Pack's Defensive MVP? It May Not Be Who You ThinkPosted:Dec 28th, 2010 3:13 pm
When Ted Thompson made the decision to bring in Dom Capers and transform the defense into a version of the Steelers' 3-4, he knew he had to arm him with players who fit that scheme.
So in the first round of the 2009 draft, he ignored the temptation to take a potential All-Pro wide receiver with the ninth pick (Michael Crabtree). Instead he grabbed nose tackle B.J. Raji from Boston College. Then he traded away his next two picks to move back into the first round to grab USC's Clay Matthews, hoping he would be another building block for Capers to play with.
Nearly two full seasons later, those two players are the primary reason Capers' defense is at the top in many categories. Matthews was a Pro Bowl alternate as a rookie and has elevated his game in his second season. Despite being slowed by injuries, he's near the league lead in sacks and we have seen what happens to this defense when he's not in there. He will garner votes as the league's defensive player of the year.
But for my money, B.J. Raji has been the Pack's most valuable defensive player this season. In this system, the nose tackle is where everything starts, though you don't always see it in the stat sheet. Can you name the Steelers' nose tackle during their Super Bowl seasons? Raji's rookie year got off to a slow start. He came to camp late, got hurt and took a while to figure things out. We are told it's a position that takes some time to figure out. A true test would be how Raji progresses in year two.
The verdict is in and Raji has taken his game to another level. He is playing at a Pro Bowl level in 2010. Is the Packers' run defense as stout as it was last year? No, but losing a handful of defensive starters to injuries plays into that. Raji has been a rock this season. With Jenkins missing a good chunk of the season and Pickett missing a game or two, Raji has always been there, asked to play more snaps than Capers would probably like.
His last two games may have been his best. Clearly he was motivated against the Patriots, playing so close to where he played in college. But on Sunday, he dominated the celebrated Giants' offensive line and was in the backfield all day, disrupting the running game and getting in Manning's face.
He'll face another test this Sunday against the annoying Olin Kreutz of the Bears. The way the team has looked the last two weeks, we hope to see a nice little post-season run. If that happens, we'll be relying on big B.J., who's quickly becoming an elite nose tackle on a young, improving and sometimes dominant defense.