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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