With OLBs T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith returning to the lineup against the Packers Sunday, Melvin Ingram’s role on the defense took a notable step back from a snap count perspective. Ingram logged 100% of the defensive snaps (47) the previous week against the Bengals via Pro Football Reference, but only tallied 49% (35) of the snaps in Week 4. While Ingram may have only recorded a single solo tackle in the stat sheet, his presence on the field was far greater than the numbers tell.
While Ingram may not have finished at the QB like we all would hope, he did do a good job putting pressure on #12 Aaron Rodgers throughout the contest. Playing less snaps probably left Ingram feeling fresh in these obvious passing down situations, allowing him to pin his ears back and go hunt the QB. Here is one example at the end of the first quarter where Ingram aligns on the LT and uses a slap/chop combo as he rushes inside, forcing Rodgers to roll out to his right and throw the ball the ball away as he an #99 Henry Mondeaux put the heat on in the backfield.
Pittsburgh didn’t only use Ingram as a pass rusher, but also had him drop back into coverage on several occasions. Here on Ingram’s first defensive snap of the game, he drops from the ROLB spot to the middle zone of the defense. While he gets to his landmark, Rodgers checks the ball down to #28 A.J. Dillion who runs up the sideline for first down yardage.
While Ingram isn’t a complete liability in coverage, it shouldn’t be seen as his strength either. Pittsburgh likes to disguise who is coming on the blitz and who is dropping pre-snap, but it would be for the best if Ingram is moving forward more than backward to maximize his skill set. Still, his lone tackle of the game came with him dropping into coverage here on this play as he drops into the zone, giving TE #85 Robert Tonyan plenty of space to make the catch underneath. However, Ingram closes ground quickly after the catch, going up high and managing to arm tackle Tonyan to the ground.
There were instances where Ingram did struggle to fight off blocks as a pass rusher; most notably the first touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to #18 Randall Cobb. On this play, Ingram gets off of the ball and looks to long arm #73 Yosh Nijman into the lap of Rodgers with his power, but Nijman does a good job resetting against the rush and anchoring in to stall Ingram’s push. Ingram fails to counter before Rodgers finds Cobb running across the middle of the field and delivers a strike that Cobb takes into the end zone for the score.
While we can get on Ingram for not abusing a backup LT for one rep, he did generate plenty of pressure on Rodgers to force him to throw the ball early and avoid making some potentially big plays down the field. On this play, we see Ingram successfully execute the long arm on Nijman and bull rush him into the lap of Rodgers, coming across his face and forces Rodgers to overthrow Tonyan running down the seam.
Along with the bull rush, Ingram exploited Nijman with his signature wicked spin move we highlighted when he was signed by Pittsburgh this offseason. Later on the same drive, Ingram aligns in a Wide-9 stance off Nijman and charges up field on the snap. However, he sets up Nijman but countering back inside, getting the blocker to drop his eyes and lunge forward in attempt to cut him off, but Ingram gets off the block clean and gets in the face of Rodgers who throws the ball into the turf in front of #17 Davante Adams to avoid getting hit. Ingram received credit for three pressures on the game and his presence prevented several key completions from happening.
What also stood out to me was how Pittsburgh continued to use Ingram off the ball as an amoeba defender that could rush or drop into coverage. On certain downs, it looks as if he fills the role of one Vince Williams of years past, crashing in on the interior offensive line to cause havoc and disruption upfront. We see an example of that here where Ingram aligns off-ball and loops around on the snap, running through the inside shoulder of Tonyan and gets into the backfield. #35 Arthur Maulet makes a great play before Ingram can get there, but Ingram is still in position to blow up the rushing attempt for a loss.
Still, this pseudo-linebacker/edge rusher hybrid role for Ingram can come back to bite him and the defense as a whole if he doesn’t execute as a traditional off-ball linebacker should. For example, lines up in-between the two interior defensive linemen as a stand-up linebacker. He runs to the right-side A-gap but gets picked up by the LG who turns his shoulders and walls him off from the hole that #33 Aaron Jones bursts through for the first down. Should Ingram crash the gap harder or keep his shoulders square to the LOS like a traditional off-ball linebacker would, he could have prevented being cut off by the block and tried to keep Jones from moving the sticks.
Overall, it wasn’t a perfect performance for Ingram who saw his role diminish from what it was the previous game, but not having to play as many snaps left him spry enough to pressure the pocket and get Rodgers uncomfortable on several occasions. Given the fact that Pittsburgh’s pressure rates have been noticeably low this season compared to the last several years, maybe it would be wise to deploy Ingram out there a little more alongside Watt and Highsmith given the absence of Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu from the middle to generate more interior pressure another way.
There is a fine line to walk in terms of Ingram’s snaps. You don’t want to take your starting outside linebackers off the field too often and run Ingram on empty, but you also would like to utilize this experienced pass rusher who can get to the QB numerous ways as well. As more pressure gets put on the defense to make plays to stay in games, it could be expected that Ingram’s usage could rise as the team isn’t getting enough pressure as a whole to create turnovers. It remains to be seen if DC Keith Butler will be willing to change his ways, but if Pittsburgh keeps trending in the wrong direction as a team, he may be left with no choice.
What are your thoughts on Melvin Ingram’s performance against the Packers? Do you think that he should see more defensive snaps, or that his snaps should be capped to keep him fresh for when he plays? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!