GREEN BAY – Mike McCarthy always says it starts up front, and the Packers couldn’t have a better starting point for their ever-evolving offense right now.
As McCarthy continues to juggle the backfield injuries and figure out week by week what type of offensive attack is going to work best, it has to be comforting to have an offensive line playing as well as Green Bay’s.
The starting five of David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga at the tackles, T.J. Lang and Lane Taylor at the guards, and JC Tretter at center has come together quickly and effectively in 2016.
The unit’s latest impressive display came Thursday night vs. the Bears, when quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked just twice in 57 drop-backs (56 pass attempts, one scramble) and the ground game still produced 103 yards without a true tailback to carry the load.
“It’s clearly one of the strengths of our football team,” McCarthy said on Friday. “It’s hard pass protecting 50-plus times.
“We’re putting a lot on their plate and they delivered.”
All that pass protecting couldn’t have been easy for Lang in particular, who left the game briefly with an injured hip but returned to finish out. Run blocking would presumably be much easier with a tender hip, but in the current circumstances, the offense has to simply do what it takes and the guys up front must respond.
Since a rough night offensively in Minnesota in Week 2, the ground game has produced whether via a healthy or hobbled Eddie Lacy, or most recently with Ty Montgomery, whose 30-yard scamper on a draw play led to a nine-carry, 60-yard night.
Also, over the four-game homestand, Rodgers was sacked just five times in 172 drop-backs (167 pass attempts, five scrambles), a 2.9 percent rate. To put the current stretch in perspective, in Rodgers’ least-sacked season of 2014, he was brought down 28 times in 553 drop-backs (520 pass attempts, 33 scrambles), a 5.1 percent rate.
McCarthy’s compliment immediately after the Chicago game was that the offensive line “played big,” and there’s no argument, though the head coach would rather not stress the protection unit 50-plus times on a regular basis.
“That’s why the importance of the run game is vital,” McCarthy said. “You still have to get up above 20, 25 attempts in a game. You want to be north of 30 in an ideal football game.”
McCarthy also, ideally, would like to get back on the plus side in turnover ratio sooner than later. The Packers are currently at minus-2 for the season after going plus-1 against the Bears with two late interceptions by the defense.
Green Bay ranks in the bottom third of the league in the category, which is practically foreign territory under McCarthy.
There’s still plenty of time to rectify the number, of course, but the Packers have finished only one season in McCarthy’s tenure on the minus side, and that was in 2013 (minus-3), when Rodgers missed half the year.
“Our turnover ratio is unacceptable right now,” McCarthy said. “That’s clearly the outlier for us to improve on.”