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PFF Ranks Packers Offensive Line 21st Overall

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PFF Ranks Packers Offensive Line 21st Overall

Both in-season injuries and offseason departures contributed to the Green Bay Packers giving up 51 sacks and rushing for just 106.4 yards a game during the 2012-13 season.

Our friends at the statistical analysis site Pro Football Focus confirmed what was clearly visible this past season: The Packers offensive line was nothing more than a below-average unit in 2012.

According to their final offensive line rankings, the Packers finished the season at No. 21 overall—down 10 spots from their 11th-best finish in 2011.

"Despite the 51 sacks Aaron Rodgers took, this line more than did their part in protection. When you have a QB who holds on to the ball, sometimes things can look worse than they are. There’s no such excuses in the running game though. They were just weak up front."

Unbeknownst then, the precipitous fall of the Packers offensive line began last spring, when Pro Bowl center Scott Wells (+17.6 in 2011) bolted Green Bay for more money in St. Louis. To counter Wells' departure, Packers general manager Ted Thompson made the uncharacteristic move of signing a veteran free agent. 37-year-old Jeff Saturday was his pick, in large part because of Saturday's cerebral abilities as the anchor of an offensive line.

While Saturday ended up in the Pro Bowl, he was benched in Week 16 because of ineffectiveness and injury. Saturday struggled in executing the reach blocks and was routinely out-muscled in the trenches. Evan Dietrich-Smith (-0.5) took his place and started the final four games.

According to PFF, Saturday graded out as the No. 28 overall center (-5.0) and worst run-blocking center (-13.9) in 2012.

Injuries also took their toll on the offensive line.

Promising right tackle Bryan Bulaga (-3.0) suffered a serious hip injury during Green Bay's Week 9 win over the Arizona Cardinals, and was later placed on season-ending injured reserve. After losing left guard-turned-right tackle T.J. Lang (+0.9) in Week 13 against the Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay plugged in undrafted rookie Don Barclay (-7.5) on the right side. When Barclay proved up to the challenge, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy decided to leave Barclay at right tackle and returned Lang to left guard the next week.

Despite the shuffling and 51 total sacks allowed, Green Bay still finished the season ranked No. 11 in terms of pass protection.

Running the football was a different story.

The Packers ended 2012 as PFF's 27th ranked run-blocking team, partly because of talent up front but also a rotating wheel of so-so running backs handling the carries.

When veteran Cedric Benson was lost in Week 5 to a Lisfranc foot injury, the majority of snaps at running back were then divided up between Alex Green (-3.2), James Starks (-3.8) and Ryan Grant (-1.7). The trio was underwhelming, and none of three held the position for more than a handful of games at a time. Only when DuJuan Harris (+2.3) was introduced into the lineup in Week 14 did the Packers show any kind of explosiveness or consistency in the run game.

The Packers averaged just 3.9 yards per carry in 2012, good for 22nd in the NFL. Seven different players rushed for over 100 yards, but Green Bay failed to have at least one back break 500 yards.

The lone standout on the offensive line was Josh Sitton (+20.7), who graded out well in both pass protection (+12.3) and run blocking (+7.5). Originally selected as only an alternate, Sitton made his first trip to the Pro Bowl when the San Francisco 49ers qualified for the Super Bowl and guard Mike Iupati needed to be replaced. Sitton's best season according to PFF remains 2010, when he finished +38.2.

Left tackle Marshall Newhouse allowed a team-high 54 total disruptions (nine sacks, eight quarterback hits, 37 hurries), but improved his overall grade from an NFL-worst -32.0 in 2011 to a more respectable -4.6 this season. Newhouse's biggest struggles still come in the running game, where he graded out at -12.3—worst among NFL tackles.

Lang regressed from an impressive mark of +15.3 last season to just +0.9 in 2012. His pass-blocking was the area to blame. After allowing just 14 total disruptions (2/1/11) in 2011, Lang gave up 26 (9/5/12) this season.

Bulaga also regressed during his nine-game sample, although he graded out +5.1 over his final four games after starting the season -8.1. In the grand scheme of the Packers' 2012 season, Bulaga's injury remains an understated storyline. He allowed 27 disruptions (4/3/20) in nine games after allowing just 24 (1/2/21) in 16 games in 2011.

Zach Kruse is a 24-year-old sports writer who contributes to Cheesehead TV, Bleacher Report and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He also covers prep sports for the Dunn Co. News. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at [email protected].

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (33) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Brian's picture

What teams have the top 5 O-lines?

Derek's picture

This seems just about right. Not physical enough up front.

Walty's picture

Missing the nastiness (and size) needed to run the ball.

MarkinMadison's picture

Zach, can you explain a bit more about the PFF grading system? Highs, lows. What the numbers are based on. What they do (or do not) tell us?

Zach Kruse's picture

I'll let PFF do the explaining:

Zach Kruse's picture

I'll admit, PFF isn't preaching a perfect science. But they are best grading site I've seen to date. I fully trust their analysis, because it typically lines up directly with what I see watching and re-watching the games.

Evan's picture

Yeah, seems about right.

Lang and Sitton are both locks. Bulaga should hopefully return healthy. That leave C and LT as the two areas to upgrade - also probably the two most important positions on the line.

Has the "move Bulaga to LT and let Barclay, Newhouse and Sherrod battle for RT" train left the station? I like the progress Newhouse has made, but he's still a below-average starting LT. Maybe he'll make a leap in his 3rd year.

Walty's picture

Newhouse has shown a lot of progress and he's probably manageable as a starter. He'd definitely be an above-average back-up LT.

But he's never going to be a super physical guy and he's not going to suddenly get stronger. We've all seen the difference in Rodgers' play when he feels comfortable and is able to get into a rhythm. I just don't know if Newhouse can provide the consistency that the offense needs to win another championship (at least not with the defense we have now).

Running to the left is always going to be a problem with Newhouse as well.

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

I've really been pulling for Newhouse, unfortunately, I just don't think he has the natural talent (or strength) to be trusted there.

Evan's picture

Do you think he'd be better on the right side?

cow42's picture

what a mess.

cow42's picture

how on earth did the offensive and defensive lines get so bad so fast?

even when healthy all these dudes have question marks surrounding them...


even bulaga can't be 100% counted on.

those are the only "rocks"... and pick's getting' old.

lotta work to do in the trenches.

by the time that all gets fixed #12 might be 32 or 33.

NoWayJose's picture

You didnt even mention Sherrod - does he even earn a question mark?

I can live with the offensive line. One pro bowler, one solid starter (Bulaga), one NFL player (Lang), and two projects (EDS/Newhouse). Lots room to upgrade the back end, but I can live with it.

The defensive line worries the shit out of me. A lot of high draft picks there for a pretty pedestrian unit.

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

Two first rounders on the O line with major injury questions too.

cow42's picture

"You didnt even mention Sherrod – does he even earn a question mark?"

Even before the injury I had doubts about him.

Yeah - he was a rookie, and - yeah they messed him up by bouncing him from position to position in his first training camp, but even with those "handcuffs" on (as a first round pick) you would think he would have been able to beat out the likes of TJ Lang or Marshall Newhouse.

He's a stiff.

If he ever contributes at all I'd be surprised.

razor's picture

Agree - you would expect a lot more out of a #1 draft pick.

NoWayJose's picture

I just have a bad feeling that Sherrod's a soft guy. Not hungry or aggressive enough. Of course, that ties him with Newhouse on that point.

Sitton and Lang have a nasty streak. Would love to see that out of our tackes.

will's picture

I understand what u r saying about Sherrod, BUT have you seen what that man looks like in the huddle?! My God he is enormous.

GBPDAN's picture

The 2012 Packers looked like a team with a lot of holes to fill in the trenches. For a team coming off a SB win in 2010, then a 15 win season in 2011, the O and D fronts are now both weak. Get your shit together Ted...lets go

dawg's picture

As long as Campen is coaching the OL, and TT inability to draft big men, don't get your hopes up!
If it weren't for Sitton and maybe Bulaga, 21st is over rated.
Rodgers has carried this team far to long.

imfubared's picture

Could not agree more. If Rogers would have gotten hurt early, this would have been a 5-11 team. He carried the team. No defense, no offensive line. A tragedy if he is not the MVP, Pederson or not.,

lebowski's picture

I can not believe, after back-to-back years of drafting offensive tackles with first round picks, that our offensive line needs to be addressed within the first couple rounds again. Looking at the great picks the 49ers have playing for them on their O line gives me diarrhea. Why the hell can't WE be so lucky?!

PackerBacker's picture

In Ted's defense, a tackle taken with a top 5 pick is going to be a lot better than a tackle taken in the upper 20's. There's a reason why they get picked there.

dawg's picture

Can you say coach Campen?

imfubared's picture

Ted doesn't want low round number ones and trades away his two's and three's for el cheapo players he can sign,

CSS's picture

Observation > statistically ranking a team unit based on individual performances. Almost half of those rankings are no where near where the units were playing the last 1/3rd of the season. I won't quibble with the Packers ranking as a unit, they were around the middle of the league (average unit).

Statistical analysis offers a nice baseline for discussion, but it's extremely limited.

Evan's picture

"Almost half of those rankings are no where near where the units were playing the last 1/3rd of the season"

Better or worse? Newhouse, if memory serves, had a stretch of nice games at the end of the season against Jared Allen.

CSS's picture

I'm talking team rankings and how they come to that conclusion.

Seahawks unit only at #20 is a joke. Wilson was primarily responsible for Wilson pressures. He often had a clean pocket but chose to roll out (as most rookies do) with even a hint of pressure. That line was dominant for the last quarter of the season.

Eagles at #19. They should be #25 - #32.

Ravens at #17 is a joke. They played like a top 5 offensive line unit for the last 1/4 of the season when at full health.

Houston at #10 is a joke. That unit is the definition of 'system'. They can only backside cut and need a lead to be remotely effective. They're all one-dimensional and very limited. Shouldn't be top 15.

Vikings unit at #9. Buy Adrian Peterson a Mercedes, that unit owes him. Guard play was worst in the division, Sullivan was slightly overrated, right tackle improved but was one-dimensional.

Detroit #7/New Orleans #6. No, not even close to the top 10.

Cleveland at #5. Here's where PFF weightings of guys like Thomas get so absurdly high due to one dimension (pass pro) that it jacks up the entire unit ranking. Thomas was above average run blocker. This unit is good by league standards, but not top 5.

Again, I enjoy looking at the rankings. It's fodder for conversation. But it's deeply flawed to take them as definitive unit/individual rankings.

Idiot Fan's picture

One thing that stood out to me when looking through the rankings was how different the ranking was that many teams had compared to their previous year. I'm sure most of those teams were playing many of the same guys as they were the previous year. Some of that variability is probably due to the statistical approach being used, and some of it is probably due to the fact that some years guys play better or worse than other years. I don't think we can look at this ranking and declare that our oline is a hopeless mess.

CSS's picture

It's not a hopeless mess. If the EDS that played against the San Francisco defensive line shows up next season I don't know that there's a better interior line in the division. A healthy Bulaga is capable of all-pro play. Newhouse is what he is, can the staff live with that. He will flash against great competition and flail sometimes against average competition.

I'm less concerned about the overall line play as I am the depth they will be developing. Are they on the roster? I don't know.

My biggest concern: Will McCarthy and Rodgers commit to actually even trying to establish a running game. They were 11th in the league down the stretch when actually committing to the run game against deep safety looks. You can't be a competent running unit if you intermittently or rarely commit to even establishing the run.

dawg's picture

Can someone please, PLEASE explain what coach Campen strength's /weakness's are?
Everyone blames players, injuries, MM, TT!
When can we look at a position coach's strength's and weakness's.
OL IS one of the weakest links on the team! the past couple yrs.
Why is Campen untouchable
Slowcum ask's? :)

imfubared's picture

That is impossible if you ask me. they gave up more sacks then a potato factory. This is if not the worst the second worst in the league. Just no talent here when Belaga is not there and Sherrod, ya he is a work in progress for the next five years.

dawg's picture

I guess put the finger in the damn, Rodgers, keep on runnin!

PS- A-Rod, can you atleast stay healthy?

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