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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