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Packers Xs and Os: In Search of a Raji Resurgence

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Packers Xs and Os: In Search of a Raji Resurgence

This is the final piece of a four-part series that will analyze the four most intriguing Packers players going into the 2014 season. We will now look at B.J. Raji.

In 2010, his second year in the NFL, B.J. Raji started to make an impact. That season, he played almost exclusively as the nose tackle (NT) in the Packers' 3-4 base defense, and he also made an impact when he played in the nickel package. He was stout and disruptive against the run and pressured opposing quarterbacks often (recording 6.5 sacks in 2010). Sacks do not always tell the whole story, but it is amazing that he had 6.5 sacks as a 330-pound NT.

Most nose tackles in a 3-4 are primarily run stuffers. In 2010, Raji not only took on double teams, but he also penetrated into the backfield often. He played well in Dom Capers’ “Okie” front as the zero-technique (lined up over the center) and as the one-technique (lined up in between the center and guard) in the “Under” front.

Below are three examples of Raji’s impact versus the run and as a pass rusher as the 3-4 NT in 2010.

First, here is just one example of Raji’s ability as a disrupter against the run. This is a play from the 2010 divisional round at Atlanta. Raji lined up as the NT, and at the snap, he knocked the center back almost three yards behind the line of scrimmage (yellow arrow):

The following examples (from 2010) demonstrate Raji’s ability to create interior pressure from the NT position. Here is one of his sacks in the 2010 Week 15 game at New England. He was lined up as the one-technique in the “Under” front (red arrow):

At the snap, Patriots guard Logan Mankins was responsible for blocking Raji in pass protection. At that time, Mankins was labeled as one of the best guards in the NFL. Raji initiated contact with his hands, bull-rushed the veteran guard, and shed the block, which led to a sack of quarterback Tom Brady:

Finally, here is another Raji sack in the 2010 Week 16 game versus the Giants. He was lined as the zero-technique (red arrow):

At the snap, Raji initiates contact with his hands, and then strategically slapped the center’s hands away. This allowed Raji to disengage from the center and sack Eli Manning:

During the 2011 and 2012 seasons, Raji did not play full-time at NT in the 3-4. He played some NT, but he started to play more at defensive end (DE). Eventually, by 2013, he almost exclusively played DE in the 3-4.

Here is where Raji played for the vast majority of 2013 (as the 3-technique in the “Under” front):

Raji’s regression since 2011 has been evident and well-documented. ProFootballFocus.com gave him a -13.6 grade in 2013. As we saw from his impactful plays in 2010, he does not lack talent. It is hard to imagine that he is physically breaking down at the age of 27. So, what are some logical explanations for Raji’s poor play in 2013 and overall decline in production after 2010?

Many have questioned Raji’s motor or motivation. This is a possibility and could be true, but it is speculation. After watching the tape and observing his lack of impact, there is another explanation. He does not seem as natural at DE as he did at NT. After having a breakout year in 2010, it is unfathomable why the coaching staff moved him from NT to DE. It has been announced that he will be moved back to NT (his natural position). We will see if he can recapture some of his playmaking ability. If he does not, then he will likely be gone after his one-year “prove-it” deal that he received this offseason.

Maybe lack of motivation is at play here. However, it is important that the coaches are giving him another chance at the NT position in the 3-4. It will be interesting to analyze his production each week during the 2014 season.

Thanks for reading, Packers fans. Follow me on Twitter at @RobertOlson92 for daily analysis on the Packers.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (34) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

MarkinMadison's picture

This will be a chicken-egg thing. Will he play better this year because he is motivated to get a big contract, or will he play better this year because he is back at NT? The only thing that is sure is that if he doesn't play better this year he will not be getting a big contract at all.

TommyG's picture

Cant be contract oriented, he had that opportunity last year. His motivation this year is to be good enough to stay in the NFL. If he turns in another year like last season then he will be looking for an job in sales, not sacks.

ebongreen's picture

Robert,

I too am surprised that Raji didn't remain at NT, a position at which he excelled. I hope he finds a renaissance from which both he and the Packers can profit.

Stroh's picture

Its pretty simple really... The farther that Raji plays from straight up over Center the less effective he is. He has NONE of the traits of a 34 DE and only some of the traits of a 3 tech DT. Line him up over the Center, straight up over the Center as often as possible to get the best out of him. Capers has said that Raji played mostly a 0 Tech NT in '10.

We don't know what led to the change, but it certainly wasn't poor play at NT! My guess is Capers thought Raji would make a better 34 DE than Pickett, due to better mobility and its clear he wanted both Pickett and Raji on the field on run downs.

There aren't many NFL Centers that can block Raji one on one. On run downs as a 0 tech, Raji will take on a lot of double teams. However, on any pass play, its generally the Centers job to handle the 0 Tech NT one on one, and those are the downs Raji can penetrate and get pressure on the QB as a NT.

I've been saying for 2 years or more that Raji needs to play NT. Clearly the farther he is removed from playing over Center the less effective he is!

All the crap about Raji being lazy and not playing hard is just that... Crap! Raji took one for the team for the better part of 3 years and NEVER complained about not being allowed to play his Natural position! He deserves a lot of credit for that, not the ridicule most fans have given him.

Jordan's picture

I'm sorry, but what you're saying is rediculous. Pickett was the better nose tackle.....plain and simple. Raji didn't take anything for the team. He was beat out by a better NT. Pickett was also better at DE. Pickett was just a better player.....period. Raji was beat out by an old man.....relatively speaking.

There's quite a few NFL teams that watched every single play that Raji played in GB at DE and NT, and every single one of them concluded that Raji was not worth a long term contract. This was proven in the 2014 free agency period. I guarantee that Raji's agent talked to all 32 NFL teams no matter what scheme they ran.

Somehow Stroh knows more than 32 NFL teams....which is a laugh and a half.

Raji was consistently manhandled during his entire career in Green Bay. I'm not making this up. It's all on film. And 32 NFL teams agree with me as evidenced by his 1 year contract for a player that should be in his prime.

Stroh's picture

Really? WHen did Pickett ever sniff a Pro Bowl spot at NT? He might (and that's a big MIGHT given the play of the ILB behind him) have been slightly better only vs the run, but as an all around player Raji is and was far better when taking every thing into account. Raji took on double teams at NT in '10 and freed up Bishop and Hawk to have great years didn't he? How did Bishop/Jones and Hawk's play look w/ Pickett playing in front of them the past couple years? Not very good huh? Why the hell do you think it was that BOTH Hawk and Bishop had easily their best years in '10?!

Somewhere along the line surely you learned that the better the NT plays the better the ILB look right?! Guess not... Doesn't say much for your football intelligence does it?!

It sure as hell wasn't coincidence that both ILB had their best years when Raji was playing NT!

Jordan's picture

Yep. Me and 32 NFL teams know better. It's all right there on film. Raji's 1 year contract is reality. Your opinion sounds like someone that can't admit when they're wrong or you're living in a different reality.

The reality is Raji entered free agency in his prime and could only get a 1 year contract. All 32 NFL teams watched all of his film. That's reality. Anything else that you're throwing out there is delusional and la la land.

It almost reminds me of the excuses that Packers fans made for James Jones when he first entered free agency in 2011. Nobody wanted James Jones. That's a reality. James Jones entered free agency in 2011 in his prime. Many Packer fans said for years that Jones would be a starter on any team but the Packers. But when that didn't happen, they made all kinds of excuses instead of admitting that they had no idea what the hell they were talking about. They knew just about as much about evaluating players as they did about nuclear fission.

Stroh's picture

He did play poorly last year... At DE! He isn't 6'5 300 lbs like a true 34 DE tho is he? No, he's a 6'2 340 lb behemoth that was OBVIOUSLY playing out of position. Besides being ill suited at DE he has NONE of the things that make a good 34 DE. Does Raji look anything like Datone Jones?

You being oblivious of that fact makes you look like a complete football idiot.

Moving Raji to DE made 2 positions worse, NT and DE.

Brutus10's picture

Jordan
The 'grasshopper' will never admit that what you say is reality. The 'grasshopper' wants credit from someone, somewhere that it was HIS idea all along to move Raji back to NT. (only the grasshopper could know this - LOL)

Out of 32 NFL teams, all Raji could get was a 1-year contract even though he is in his prime!! ---- This is a fact but the grasshopper still can't comprehend the meaning of it.

4thand1's picture

you suck

Stroh's picture

Just to clarify... I'm the teacher/mentor he's the grasshopper! He's got a LONG ways to go before he can be the teacher. Clearly Raji played NT better than Pickett ever did, not that Pickett was bad, he was good, but Raji was clearly better. You can judge by the play of the NT, by how the ILB played. When the NT does his job, the ILB make a lot of plays, especially in the run game. Hawk and Bishop were much better w/ Raji in front of them, instead of Pickett. That much is plain as day!

Keep learning children, you'll get there in another decade or 2! Learn this lesson well and check in for your next lesson plan. When you graduate HS you still have college and your masters before you can consider mentoring. One step at a time son.

Brutus10's picture

Obviously, you are unaware of what 'grasshopper' really means. --- Now that's funny.

You still haven't explained why (if Raji was so eff'in good) only one team committed only a 1--year contract. --- Go ahead, explain away. --- You are the answer-man, right ?? --- Please, don't resort to making up something again. ---- Just the facts.

Stroh's picture

Raji was poor the past couple years. But that was playing DE, NOT NT. In '10 when Raji played his natural position at NT he was OUTSTANDING! We don't know why the switch was made but whatever it was it was a major mistake. The past couple years Raji play DE, which he doesn't have the skill and attributes for. That's why he sucked last year and even the previous year or so before last.

Raji's film the past couple years was terrible playing OUT OF POSITION. That's why no one was interested. Back at his Natural NT position he'll play very well again.

The facts are that Raji played excellent NT in '10, which showed not only in his play, but that of the ILB's! When Pickett was in front of Hawk and Bishop they weren't nearly as good either. This isn't rocket science son... Learn your lesson well and I'll consider passing you to on to college!

Brutus10's picture

"Raji's film the past couple years was terrible playing OUT OF POSITION. That's why no one was interested. Back at his Natural NT position he'll play very well again."

You have this figured out but 32 NFL teams can't ???????

You can fool your little buddy (4th&1) and maybe a few others but I'm only laughing.

Stroh's picture

What don't you F'in get? Move back to '10 and if Raji was a FA then what would have happened? He would have been one of if not THE most highly coveted players in FA. The film the past 2+ years hasn't been good, no doubt about it.

No fooling anyone. Raji will be a MUCH different better player this year at NT. Write it down!

Brutus10's picture

Are you as dumb as you sound?

31 teams did not offer Raji a viable contract. Only the Pack offered anything & it was for 1 year at half what they had previously offered.
And you think this is all because you think he played out of position!!
No one cares where he lined up on the DL. He played like $hit.

All your excuses won't change the fact that 31 NFL teams passed on him.
BTW, this is NOT 2010, it's 2014. --- Try again, fool !!!

Stroh's picture

Hey Dumbass, I told you the answer to the F'in question. I said, the recent film of him was poor. What about that don't you understand?

All the teams had to go on was his recent film, teams only care about what you've done lately. This is the NFL - Not For Long league!

Buts lets see what happens after he is playing the position he was born to play at NT! You think all the ability he showed in '10 is completely washed away? No its not, and you damn right he's gonna look differently playing NT!

Its not like he's been injured. And its not like he's gotten old! The ability to play NT is still very much there, but its not been seen recently since he's been playing out of position!

34 DE and NT are COMPLETELY different positions! Which does Raji look like to you? Does he look like he's 6'5 300 lbs w/ long arms? Or does he look like he's 6'2 340 lbs?

The Fact is the he is a NT not a DE!

I'll have the last laugh after he returns to playing NT and you'll still be the class idiot sitting in the corner all alone w/ the DUNCE hat on his head!

COW's picture

" You think all the ability he showed in '10 is completely washed away?"

Yep.

Stroh's picture

We know what you think Shit for brains!

Vrog's picture

It begs the question, Why did the coaching staff keep him at DE for so long?

Stroh's picture

Or better yet, why did they move him in the first place?

4thand1's picture

Then Jones led the league in TD's, you suck

Brutus10's picture

The troll known as 4thand1 speaks again (sort of). (he's admitted to being a troll in the past)

4thand1's picture

Brutass, the lying troll sprews his lying shit once again. you still suck. I'm sure brutass, you were one of the naysayers bitching about TT drafting people and having them learn a new position. Raji is a NT period. Was voted to the pro bowl by his peers. You don't know shit, rloser.

4thand1's picture

Lets talk about 31 "other" teams. You mean bottom feeders like the Browns, Raiders, Jags, Bills, Lions, Vikings, Bucs, Rams, Titans, Dolphins, Oilers, Cowboys, Redskins. Some of them made the playoffs here and there, big deal, the Packers make the playoffs every year. I'm sure one of these teams could have used James Jones. Jordumb knows his shit, he and brutass must be roommates. you both suck.

COW's picture

Oilers?

4thand1's picture

They're so bad I fucked their name up. Alright , Texans. you still suck. Holy brain fart, the Oilers were actually pretty dam good. RIP Bum.

The TKstinator's picture

And I would hope that we are knowledgeable enough to realize that an effective NT doesn't necessarily make 10 tackles every game.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

We all should acknowledge that Raji has been a team player, never complaining (at least in public) about his high snap counts and position change. He was moved to DE because TT failed to provide the coaches with a decent option at DE, and they decided to put their best linemen on the field. Pickett was still playing at a reasonably high level as a NT even if Raji was IMHO a considerably better nose tackle, but Pickett was even less well suited to playing DE.

IDK why TT offered $8 Million (did he look at the film from 2010 - 2012 or just see the talent that Raji has). Jordan's point is well taken though: no team, after looking at last year's film, apparently offered a good contract to Raji. Surely some other team might have concluded that Raji would be rejuvenated if moved back to NT and offered a little more $ or more guaranteed money. I am assuming that Raji was looking for a 1 year prove it contract so that he can earn a big contract after this season. We will see if TT is right about Raji, because otherwise we will need Boyd, maybe Guion, or someone else to develop: otherwise, we will likely see some really bad ILB play too. The d-line could be very good If the lights come on for D. Jones, with a rejuvenated Raji, and Peppers at DE.

Icebowler's picture

Finally, an adult comment.

BradHTX's picture

Absolutely correct.

For all the "Raji was beaten out by Pickett at NT" crap spewed above, the fact is that the DL had personnel problems in 2011. Cullen Jenkins was no longer with the team to provide a strong presence at DE. Aside from Raji and Pickett, the only other options at DL were Howard Green, CJ Wilson, Jarius Wynn, and talented-but-always-injured Mike Neal. Not exactly a murders row. You have to get the best players on the field.

Pickett was effective at NT but not at DE, while Raji, because of his greater athleticism, was marginally more effective at DE than Pickett. So Pickett didn't "beat out Raji" at NT, he actually "under-beat" him at DE.

I found Raji's lack of motor last season as frustrating as anyone, but I think he was actually playing not to get hurt, hoping to get a new contract with a move back to NT, with the Pack or another team. Problem is, he shot himself in the foot by appearing so bad that no one but the Pack would take him. I fully expect him to resurrect his career now that he is back at his natural position.

4thand1's picture

BLASPHEMY!!!!!!!! I'm sure you 2 will get a ton of dislikes from the resident trolls. I gave you a like by the way. You're both right IMO.

COW's picture

Too bad Raji had to play DE last season. Sure would have been nice if the Pack had spent an early pick on someone who could play the DE spot so that Raji could move back to his more natural position.

Hey.
Wait a minute.

4thand1's picture

The only thing you could pick is your nose.

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