The key to the Green Bay Packers' season is a return of a semblance of pass rush. Last year they had virtually no rush and it hurt them—badly.
This year they spent a ton of time and draft picks addressing the defense in general and the pass rush in particular.
Enter Nick Perry.
Perry was a defensive end at the University of Southern California, with a great deal of burst and a fierce amount of strength.
His transition from end to outside linebacker is one people have expected to be an issue but as you'll see, isn't as big a deal as we assumed.
The hope is that Perry will draw attention away from Clay Matthews and visa versa. If Perry can get to the quarterback, the offense needs to focus on him, relieving Matthews of some blockers.
That's what happened in week one of the preseason. I'm breaking down a pair of plays—one briefly, one more deeply—to give you a glimpse of what Perry could do for this defense in his rookie year.
I really like what I see right from the start—on the very first play, you can see Perry and veteran Clay Matthews communicating back and forth. It's not just Matthews telling Perry what to do—it is very clear to me that they are both communicating what they see.
You can also see the way that the Packers will use different looks, kicking their defensive ends in and moving Perry and Matthews up to the line, rushing off the edge.
As the play kicks off, interestingly enough, the running back has shifted to block Perry, not Matthews. This is a banged-up offensive line, but one would imagine that the Chargers would be far more worried about a veteran like Matthews than a rookie like Perry.
It's especially odd because the left tackle on this very beat-up offensive line was an undrafted rookie.
So the Chargers coaching staff were more worried about Perry on the right side than Matthews against a rookie on Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers' blind side?
Ladies and gentlemen, the magic that is Norv Turner.
As it stands, Matthews comes close to getting Rivers, but Rivers gets the ball out to what is probably his third read, the tight end down the middle.
So right out the gate— admittedly against a very shaky offensive line—the Packers bring the pressure on Rivers, something they had problems with last year.
What happens next is what the Packers are hoping will happen a lot.
The Packers line up their front seven basically the same. Matthews and Perry on the outside, Ryan Pickett at defensive end (though inside) and BJ Raji at tackle.
This time we also have two corners up top—Davon House (No. 31) and Jarrett Bush (No. 24)—and Tramon Williams (No. 38) on the bottom. Morgan Burnett (No. 42) is at free safety, and just off screen is strong safety MD Jennings (No. 43).
Not a normal setup for most teams, but not unusual for the Packers. Five defensive backs is pretty standard for them, with the third corner functioning sometimes as a corner, sometimes as a safety and sometimes as a linebacker.
In this next shot, though, we see that things are not even as barely straightforward as they appeared at the start of the play.
House shifts down towards the middle with his receiver, signalling as he does. Burnett moves towards the line of scrimmage.
At the snap, Bush blitzes while House and Burnett drop into coverage.
If you look at the backfield, the Chargers have learned from last snap and made sure there was a running back on the left side (Rivers' blind side) to protect him. Matthews doesn't end up being the target; Bush is. Matthews is double-teamed. A second back is heading towards Perry, but in the next cap, you'll see he goes out in a route and passes the rookie linebacker by.
That's going to be a problem, as you will soon see.
Rivers keeps his eyes downfield, confident things are going well, and he should be. The line is doing a very good job with the Packers pass-rush—save for the gentleman blocking Perry.
Perry bull rushes forward, forcing the lineman backwards almost into Rivers. Rivers still has what appears to be two outs—backwards or to his left.
In the next cap, Perry has summarily dismissed the lineman and is on his way towards Rivers, who will scramble left.
Perry continues to pursue him, and at that point, the offensive line completely collapses. Rivers goes down with Perry on top of him.
The sack was wiped out by a pretty bogus unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Perry—non-substitute refs wouldn't have called him for flexing his muscles.
The play shows several things. First, that opposing offenses are going to struggle to defend both Perry and Matthews, not to mention the additions of guys like Bush or House on a corner blitz. If the rush continues to be effective (and it was all preseason), both Perry and Matthews will get a load of sacks.
Second, that Perry has had little to no issues transitioning to outside linebacker from defensive end in college. He clearly has his technique down (for the most part), and his speed and agility off the edge is apparent in both these plays.
The Packers have a lot of tools suddenly in the defensive front, and as shown in the second play, mixing up the formations and shuffling players right until the snap will keep offenses on their toes.
Yes, this was a battered offensive line which was never great to begin with. However, this was the start of a very good preseason run by Perry and the defense with what appears to be more to come.