Packers need Nick Perry back vs. Panthers in Week 15

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

All eyes this week are, rightfully, on Aaron Rodgers. But there’s another player who the Green Bay Packers need to return from injury to be an impact player this week: Nick Perry.

Even with Rodgers back, the Packers absolutely need to improve their pass defense. And that improvement isn’t likely to come in the secondary.

Though Damarious Randall has played very well recently, a season-ending shoulder injury to Kevin King and a back injury to Davon House leaves the team vulnerable. Against the Panthers, they’ll be forced to start Josh Hawkins on the outside and play Morgan Burnett as the nickel corner, with Josh Jones replacing Burnett at strong safety. Jermaine Whitehead is likely to see action as well.

The only way for a secondary this ravaged by injury to hold up is with a consistently disruptive pass rush. Clay Matthews proved that in overtime last week against the Browns.

LANDOVER, MD – JANUARY 10: Inside linebacker Clay Matthews
LANDOVER, MD – JANUARY 10: Inside linebacker Clay Matthews /

Matthews has had his best season in a few years with a team-high 7.5 sacks, and he’s played particularly well lately with five in the past three games. Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark, meanwhile, provide plenty of interior pass rush.

But without Perry on the other side of Matthews, the Packers’ defense is lacking. Ahmad Brooks has been underwhelming as Perry’s replacement. Kyler Fackrell has made a few plays, but still doesn’t seem powerful or explosive enough to be a truly impactful player. Vince Biegel has played just six NFL games in his career.

The burden rests on the $60 million man–Nick Perry.

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Perry hasn’t necessarily disappointed this season, but he also hasn’t dominated as expected after signing his lucrative deal this offseason. He has seven sacks, but he’s disappeared from games as a pass rusher for long stretches of time.

Getting Perry back healthy and productive will be absolutely crucial for this defense. He’s far and away the Packers’ most powerful outside linebacker, which makes him an invaluable asset in the running game.

But ultimately, it’s his pass rush that the defense needs so desperately. This battered secondary isn’t going to win games by locking down receivers in coverage for long periods of time. But timely pressure can turn surefire touchdowns into interceptions.

Pressure was the only way the defense escaped against the Cleveland Browns and DeShone Kizer, so you can bet that it will be crucial against Cam Newton and Matt Stafford. If the Packers do make the playoffs, Matthews and Perry will need to be exceptional to stand a chance against the likes of Jared Goff or Drew Brees.

Perry returned to practice on Wednesday on a limited basis. Dom Capers is likely desperately hoping that Perry can play this week, especially against a running quarterback like Newton. Perry’s ability to set the edge will be essential against the read option.

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So get excited about Rodgers’ return. But when #12 goes to the bench, #53, assuming he plays, might be the most important player to watch.