Watching the Packers' dismantle the Vikings on Monday night, it was easy to overlook the problems the offense had in pass protection - but they were definitely there. It's interesting to note how many people were anxious to blame second year tackle Marshall Newhouse's matchup with Vikings defensive end Jared Allen. But Newhouse actually played a pretty solid game.
Much more troubling were the breakdowns on the interior of the line and the sight of right guard Josh Sitton getting flat-out beaten. Center Scott Wells and left guard T.J. Lang had numerous mental errors as well. On one play, the Vikings had the defensive tackle and end take initial steps outside, got the interior of the line sliding that way, and then have the Allen loop back inside into the vacated center. It was an incredibly simple stunt - but it worked.
Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin seemed to strike the right tone when speaking with reporters yesterday:
That's a big thorn in our side right now. We've got to do a better job there. Because that stuff catches up to you. You can't overcome that stuff. The more negative plays that you have, the tougher it becomes. I'd say that's the biggest thing as we move forward.
It is certainly a concern. The pending return of starting left tackle Chad Clifton could certainly help, but the veteran's presence would not made much of a difference on several of the plays where pressure came up the middle.
As far as the mental errors, I found this Tweet from T.J. Lang somewhat telling:
Its been a rough couple days for me and my family.. please keep my father in your prayers.
Suffice to say, it sounds like Lang is dealing with something that might be weighing on him quite heavily.
You also can't discount Aaron Rodgers' role. On more than one occasion Rodgers eschewed a clear checkdown in favor of taking off up the middle only to be taken down from behind by a defensive lineman. One play in particular looked frighteningly like the play where Rodgers suffered his second concussion in Detroit last season.
Longtime readers of this sight know that this aspect of Rodgers' game has long been a personal bugaboo of mine. In fact, I feel stronger about this now than I did two years ago - Rodgers is the Franchise. He simply HAS to be smarter about getting rid of the ball if there's a back available to throw the ball to.
Rodgers spoke about this briefly with Jason Wilde during his regular weekly appearance on ESPN Milwaukee. (My hunch is that a Tweet I sent Wilde prompted him to ask Aaron the checkdown question, but I can't be sure)
Rodgers indicated that the Packers have worked on "getting the backs out more." - which is good. But it does little good if Rodgers doesn't utilize them, which he simply wasn't doing in the first half of Monday's game. It is interesting to note that Rodgers DID start hitting his running backs with a little more regularity after halftime, when I suspect Mike McCarthy and quarterbacks coach Tom Clements most likely made a point to stress this exact thing to Rodgers.
If the Packers are to continue on what is shaping up to be a historic run, Rodgers needs to do a better job than he did in the first half of Monday's game recognizing when he has an outlet available to get the ball out of his hands rather than expose himself to unnecessary hits from 300 pound defensive linemen.
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