Over the next two weeks, we will take a look at each position group on the Packers and provide grades and insight on how they performed in the 2014 season. Today, we'll be looking at the running back position. Follow along with all of our positional breakdowns here.
To close out the week and our review of the Green Bay Packers' 2014 offense, we take a look back at the performance of the offensive line this season. Though the unit suffered a pair of key injuries in the preseason, including one to the so-called "sixth man" and another to a projected starter, one young player rose up to the challenge of starting in week one of his rookie year and the rest of the line remained healthy and consistent.
All in all, this was the best year for the Packers' offensive line in a long time, and with four of the five starters under contract through at least 2016, it should remain at least solid for the next two years or more.
Left Tackle: David Bakhtiari
16 games, 16 starts; 29 total pressures allowed, 6 sacks allowed
The second-year tackle built upon his decent rookie season and ended up being one of the better pass-blocking left tackles in the NFL. Despite facing a slew of elite pass-rushers, Bakhtiari held his own remarkably well, holding the opposition without a hit on his quarterback in 10 out of the 16 regular-season games.
Continuing to bulk up and provide a consistent push in the run game will likely be the primary focus of the offseason for Bakhtiari as he approaches his third year as a pro.
Left Guard: Josh Sitton
16 games, 16 starts; 10 total pressures allowed, no sacks allowed
Voted to the Pro Bowl and honored as a second-team All-Pro, Sitton had yet another stellar year on the interior of the Packers' line. What more can you say about his performance? Sitton was stellar in both playoff games as well, and threw clean sheets in pass protection in 12 of the Packers' 18 total games this season. According to Pro Football Focus, Sitton's play dipped ever-so-slightly from 2013, mainly due to more inconsistent run-blocking grades, but the team still averaged 4.6 yards per carry when running behind their left guard.
Center: Corey Linsley
16 games, 16 starts; 15 total pressures allowed, one sack allowed
When JC Tretter went down before the Packers' final preseason game, Linsley (a fifth-round draft pick out of Ohio State) was thrust into the starting lineup. Few, if any, predicted the impact he would have on the interior of the Packers' line. He solidified the middle, providing very good pass blocking and excellent push in the run game. The only noticeable blemishes came on a couple of untimely holding penalties and the occasional miscommunication with quarterback Aaron Rodgers on snap counts, but ultimately those issues were very minor compared to the consistency he brought to his blocking week in and week out.
Frankly, Linsley was one of the best centers in the game this year, despite a lack of buzz for the Pro Bowl or any other honors.
Right Guard: T.J. Lang
16 games played, 16 starts; 17 total pressures allowed, 3 sacks allowed
Completing the trio of Pro Bowl-caliber interior linemen is Lang, who gave the Packers his best season to date in 2014. Like Sitton, he was a rock in pass protection, even against excellent interior rushers, and he helped the team to great rushing success on the right side as well. The Packers are surely pleased with the investment they put into Lang prior to the 2012 season.
Right Tackle: Bryan Bulaga
15 games played, 15 starts; 26 total pressures allowed, 4 sacks allowed
Bulaga once again was a stalwart in pass protection and finally overcame his major injuries from the past two seasons to reclaim the greatness he showed in 2011. In a contract year, he allowed Rodgers to be hit only six times total (including sacks) and his value to the team was magnified when he missed a game and a half early in the season. Thankfully he bounced back and could very well become the game's highest-paid right tackle this offseason.
Backup: Don Barclay
Barclay unfortunately spent all of 2014 on injured reserve thanks to a blown ACL in training camp. When he went down, the Packers' depth went with him, as Sherrod became the primary backup at both tackle spots (more on him shortly). Barclay's ability to play guard would also have been helpful later in the season, when T.J. Lang had to miss much of the game in New Orleans.
Backup: Derek Sherrod
8 games, 1 start; 8 total pressures allowed, 3 sacks allowed
To be blunt, Sherrod's play in weeks one and two in relief of Bulaga was a disaster, as he allowed four pressures in each of those games. The former first-round pick worked his way out of Green Bay after the bye week, when he was waived.
Backup: Lane Taylor
16 games, no starts; two pressures allowed
Substituting in on the jumbo package, Taylor's impact on the offense was minimal until T.J. Lang went down on the first drive of the week 8 game in New Orleans. Taylor was embarrassed in the running game that week, and did not appear ready to play. He only saw substantial snaps in one other game, though, and likely was only called on because of Barclay's injury.
Backup: JC Tretter
8 games, no starts; four total pressures allowed, one sack allowed
Tretter, the projected opening-day starting center, went down with a knee injury late in the preseason and returned after the bye for the second half of the year. Without a job, he settled in as the backup tackle, playing a few snaps at the end of blowouts and filling in for Bulaga at right tackle late against the Bills. In that game, he was put in an undesirable position against Mario Williams, and gave up a sack which led to a safety and effective put the game out of reach.
This is the second straight season Tretter has lost out on opportunities due to injury, but depending on Bulaga's free agency decision he may be one of the candidates to start at right tackle next year.
Backup: Garth Gerhart
2 games, no starts; one pressure allowed
Gerhart was active for only two games, and ended up seeing action in both. However, both games were blowouts in which the Packers put up over 50 points, so his game action was not particularly meaningful.
This was by far the best overall performance by a Packers' offensive line in years, as it drew frequent comparisons to the 2003 line of Clifton, Wahle, Flanaga, Rivera, and Tauscher. Rodgers took fewer sacks than in any other full season in his career, and had far and away his lowest sack rate ever.
Furthermore, the Packers had a terrific rushing attack this season, running for 4.4 yards per attempt and over 1,900 total yards on the ground. Though the raw numbers in 2013 were slightly better, this running game is nothing like the unit that finished under 4.0 yards per carry in both 2011 and 2012.
The only discredit comes as a result of the lack of depth at the position. It is a relief that the between the five week one starters, only a single start was missed due to injury (Bulaga in week two). At any point when a starter left for any length of time, the dropoff to his backup was significant. Though injuries played a part in this (with two key players in Barclay and Tretter missing a full and a half season, respectively), the backups' play left much to be desired.
Here's hoping the Packers can keep this group of five together for 2015 and bolster the depth behind them.