The offensive line may be the most common scapegoat for the woes of the Packers offense. Sometime this is justified. Sometimes though…it’s not. Before we go too far into this particular midseason grade you should be warned. The final result of this analysis won’t lead to the conclusion that the offensive line has been an abject failure. Heck they are even scoring above a D.
The offensive line has looked down right woeful at times this season. The worst of it very early on against San Fransisco and against Seattle. We could even go down the line and highlight the darkest moment for each of them…Newhouse struggled against the Rams and Robert Quinn, Lang struggled with J.J. Watt when he would stunt or move to the right side to the left, Jeff Saturday stumbled in his game in Indanapolis letting Cory Redding get two sacks, Josh Sitton is the exception that proves the rule, and Bryan Bulaga struggled against rookie Bruce Irvin in Seattle. These struggles have led to the Packers giving up 29 sacks on the year, second in the league and one more than the Chicago Bears and their woeful offensive line.
The running game has not been much better. Typically a team likes to see roughly four yards per carry in a game. The Packers as a team have hit that only twice this season, against New Orleans and against Indianapolis. When the running game has looked bad it has dropped down into the 2.5 yards per carry average.
So knowing all of this, why does the offensive line grade out average? Because they have been improving. When you look at the sacks per week you’ll find that 21 of those 29 sacks came in the first five weeks of the season. Once the Colts game was put in the past then the offensive line has given up only 8 sacks. Still a bit high of a number, but still manageable nonetheless.
Moreover, a sack may be attributable to many different players….even the quarterback. As much as we love Aaron Rodgers, even his ardent supports have to admit that early in the season he held the ball too long drawing sacks despite decent blocking from the offensive line. The play calling in those early games did not help the offensive line either. The most dramatic examples of this lies in the 49ers game and the Seahawks game. In week 1 the Packers ran the ball 9 times compared to 44 passes. In Seattle the first half (the one with all the sacks) was dominated by attempting to pass the ball down the field. The second half (where only sack was allowed and the Packers moving the ball) was dominated by run plays and giving the ball to Cedric Benson. As the Packers have called better games to protect the offensive linemen and give them a chance to attack in the run game rather than simply reacting in the pass blocking, the quality of line play has improved.
Another sign of the quality of line play that the Packers have received so far this year comes in some interesting stats provided by ProFootball Focus. Recently PFF looked at the time to throw given by each QB. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers ranked 11th on the list, with the line giving Rodgers an average of 2.76 seconds to throw the football. Similarly the amount of time before a sack, the Packers did even better at ranking 9th with 3.62 seconds before a sack occurred. Believe it or not, but this indicates that the line has done its job more often than not. If you recall, in training camp coach McCarthy had a timer on all the quarterbacks, to make sure that the QB had the ball out of his hands in 2.5 seconds. The assumption to this was that beyond 2.5 seconds the quarterback would be under pressure or get sacked. As it turns out, this was right….and the offensive line has been giving Rodgers this amount of time throughout the year more often than not.
As for the running game, in games where the Packers committed to giving Cedric Benson the football he was able to regularly average four yards per carry on his own. As the weeks went on he was also able to help raise the teams running average. It’s only after the Benson injury that we see the running game fall apart. Thus we are left with a choice…either we are to believe that the offensive line suddenly forgot how to adequately block, or that the Packers running backs are not quite as good as they could be. Considering the struggles we have seen from Alex Green and James Starks it’s difficult to believe that the line is totally at fault for this running game problem. Once again they appear to be average….with a capable back being able to make moderate gains, but a back learning the craft and getting back into the grove struggling to find the holes.
All that rosiness said, there might be trouble on the horizon with the injury to Bulaga. Kevin recently gave the argument that the Packers may not miss him. Lang did fill in rather well against Arizona and Evan Dietrich-Smith appears ready for primetime. It’s hard to totally disagree with this take. For a long time Lang was being groomed for the RT position and there was a back and forth over which position he was going to play, LG or RT. EDS also appears to be a very solid guard and ready to play. That said, Lang does not have the upside of Bulaga. When Bulaga is right he can be the best RT in football, Lang may be more steady but will rarely be dominant. More worrisome is the fact that the Packers are running out of options for back up offensive linemen. The next two offensive linemen on the roster are Greg Van Roten and Don Barclay. Each looked okay in the preseason, but may struggle when the bullets are live.
Overall Midseason Grade For The Position Group: C
The offensive line of the team will probably never be its strength, but it certainly can be good enough. The line is starting to gel and each week they improve….but the loss of Bulaga may be difficult to overcome. Depth is a real concern at this point.