In the NFC Championship Game, Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch rushed for 157 yards with an unsightly 6.3-yard average against the Green Bay Packers.
On Sunday night, Lynch managed only 41 and averaged just 2.7 per attempt.
The difference? Start in the middle of the defense with B.J. Raji. Raji, who missed all of last season with a torn biceps tendon, set the tone as the Packers’ defensive line ran roughshod over Seattle’s offensive front.
“B.J. Raji had an outstanding game -- probably I would say it’s one of his best or was his best football game as a Green Bay Packer, in my opinion,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday, a day after Green Bay’s 27-17 victory.
Raji’s dominance is shown in the All-22 compilation from the NFL’s Game Pass service, with five snaps strung together at the top of this story. Most of Raji’s dominance came in the first half, when Seattle tried to test the middle of the Packers’ defense. During the second half, Seattle went to the perimeter to get away from Raji and to take advantage of Green Bay’s aggresiveness.
“What did Lynch have? Forty-some yards, I think he averaged 2.7 per rush,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said on Monday. “That was the linebackers and defensive line, but I thought B.J. played one of his better games. It’s been a while. B.J. missed all of last year, so it was really nice to see him. He was active, he got off blocks, he controlled his gap. I thought he did a nice job of being physical on the center, on their guards. So that was encouraging. He was a big part of that, and that enabled us to limit Lynch.”
It’s early, but Raji’s strong start is shown in ProFootballFocus.com’s position rankings. Among defensive tackles (3-4 and 4-3 schemes), Raji ranks sixth. PFF has Raji for six quarterback hits, which is tied for fourth in that group. That’s noteworthy because Raji had only 10 in the entire 2013 season. His half-sack vs. Chicago was his first sack since Thanksgiving 2011 against Detroit. His big rush on Sunday set up Mike Daniels for a sack.
“Dom does a great job of laying out the game plan,” Raji said after the game. “We practiced, we watched these guys all of the time, so basically I knew for the most part what was coming. It was just a matter of I was going to do my assignment or not.”
Raji did his assignment. And then some. If this is the Raji that is going to show up week after week, the Packers’ defense has a chance to be really good.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.