Packers Offensive Line Back on the Sack Track – Film Study

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Packers Offensive Line

Coming into this season, there were two areas that topped my list of improvements the Packers HAD to make;  Aggressiveness on defense and protecting Aaron Rodgers.

The Packers aided their defense by drafting some players that play fast, tough and aggressive.  They let as few players go who they felt just could no longer do so. They reshaped their defensive mentality by bringing back sparkplug Johnny Jolly and encouraging some current players to play more aggressively and set the tone for the rest of the defense (see Clay Matthews vs. Colin Kaepernick).

As I watched the defense over the course of the preseason, I could see it building, game to game. So much so that I felt really good that the defense would be at least in the upper half of teams this season, if not top 12. An 11th hour injury to Morgan Burnett, the QB of the defensive secondary, forced several players into roles they had not really practiced for that week. The secondary was victimized against the 49ers, but I still felt good about what this defense would become.

With a full week to practice their new roles, the secondary bounced back nicely against the Redskins, before the whole defense took the second half off. When Burnett and Hayward return, the Packers defense will take a quantum leap forward. But I digress –  let’s get back on course to the real topic of this post, the offensive line.

As a former offensive lineman in my not so stellar HS football career, I always keep a close eye on the big uglies up front. Unlike the defense, I did not get any warm fuzzies from what I saw in preseason from the offensive line. I did a previous film study on the Packers Rams preseason game, focusing on some pretty poor run blocking I observed.

Two games into the season, my biggest fear about the offensive line has once again reared it’s ugly head. In two games the Packers have allowed 6 sacks of the deservedly highest-paid quarterback in the NFL. At that rate, they’ll be right back in the same area of the 51 sacks they allowed last season. Absolutely unacceptable.

Of course, the Packers have some excuses. They decided to take a bold step by moving their two best OL over to Aaron Rodgers’ blind side. Their best laid plans went awry as Bulaga was lost for the season and Derrick Sherrod, their other recent year first-round draft pick tackle, still can’t get back on the field.

So the excuses are there; the Packers offensive line has two starters in new positions a fourth round rookie and two players with only a handful of NFL starts between them. THIS is the offensive line that is being counted on to protect Aaron Rodgers.

It’s this offensive line that gave up four sacks this past week against the Redskins. Lets take a look at each one and see where things broke down.

 

Sack #1: First & goal: Nothing much to say here except wow, Rayn Kerrigan. He only needs one arm to bull rush Don Barclay and keep him away from his body all at the same time. When Kerrigan was in the draft, I downgraded him as a 3-4 OLB because I didn’t feel he could play in coverage, which Dom Capers wants from his OLBs. I suggested he go to a 4-3 team where he could play DE full time and do what he does best.  He has flourished in the Redskin’s 3-4 because while technically a LB, he is used more like a DE and dropping in coverage is not something he’s asked to do very much. This was one of the most impressive sacks I’ve seen in awhile.

 

Sack #2: Second & goal: This is the most basic of defensive line stunts, requiring the simplest of adjustments by an offensive lineman. Packers center Evan Dietrich Smith fails miserably. When the DL on his nose shoots the gap towards Josh Sitton, instead of letting him go to Sitton, EDS chases after him. Even having done that, he still had time to pull back and pick up Kerrigan going through the space he had just vacated, but instead doesn’t even appear to see him. That is, until he reaches back and gets away with a desperation grab on Kerrigan, not that it mattered. There could be some blame for Sitton here, too. Seeing Kerrigan loop around, he should be telling EDS to slide back over and pick him up. Perhaps he did, perhaps he didn’t. That part we don’t know.

 

 

Sack #3:  First  & 10: This is just a snap decision by Rodgers that did not work out at all. Rodgers drops back and sees LB Perry Riley with an apparent free on the edge. Rodgers decides discretion is the better part of valor and decides to high-tail it in the opposite direction (Either Aikman or Buck said on the TV broadcast that this was a designed rollout, but I don’t see that at all).  Unfortunately he runs right into the path of Brian Orakpo, who Bakhtiari was allowing to take a wide turn, surely figuring Rodgers would be stepping up in the pocket. DBak looks like the most surprised guy in the house when Rodgers ends up right behind him and right in Orakpo’s path.  Ironically, Perry ended up being picked up by TJ Lang, who alertly slid out and pushed him wide. Had Rodgers stayed, he would have been better off, but that’s purely hindsight.

 

 

Sack #4: Third & 10. There’s a lot going on with this one. First, it’s a wonderfully designed and disguised blitz scheme by the Redskins. Cornerback Josh Wilson appears to be playing press coverage on Randall Cobb. Brian Orakpo is out wide and takes a wide approach, forcing DBak to chase him. Wilson lets Cobb go and loops into the large gap inside DBak and has a straight line to Rodgers.  LB Riley Perry, who is showing potential blitz, instead peels off to pick up Cobb. That’s the Redskins side. For the Packers, there are several ways they could have prevented the sack here. Looking at the second replay, you can see Cobb recognizes what’s happened and immediately looks back for the ball. He would be considered the “hot” receiver and Rodgers seems to be looking at him. Rodgers holds on to the ball, I think because he was still in his drop and did not have his feet set as he would have liked.

Looking at the first run-through of the play, you can see Rodgers look over to the the left twice, then turn to James Starks on his right. What did he say to Starks? One thing he could have been doing was telling Starks to be ready to help on the left side. If he did, Starks didn’t hear him, because he instead heads into the direction of the right flat. Perhaps he told Starks to head out there and be ready for a quick dump off, knowing he’d be getting pressure. If that was the plan, then Redskins DL Barry Cofield blew that up by reading it and rather than rushing Rodgers, went out to meet Starks and blow up the route.

 

 

So there are your four sacks. All except the first Kerrigan sack could have been avoided with some better decision-making by the Packers. The last two are mostly on Aaron Rodgers.

This is only the second regular season game for the offensive line in this configuration. Improvement is to be expected and if they can get the sack total down into the 30s on the year, I’d be content with that improvement. If the number is closer to 50, then some heads need to roll.

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Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.

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  • MARK KING

    VERY GOOD ARTICLE!! I Always read stories about the lines, particularly the offensive line. One of the many things I like about McCarthy is how he seems to emphasize OL in interviews immediately following a game.

  • FITZCORE1252

    They’ll improve.

  • C

    Can you have a cumulative summation at the end of this article each week? This would be a bit subjective, but I would love an ongoing tally. By my count, 3 sacks on the offensive lineman, 2 are Rodgers’ responsibility, 1 on the back. BTW – I want a reduction in overall hits, especially against 4 man fronts. Sending 5 or more plays into Rodgers strength, but he’s vital to that adjustment and changing his protection.

  • GBPDAN

    Im hoping as the year progresses, the 2 young tackles solidify their game, and really, the whole line as a unit. Sitton and Lang are playing new positions (flip flop sides) and are adjusting to the new tackle next to them. I hope by Thanksgiving, this line is meshing as a unit. This needs to happen for the Pack to be successful in the playoffs. 3 of the 4 sacks in this game were correctable.

    Of course no more injuries to the line is also key.
    It would be a bonus if Sherrard came off the PUP list and eventually be came a starter, but, im not holding my breath on that one

  • JH9

    I’ve found it interesting this week to be reading about how well the o-line performed against Washington. Granted, the sacks stopped as the game went on. However, I feel that was more due to the “work around” MM and AR executed than to improved o-line performance.

    It was right after the back to back sacks that the Packers started to execute a short drop back quick release passing game, and it worked to perfection. It not only negated Washington’s pass rush, it allowed the Packers offense to move relatively easy up the field. Of the 480 total passing yards, 295 were YAC. Which means each pass reception was actually caught on average only 5.44 yards past the line of scrimmage.

    I don’t understand why more of the credit for the Packers success on Sunday isn’t going to MM and AR for their in-game adjustment. And I certainly don’t understand how anyone could feel, given Sunday’s performance, that the problems with our o-line have been solved.

    • mudduckcheesehead

      Good points. It was nice to see MM with a timely in-game adjustment.

      I think the short passing game will open a lot of things up for both our running game and our downfield passing game as defenses are forced to consider a greater variety of offensive threats. Hopefully it’ll take some pressure off of the O-line in both its pass protection and run blocking capacities. Hopefully too we’ll start to see the Mayor out there catching some screens soon. That should be fun.

    • Stroh

      The sacks happened to fast to draw the conclusion that they were on downfield passes, unless you have that feature where you see the whole field you simply can’t draw the conclusion that receivers were downfield. Kerrigan on both his was relatively unblocked, w/ Barclay barely getting his arm out to stop Kerrigan who only used one arm to beat him. Orakpo wasn’t even touched by Bahktiari on his sack. The other was a CB blitz. Your conclusion is flawed…

    • NYPACKER

      Not sure that it was all MM / AR or just the ineptitude of Washington’s DC. In the post game presser AR said that the Skins were “almost daring us to pass, playing a lot of 1 high safety”. I guess their DC failed to study the past two seasons to learn that AR has torched nearly every defense that has played us that way.Play 2 high safeties, take away the slant & dare us to run, this is what has given us trouble.

  • WIM

    it is analysis like this that makes this the best website on the packers. it is so hard to pick this up on tv as the game is being played. one learns a ton from articles like this

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      Thanks WIM!

      I have to watch the game twice to really understand what was happening on a more detailed level. of course, I’m writing, tweeting, monitoring a live, blog, etc all at the same time, so I suppose that has something to do with it – LOL…

      And your comment got a “thumbs down?” Scott are you lurking again? Just can’t stay away?

      • Spiderpack

        Hey Al, all thumbs-downs on smart comments can safely be attributed to cow42. LOL

  • Savage57

    Appreciate the drill down, Al. Couldn’t figure out at first why Chucky and Tirico were doing on the Packers game, then duhhh, it hit me – nice job of multi-tasking!

    Really a mixed bag here as ‘C’ pointed out as to causes – sometimes sheer athleticism by the D, other times mis-reads, other times just the wrong read/decision.

    The one element that I’ve noticed is opponents are doing a much better job of taking away Rodgers bread and butter escape route right @ 2010/2011. DE’s aren’t looping as deep and DT/NT’s are holding that gap between the OT and the OG, voiding that alley where AR used to make so much hay.

    • Savage57

      Forgot this addendum.

      That’s one of the things that Bulaga and Sitton might have been responsible for on that right side. Bulaga’s quicker feet and strength could drive the DE deeper and Mr. Nasty could hold the DT/NT creating the escape lane for AR.

      Understood MM’s desire to cover the blindside and guard the back door by making the switch to the left, but thought that keeping the front door open for AR was just as, if not more, important.

  • http://www.lyrictrumpet.com Bearmeat

    Thanks Al. This sounds about right – just like last year.

    1/2 the sacks are AR’s or MM’s fault. (play call or just hanging on to the ball for too long)

    1/4 of them are just darn good plays by the opposing team.

    1/4 of them are our OL screwing up. These are the plays that separate the very good OL’s from the average ones. This is what needs to change. Yes there are valid excuses, but that won’t keep your 100 million dollar man healthy. Get it done!

  • Johnblood27

    Would it be too much to ask that we actually strive to have a complete offensive line which could provide blind side protection as well as a right side option for AR?

    Settling for “or” instead of “and” sounds much like keeping James Campen around because he is a Packer Legacy as well as a really smart dude. Let’s judge on results over time, we have a big enough sample size to be “fair”.

    While I am on the topic, would it be too much to ask for the Packers to have both an offensive coordinator AND a head coach?

    MM sure seems to be too much of a game day OC and loses track of some of the HC duties. Where is Winston Moss, isn’t he the Asst HC? How about some delegation by MM? Maybe even just challenge flag decision making?

    OK, enough criticisms, I believe that the 2013 edition of the Packers can be a really good team if we can avoid the really bad long term injuries.

    Go Pack Go!

  • NYPACKER

    How much different would our line look if we had our only two first round draft pick olineman (Sherrod & Bulaga)playing at tackles, Bahkartia replacing Lang at guard, & Tretter for EDS at center?

  • Bart Vanden Plas

    The few plays the 1st team had in preseason showed that they were going to go with the quick passing game to slow down the rush. It worked well against the Rams and again against the Washington team. Now teams will have to scheme against that too.

  • Outis

    Year-in, year-out, it’s the same sad, old story with the offensive line. TT can’t solve the problem. Maybe he is the problem. What will it take for the Packer faithful to wake-up to the fact that we need a new GM? One who can get an adequate supporting cast for the best QB in the NFL. Would a second-place finish to the Bears in the NFC North and a failure to make the playoffs this year be enough? I doubt it. There are too many fools out there who continue to say, “in TT we trust,” and can’t comprehend that it is sacrilegious to do so.

  • Spiderpack

    Al these are awesome. Can you do a film study every week? Nagler used to do one regularly on CHTV but its rare that one is done on that website now. Film study blogs are the “beef” of intelligent Packers’ fan blogs.

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      I’d love to, but since it usually takes about 3 hrs, I don’t always have the time. So, I can’t promise every week, but I’ll try when I can.