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Packers’ starting offensive linemen have been elite in pass protection again in 2018

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Four starters are among the top ten pass-blockers at their position, and the unit as a whole ranks fourth.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

For years, the strength of the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line has been their pass-blocking ability. Although Aaron Rodgers takes a fair number of sacks, the individual players on the line have largely been excellent in pass protection.

Rodgers deserves some of the blame for the team’s relatively high sack numbers, as he is much more inclined to take a sack than throw an interception. This year, that has been especially true on third downs, as it seems that there are multiple such drive-killers in every game.

However, when the starting line is on the field and intact, there is a noticeable difference in the rate at which Rodgers is pressured — and keeping that line intact has indeed been a challenge this year. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga, for example, has been inactive for two games and has missed significant portions of several others. That thrusts Jason Spriggs onto the field.

Likewise, the Packers’ revolving door at right guard is deserving of that metaphor for multiple reasons. The team has started three players — Byron Bell, Justin McCray, and Lucas Patrick — at that spot this season, and each has struggled in pass protection. Too often, when Rodgers is pressured, it comes from that side of the line.

Still, the NFL’s advanced statistics show that the other four starters are among the very best in the NFL at keeping their quarterback upright. Using their Pass Block Win Rate* number as a guide, ESPN listed the top ten players in pass-blocking win rate at the three positions on the line and each of David Bakhtiari, Lane Taylor, Corey Linsley, and Bryan Bulaga show up in their respective lists.

* Note: ESPN defines PBWR as “the rate at which linemen can sustain their blocks for 2.5 seconds or longer”

In fact, Bulaga and Bakhtiari tied this season for second place among all offensive tackles in PBWR, coming in with a 90% win rate apiece. Taylor ranked seventh among all guards with an 85% rate, while Linsley came in as the tenth-ranked center at 83%.

With individual players holding numbers that high, it should be no surprise that the Packers also rank highly as a unit in win rate, even despite their struggles at right guard and when Bulaga exits. Indeed, Green Bay lands at fourth place in the NFL overall at 58%, behind the Rams, Browns, and Chiefs in order.

This is worth considering when deciding what to do about the line as a unit moving forward in the 2019 offseason. Bulaga continues to pass-protect at an exemplary level, when he is on the field. As is usually the case with him, however, it’s that qualifier that is the problem. The team would probably do well to find a tackle in the 2019 NFL Draft, as Bulaga is signed for one more year at most and Spriggs has been inconsistent at best; but this should be a reminder that the veteran from Iowa remains a highly productive and useful player.

As for the line as a whole, it’s not crazy to imagine an even better ranking as a unit in 2019 if the team can address the right guard spot. With Patrick likely to get an extended look in the final two games, the team should be able to evaluate whether he could be a long-term answer or if they will need to look elsewhere to bolster that position.

Editor’s note: I suppose I should respond to the accusation that the Packers’ line holds on every play.