Packers' Raji expects more of himself in 2012
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Statistics don't show everything. That's the message Green Bay Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji wants NFL fans to understand about himself and others around the league who play his position the way he does.
But despite making the Pro Bowl last season for the first time in his three-year career, Raji does consider 2011 a step backward for him in terms of production.
"The fact of the matter is it's just the way it was last year. I didn't get it done," Raji, 25, told FOXSportsWisconsin.com. "Hopefully this year, I think will be different."
During the Packers' Super Bowl-winning season in 2010, the 337-pound Raji was a disruptive force on defense, racking up 6.5 sacks and 29 tackles. One year later, though, Green Bay went 15-1 in the regular season, the team's defense struggled and Raji's statistics declined, falling to 3.0 sacks and 14 tackles.
"I can't control how people look at me," Raji said. "I just know how this league is, and sometimes numbers don't show it all. But that's the way this league is. It's all about numbers. I played well enough to win 15 games. It wasn't (6.5) sacks, but hopefully I can get back up there."
Though sacks are far from the only thing a nose tackle should be judged on, Raji chooses to examine his sack totals based on how many outside linebacker Clay Matthews gets.
"I try to have at least half the sacks he had," Raji said. "If he had 14 and I had three sacks, I'd be a little concerned. But going from 6.5 to three sacks, that's not getting it done."
Raji did come very close to his goal the past two seasons, with Matthews recording 13.5 sacks in 2010 to Raji's 6.5. In 2011, Matthews finished with six and Raji had three.
"If people didn't think I was a good player then they would accept that from me," Raji said. "It's funny how I'm the only nose tackle in the league being judged by sacks. You look at some of these other nose tackles playing for 10 years, they only have 12 career sacks. I have that in three years.
"It seems like every time people talk about me, they talk about sacks."
While that may be true of some NFL fans, the statistical machine at ProFootballFocus.com looks at more than just sacks and tackles. According to their breakdowns of every nose tackle and defensive tackle in the league, Raji was the worst in the NFL at his position last season.
However, much of that could have been due to Raji playing an increased number of snaps in 2011. The Packers lacked depth along the defensive line, so Raji played 937 snaps -- nearly twice as many as the next-most-used Packers lineman, Ryan Pickett, who was in for just 507 plays.
"With me, it's different because Trgo (defensive line coach Mike Trgovac) and (defensive coordinator) Dom (Capers) have high expectations for me," Raji said. "Some things that they'll accept from some other guys, they're always going to be hard on me about it.
"In 2010, we were a different defense and I obviously had more production. I guess I'll accept that my production dropped."
Raji has more help now with the Packers adding defensive lineman Jerel Worthy in the second round of the draft and Mike Daniels in the fourth round. Worthy is already a starter, being paired with Raji on the line in Green Bay's nickel defense, which the team plays on nearly half its downs.
"Jerel, he gives us great value at the other position," Raji said. "He has sudden quickness, sudden burst, but he also has the size and the strength to hunker down and draw double teams. I think he'll definitely help with the push."
Worthy will be asked to do a lot immediately as a rookie, but in order for the Packers to improve upon their league-worst defense in 2011, Raji needs to return to his 2010 form.
"It starts with me, (and) I can play better," Raji said. "I think most people on the defensive side of the ball that play a lot feel like they can play better."
But that doesn't mean Raji, the ninth overall pick in 2009, believes he hasn't lived up to the spot in which he was drafted.
"If you look at my short tenure here, I've definitely done more than my job," Raji said.
The Packers enter this season with nearly all their starters back on both sides of the ball, and Raji looks at last season's playoff loss to the Giants as a small setback for an otherwise top team that wasn't defeated until Week 15 of the regular season. But the nose tackle is realistic about the chances of nearly going undefeated again.
"Last year, we won 15 games and hopefully we can do that again. But the likelihood is we probably won't," Raji said. "Going from top-10 defense to 32 is definitely a humbling experience, but some people still like our chances to make it back to the Super Bowl."
If Raji and the defense can recover from a poor season, considering how dominant Aaron Rodgers and the offense have been, it's difficult to imagine the Packers taking an extended absence from the sport's biggest game.
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