While no one would suggest that it’s actually one of the good things to come out of the controversial ending to Monday night’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the members of the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line can’t deny this much: The hullabaloo created by the replacement officials’ ruling on Golden Tate’s game-winning touchdown took plenty of attention away from their putrid performance as a unit.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked eight times in the first half, and a line that has been a strength in pass protection was thrown into total disarray. Coach Mike McCarthy went so far as to go to what essentially was goal-line personnel in the middle of the field to start the second half, taking a smash-mouth run-the-ball approach offensively after the protection broke down so many times.
"There's no excuse for your quarterback getting hit that many times. It's obviously embarrassing as a group when your quarterback's getting sacked eight times in one half,” left guard T.J. Lang said. “It's something that we take a lot of pride in. We certainly need to have a better game this week, keeping Aaron upright."
It was particularly stunning to see steady right tackle Bryan Bulaga turn in a performance like the one he did on Monday night, when he seemed to revert to the way he played early in his rookie season, when the 2010 first-round pick was thrust into the starting lineup after veteran Mark Tauscher went down with a shoulder injury. Bulaga got better and better as the season wore on, becoming the youngest player in NFL history to start a Super Bowl, but there were some growing pains early on.
For his part, Bulaga couldn’t explain why he played so poorly, but he made no excuses.
“I mean, you never want to hear your name being called in that sense, negatively. But, it happens,” Bulaga said. “I think I settled down in the second half. But I think I didn't use any fundamentals for most of the first half. I was just out there, I don't know what I was out there doing. I just wasn't playing my game, and that's what happens. I know that's not going to happen again.”
According to ProFootballFocus.com, Bulaga was charged with two sacks, one quarterback hit and an eye-popping eight QB hurries, most of them against rookie first-round pick Bruce Irvin. ProFootballFocus.com charged two of the sacks to Rodgers, and one each to left tackle Marshall Newhouse, center Jeff Saturday and third-down back/fullback John Kuhn. The eighth sack wasn’t charged to anyone.
Rodgers admitted that he deserved some of the blame for the stunning amount of pressure he was under. ProFootballFocus.com had the Seahawks for eight sacks, four other quarterback hits and 13 hurries on the night.
"We had some protection breakdowns and some situations where I didn't get rid of the football," said Rodgers, who’s been sacked an NFL-worst 16 times in three games. "There's a fine line between trying to make a play outside the pocket and throwing it out of bounds. So we'll do a better job of that moving forward."
However, McCarthy basically absolved the NFL MVP of holding onto the ball too long because of the kinds of plays he’s made by using his feet to extend plays and turn potential negative plays into positive ones.
"The other side of Aaron is when he steps up and comes out of the pocket and makes plays, you sit there and clap for him," McCarthy said. "When he doesn't ... there's a fine line between the ability to transition from in the pocket to the out of the pocket, the way we train the quarterback. So, most of our issues in the area of sacks were in the protection unit."
Offensive line coach James Campen made it very clear that any suggestion that the line struggled in pass protection because of the imbalanced play-calling by McCarthy in the first half (24 pass plays, three called running plays) was, well, crap.
“I’ll be honest with you, I don’t give a flying crap. I don’t care what play is called, I could give a crap if it’s 100 passes or 100 runs. Do your job,” Campen said. “To me, that’s a negative, defeatist attitude. Whatever is called, our job is to block. Period. That doesn’t mean crap to me.
“It’s a fair question. It’s a very fair question. I don’t get into that kind of (stuff). It’s not an excuse. Those are crap. I don’t care what is called. You block your man. I don’t care.”
That’s precisely what the linemen vow to do this week against the Saints, who come in with the NFL’s worst overall defense (477.8 yards per game) and worst rushing defense (215.0 yards per game) in the 32-team league.
"I think you would be a fool not to recognize (the protection issues) and they're something that obviously can't be tolerated in bunches like that," Campen said. "Certainly moving forward, the first thing you have to do is recognize what happened, analyze what happened and why and get it corrected. Moving forward and moving on to New Orleans, we're making those corrections and adjustments."