Part of the reason the Packers were able to win the Super Bowl was their ability to overcome injuries. The Week 1 starters that ended up on injured reserve before the half way point of the season included halfback Ryan Grant, tight end Jermichael Finley, right tackle Mark Tauscher, inside linebacker Nick Barnett, outside linebacker Brad Jones, and strong safety Morgan Burnett.
While the Packers found replacements at each position that allowed them to win, only one replacement, Desmond Bishop, truly showed he could be a star. He’s best known for recovering a Rashard Mendenhall fumble in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl which led to a Packers touchdown and a victory soon after.
Bishop was rewarded with a new contract and a starting job in 2011. Exactly how good is he after just one year as a starter? Only he and James Farrior had ratings above +4.0 in each defensive category: run defense, pass rush, and pass coverage. His play has pushed Nick Barnett to the backup spot heading into 2011, despite Barnett being one of the league’s best inside linebackers in 2009.
Road to Starting
In the sixth round of the 2007 draft, Bishop was drafted to be a backup middle linebacker behind Barnett. In his rookie year, he played in 10 games and made 10 total tackles. In 2008, when Barnett got hurt, A.J. Hawk moved to the middle spot while Brandon Chillar became a starter on the outside rather than Bishop. In Week 14 of that season, though, he got his first start with a sack, two pressures and four stops against the Texans.
The Packers transitioned to a 3-4 defense in 2009, which moved Hawk to start at inside linebacker with Barnett. Chillar also moved to the inside spot to be the top backup. This cut down on Bishop’s playing time, as Chillar would get most of the snaps if either Hawk or Barnett went out. In the 09 season, Bishop finished with just 66 total snaps, but played well in all three aspects of the game.
It looked like Bishop had a chance for more playing time as the 2010 season grew near. Chillar was attempting to play outside linebacker in the preseason, but that experiment didn’t go well and he returned to the inside. Bishop, in turn, landed in the same place on the depth chart as that he filled in 2009. In Week 3, however, Chillar suffered a shoulder injury, and in Week 4 Barnett went down with a season-ending wrist injury. This gave Bishop five snaps in Week 4, and his second career start in Week 5.
Making his Mark
Bishop’s first start of the season came against the Washington Redskins. His overall mark for the day was +7.7; the highest single game grade we’ve given an inside linebacker. Four times Redskin offensive linemen reached the second level attempting to block Bishop, and four times he shed them, registering a tackle for no gain and two tackles for short gains. Bishop also took Ryan Torain down for a loss on a first-quarter play where he went unblocked.
During the game, Bishop rushed Donovan McNabb 17 times. He generated five pressures, a hit and a sack, equating to pressure on 41% of his pass rushes. It’s a small sample size, but that is more than double the rate of the elite pass rushers in the league.
He was thrown at five times, allowed two catches, deflected a pass, and didn’t have a penalty called against him which all added up to a great day.
Typically when a player has an out of this world game, they come back to earth the following week. Bishop didn’t. He followed it up with a +6.3 rating against the Dolphins (the sixth highest rated game an inside linebacker has had in the past three years). The Packers recognized his great play and when Brandon Chillar returned from injury in Week 7, he only took a few passing downs per game from Bishop. It was clearly now Bishop’s starting job.
The Rest of the Season
While Bishop never saw a rating above +4.0 after those two games, he did something that few players have been able to do. In all sixteen of his starts – including the playoffs – he had an overall positive rating and throughout the season, he was a triple threat.
In the run game, he ended with a +13.6 rating, 12th best in the league. He was able to bring pressure on one in every four of his pass rushes, an astounding rate. In coverage, he allowed 63.8% of passes thrown his way to be caught, fourth best for all inside linebackers thrown at 10 times or more. He allowed 9.2 yards per catch which was in the upper half of all inside linebackers. Usually a defender has a low catch rate allowed and high yards per catch or vice versa, but Bishop is a rare case.
While Bishop seemed to decline at the end of the regular season, he picked his game up for the playoffs. In addition to a positive rating in run defense in all four playoff games, Bishop managed to sack Michael Vick, get three pressures on the Bears’ quarterbacks, and his fumble recovery will go down as one of the memorable plays in Super Bowl XLV.
A four year contract that came before the lockout means that Bishop will remain one of the Packers’ inside linebackers for years to come. He will be teamed up with Clay Matthews, ether A.J. Hawk or Nick Barnett, and whoever wins the ROLB job as the Packers try to defend their title in 2011.
If Bishop continues his great play, he’l get the recognition he deserves. With Patrick Willis a virtual lock for the Pro Bowl, it’s not out of the question for Bishop to take the other spot.
Follow Nathan on Twitter: @PFF_NateJahnke