineman’s body, takes a straight rush to the quarterback. When coming off of the ball as quickly as he is, I could see how it would be easy to overshoot the quarterback. Through it all, Smith stays under control and balanced. A play like this also tells me something about his vision. He keeps his head up and finds the quarterback with ease.
Lets move on now and see how Smith fares playing on the actual edge. In Mike Pettine’s defense, it is important that edge players set force on each play. I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but in the 3-4 defense edge players will be used in a number of ways. Some may be rushing on one play, another dropping. An edge player could blitz the A gap, B gap or rush outside. Generally though, Pettine uses the edge players to set force and turn the play back inside.
There’s a couple of technique things to remember when setting force. The first is to keep the outside shoulder free. If a tackle reaches the outside shoulder then the play could be toast for the defense. Edge players have to use a good, inside punch to create separation between him and the tackle. Smith does just that here, opting instead for the two-handed punch and to play it more balanced.
I like his vision here. He creates the separation with the tight end all while keeping his eyes to the inside and seeing the ball carrier. As soon as he forces the run inside he sees and opportunity and grabs the running back.
Again we see Smith use the same technique in this play. This is something I could live with play after play. He does his job and gets the running back running inside, funneling him to the inside linebackers. It’s a simple job, but I think back to how vulnerable the edge was in 2018.
I think I speak for all Packer fans when I say how excited I am about the addition of Za’Darius Smith. The Packers are looking for some stability at the edge position. Smith offers just that. I can’t wait for training camp to roll around so we can see how he meshes with the defense. This could be a signing that could pay off for years to come.
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