I took a close look at the game vs. Minnesota last Sunday to figure out what went wrong on the offensive and defensive lines.
On the offensive line (pass blocking):
- It was surprising to see LT Chad Clifton get beat a couple times by DE Jared Allen. What really surprised me was that Mike McCarthy didn't keep a back or tight end in to help. Clifton got a lot of help in pass protection during the Tennessee game.
- If the backs and tight ends weren't blocking, then they could at least provide some receptions, but only RB Brandon Jackson had 2 receptions and TEs Donald Lee and Tory Humphrey had one catch a piece.
- A bigger problem was that on some of the plays, Clifton and RT Mark Tauscher were pushing their pass rusher upfield so QB Aaron Rodgers could step up in the pocket, but the pocket was getting blown up by pressure up the middle. He was often trying to run outside to avoid the inside rush and would run right into the path of Allen.
- RG Jason Spitz was beaten by DT Kevin Williams on the fumble that led to the 1st safety, but LG Daryn Colledge had a really bad game. Little used DE Brian Robison didn't have a big statistical game, 1 tackle and 1 sack, but he was in Rodgers' face a lot when he would come inside on a stunt or delayed rush and get the better of Colledge.
- The blitz pickup was terrible too. LB Napoleon Harris ran right through RB Ryan Grant for one sack, and LB Ben Leber clobbered Rodgers on another blitz that wasn't picked up. The offensive line and the blocking backs have to do a lot better job going forward.
On the defensive line, I was all ready to blame the awful play of the defensive tackles, but they actually don't deserve it. They aren't guilt free, but the collapse of the run defense is not all their fault.
- The defensive tackles. They are holding their lanes, most of the time, but their biggest problem is that all of them can be blocked by one offensive lineman. This allows one of the interior offensive lineman to go into the second level and take out a linebacker. On the game losing TD run by RB Adrian Peterson, Minnesota's guards blocked the tackles and C Matt Birk ran straight upfield to block middle LB Desmond Bishop and take him out of the play.
- Right defensive end. DE Cullen Jenkins was having a great season as a pass rusher, but the Packers really miss him on running plays. DE Jeremy Thompson was the main problem, it seemed like he was shoved around on every running play right at him. They looked better with DT Michael Montgomery at right end. On passing downs, DE Kenneth Pettway often came in and provided no serious pressure on the QB. There is no fix here this season. They should let Montgomery play on most downs, and bring in a linebacker to provide a speed rush on 3rd and long.
- Linebackers. Peterson is hard to tackle, but LB Brady Poppinga was putting on a clinic on how not to tackle him. If a blocker got in on him, he was blocked. Peterson ran past or through Poppinga on two of his big runs. Poppinga had been great in run support during the last two seasons, but not in 2008. Good thing he's got a $17 million contract. LB A.J. Hawk was sure missing and/or blocked when Peterson was cutting back to Hawk's side of the field. Whenever the Packers' guards go upfield to block a linebacker, the opposing linebackers often seem to use their speed to slip around them to make the tackle, but the Packers' linebackers always seem to be blocked by that guard or center.
Overall there isn't one player to blame on either offense or defense. It's not the system either. I can see that the players aren't executing properly, not communicating, or just not making the play. On defense, the problem is the personnel, and that's not going to be fixed this season. The offense should be able to fix the problems with stunts and blitzs.