There is certainly plenty of blame to go around. Whether it’s been quarterback Aaron Rodgers not playing at an MVP level, or receivers and tight ends failing to make plays or dropping passes, or coach Mike McCarthy’s play-calling not keeping opposing defenses honest, the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line is not the sole perpetrator causing the team’s troubles on offense.
But as they prep for Sunday night’s game against the Houston Texans – and the tall order of a defense that ranks No. 3 in yards per game allowed, No. 3 against the pass, No. 9 against the run and No. 4 in scoring defense – the linemen know that it’ll be up to them to set a tone and make sure that the other cogs in the offensive wheel can get moving in the right direction.
“From our standpoint, we talk about it. Offensively, obviously we’re not clicking the way we want to click, and you do a disservice to yourself if you act like that’s not the case,” veteran center Jeff Saturday said. “You realize that you have the ability to do it, you just have to trust that you are going to do it. I think anytime you panic or get overly concerned in one area, it ends up backfiring.
“From an offensive standpoint, we’ve got to go back to the fundamentals of what make us a good football team, and those are to make good decisions, to run the football, to protect Aaron – all those things you talk about starting in training camp. Those are the things that we have to do. And it has to be every week.”
Nowhere has the inconsistency been more evident than on the line. Rodgers was sacked a mind-boggling eight times during the first half of the team’s Sept. 24 loss to Seattle; then, over a four-half span covering the second half at Seattle, all four quarters of the team’s Sept. 30 victory over New Orleans and then the first half of last Sunday’s loss at Indianapolis, Rodgers was not sacked at all. And then, in the second half of what would be a 30-27 loss to the Colts, Rodgers was sacked five times.
“We’ve been inconsistent. That’s been the story with the offense. We’ve played well (as a line), and then we’ve had a few bad plays here and there. And that’s where sacks come,” said right tackle Bryan Bulaga. “Guys lose their fundamentals and things like that happen. We just have to play better. We have to be more consistent and do our jobs.”
That inconsistency is reflected in the line’s protection numbers, as Rodgers has been sacked 21 times, the second-most in the NFL behind Arizona’s Kevin Kolb.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, Rodgers has been charged with five sacks. Among the linemen, Bulaga has been charged with three sacks, three quarterback hits and a team-high 18 quarterback hurries; left tackle Marshall Newhouse has been charged with four sacks and four hurries; Saturday has been charged with two sacks, one hit and two hurries; left guard T.J. Lang has been charged with two sacks; one hit and four hurries; and right guard Josh Sitton hasn’t given up a sack but has one hit and five hurries to his name.
“I know how I played against Seattle. That was poor, and I know that. I’ll be the first one to say that,” said Bulaga, who was tagged with two sacks, one hit and eight hurries in that game by ProFootballFocus.com. “I think how I’ve been playing the rest of the year is right around the same level I was at last year. I don’t think that much has changed. People’s perception is often different than what we talk about in our meeting room. I’m fine. I don’t think anything has changed.”
Both Sitton and Lang lamented in the wake of the loss to the Colts the fact that the pass-centric offense had once again abandoned the running game following Cedric Benson’s foot injury, and Lang wasn’t backing off that stance this week.
“Balance, to me, means being effective running the ball and taking a lot of the pressure off of Aaron and not relying on him to throw the ball 50 times a game. That’s putting a lot of pressure on one guy,” Lang said. “When we’re balanced, we’re running the ball effectively (and) you make that defense respect both aspects of your game – pass-wise and run-wise. They’re not just pinning their ears back and trying to get after the quarterback; they’ve got to respect their lanes and their gap integrity. That’s definitely a key for us.
“When we’re well-balanced, like we were a couple weeks ago against the Saints, we can open up the playbook a lot more and put a lot more trust in (McCarthy) to call those run plays. … Up front, it all starts with the run game. If that’s working, everything else is going to go a little bit more smoothly. If that’s not working, we put a lot more pressure on ourselves and Aaron.”
Campen dismissed his guys’ claim that the pass-heavy play-calling has been a factor. While run-blocking does allow offensive linemen to be aggressive rather than backpedaling and protecting the passer, Campen doesn’t see it as an excuse.
“You can also kick the crap out of somebody by pass blocking your butt off, too,” Campen said. “For me, I don’t care what’s called. Your job is to block it. That doesn’t make any difference to me. I agree that run blocking is an attitude thing, but to me, it’s the same if you’re run-blocking or pass-blocking.”
For the Packers, the biggest key is to avoid inopportune mistakes at the worst possible times. Saturday, for instance, spent the week beating himself up over the sack he allowed on third-and-11 from the Green Bay 49-yard line with 6 minutes 22 seconds left against the Colts. Indianapolis had just taken a 22-21 lead, and the Packers were facing second-and-5 from the Colts’ 45 when Rodgers absorbed back-to-back sacks.
Campen said he had to pull Saturday aside before practice on Wednesday because he was still beating himself up about the play.
“That crushes me. As a pro, you just don’t want that to happen. and to get caught on my edge like that, in the fourth quarter, it’s a pretty simple game. I just got beat” Saturday said. “As a leader and a player, you want to stand up in those moments. You don’t want to be the reason that you give up a sack or whatever. I think when the players on offense are stepping up, taking responsibility, that’s when good things happen.
“I think I played a good football game minus that play. But here’s the problem: It’s third-and-11, and it’s in the fourth quarter. To me, that makes it be a losing performance. Because you can’t do it at that moment – if it’s the first quarter and the first time you see that rush and something happens, OK, you can correct it and make it better. But it’s the fourth quarter. That’s not good enough.
"The rest of the day could be a very good day, but that ruins my day. And I think we have a lot of guys who are having those kind of performances – doing really well the majority of the time, but something goes wrong and we’re making a mistake and they’re capitalizing on it. We have to eliminate those mistakes and play better football.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.