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Time for Packers to unleash OLB Rashan Gary in NFC title game – Packers Wire

The Green Bay Packers must pressure and hit Tom Brady to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC title game, making Sunday an ideal time to unleash the defense’s emerging star pass-rusher.

Rashan Gary has a real chance to be an X-factor player for the Packers against Brady.

Since Week 16, Gary is second among edge rushers in total pressures (14, despite playing in only three of a possible four games) and first in pass-rushing productivity, per Pro Football Focus. Maybe his efficiency as a rusher is a result of a smaller snap count and the opportunities involved with being a third edge rusher behind two established starters. Or maybe Gary could provide even more impact if he’s on the field more.

Over the last three games, Gary has just 52 pass-rushing snaps. Roughly once every three pass-rushing snaps, he’s provided a pressure.

The Packers could certainly use a repeat of that ratio on Sunday against Brady.

Interior pressure has long been the best way to combat Brady, who might be the best ever at executing subtle movements in the pocket to avoid edge rushers, create space and find throwing lanes. Collapsing the pocket and limiting his ability to step up in the pocket will be pivotal, and the Packers have two players – Kenny Clark and Za’Darius Smith – capable of creating the necessary disruption inside.

However, edge pressure can’t be discounted, even against Brady. Remember back to the 2015 AFC title game. The Denver Broncos’ pass-rush bruised and battered Brady, sacking him four times and hitting him 17 times. Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware delivered three sacks and 11 hits as edge rushers, and the Patriots scored just 18 points despite Brady throwing 56 times. He finished with two interceptions and a passer rating of 56.4, one of his worst postseason performances.

Hitting Brady 17 times might not be realistic on Sunday, but the Packers’ pass-rush has an opportunity to control the game much like the Broncos did five years ago.

Gary, Clark, Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith can be a formidable foursome as rushers. This group has to play a terrific game on Sunday, and it certainly might benefit Mike Pettine’s defense to give Gary more chances to disrupt from multiple pass-rushing angles, especially in obvious passing downs when Za’Darius Smith can kick inside. He’s just been too effective doing such an important job to be a role player in the biggest game of the season.

Keep in mind, this isn’t just a three-game sample size from Gary. Consider this amazing stat from PFF:

In the Packers’ first meeting against the Buccaneers, Gary played just 17 total snaps and rushed only 10 times. He delivered one of the Packers’ six pressures, but he hadn’t yet become a trusted member of the pass-rush. His second-year jump was just delayed.

In Week 10, Gary had the breakout game of his sophomore season, delivering seven pressures against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He’s been as disruptive as Aaron Donald on a per-snap basis ever since, creating a stunning progression for a talented young player playing out in real-time on a Super Bowl contender.

Over just his last two home games, Gary has rushed 35 times and created 13 pressures. Veteran Preston Smith might find ways to impact the game in other ways, but he has only 28 total pressures over 421 pass-rushing snaps spread out over 17 games.

The Packers are on the doorstep of the Super Bowl, but a football giant stands in their way. To best Brady, the Packers need their best on the field. And Rashan Gary has undoubtedly emerged as one of their best, especially in terms of doing the one thing they need most to beat Brady the Bucs. Pressure.

It’s time to unleash No. 52 in the NFC title game.

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