In our second look at young Green Bay Packers that are hopefully ready to take another step, we look back at the 28th pick of the 2012 draft, linebacker Nick Perry. Perry has suffered through an injury-marred two seasons in the NFL, and this year will likely go a long way to helping the Packers’ front office decide how they want to approach the end of his contract. Without a full season of work to judge from, much of Perry’s productivity still has the air of potential around it, as opposed to expectations.
To get an idea of his potential, let’s turn our gaze back to week 5 of the 2013 season, as Green Bay welcomed the Detroit Lions to Lambeau Field. Initially this game looked like it would be the beginning of a downturn in Nick Perry’s career, as he was not named the starter for the first time that season. Instead, he turned that game into arguably his best of the year (with the San Francisco playoff game a close 2nd), with 2 sacks and 5 total tackles, playing 40 plays in all and rushing the QB on over half of those snaps. The play I want to break down is his first sack, coming at 8:12 in the 3rd Quarter on a 2nd and 15 from the DET 42.
On the setup, you can see that Perry is lined up on the defense right, opposite the Detroit 2nd year player LT Riley Reiff. Up to this point in the game, Perry had spent most of his time over the RT, but he was soon to feast on the youngster, especially following the path drawn above.
Immediately after the snap, Perry gets upfield and as he gets even with Reiff, turns slightly to make the LT hesitate for just a second…
Then blows by him on Reiff’s left. You can see two big issues right away as Reiff’s body is way out of position compared to Perry’s, and he is forced to grab Perry’s right shoulder pad. Also, even worse, Reiff’s feet are a mess - all of his weight is on his right foot, the foot AWAY from where Perry is beginning to exert his strength. Not only is the left foot in the air, it’s way too close to the right foot at this point in the battle for him to have any hope to get it down with leverage to help slow down Perry.
And, you can see the result on this shot. Perry’s speed and strength actually spun Reiff 180 degrees in the air and all Reiff could do was hang on for the ride, which he did (and probably should have gotten called for holding in the process). At this point Perry’s strength takes over, as he is able to rip free even though he’s nearly face-planted into the turf, and continue to bear-crawl toward QB Matt Stafford.
In watching the play in real time, it looks like Stafford simply falls back over the top of Perry, but as you can see here, Perry uses his athleticism to twist his upper body and somehow gets his arm around Stafford’s knees, who wisely goes down without a fight. This play embodied all of the traits that made Nick Perry the first-round pick of the Packers back in 2012 - speed, power, and athleticism.
Overall, the Detroit game was a series of positives for Perry - the only glaringly bad play was when he overcommitted on what looked like a run headed away from him, only to get caught too close to the line of scrimmage to have contain on the reverse toss that ended up going for 20 yards. Otherwise, for most of the game, he abused Detroit’s Reiff with similar outside speed moves, gathering his second sack of the day with the exact same play in the 4th quarter.
So what can we learn from this game? Obviously Perry has the tools to become a very solid, if not dominant, outside linebacker. Outside of the big gaff on the 20 yard reverse, he showed good patience on contain, enough speed and athleticism to stay with Detroit’s tight ends on the few times he dropped into (what looked like) man coverage, and good strength at the point of attack when the run came at him. Also, as mentioned, he ran around and through Detroit’s rookie left tackle all game.
There were a few downsides, however. First - his domination of Riley Reiff comes with a potential caveat. How much of his success was due to Perry’s ability, and how much due to Reiff’s inexperience and lack of ability? For example, the very next play after Perry’s first sack, Mike Neal pulled the exact same move on Reiff and nearly got the same result. Also, Reiff was abused several times by Clay Matthews, including at least one holding call. I’m inclined to give the Packer defenders the benefit of the doubt, due to seeing Reiff play at the University of Iowa and do well at that level, but it may be that he just doesn’t translate well to the pros.
Second (and this may not be Nick Perry’s fault), he did well with simple speed moves and bull-rushes, but any stunts he tried to do with other defenders tended to be very slow in developing. This could be simply that the timing was not set yet that the players needed between themselves, especially due to the number of injuries throughout the pre-season and first part of the season. Regardless, there was a glaring difference in how far into the backfield Perry ended up when he worked solo, versus with a teammate.
And finally, speaking of injuries, we come to the crux of the problem with Nick Perry. After suffering a wrist injury early in his rookie campaign and finally being shut down after he proved ineffective, Perry would start the 2013 season slowly, finally breaking out in this game. Unfortunately, he followed this game up with another fast start in the following game versus Baltimore, only to break his foot on a sack. After being shut down for several weeks, he slowly re-entered the lineup, gradually getting more tackles and playing time until the playoff game, where his stats started to approach the Detroit/Baltimore zenith. Can he play? Yes. Can he stay healthy enough to play effectively? That’s the big question facing not only Nick Perry but also the front office this season. If he can stay healthy, I believe he has the ability to give Clay Matthews a run for the Packer’s sack crown this season. Here’s hoping….