As the running game goes, so goes Aaron Rodgers’ pass protection. That fact has become abundantly clear in recent weeks.
“Against a rush team like Houston, you make them play run and it wears them down,” Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements said of the run-pass balance that helped limit the Texans to two harmless sacks in the Packers’ 42-24 win last Sunday.
“We want to run the ball and make sure the defense doesn’t know what we’re going to do all the time,” Clements added.
Twenty-two carries by Alex Green kept the Texans from focusing on the pass. In Indianapolis, 12 rushing attempts by Cedric Benson in the first half helped keep Rodgers sackless, but with Benson lost to injury for the second half, the Packers turned hard to the pass and Rodgers went down five times. The eight sacks vs. no sacks difference in the two halves in Seattle brought the whole issue to light.
“It makes the defender he has to play go both ways,” Offensive Line Coach James Campen said of the edge offensive linemen enjoy over their counterpart when he has to first play run before rushing the passer. “When you get some chunk runs, it allows you to get your hands on guys quicker. It allows the linemen to be more aggressive.”
The Packers hope to get some chunk runs out of Green in St. Louis this Sunday. Green enjoyed the biggest workload of his young pro career last week and should the Packers be able to get the same workhorse production out of Green this Sunday, Rodgers might enjoy a game similar to the six-touchdown-passes performance he produced in Houston.
“That’s what we’re striving for. We had a big win in Houston but that’s in the past,” Clements said.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy is challenging his team to “stack success.” As it would pertain to the Packers, it would mean winning consecutive games for the first time this season.
Rodgers’ performance in Houston has him back atop the NFL passer rankings with a 105.4 rating. He also has the Packers at the top of the red-zone efficiency ratings, with 14 touchdowns vs. two field goals in 18 red-zone possessions.
“We’ve been fairly good in the red zone the last several years. We’ve been hot lately. When you get down there, your guys have to make plays,” Clements said.
Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers’ unit made key plays in Houston that protected the Packers’ big lead. Rookie cornerback Casey Hayward intercepted two passes and cornerback Sam Shields intercepted one. The key to the Packers’ defensive performance in Houston, however, was its ability to stop the run, and Capers is looking for more of that this Sunday.
“They have two good running backs,” he said of the Rams’ Steven Jackson and rookie Daryl Richardson, the 252nd player selected in this year’s draft. “Richardson might be the most impressive guy on the team. He hits the hole quick and he’s capable of making the big play.”
Jackson continues to be the Rams’ dominant runner. New Head Coach Jeff Fisher has long been a believer in the value of a strong running game, and he hopes it will do for quarterback Sam Bradford as it’s doing for Rodgers.
“They have a quarterback that’s capable of getting hot. Bradford can make all the throws,” Capers said.
Did the Packers defense turn a corner in Houston?
“I don’t know about turning a corner. I feel we’ve played three very good defensive games and three not so good. I see some young guys that are starting to get into a groove. Sunday will be a big challenge for us and I think our guys are looking forward to it.” Additional coverage - Oct. 19