The Green Bay Packers have received solid to very good play from their offensive guards in recent years, and the 2013 season was no exception. After reorganizing the offensive line in 2013, the starters at that position played very well and their ability to stay on the field and avoid injury was important to the continuity of the line as a whole.
As we resume our offseason review series today, we look at the guards to see where that position stands for the Packers as the 2014 offseason begins.
2013 Packers Guards
Starters: LG Josh Sitton, RG T.J. Lang
Backups: Lane Taylor (also Marshall Newhouse, Derek Sherrod, JC Tretter)
Practice Squad: Andrew Tiller
Injured Reserve: Greg Van Roten
As the most veteran pair of players on the Green Bay Packers' offensive line, Sitton and Lang were expected to be the rocks that held the line together. However, each was dealing with a new position, as the Packers elected to flip their offensive line and move Lang, the entrenched starter at left guard, to the right side and Sitton from right to left. Guard play is fundamentally similar, but after using their feet in one direction for years, it would be a bit of a challenge to go the other direction. Still, the guards were supposed to keep Aaron Rodgers clean from interior pressure and provide some push in the run game.
After the first game of the year against the 49ers, which was an unmitigated disaster for Sitton and Lang, the two bounced back to put up excellent seasons. Sitton in particular, played at an All-Pro level for the next sixteen games (including the Wild-Card rematch against San Francisco). He allowed only a single sack and five hurries from week two onward, compared to three hurries in the first game. He also was the primary target in the run game, as over a third of the team's rushing attempts were aimed at one side of him or the other, averaging over 5.5 yards per carry. Furthermore, according to Pro Football Focus, Sitton played every offensive snap of every game and did not grade negatively after week 2, earning grades of +2.0 or better 13 times.
Lang was not quite as consistently excellent as Sitton, but still posted a very good season with some excellent individual games. He did a good job in pass protection all season, allowing three sacks and five additional hits on the quarterbacks. His run-blocking was not as effective as Sitton's, but he also was forced into emergency duty at center on a few occasions. Overall, Lang was graded positively in every category by Pro Football Focus, and showed significant improvement over 2012, especially in pass protection (9 sacks, 5 hits allowed in '12). Lang missed only 28 snaps all season.
A few other players took some snaps at guard when Lang shifted to center, including Marshall Newhouse and Lane Taylor. However, those snaps were negligible in the big picture.
Overall Grade: A-
After flipping positions, Sitton's excellent play was not rewarded by the Pro Bowl voting, but he was rightly named second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press. Lang made progress in the passing game, despite facing a number of talented interior pass-rushers, and was acceptable in run-blocking. With all the turmoil at tackle, the performance of these two players (and their resilience) was a significant help to the younger linemen around them and was critical for keeping the offense functioning. Only a bad week 1 performance by both and a slight lack of consistency from Lang keeps this grade from being a full A.