The Green Bay Packers made it priority No. 1 to protect Aaron Rodgers and his still-healing left collarbone Sunday afternoon in Chicago.
Making his first start in almost two months, Rodgers took three sacks but was kept mostly clean during Green Bay's 33-28 win. The three takedowns were nothing short of harmless, both in terms of in-game impact and the health of Rodgers' collarbone. And none of the three could be pinned solely on the offensive line.
A late scramble and safety slide resulted in the first sack, another broken play outside the pocket ended in the second and Julius Peppers finally wiggled free of David Bakhtiari after four-and-a-half seconds for the third, a strip sack that eventually concluded with Jarrett Boykin in the end zone.
Overall, the three sacks took an average of over five seconds from snap to sack. And in order, the plays resulted in a zero-yard loss, a late hit penalty that gave the Packers a first down and a 15-yard fumble return for a touchdown.
Save for those three, Rodgers was rarely touched or put in danger.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Packers offensive line was credited with just three quarterback disruptions. Evan Dietrich-Smith gave up two interior hurries, and T.J. Lang was beat inside by Corey Wootton for a third. Rodgers was placed at fault for the three others.
Overall, the Packers quarterback was pressured on just seven of his 43 dropbacks. The 16 percent disruption rate was Green Bay's best of the 2013 season.
Those tasked with protecting Rodgers, who came into Sunday only seven weeks removed from fracturing his collarbone, made it clear early in the week just how important it was to ensure the Bears pass rush was kept at bay.
“No question, there’s definitely an added urgency to keeping Aaron clean in the pocket,” Packers running backs coach Alex Van Pelt said.
"Now, there's a little fire lit under our asses," tackle David Bakhtiari said. "A sense of urgency. It's, 'Hey, look, we have to stretch it even more this week because we really don't want him to get touched.'"
Head coach Mike McCarthy aided his offensive line by giving Rodgers six throws behind the line of scrimmage, which typically eliminates the pass rush from of the equation. Of his 39 attempts, 24 took 2.5 seconds or less for Rodgers to attempt a pass.
Solid work along the entire offensive line and a smart reliance on the short passing game helped keep Rodgers clean.
Of course, the play that will go down as one of the greatest moments in Packers-Bears rivalry came when Rodgers needed to elude initial pressure and hold the football. But even on that 4th-and-8 play, Green Bay's protection package adequately picked up a seven-man blitz from the Bears, allowing Rodgers to escape the pocket and find Randall Cobb for the game-winning score. John Kuhn stuck Peppers off the edge to get the sequence in motion.
No quarterback is going to get through 60 minutes of football without some type of pressure or contact. That's the game everyone signed up for.
But in a situation for Rodgers that still presented risk of re-injury—his collarbone won't be completely healed until well into the offseason—the Packers offensive line elevated its performance and ensured minimal danger for its $110 million quarterback. Just like the entire unit set out to do beforehand.
Zach Kruse is a 25-year-old sports writer who contributes to Cheesehead TV, Bleacher Report and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He also covered prep sports for the Dunn Co. News. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at [email protected].
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