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Green and Bold: Packers Will Live and Die by Offensive Line vs. Cardinals

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Green and Bold: Packers Will Live and Die by Offensive Line vs. Cardinals

You could point to multiple factors as being keys to the Packers' victory over the Washington Redskins in the Wild Card Round—Aaron Rodgers' accuracy and the success of the run game being two big ones. 

But everything the Packers did successfully on offense last week started with the offensive line, a unit that has dictated the outcomes of far too many games in the 2015-16 season, for better or worse. And as the Packers prepare to meet the Arizona Cardinals for the second time in three weeks in the Divisional Round, their performance will once again be dictated by the play of the line. 

Because while Rodgers' 210-yard, two-touchdown, zero-interception performance against Washington was his best in weeks, you have to drill down even further to get to the root of why Green Bay emerged triumphant in that clash. And pass protection was a huge part of it. 

Rodgers took just one sack against the Redskins, even though Washington boasts a stout front seven. For the first time in weeks, he was able to drop back, set his feet, scan the field, and put the ball where he wanted it to go—instead of running for his life on nearly every play, as has been the norm too many times this season.

Sure, Rodgers has never been overly disciplined about planting his feet when he throws, but it's because he's improvising on the fly, not because he's getting spooked or, worse, undisciplined. There have been hints of the latter this season, but not on Sunday. Rodgers had trust in the pocket, and the resulting change in his game was everything for this offense. 

In fact, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Rodgers faced pressure on just six of his 37 dropbacks, the lowest pressure percentage in any game this year. In the Packers' first meeting with the Cardinals, however, Rodgers faced pressure on a whopping 49 percent of his dropbacks and was sacked a season-high eight times--a recipe for disaster. 

Injuries have threatened to dismantle the Packers' season time and time again since their first game on September 13, and they have hit the offensive line hardest of all. Against Washington, backup center JC Tretter started at left tackle and was the fourth player to do so stretching back to Week 15. That allowed head coach Mike McCarthy to return Josh Sitton to his normal left guard position after a botched experiment starting him at left tackle in place of the injured David Bakhtiari. 

Tretter allowed the lone sack on Rodgers, which went about as badly as a sack can go, resulting in a safety early in the game. He also drew a false start penalty, no doubt jumpy in his first outing at tackle in the NFL.

But on the whole, pass protection was improved—and it's likely because Don Barclay wasn't on the field. 

Getting Bakhtiari back at left tackle and getting the entire starting five healthy and on the field at the same time is crucial to Green Bay's clash with Arizona. It's safe to say that if the Packers allow eight sacks on Rodgers again, they are wrapping up their season in Glendale on Saturday. 

As of Tuesday morning, McCarthy didn't know whether Bakhtiari would be ready to go on Saturday, but he did stress that after throwing him into the fire against Washington, he's confident in starting Tretter again if he has to.

 

“I feel a lot better,” McCarthy said in a press conference Tuesday. "That was clearly one of the things we needed to improve on from prior games, and JC Tretter gave us that. We had a couple rough spots there in the first quarter with some assignments we were able to get cleaned up, and from that point on, our offensive line played extremely well, and I thought JC definitely played very well.”

There's no question that the Packers who take the field against the Cardinals on Saturday should look like a different team than the one that was embarrassed by them in Week 16 right off the bat. Green Bay was missing three of its starting offensive linemen in that game, and briefly lost center Corey Linsley amidst the action, but could be at full strength for this rematch.

And while pass protection is crucial to getting this Packers offense into a rhythm, don't underestimate the importance of the line's run-blocking against Arizona.

The success of the run game was sparked by the passing game against Washington, and operating on all cylinders allowed the Packers to run the plays they wanted and kept the offense from becoming one-dimensional. The line did its part, opening up holes for Eddie Lacy to average 5.3 yards per carry, his second-highest mark on the season in that category. 

The Packers are underdogs heading into Arizona, and need to be clicking in all three phases of the game to advance to the NFC Championship Game. But above all else, their success will start with the offensive line. 

 

Editor's Note: Please join me in welcoming Michelle Bruton to CheeseheadTV, where her "Green and Bold" column will appear every Wednesday. Michelle is a writer and editor who lives in Chicago with her husband and cat. She is an associate editor at the sports publisher Triumph Books and has worked for Fox NFL Sunday and the Big Ten Network. Her work has appeared on Bleacher Report, WTMJ Milwaukee, Yahoo! Sports, Fox Sports, and, of course, Cheesehead TV. You can follow her on Twitter: @Michelle_NFL.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (53) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Lphill's picture

I just hope the Cards come out flat and the Packers put up some early points , then it's a game .

MCM's picture

As bad as that sounds I fully agree with you. The offense has to put points on the board early and capitalize when the defense gives them a short field because it's only a matter of time before the cardinals put together a few drives in a row that result in points. That offense is way too explosive for the packers to go 3&out from the 20 and give Carson Palmer a short field to work with.

Bearmeat's picture

The OL will play well on Sunday. IF the WRs can beat their man on a semi-regular basis AND they avoid turnovers, the offense WILL score 30.

My only question on the day is whether or not the WRs can get open. If so (And if AR is AR) - GB has a real chance to win.

Even with a team as dangerous as the Cardinals on offense, I'm not terribly worried about the defense, especially if Sam and Rollins play. The D is legit.

I am looking forward to a VERY close game that we CAN win. :)

calabasa's picture

I would add running the ball effectively to your formula.

jeremyjjbrown's picture

Took the words out of my mouth. They need to run the ball to wear out the Cardinals. I highly suggest to run it straight at Dwight Freeney.

Icebowler's picture

Freeney only plays on obvious passing downs.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Correct, Freeney (255 snaps) plays less than often than Perry (351 snaps). However, Okafor is out, so some think Freeney might play more snaps, or we might see more of Martin. In any event, running at Freeney, if feasible, is a good idea.

croatpackfan's picture

I'm glad I see some optimism in your posts...

WKUPackFan's picture

Need to find two or three someones to block Calais Campbell. That dude is in the backfield against the run and pass constantly, against every team, not just GB.

J0hn Denver's Gavel's picture

Packers play Saturday night, not Sunday.

dobber's picture

Nice article. Welcome aboard, Michelle!

"There's no question that the Packers who take the field against the Cardinals on Saturday should look like a different team than the one that was embarrassed by them in Week 16 right off the bat."

Agreed. Second time 'round is always different, especially with an unfamiliar opponent. With the bad bounces and the way Arizona's D just ran over the Packers in Week 16, if they DON'T look like a different--and better--team, it'll be a long night.

mnbruton's picture

Thanks, Dobber! So happy to be part of the CHTV family. Yes - just personnel health, this Packers team is much stronger than in Week 16. Sure, Adams will be out, but it looks like Bakhtiari and Shields could both be back. Combine that with the confidence from winning in the Wild Card round and then it's just about starting off hot and keeping it going.

croatpackfan's picture

Welcome on the board! And yes I agree with you and Dobber! And I agree with Bearmeat - our D is legit. They allowed only 17 points on the first game, but were lot of time on the field.
Crucial for this game is TOP. If TOP will be 50:50, I say Packers wins... We saw Vikings and Seahawks stopped their offense, and we saw Packers D stopped their offense. I do not see why D will not do it again. Packers D is even more hot than in week 16!

7th Rounder's picture

Great article Michelle! I look forward to the many to come.

OL and DL are going to be the deciding points in this victory. Carson Palmer gave a lot of kudos to the DL and the secondary. I have a feeling one of the safeties is going to come up with a game changing interception.

mnbruton's picture

Thanks so much! I'm feeling so welcomed and excited to get to know the amazing fans in this corner of the Internet better. And I agree that those are going to be the keys - sure, you can talk about Rodgers' play and the wide receivers and the run game, but it will all start with the OL. Shields potentially being back could be HUGE for the defense because it gives Capers room to play.

Doug_In_Sandpoint's picture

Great job Michelle, but CHTV is not the corner of the internet...it is the dead-center heart and soul of the internet. Welcome aboard!

RCPackerFan's picture

Welcome Michelle. I have been following you on twitter for a while and have had some great back and forth conversations on there before. Your a welcomed and a great addition to a great Packers website.

I fully expect the OL to play better against the Cardinals then it did the last time. Remember in the last game they started with Barclay at LT. (Horrible decision). They lost Bulaga during the game as well as Lang, and like you said Michelle, they lost Linsley for part of the game as well..

In this game 4 starters are playing, and have been playing well, and Bakhtiari could be back as well.. IF he isn't Tretter is a big time upgrade over Barclay.

The other change that the Packers made against Washington that really hasn't been talked about, but they schemed better.They did more quicker throws on first and 2nd down. They threw more on first down which allowed them to become less predictable. Gaining 4-5 yards on first down allowed them to be in shorter distances on 3rd downs which made it more manageable situations.
The OL opened up a lot more running lanes as well which also helped slow the pass rush down.

I think the biggest key in this game will be if the Packers can open up rushing lanes to get a good run game going. If they can run the ball effectively it will slow down the pass rush. But a much healthier OL will go a long ways to helping this team become victorious Saturday night.

Like the old saying goes, 'the game is won in the trenches'.

mnbruton's picture

Thank you!

Yes, you hate to pile on the guy but when Barclay is on the field bad things often follow. Of the eight sacks Rodgers took in Week 16 against the Cardinals, four were attributed to Barclay. Yikes!

You're spot-on about the changes vs. Washington. It makes you realize that McCarthy was insane to give up play-calling, because, while he has his head-scratching moments, he can also be brilliant in the short game. While we've all been hoping this season that the run could establish the pass, last week the pass established the run and that was fine, too. Whatever keeps this offense multidimensional.

RCPackerFan's picture

I agree with McCarthy shouldn't have ever given up play calling. He is one of the best ones in the league. That doesn't mean I always like how he game plans or calls plays, but he is one of the best, and we should be happy that he is back doing it.

In my opinion the key to the offense is to stay multidimensional. They need to keep from being predictable and keep the defense on their toes. They need to attack the defense in many ways and attack the entire field..

You are right too, in that they actually passed to establish the run. One thing that I loved and would like to see more of was the use of the RB's in the passing game. Starks had 2 catches for 12 yards. Not a lot but both of them were for 6 yards each. While not eye popping what it did was set up for shorter 3rd down plays. Also Kuhn had 1 reception for 6 yards, and that was for a 1st down.
In this coming game against the Cardinals if they aren't able to run, they still have to find ways to use their RB's in the passing game. Arizona has a great secondary, and they will be able to match up well against the Packers receivers. I think the key will be to get the RB's more involved in the passing game.

LouBen's picture

you are so right about passing on the first down....run, run, throw, sadly....punt.....we saw it time after time.

Tundraboy's picture

Yes It often was run, run, deep throw, punt!

RCPackerFan's picture

Mixing it up really is what got our offense going. It seemed like in the past however many games they were way to obvious in their play calling. It was much, much better against Arizona.

One possible reason, Rodgers was more involved in game planning. Could be a reason why they got the offense going more last week.

Razer's picture

Well said Michelle. Like "7th Rounder", I will add the D-line to this recipe. If we win in the trenches, then life will be difficult for Carson Palmer. Take away some of his time and he is very susceptible to picks.

The game will be dictated from the trenches. We need a big game from the big bodies.

ray nichkee's picture

Michelle, i have one question for you. Are you a writer first or a packer fan first? You won't be on my shitlist regardless, I'm just curious where you stand. It wasn't in the bio. Packers fans are mostly the best fans. You are more than welcome here.

mnbruton's picture

Hi Ray,

I grew up a Packers fan (in New England, no less - I was converted in Super Bowl XXXI), but given that I have made my career writing about the NFL as a whole in addition to the Packers, I see myself as a fairly objective NFL writer - who happens to pay special attention to the Packers :)

Mojo's picture

So Michelle how does the hubby feel about the Rams moving to LA? Doesn't he follow them. Personally prefer they stay in the Midwest but that's a baseball town anyway.

Bohj's picture

Welcome Michelle. It's great seeing different writing styles on the site. Not sure if you've followed CHTV for very long, but you will find some fruitful discussions and alot of passion for this team here regardless of philosophy.

As for the upcoming game. No team could perform well offensively missing 3-4 starters on the Oline. Absolutely none. Rodgers played survival mode the entire game. A testament to his toughness. Guys were holding just so Aaron didn't lose his life out there. Our offense was a series of third and longs because of holds and sacks or fumble fest. Our offense lost us points by throwing a pick in the end zone, two Rodgers sack fumbles for TDs, and a Starks fumble in our own territory for yet another TD. That my friends, is a net 24 point silver platter from our offense. Surely we will do better, just to not commit TO's.

As far as our D goes. The D only gave up 17 points if you take away the Starks gift. This......against the number 1 offense in the league. The only TD that bothered me was the one right before the half after the Rodger's interception in the end zone. So.....considering the D was on the field the whole game, that's still pretty stout. I think we were without Shields and Raji. Raji makes an enormous difference out there. If our D holds this team to under 20 again, we have a fair shake at this.

I hope these birds are overlooking the Pack. We're coming out swinging.

CallingIt's picture

Check out the drive ststs for the game and look how many three and outs we had before Rodgers took the rest of the game off. One I think. Maybe two. So we didn't go out and totally blow chunks. It was the sacks, penalties and turnovers that kept killing us. Most of that goes on 1 or 2 starters left on the OL.

Different ball game coming up this week.

DrealynWilliams's picture

Here's a fact that some of you might not know (I sure was shocked); Carson Palmer only has 2 Playoffs under his belt and lost both.

4thand1's picture

His first game he threw a td bomb right away, got hit low and was done.

DrealynWilliams's picture

I remember that game. I thought that was their year too.

Tundraboy's picture

Welcome Michelle. It can be a looney bin at times, but this blog is full of smart passionate Packers Fans along with the occasional Viking troll.

Yes the OL which worried us so much heading into the Washington game is at the same time our hope for this week. Our D will be there no doubt and I think will also set the tone for this game, but to win the O line has to play at last week's level. If the D comes out harassing Palmer and then gets our O on the field we can win the TOP battle and perhaps the game. I sure hope so. Time for some revenge. Go Pack Go

Tundraboy's picture

I guess some trolls don't like hearing the truth.

packsmack's picture

Glad you're here Michelle. Always been a fan of your work.

CallingIt's picture

Welcome Michelle. My sympathies for having to live in Chicago.

Agree that the OL is paramount in our offense's success. I might add that a return by Shields would also be big as well as well for our defense. I look for a much tighter game this time around.

I expect Abby will add some fire and exceptional route running to assist through the air. Could be a breakout game for him. I think there's definitely a more positive hum all around Packer Nation than there was two weeks ago.

Go Pack!

MarkinMadison's picture

Good article.

On paper Arizona's pass rush is not good. They had two fewer sacks on the season than WAS, and came in #22 in the league. When the Packers gave up 8 to AZ in week 16, that was about 1/5 of their total for the whole year. Bakh was out and Bulaga and Lang both left the game with injuries. If that doesn't happen then it is going to be a different game.

On the flip side GB has a good pass rush (#7 in the league in sacks), but it hardly showed up in week 16 - two sacks but only 4 hits. The front 7 needs to come to play. Carson Palmer can be rattled, but he has to be rattled or he is as good as anyone in the league.

Here's to hope.

Since '61's picture

Welcome Michelle! No question that the play of our OL will be critical to Saturday evening's outcome. Hopefully with improved OL play we will eliminate the turnovers and reduce or eliminate our offensive penalties. A few other notes about this game. The Cardinals are coming off a bye and a final regular season defeat at the hands of the Seahawks. The combination of the 2 may have taken some momentum out of the Cardinals and maybe they come out flat after having nothing to play for since their victory over the Packers. The flip side is that although we held them to 17 points in our first game with them, their offense really didn't need to do much more than not give the game away after they built their huge lead. So holding them to 17 points minus our turnovers may be misleading. One thing for certain is that we can't afford to fall behind the Cardinals by 10 or more points. We need to take their crowd out of the game as early as possible and we need to keep it close or play with a lead. My concern with the Cardinals is that they bring a lot of speed on both sides of the ball. Go Pack Go! Thanks, Since '61

croatpackfan's picture

As Sun Tzu said - beat stronger opponent by using their advantage to your favor. There is always possibility to make them careless if they are to speedy. I believe in Packers coaches and Aaron (as we learned that he is part of making the game plan!) that they will find the way to turn Arizona speed to Packers favor...

LeagueObsrvr's picture

Off topic, but I thought Packer fans would enjoy this video of Colin Cowherd taking apart a Viking fan on his radio show:
https://youtu.be/f5Fu7i6lUvQ

LouBen's picture

Yes, I saw that the other day. He didn't even let the poor sap get a word in edgewise......Kinda makes up for the negative stuff he said about AR a few weeks back. ha!

DrealynWilliams's picture

OHHHHHH SH*T!

I absolutely loved it! That made my night! LMAO! Thanks.

Icebowler's picture

The Packers may have to play with six O-linemen or two FB's. They couldn't stop Calais Campbell last time, even with double teams. He's a monster. They somehow have to slow him down.

Tundraboy's picture

Yes we have to keep them out of the backfield as much as possible,but we can also take advantage of that over aggressiveness as our play calling and running ability did with Washington. Confident MM has a game plan to throw them off. I think he has shed the predictable and now no one knows what he has up his sleeve this week. At least I hope that is the case.

LouBen's picture

Hello and Welcome Michelle!
I was quite surprised that Seattle did such a job on Az. I would have thought it a much, much closer outcome. I hope MM and Co. watched footage on that game b/c I'm pretty sure Az watched footage on the Washington game.
Am glad that Shields and Bahkt could be back. Seems like we've just had too many injuries this last half of the season. We are getting healthy at a very good time.
If we can keep the momentum going from last week, it will be an exhausting game for the players and fans alike. GO PACK GO!!!

TommyG's picture

Listen, in the last game out D only gave up 17 points. If our O can find 18 points, and zero of those turnovers for touchdowns, we will win in decided fashion.

Duke Divine's picture

Michelle, terrible stuff! Just wanted to change it up a bit.....

Duke Divine's picture

Sarcasm aside I agree. When watching the games over on dvr throughout the year living and dying with the oline has been the case in most instances. I think they were alot more dinged up than they let on. Getting healthy at the right time! Hopefully Dbak has no rust to shake off..

Mojo's picture

I wasn't surprised Tretter played well against Washington. I've felt for some time if he could put on a little weight he would become the teams best o-lineman. Great feet, quick and smart. Also the most versatile. Gets to the second level better than anyone currently on the team. Just needs bulk to take on the bull-rushers.

Too bad he's lost a season and a half with injuries. Was never able to establish at any one position, but on the other hand the Packers are benefiting from his ability to play anywhere on the line. Need to resign when the time comes.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

IIRC, Freeney is more a speed guy than a power guy. I think Tretter has the movement skills to match up well there. Calais Campbell however is a match up nightmare for pretty much every linemen in the league.

Dan Stodola's picture

Not really. Freeney is a very accomplished pass rusher w/ a variety of moves. He can utilize speed, but at 6'1 270 he has a very compact powerful build, so he excellent power rush as well. His spin move is absolutely devastating and even the best LT have trouble w/ it. Tretter is in for a major test whether against Freeney or Campbell. He hasn't seen anything like either of them.

Freeney can bring power, speed or his spin move and Campbell is very powerful, extremely long. Tretter might not do much better than Barclay. He's in for a loong nite.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Thanks, that is interesting about Freeney. Well, knew he was good, sorry to hear about his ability to bull rush as well.

PittPackers's picture

Well written article, Michelle. Welcome aboard! I look forward to reading more your work.

Dan Stodola's picture

Hey Michelle welcome aboard. Hope you can raise the bar a bit around here. Nice to have an accomplished writer for a change.

While I argee that the OL is very important, that tends to be true of most games. They come down to the players in the trenches.

Packers OL should hold up better than last game w/ AZ, but I'm not confident it'll be significantly better. AZ's D is for REAL. Live in AZ and see them every week. Packers will fare better than 2 wks ago just by eliminating turnovers. But even w/ that this matchup doesn't favor the Packers at all.

I'm holding out hope, but I'm dubious about the Packers chances. The Packers WR still can't get open and the Wash game worked very much in the Packers favor since Wash doesn't play much presss man. AZ will play it all day long, so IMO its premature to think the passing game is strong again.

Look forward to your next article.

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