Blake Martinez didn’t mind playing the blame game with the Green Bay Packers and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine on Monday afternoon during his first conference call with members of the New York Giants media.
Martinez was critical of his role in the Packers’ defensive system, in which he was “taught and told to be the clean-up crew guy,” according to Pat Leonard of NY Daily News. The four-year starter said he was given no gap responsibilities during the 2019 season with Pettine directing him to play off outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith and “to make them right.”
“Last year, we played a lot of match coverage zone, so it looks like we’re in man coverage,” Martinez said. “You look at it and it’s like, ‘What the heck? Shouldn’t Blake be covering him?’ I can do all the things you need to do as an NFL linebacker.”
Martinez also said he and the Packers were on “different wavelengths” in terms of his value as a free agent and that Green Bay doesn’t value inside linebackers the same way other teams do, per NFL Network’s Kimberly Jones. He signed a three-year, $30 million contract to become the Giants’ new signal-caller, while the Packers paid Christian Kirksey about $8 million per season to replace him.
Martinez finished the 2019 season with the league’s second-most tackles (155) and is projected to play more man coverage under new Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, who built a strong connection with Martinez during his lone season as the Packers’ linebackers coach in 2018.
Follow the Heavy on Packers Facebook page for the latest breaking news, rumors and content!
Is Martinez Right to Complain About Packers Role?
Martinez is certainly entitled to his own opinion about his capabilities and situation, but the reasons he gave for his lack of quality play with the Packers sounds more like excuses to those who have followed the 26-year-old linebacker throughout his first four NFL seasons.
In calling himself a “clean-up crew guy,” Martinez tried to explain away why so many of his high-volume tackles came downfield, but his lack of sideline-to-sideline athleticism and ineptitude in pass coverage was made painfully clear throughout the Packers’ most recent campaign.
As Sports Illustrated’s Bill Huber notes, Martinez’s botched play against Raheem Mostert in the NFC championship game highlighted the Packers’ need for more athletic linebackers. He was unblocked and on a path to spot Mostert at the line of scrimmage, but the San Francisco 49ers rusher instead beat him to the corner and scored a 9-year touchdown.
According to Sports Info Solutions, Martinez was given a third the number of pass-rushing opportunities in 2019 with the addition of the Smiths, which could have limited the number of impact plays available within his responsibilities, but it doesn’t explain some of the other dropoffs in his game. He also recorded a career-high 17 missed tackles and produced only a single pass breakup, allowing a deserved catch percentage of 94.4 when in pass coverage.
Martinez Glad to Be Reunited With Kyler Fackrell
Martinez isn’t the only former Packers player to join the Giants in free agency.
Outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell is set to join Martinez next season in New York after agreeing to terms on a one-year, $4.6 million deal that offers him an opportunity to push for a starting role. Fackrell faced an uphill battle for playing time in 2019 after the Packers added the Smiths and first-round pick Rashan Gary to the roster during last year’s offseason.
“He’s an amazing player,” Martinez said on Monday’s call. “There are a lot of things that he hasn’t been able to show. I think he’s one of the best zone-coverages linebackers in the NFL. I know he’s going to be a great asset to this team.”