Why the 2020 Packers Need 2010 B.J. Raji

Using B.J. Raji's career season to illustrate how the Packers need help along the defensive line. 

It’s time. It’s time to talk about B.J. Raji once again on Cheesehead TV, and who better to do that than me? The president and CEO of the B.J. Raji fan club. Many of you probably do not follow me on Twitter, and that’s fine! But if this seems like a random topic, that would be why. 

Yesterday on a whim I decided to rewatch the Packers vs Patriots game from the 2010 season, and Raji’s two-sack performance stuck out to me. One, because he’s my favorite. And two because, well, the 2020 Green Bay Packers sure could use that type of run-stuffing nose tackle on their roster. 

2010 was, statistically, Raji’s best year as a Packer. He had 6.5 sacks, 39 total tackles, and nine quarterback hits, in addition to the most famous pick-six of all time in the NFC Championship Game. 

So I started thinking more about this. And let’s look at some of the numbers from the 2010 defense. Clay Matthews ended the season with 13.5 sacks, his career high to this day. Who else ended their season with 13.5 sacks? Za’Darius Smith in 2019.

There are a lot of parallels between the 2019 and 2010 Packers defenses. The second-highest sack total on the 2010 defense belonged to Cullen Jenkins who posted seven total sacks despite only playing in 11 games. This, too, was a career high for Jenkins. 

In 2019, the 6-3, 314lb Kenny Clark posted six sacks, tying his own career high and posted 62 total tackles with nine tackles for loss and seven quarterback hits. Jenkins vibes, anyone?

Now what made the 2010 defense so dynamic is that the Packers were able to bring pressure from anywhere. Frank Zombo, Desmond Bishop, and even Charles Woodson all finished the season with two or more sacks, contributing to the team total of 47.

In 2019, the Packers saw most of their production come from the Super Smith Bros, with Za’Darius getting his 13.5, Preston Smith getting his 12, and then Kenny Clark taking third with his six. The team sack total in 2019 was 41, with Blake Martinez adding three, Rashan Gary adding two, and then nobody else contributing more than one. 

The argument here is not that Raji would have fixed the 2019 defense entirely, because the 2019 defense as a whole was pretty solid. But, what made the 2010 defense special was the fact that a 330lb nose tackle was able to contribute 6.5 sacks to the equation.

The 2020 Packers of course are hoping that Gary takes a year two leap and that the Smith Bros can put up similar numbers to their 2019 totals, but still, the edge rushers and Clark need help on the interior of the defensive line, and that is where Raji would be useful in 2020.

In 2010, the Packers had the fifth overall defense with a run defense ranked 18th allowing 114.9 rushing yards per game. 

In 2019, the Packers had the 18th overall defense with a run defense ranked even lower at 23rd allowing 120.1 rushing yards per game. 

We know the run defense was the Achilles heel of the Packers in 2019, and we know that because the Packers’ passing defense ranked ninth in points per game and 14th in passing yards per game. The run defense was their worst category by a significant margin. (And yes, the Packers 2010 passing defense did rank sixth overall in passing yards per game with 24 interceptions, which is a huge boost to any defense, but the 2019 Packers were no slouches with 17 interceptions, tied for third in the league.)

That aside, I’m not saying that Raji would solve every problem the Packers are facing going into 2020, but we do know the core of the defense is very solid. Jaire Alexander, Kevin King, Adrian Amos, and Darnell Savage are locked into the secondary and Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Gary, and Clark are a dominant, young group of pass rushers bringing elite ability to get after the quarterback. 

But the glaring hole that exists on this defense is in the middle of the field. Getting a more athletic inside linebacker defending the middle should help in some aspects, but the Packers are missing a huge body to eat up double teams and stuff the run. A huge body roughly 6-2 and 334lbs. 

There is no defensive lineman on the current Packers roster that comes close to that weight. What made Raji so valuable in 2010 was that his primary focus was stuffing the run, yet if he freed up he was still agile enough to get after the quarterback and create pressure, as evidenced by his career-high 6.5 sacks. His 39 total tackles also were a career high. 

Like I said earlier, the core of the Packers defense remains largely unchanged, and that defense was good enough to get the Packers to the NFC Championship Game. But it’s also possible the Packers were one B.J. Raji away from a second Super Bowl appearance and came up just short. 

And while we know Raji isn’t coming out of retirement anytime soon to shore up the middle of the defensive line, we do know the Packers must invest something in the run defense in order to truly make a deep playoff push again in 2020. The core of the roster is talented on both sides of the ball, but there’s a Raji-sized hole in the middle of the interior the Packers need to consider to get back to the days of the 2010 defense. 

 

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Maggie Loney is a writer for Cheesehead TV, podcaster for the Pack-A-Day Podcast and Pack's What She Said, and hosts a weekly live show called Happy Hour through Game On Wisconsin. Find her on Twitter at @MaggieJLoney.

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Comments (38)

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Jonathan Spader's picture

June 26, 2020 at 07:13 am

Damon Harrison is still an UFA. If he can be added for the right price he might be worth taking a look at. 6'3 351 lbs. Everson Griffin would be another player who could be a big boost to the DL 6'3 273 lbs. Not sure if the Packers current salary cap situation makes him a viable option.

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Lphill's picture

June 26, 2020 at 07:21 am

Michael Pierce was available in free agency might have been worth a 1 year deal.

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jannes bjornson's picture

June 26, 2020 at 05:34 pm

Pierce, Danny Shelton, and Benito Jones was available in the late rounds. Gutedkunst plays with his guys and it will not bee pretty.

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nstewart1's picture

June 26, 2020 at 07:31 am

How's Raji doing these days? I seem to recall his parents having health issues?
I assumed that ultimately, he had enough fighting in the trenches.

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Handsback's picture

June 26, 2020 at 07:46 am

Maggie, thanks for the article. Raji in my mind was replaced by Clark. Both nose tackles, both slippery enough to get some sacks. The difference, IMHO, between these two defenses you pointed out is this...Collins/Woodson verses Alexander/Amos and three huge tackles manning the LOS then verses now with three quicker lighter guys in the trenches.
The edge rushers are better now verses then and maybe the ILBs are worst, but not by much. The DBs overall are better now verses then, but two HOF type DBs verses none at the moment may be the biggest issue.

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gbxby's picture

June 26, 2020 at 03:05 pm

Yikes, plenty of bad takes here. The current starters at ILB are far worse than what we had in 2010. Desmond Bishop was a solid player when healthy. Even if you exclude Barnett due to his injury, the 2010 squad was still superior. The DB's from 2010 were also way better than what we have now. Woodson, Tramon & Shields could've started on any team in the NFL, and Nick Collins was on his way to a HOF career. Only thing the current squad has as an improvement in the secondary is the strong safety in Adrian Amos.

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hobowilly's picture

June 27, 2020 at 10:10 pm

not here to provide another bad take, but don't you think Alexander is the new guy that's on the verge of all pro. And, do you like what savage brings and is likely to improve upon (being more aggressive). Let's not forget the new DB coach, Mr. Gray.....i think you will see a decent improvement in the secondary, just with Gray. Wholly agree, GB's ILB's suck and until someone can start stuffing the gaps like an ILB should we are in serious trouble. Pettine is doing smoke & mirrors with his hybrid safety/LB alignments but he can't be right all the time; interesting how many (including Blake) state that the scheme handcuffed what he was asked to do.......it appears what is needed is more speed in the middle. Burks is NOT the answer, he's had his 3 years...i hope he gets beat out by someone, nothing personal though, it's just that it's such a glaring weakness that oppositions salivate over.

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gbxby's picture

July 04, 2020 at 12:25 am

I definitely agree there’s some young talent & potential in the current secondary. I’m excited about the futures of Alexander and Savage. They’re both phenomenal athletes with great instincts, ball skills, and neither of them shy away from tackles. It’s going to be fun watching them grow together. My statement wasn’t a knock on those guys at all. The 2010 squad was just so talented and deep. Huge part of the Packers winning the Super Bowl that year. If you re-watch highlights from the playoffs that year, every single one of those guys made big, clutch plays.

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Leatherhead's picture

June 26, 2020 at 08:27 am

I don’t think the defensive line is a point of emphasis for the 1265 braintrust. I suspect we’ll pick up somebody during the final roster cut downs. A trade is possible. We’re not going to spend money here.

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gkarl's picture

June 26, 2020 at 09:35 am

Oh we're going to spend money on the DL and Clark's going to get it, and I'm good with that. Unfortunately that will leave very little else in the way of cap resources given other needs. Bargain basement shopping I'm guessing for DL adds TY.

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Oppy's picture

June 26, 2020 at 09:38 am

Can't wait for Rodgers to retire/move on so the Packers can build another decade-long contender. We're not going to be able to do it with his contract hanging over the entire team.

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gkarl's picture

June 26, 2020 at 10:17 am

Its hard to build a well rounded team with that much cap over a significant time devoted to your QB, but its also a long long shot to win a SB without a great one. Something has to give.

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Leatherhead's picture

June 26, 2020 at 11:34 am

gkarl.....what makes you think that? The front office hasn’t spent big money to resign any of our own since Gutekunst became GM, we haven’t spent a single top 100 pick on DL in three years, we signed one DL in FA two years ago.....why?

Clark is a very good player....I’m sure most of us agree there. He’s worth the $80 million over four years. Or, you could draft a DL in the first round to replace him for about $15 million over four years and spend $65 million on other stuff.

I’d also remind you that we won the division and went to the championship game last year with a Dlne that most of the self-appointed cognoscenti thought was below average.

Based on what Gutekunst has done over the last 2 1/2 years, I see very little reason to believe we’ll resign Clark. I think the defensive line is seen as an area where we can get by without having a megadollar player on it.

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gkarl's picture

June 26, 2020 at 01:13 pm

LH,

In general I agree our DL is below average with the exception of Clark. True we haven't spend any significant draft capital on the DL lately either, but we have spent most of our top end picks on defense for several years running just not DL. Offense needed some help through the draft, so no DL help TY either.

The FO has so far shown a willingness to spend but on younger ascending players which is why i believe they pony up for Clark. I have a feeling they could be thinking the same way about Jones and King, that might leave our nearly 30 year old OL FA's out in the cold next year just like Bulaga.

The FO always has tough decisions to make on players and cap resources, it much easier to be a fan than the guy making the decision.

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fordguy's picture

June 26, 2020 at 01:32 pm

That's what I've been thinking all along. I think the money would be better spent getting two 10 mil. guys vs. one 20 mil. guy.

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jannes bjornson's picture

June 26, 2020 at 05:39 pm

Bhaktiari is the the number one guy to re-sign, then King and Jones on the outside lane, but with Covid-19, who knows?

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mnbadger's picture

June 26, 2020 at 09:18 am

Being the proud owner of a BJ Rahji road jersey, thank you for the article. As questioned above, please add a part II to the story with a "Where is BJ now?" component. Here's to hoping he's healthy, happy and enjoying life to the fullest. GPG

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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

June 30, 2020 at 09:36 am

Yes, at 334 lbs at 6'2" BJ is at severe health risk. Hopefully, he has lost 75 lbs. down to a healthy life.

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Bearmeat's picture

June 26, 2020 at 09:33 am

OK. I have joked about B.J. Raji for years. But let's be serious here. The guy hasn't played in half a decade, and hasn't played well since roughly 2012. Give me Snacks. Give me Jernigan. Give me Dareus. All played last year and played the run relatively well... Which, let's be honest, we suck at. Don't give me a washed up Mike Daniels, or worse, a guy who hasn't played in 5 years.

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13TimeChamps's picture

June 26, 2020 at 11:46 am

I don't think she was suggesting bringing Raji back. Obviously, that ship has sailed. But rather to find someone to fill the role he played as a run stuffer.

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Oppy's picture

June 26, 2020 at 09:36 am

BJ raji wasn't a great run-stuffing DT or a great NT.

BJ Raji was a very quick man for a guy of his size, but he wasn't stout at the point of attack. He got blown off the line on run downs far too often. He was a surprizingly nimble, penetrating DT who, ultimately, was probably misused for a number of years.

BJ Raji was never anywhere close to the NT Ryan Pickett was, and I don't think he holds a candle to Kenny Clark in terms of being a strong anchor in the run game, either.

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Leatherhead's picture

June 26, 2020 at 11:37 am

Yet, he was the starting nose tackle in the league’s #1 defense. How bad could he have been?

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ILPackerBacker's picture

June 26, 2020 at 12:07 pm

Raji played for GB

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13TimeChamps's picture

June 26, 2020 at 01:25 pm

Pittsburgh had the #1 defense in 2010. GB was #2. Very impressive, but they still were not the "league's #1 defense" as you claim.

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Leatherhead's picture

June 26, 2020 at 01:33 pm

Well,they sure looked like the #1 defense when they beat Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl.

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13TimeChamps's picture

June 26, 2020 at 01:58 pm

Fair enough.

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Oppy's picture

June 27, 2020 at 08:31 am

Squad results don't speak to individual performances.

Raji was very quick for his size and good at penetrating a back-peddling OL to get into the backfield and flush/sack the QB on passing downs. He was not very good at holding the point of attack and quickly getting off a double team to control either A gap on run downs, which are the main responsibilities for a NT.

Ryan Pickett was widely under-appreciated by most Packers fans. That guy was legitimately a top tier NT in the league. BJ Raji was a NT in name only- h
e wasn't particularly suited to NT responsibilities.

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dblbogey's picture

June 26, 2020 at 05:01 pm

In 2010, Raji was a stud. Unfortunately, that was about it.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

June 26, 2020 at 12:08 pm

Pickett would be good. A Gilbert Brown would be useful and probably more affordable.

I agree that GB will probably prioritize re-signing Clark, but he may price himself out of GB for 2021.

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Leatherhead's picture

June 26, 2020 at 01:35 pm

The priority will be King. We are not going to resign Clark. I’d bet a coldPabst on the.

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Oppy's picture

June 27, 2020 at 08:34 am

Clark may be the most talented player on the defensive side of the ball, and he's insanely young.

I would definitely take a cold pabst wager. The only thing that could louse up the resigning, as TGR has mentioned, would be the money.

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Oppy's picture

June 27, 2020 at 08:43 am

For what it's worth, people keep talking about $20m contract for Clark. He's extremely good, and his ceiling is insane, but I don't see him making top-earner money. I see him agreeing to top 10 money. That puts him in the neighborhood of 10-15M on the top end.

I would take one 15M NT with Clark's talent over two average DL all day.

I don't think fans appreciate how good Clark really can be, and how much a great NT can affect the play of the entire defense around him. You can build a defense around a player like Clark, IMO. He'll never be a show pony on the stats line, but his presence will allow others around him to be.

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Bearmeat's picture

June 27, 2020 at 08:59 am

This is a ridiculous take, LH.

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CoachDino's picture

June 26, 2020 at 10:21 pm

Don't disagree that Raji a #9 pick ALL Pro would help. The difference in the DL from 2019 and 2010 comes down to Ryan Pickett and Cullen Jenkins compared to Tyler Lancaster and Dean Lowery imo.

We have a stud NT already we need 3-4 DE's. It;s a different game and different scheme from a decade ago thou not that different. If the Pack can obtain even one 3-4 DE that can play run and pass at a B level it will go a long way.

Snacks sounds good, then your best NT would need to move to end -He Can- My question is if he's a difference maker then why was his performance poor last year and no one has signed him? I don't have the answers but it does give me pause.

Keke and Lowery need to step up is the bottom line - I would include Adams but I just don't think he cares. Though a contract season might be enough to light a fire. I still doubt it. From what I gather he's just one of those easy going big guys that made his money and is content.

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Oppy's picture

June 27, 2020 at 08:49 am

I 100% agree about Pickett and Jenkins, and about the need for 3-4 DEs on this modern line.

I will say that when the Packers extended Lowry, I was baffled, as I didn't think the juice was worth the squeeze.

That said, Lowry played well enough last year that I had to concede he was better than I gave him credit for.

Clark is a real-deal NT, and he has about 5 more years of strength and conditioning before he even enters his peak physical maturity. Nose Tackles tend to continue improving skill-wise into their 30's. That's a whole lot of room for improvement for a 24 year old who already plays as strong as Clark does.

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Djanko's picture

June 28, 2020 at 07:54 am

I have a very difficult time saying mentioning Gary and the word dominant in a sentence. This guy is so overrated. He ranked in the bottom 3 of worst performing #1 draft picks from his class. I watched him for years at Michigan and he was just another guy - it amazes me that we drafted him at 12 of the 1st - that high of a pick has to produce year 1 ( TRY NICK BOZA THAT'S A PICK ).

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CoachDino's picture

June 29, 2020 at 05:36 pm

Nick Bosa? Was he available?

Has to produce year 1? Is this the 1970's. He also was drafted and played behind 2 studs.
Clueless...

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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

June 30, 2020 at 09:52 am

Everyone knew going into his first year he had a shoulder injury. How much it bothered him I have no idea nor have I seen anything to indicate he had surgery this off season as was initially indicated when he was drafted.

Personally, I saw some good things last year when watching Gary. I saw hustle, energy and athleticism and even some tackles down field. This alone makes Gary NOT be a bust! Personally, I think Gary is going to be a good player and I believe having him last year playing behind the Smith Bros was the very best thing that could have happened to him. He saw daily how to approach his job and how to do it. He is well aware of the money these guys got which has to be motivational. Will Gary ever be a star and worthy of a #12 draft selection only time will tell during his rookie contract. Was AJ Hawk selected at #5th spot worthy of his draft selection? Some will say NO while others will say YES!

Let's at least give this guy a chance before tearing him down.

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