Injuries and performance issues in ’09 led to multiple combinations along the line in the first half of the season before it was able to settle in on the same five for the final seven contests. This year, a healthier group has made a stable front each week more the norm, and the dividends have been obvious.
“We’re carrying more volume up front as far as the run concepts and the protection concepts than you probably normally would,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “A lot of that in the past was due to, we had so much change in our offensive line.
“It’s so important to have continuity up front because the game really starts up there, and for us to play the way we want to play and create some type of balance and continue to stay out of a two-shell game where the defense is playing you one way the whole time, it’s important for us to continue to grow and be productive up front, and I think we’re doing that.”
After getting off to an improved start in pass protection this season, allowing just five sacks in the first four games, the line was forced to adjust with veteran right tackle Mark Tauscher going down with a shoulder injury in Week 4 vs. Detroit that would turn into a season-ending one. Rookie Bryan Bulaga moved into the starting lineup beginning with the Week 5 contest at Washington, and the unit had some struggles against the Redskins and the next week vs. Miami.
It should be noted that the offense was also adjusting to life without talented tight end Jermichael Finley, who sustained a season-ending knee injury on the second play of the game at Washington. But in the two games against the Redskins and Dolphins, the line allowed a total of nine sacks and committed five penalties as the Packers lost both games to fall to 3-3.
But ever since those back-to-back losses, the line has given up just six sacks of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and committed only three penalties as the Packers rattled off four wins in a row. Rodgers’ passer rating over those four games was 104.7 as he threw for 1,055 yards and 10 touchdowns with just two interceptions. That touchdown total nearly matched his 10 in the first six contests, when he had an 89.7 rating with seven interceptions.
Perhaps most impressive as far as penalties was the line’s performance this past Sunday at Minnesota, when the offense wasn’t flagged all afternoon in the 31-3 win. In the 28th game in Packers history at the Metrodome, the one penalty (neutral-zone infraction on linebacker Frank Zombo) set a team record for the fewest at the stadium. The last time an NFL team was whistled for that few penalties at Minnesota came on Nov. 28, 1999, when the San Diego Chargers were also penalized just once.
“We talk about being a fundamental team and a very smart team,” guard Daryn Colledge said. “For us to go into a place like that and not have a hold, not have a jump, which you kind of expect in places like that, it’s tough. I think it’s a great thing because it gives us the confidence to know that we can go into another loud place and play well.”
The line will be dealing with a hostile Georgia Dome crowd at Atlanta this Sunday where the Falcons are undefeated this season. Opponents have averaged just under seven total penalties a game (34 in five contests), so Green Bay’s effectiveness on offense when using a silent count will be part of the challenge that the crowd noise will pose.
“The most important part of the silent count is the three interior guys because Scottie (Wells) has to have his eyes and his ears as his right guard and his left guard,” Rodgers said. “So Josh and Daryn have got to be his eyes and his ears and talk to him about the calls and who is coming, who is not coming, where he is supposed to set.
“When those three guys have good communication, then we’re going to be fine in those environments.”
There no doubt are areas that the offense would like to improve in down the stretch, with increased production from the run game being one of them. The Packers currently rank No. 19 in the league in rushing offense at 100.5 yards per game, but under McCarthy the team has stepped it up on the ground when the weather changes. In games played on Dec. 1 or later under McCarthy, the offense has averaged 121.4 rushing yards per contest compared to an average of 103.0 in games before December.
With four of the final five games (three home, at New England) expected to be played in less-than-ideal conditions, being able to run the ball effectively will be a priority for the offense as the team makes a playoff push. Continuing to have those same five linemen in place each week would go a long way toward accomplishing the goal.
“Being an offensive lineman is all about the guys next to you and the cohesiveness between those guys,” Colledge said. “If we can continue to stay healthy and keep these five guys up, we feel like we’ve got a great opportunity.”
Happy to host
One of the more veteran members of the team, defensive lineman Ryan Pickett, was hosting several of his linemates for Thanksgiving on Thursday.
Pickett said he and his wife, Jennifer, have welcomed teammates to their home the past several years to celebrate the holiday, and they were expecting a group that would include defensive ends Howard Green, Cullen Jenkins and C.J. Wilson.
“We’ve got like a 30-pound turkey,” Pickett said. “I don’t know how (Jennifer) tied it up and got it in there, but I know it’s been cooking for like the last seven hours. It’s supposed to be ready when I get home.
“We enjoy having younger players over and stuff like that and other teammates. It’s a fun time. It’s nice.”
With help from director of player development Rob Davis and football administration coordinator Matt Klein, McCarthy said he made sure that all of the players and coaches had somewhere to enjoy the holiday.
“Some players are going to a couple different places,” McCarthy said. “Everybody’s opened up their door. You can’t just be a family at work. It is Thanksgiving. We all are very blessed. We’ve acknowledged that, and we make sure everybody has a place to go today.”
Pickett (ankle) was added to the injury report on Thursday as a limited participant, but McCarthy said he did not consider it a setback after Pickett got “jammed up in a pile-up” during Wednesday’s practice.
“It’s fine,” Pickett said. “I could have practiced today but just resting it for the week.”
Tackle Chad Clifton (knee) and wide receiver Donald Driver (quad) both were full participants in Thursday’s padded practice after being limited on Wednesday. Other than that, the Packers had no changes to their report on Thursday.
For Atlanta, defensive end John Abraham (groin), S Shann Schillinger (head) and wide receiver Roddy White (knee) were limited on Thursday after not participating on Wednesday. Linebacker Curtis Lofton (knee) and defensive tackle Corey Peters (rib) participated fully after being limited on Wednesday.
Additional coverage – Nov. 25