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Sacks Down, Rushing Yards Up, Packers Offensive Line to Thank

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Sacks Down, Rushing Yards Up, Packers Offensive Line to Thank

It's difficult to assess how well an offensive line is playing. You can't look at the number of touchdowns they scored, receptions they grabbed, passes they completed, tackles they made or interceptions they picked.

Judging the effectiveness of an offensive line is more art than science, seeing how five men play together in tandem, individuals working toward a common goal.

Indeed, analyzing an offensive line is probably more qualitative than quantitative. But of the few measuring sticks available, the Packers offensive line would appear to be having its best performance in years, perhaps in the Mike McCarthy era.

Sacks are down. Rushing yards are up. And the play of the offensive line is a major factor why the Packers offense is ranked No. 3 in the NFL, racking up an average of 417.4 yards per game despite the injuries that have plagued the team.

The offense has been without big-time playmakers Aaron Rodgers, Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley for long stretches this season, but maybe most impressive for the offensive line, they've been getting the job done without Bryan Bulaga.

The former first round draft choice tore his ACL in training camp during a year he was supposed to protect Rodgers' backside, making the switch to left tackle.

When the injury occurred, the situation seemed dire. The Packers would have to get by minus the player they built their offensive line around.

But rookie David Bakhtiari stepped up and there's been no looking back. The fourth round draft pick has played ahead of his years and provided a steadying influence in the trenches this season.

Sure, Bakhtiari has made typical rookie miscues, such as his failure to cut block Michael Johnson of the Cincinnati Bengals in an early-season loss. But the early results indicate the Packers left tackle is a battler and the type of player who learns from his mistakes.

Before Rodgers got injured, the attention in Green Bay was how well the running game was going, reaching heights not seen since the days of Ahman Green under Mike Sherman.

The Packers have had four games in 2013 with at least 180 rushing yards, which ranks No. 2 in the NFL. They have an average of 4.7 yards per rush, which ranks No. 4 in the NFL. And they gain an average of 134.3 yards per game that ranks sixth in the league.

No doubt about it, the addition of rookie running back Eddie Lacy has been a huge reason for the revamped and rejuvenated running game in Green Bay. But it's also been the emphasis of the coaching staff to change what's been largely a stagnant rushing attack during McCarthy's tenure.

In the last two games that Rodgers has not started, however, opposing teams have geared up against the run, stuffing the box with extra defenders. Because of this, the Packers haven't exceeded 100 rushing yards against either the Eagles or the Giants.

With the running game unable to find traction, the pass protection has elevated its level of play, trying to assist Scott Tolzien as much as possible.

It's as if the offensive line has recognized they need to give an inexperienced quarterback every advantage possible. Scott Tolzien is never going to be Aaron Rodgers, but by giving him time to operate, the Packers will have a better chance to experience success.

In this past Sunday's loss to the Giants, the Packers didn't allow a single sack for the first time since Week 4 of last season. Combined with the one sack allowed the previous game against the Eagles, it's the lowest two-game sack total allowed since the Super Bowl season of 2010 in Weeks 2 and 3.

Credit also goes to the running backs and the tight ends who chip in on pass protection, and the quarterbacks for getting rid of the football, but it's clear the offensive line has been trending upward since the beginning of the year.

After giving up 10 sacks in the first three games of the season, the Packers were tied for sixth-most in the NFL. Since that time, they've allowed 13 sacks in the past seven games, and their average of 1.86 sacks per game over that span ranks No. 5 in the NFL.

Keep in mind, this is a unit that ranked dead last in the league, No. 32, under McCarthy with an astronomical 73 sacks allowed in 2009. Things weren't much better last season, ranking No. 31 with 51 sacks given up.

But with 23 sacks allowed this season, the Packers are making progress, tied for No. 9 in the NFL in that category.

In addition to Bakhtiari, Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang join forces to make arguably the best pair of guards in the NFL and another big reason for an improved offensive line performance this season.

According to ProFootballFocus.com, Sitton ranks third in the league in their rating system in 2013 while Lang ranks 12th, combining for the highest rated guard duo in the NFL.

Center Evan Dietrich-Smith has been solid in his own right, capably filling the shoes of Scott Wells and Jeff Saturday after their departures the past two seasons. Dietrich-Smith ranks 11th among centers, per ProFootballFocus.com.

Set to become a free agent at season's end, Dietrich-Smith may have inserted himself into the conversation of players most-deserving of the next contract extension from the Packers, joining Sam Shields, B.J. Raji and James Jones.

Don Barclay may be the weak link, but he's proving to be better than Marshall Newhouse, who's been inserted into the lineup the past few weeks due to injury. But at least Newhouse is a veteran that knows the Packers offense. Changes don't need to be made just because he enters the game.

Taken together, it's the best Green Bay offensive line since at least the last Super Bowl season and probably before that.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (34) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Evan's picture

I don't know, Brian. You have all your fancy numbers, but I've been assured by many on this site that this o-line is terrible...so, I don't know who to believe.

In all seriousness though, this stuck out to me: "In this past Sunday’s loss to the Giants, the Packers didn’t allow a single sack for the first time since Week 4 of last season."

I know at least one of Tolzien's INTs came when he was under pressure. As everyone knows, Rodgers will take the sack over the INT.

So has the o-line stepped it up for Tolzien, or is he getting rid of the ball in situations where Rodgers would probably eat it?

RC Packer Fan's picture

Anyone that is complaining about the OL this year as a whole, is living in the past.

No they haven't been perfect, but they are greatly improved over recent years, in both the Run and Pass game.

Stroh's picture

I wouldn't say greatly improved. But yeah its improved. Last year Lang was playing injured most of the year and Saturday, while a very good at the OL calls and making snaps, wasn't a very good blocker. Lang being healthy and EDS alone made the OL much improved. Bahktiari has been decent at OT, but for the most part fans give him far to much credit. He's average and should improve more, but I don't know if he'll be a starter next year.

Bottom line, if the OL can stay healthy and in one unit for a full season that alone would make a huge impact.

marcopo's picture

At the first sign of any problem, a substantial percentage of Packer fans automatically start crying for new coaches, a new GM as an immediate remedy for any ills. Just when I was thinking the OL was doing pretty good, Barclay goes down. This team is snake bit. It's ridiculous. I find myself getting angry at a player for getting hurt. Are these guys constructed of china?

Mojo's picture

Good stats for a unit that's been plagued by poor RT play for most of the year. And to think high capital picks Buluga and Sherrod along with 4th rounder Tretter, who haven't done anything due to injury, could be in the mix next year.

Unless there's value somewhere in next years draft, TT doesn't need to focus here.

Albert Lingerfeld's picture

A really good O line in my estimation can both run block and pass block, two very different skill sets. I give the O line some credit here since again I beleive the quality of players we have on the O line sucks, they are doing an OK job.
I fimly believer MM's conditioning and practices are so so and his so called get tough policy ain't working too well.
Sure would have been nice for Ted to pick up a quality linemen in the first round instead of Datone. Datone can't pass protect our franchise.

Franklin Hillside's picture

He picked a quality lineman in the 4th round, a starting left tackle.

Evan's picture

How good could he be if he was passed over by every team multiple times...LOGIC!

Chris's picture

Terrell Davis was a 6th rd pick and wasn't Brady a 7th? Your late round picks are garbage theory doesn't work

Evan's picture

Drats...you got me.

(I was kidding, btw.)

4thand1's picture

Rodgers was passed over 23 times, Evan.

Idiot Fan's picture

Sadly, you have to use the sarcasm font in order to differentiate yourself from the stupid people who say things like that for real.

RC Packer Fan's picture

A quick correction, the DE for Cincinnati is Michael Johnson, not Andre Johnson...

To me I look at this line and the reasons for improvement from last year to this year are:

1) Removing Newhouse from LT. Bahktiari has been very good, although he has had some rookie mistakes.

2) Switching from Saturday to EDS at Center.

Barclay at RT to me even though he hasn't been perfect is still better then how Newhouse was last year at LT.

I honestly think that Sitton and Lang have improved with switching sides as well.

I am interested in seeing how the OL will look next year. With Bahktiari, Barclay, Bulaga, and Sherrod all competing at OT. And then getting a healthy Tretter for the interior. Thompson always drafts OL in the middle rounds, so I'm guessing this year he will go for more of a C/G prospect. But the overall depth is much better then recent years.

The TKstinator's picture

I'm glad to see that we have some talent and competition in the O-line!

shawn's picture

So does this mean that they move Bulaga back to the right side?

RC Packer Fan's picture

That's what I think happens.

I think next year Bakhtiari will be LT, Bulaga will be RT, Sherrod will be backup LT and RT, Barclay will be backup RT,G.

That is my thinking anyways.

Stroh's picture

Sherrod will be the starting LT IMO. We'll see, but I doubt Bahktiari will be handed the LT job. He'll definitely have competition from Sherrod and if its even close they will give the 1st rd pick the benefit of the doubt every time.

I would guess its less than 50/50 chance Bahktiari is starting LT next year.

RC Packer Fan's picture

Yeah, I think that Sherrod and Bakhtiari will compete for the LT. I just have been really impressed with Bakhtiari as a 4th round rookie. I think he will only get better. I think he will win the job.

Right now I am basing it on the fact that Sherrod is coming from a devastating injury, which cost him 2 years. I think he will have a lot of rust to work through, and I think Bakhtiari's experience this year will really help him improve for next year.

I think Bulaga will be back at RT.

Again, just what I'm thinking right now.

THEMichaelRose's picture

My prediction is open competition. Turn 'em loose. Bakh's been good, but let's see what two first round picks can do when (hopefully) healthy.

Longshanks's picture

We actually do know what Bulaga and Sherrod can do when they are healthy. They get hurt and can't be depended on. That's why Bakh will be our starting left tackle next season. MM does take availability into play and Bakh so far has shown to be a guy you can depend on week to week kind of like Hawk. You don't hear Bakh name on the injury report. I say Bulaga is the starting right tackle next season. (if healthy)

Longshanks

RC Packer Fan's picture

I will agree with you on Bulaga. But not Sherrod. Sherrod only played in a few games then got injured. Bulaga has missed a lot of games. I would say Bulaga is more injury prone.

I agree that Bulaga will be the starting RT. But expect someone else to start in the season.

Idiot Fan's picture

But how do we know that Sherrod doesn't chronically have his leg snap in half???

Al's picture

Not a chance. Bulaga is going back to the left side. Bahktiari and Sherrod will battle for the right side. Barclay is out of the conversation. He will probably battle Newhouse for just a backup job. Tretter go against EDS for center spot. Bahktiara has been fine guys but come on... hes not about to replace Bulaga at left tackle. Were getting a little ahead of ourselves now.. and as for Sherrod.. has anyone actually seen him play for real? No? well neither have the coaches. He will get a CHANCE but will definitely not be handed anything. Bahktiara has earned a battle with Sherrod and I like Baktiara's chances.

Al's picture

Actually isn't Newhouse a FA? he will probably not even be resigned.

Stroh's picture

Correct. Newhouse is a FA and he won't be re-signed. Barclay should be moved to OG full time. Given his limited mobility that's the best position for him. We'll have Bulaga, Sherrod and Bahktiari at OT next year.

Tarynfor12's picture

The O-Line is playing much better and like every other will seem to fall short at times.However,some of the failings would/could/should be blamed on the predictability of the play calling.As Jersey Al said about the Giant game,sitting in the stands,many a fan with him knew what was coming.This of coarse could be due to having Tolzien at the helm but we have been afforded the same ability with Rodgers at times also.Miscues and missed assignments not withstanding,IMO the showing of your hand usually increases failure...the Packers appear to have at least mastered this aspect on both sides of the ball.

marcopo's picture

It's an excellent offensive, but for Newhouse. When he's in, the OL goes South. Sherrod is healthy. He's participated in several weeks of pads, aside from OTA's etc. It's time to sink or swim, give the guy some reps. Can he be worse than Newhouse?

Point Packer's picture

You never know. Acknowledging the small sample size, what we saw from him early on was not eye popping. And that was before an injury that's put him on the sideline for nearly two years.

chicago hooligan's picture

I would be curious to see the number of QB hits and hurries vs. last year instead of just sacks. Anyone with PFF full access want to share those figures?

pooch's picture

offensive line sucks in red zone,just horrible,so iam not to excited,could not block against a very much needed win against Giants even though they knew what was coming.Newhouse needs to go,Sherrod needs to start getting snaps to give management an idea whether they need to draft another ot next year in the 1st 3 rounds,Barclay is a nice nice stop gap but lacks in pass protection,of course the play calling to me is very suspect in red zone .

Ruppert's picture

How does the O line suck in the red zone, specifically? Why do you say that?

I'm happy with the O line this year. It's the defense that's killing me.

4thand1's picture

When Rodgers got hurt, Barclay pushed McClellan passed Rodgers and then quit blocking. He turned back and caught AR from behind. End of season.

Stroh's picture

On the play Rodgers was hurt Barclay barely laid a hand on McClellin. If Barclay had done his job and been engaged when Rodgers started ducking under Rodgers would not have been hurt. Barclay did nothing on that play, especially pushing McClellin past Rodgers. Barclay did a little patty cake w/ his hands and never got a hand on McClellins body.

Calf21's picture

I would argue that everything my dad writes is an "offensive line".

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