The return of Zadarius Smith and Whitney Mercellus is exactly what the Packers need

On Thursday, the surprising news was revealed that Green Bay Packers outside full-back Whitney Mercellos could return to the squad from the injured reserve list. Mercellus has missed every game since his injury in mid-November against the Seattle Seahawks, which quickly put him on the injured reserve list. on time, Adam Scheffer from ESPN That injury was a biceps injury that would sideline Mercilus for the remainder of the season.

Keep in mind that Mercilus was signed, after his release by the Houston Texans in October, as a replacement for Za’Darius Smith, who battled through a back injury to play Week 1 and was put into the injured reserve in Week 2. The Packers also signed Ladarius Hamilton of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coaching team was made the active roster in week two, but Hamilton has since been replaced by Typa Galle, originally a coaching staff member, with Hamilton returning to the Packers coaching team.

On a much lower level, the Packers have made moves like signing former college basketball player Aaron Adewi, picking former second-round Nate Orchard and special teams like Peter Calambaye to the coaching staff as outside players this season. As much as the fast-passing unit has been rocking this season, though, the team couldn’t find an answer to production off the bench behind starters Rashane Gary and Preston Smith. The injury to Randy Ramsey, who was placed in injured reserve after watching playing time at the indoor and outdoor linebacker during summer camp, didn’t help.

With Mercilus and Za’Darius Smith now practicing, though, the Green Bay Packers’ defense could take a big leap before the playoffs begin. Below is the production schedule for “QB hit” (via Pro Football Reference) in 2021, including Za’Darius Smith’s 2020 production, as one game sample from Week 1 does not reflect Smith’s interval production expectations.

QB Hit Stats Packages

Noun condition QB Hits Stabilizes QB hits / 100
Noun condition QB Hits Stabilizes QB hits / 100
rashan running List 28 681 4.11
Darius Smith (2020) IR-DFR 23 858 2.68
Preston Smith List 17 638 2.66
Whitney Mercellus (2 TM) IR-DFR 5 312 1.60
Jonathan Garvin List 5 395 1.27
Ladarius Hamilton note 2 64 3.13
Tiba Galli List 1 152 0.66
Chauncey Rivers IR 0 54 0.00
Randy Ramsay IR 0 0 0.00

Although not perfect, Smith (2.68 QB strokes per 100 shots) and Mercilus (1.6) produced significantly more pressure than Garvin (1.27) and Galeai (0.66) on a Green Bay moment-by-moment basis. In fact, Smith produced four times as many quarterback strokes per 100 shots in 2020 than the Galeai, which the 229-pound Packers produced, in 2021.

While much has been done about the return of corner backs Jair Alexander and forwards David Bakhtiari, Josh Myers and Billy Turner, the fast-passing unit has not developed the depth of those positions in the absence of injured contributors. Rasul Douglas has evolved into the Pro Bowl alternative for the angle. The difference between Alexander and Douglas must be somewhat marginal, as crazy as it sounded in September. Lucas Patrick, who started the season off the bench, is now starting at the right base after replacing Myers as the team’s centerpiece. Josh Nijmann and Dennis Kelly made Bakhtiari and Turner’s loss almost non-factor, thanks to offensive line coach Adam Stenavich and general manager Brian Gutkunst.

The same cannot be said of the passing dash unit, which is one of the most well-rounded units on the defensive side of the ball behind the home defense line. All too often, the Packers’ defense of the swerve and unbroken saw offenses hanging on the field long enough to demand the exclusion of Preston Smith and Gary, precisely the time the offenses decided to take their hits for explosive plays. If Za’Darius Smith and Mercilus can come off the bench in those situations, that would be the biggest difference between the regular season Packers and the postseason packers.

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