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Interior Line & Rodgers Share Blame For Pass Protection Woes

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Interior Line & Rodgers Share Blame For Pass Protection Woes

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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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (26) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Bohj's picture

Let's also look on the bright side. One penalty all game. No holding calls whatsoever on the O-line. And against a damn good pass rush. With two "pseudo-rookies" and one second yr guy on the line (Balaga). "Rookies" meaning Newhouse and Lang.
A few sacks and pressures were allowed, but in retrospect, we didn't take any -10 yarders and A-Rodge didn't die. With that kind of early discipline, imagine what a few years will bring?
A few people mentioned Lang having similar breakdowns as Colledge used to..... please keep in retrospect that Colledge was doing this in his so-called prime. Lang is pretty much a noob and hasnt had the advantage of playing next to Cliffy for most of the season. LET THESE GUYS GROW.

Bob's picture

Agree with Newhouse and Lang getting better. Sitton's problems maybe a hole in his game that defensive coordinators have discovered. I don't know why but it seems like this has happened in prior years, just not as often as this year. Looks like somehow they bait him to get his momentum going right while they go left.

packeraaron's picture

<em>I don’t know why but it seems like this has happened in prior years, just not as often as this year.</em>

Exactly correct. There have been plays here and there in the past where you saw similar breakdowns from Sitton, but it's happening with greater frequency this season.

MarkinMadison's picture

When you look at Rodgers' numbers the only stat where he is not head and shoulders above the league is in taking sacks - there he is near the bottom of the pile. If AR's thought is that's it's better to take the sack than throw and risk an interception, I get it, and I appreciate it. But the injury risk is real, Aaron's point about the check-down is well made.

As for Mr. Newhouse I was one of the ones who posted that I was not thrilled with his play. I cited the example of when he failed to keep Allen down, and Allen got up, went to the middle of the field and made the play. Without checking the tape, I suppose that this play was not much different than what Aaron described. And I also would admit that even on plays where Allen stayed outside, he was not always Newhouse's responsibility. Specifically, I remember one Allen play where Newhouse stepped up and out, and Lang looped underneath him to block Allen, but didn't really execute the block. All that said, I still stand by my comment for the play I was describing. I'm probably wrong, and I'm sure he will improve, but I don't think he has won the job yet, for either this year or next year.

Keith's picture

There seemed to be some miscommunication between Newhouse and Lang when the Vikings would run line games. One play that stands out was when Lang and Newhouse both blocked down, the backer never came, and Allen was left unblocked on the edge.

packeraaron's picture

"There seemed to be some miscommunication between Newhouse and Lang when the Vikings would run line games."

Yes.

Adam Czech's picture

Rodgers has morphed into Roethlisberger, holding the ball as long as he possibly can -- sometimes too long -- to try and make a big play with his arm or with his legs.

I'm fine with this early in games, but when the Packers have a lead in the second half, Rodgers needs to check it down. It keeps the clock moving without having the best player in the league take a hit.

CSS's picture

Slightly disagree with the Big Ben comparison. Ben still forces the ball from time-to-time and make errant throws. Rodgers is simply refusing to make forced or low-percentage throws and risk turnovers. Not a matter of worrying about the statistical significance either, more an issue of ball-security and winning the turnover margin week-in and week-out.

I agree that he needs to get to the check-down sooner than later, but the ball security psyche among the offensive starters is grossly underrated. I can't see this unit putting the team in a position to lose. I will also be surprised if they lose the turnover margin all year. Recipe for wins....

Adam Czech's picture

Should've clarified: I was only comparing Rodgers to Roethlisberger in terms of holding the ball, not anything else.

Evan's picture

The thing is, Rodgers makes forced and low-risk throws look routine.

How many times do you see completions to a guy who is covered, where the ball is inches away from defenders' finger tips.

CSS's picture

But he also has a great sense of momentum in a game and moderates the level of risk he's willing to take when he can still move the ball by taking the less risky option or continuing to play smart football with a lead.

With a 14 point lead can he make 'that throw'? Absolutely. Does he have a superior command of the game where he will not take some risks, regardless of ability, where momentum could shift back to the opposition? Even more so.

One of the many traits making him great at this point.

Evan's picture

I obviously meant "high risk."

But, yeah, totally agree. He's in absolute command out there.

PackersRS's picture

Spot on.

Honestly, in all phases, I've never seen anything like this. Perfect chemistry, perfect athletic skills and arm strenght, accuracy out of this world, perfect work ethic, perfect pre-snap reading, and such astonishing decision-making that he doesn't even come close to throw ints, because he only forces the ball in optimum situations.

And he's 27.

Bohj's picture

Ok gruden.

Bohj's picture

Sorry rs. Couldn't resist.

Bearmeat's picture

Aaron -

My hunch is that Sitton is hurt. He has to be? Why else would he be such a drastically different player than he was last year and most of 09?

Either he's hurt or he's dogging it. I don't get the sense from listening to him talk that he's the type to check out once a big fat contract comes along, so he's got to be hurt.

Throw in the fact that Bulaga and Wells on either side of him are playing lights out... and well.. he's just gotta be hurt.

My prayers for the health to TJ's fam.

CSS's picture

Wells played his worst game of the year against the Vikings this week, and I can't see it as an 'either/or' proposition for Sitton. He hasn't played to last years level of consistency but his game is still top 5 among right guards. Had a bad game against the Vikings, sure. Dogging it? Not in any alternative reality. Doesn't appear to be hurt either.

As to Bulaga, looks like an all-pro candidate at this point. Extremely consistent. Only 22.

JoePackersNYC's picture

Just caught this on ESPN: Aaron Rodgers profiled on ESPN's E:60. Here's the link:
http://ht.ly/7vxpr

Not sure where else to post this, just wanted to give the CHTV folks a heads up.

packeraaron's picture

Thanks - we linked to this awhile back. Not much new here, but I do like his reaction to the Favre questions.

Ceallaigh's picture

One thing I've noticed is, and this drives me nuts, that Rodgers thinks he can escape a lot of the time. Sure, sometimes he's successful. But other times he twists and turns--backwards for a loss of even more--a three yard loss into something closer to ten.

To his credit, I'd rather he eat a small loss sack than toss it up into signficant coverage for a pick six. But, good lord, sometimes just taking a short-loss sack instead of risking signficant injury trying to break away may be better in the long run.

Evan's picture

Also, it should be pointed out, that with this offense, 2rd and 17 or 3rd and 12 don't faze me in the least.

It's not the loss of yards I care about as much as the unnecessary hits.

Jake's picture

Rodgers pretty much refuses to check down... ever... Save for the second half of the Vikes game....

Mojo's picture

Not only does Rodgers bypass check-downs , but for some reason, and I cannot figure it out, he struggles at times with the execution of making short passes. Like against the Vikes he threw one in the dirt on a short check-down over the middle (don't know if he was protecting the receiver on that one). For whatever reason, Rodgers often looks stiff on the real short-stuff. For someone who's a perfectionist and excels in the passing game as Rodgers does, I've always scratched my head over this.

And on a related note, it would be nice if they worked on the screen game more. That alone would cause teams to hesitate selling out on the pass rush.

petr's picture

I disagree about Rodgers and short passes. The pass you referred to and others are Rodgers throwing the ball into a tiny area where only the receiver can catch it, therefore an interception is impossible.
http://i39.tinypic.com/5b22qd.jpg

It was his only negative throw of the Vikings game I thought, but the reason why he threw it there was that it was a zero-risk throw. Had he thrown the ball ahead of Jennings, then there was a small chance the defender could have jumped the route and intercepted the ball.

The blame for the throw was as much Jennings not being able to stop in time as it was with Rodgers being too careful.

SpiderPack's picture

Thank you Aaron. Great thoughtfulness. I disagree with regard to your immediate thoughts concerning Defender Cliffenheimer. His Veteran Presence is MUCH GREATER than the effect he can have on his physical coverage area, or his physical or even verbal responsibilities. The OL is in a situation where they've lost their Senior Member after losing others in the last 2yrs. This is in some ways similar to loosing a coach. Its not as bad as loosing 30y/o Center Scott Wells, but maybe its a little worse in some ways because Clifton is 5yrs older than Scotty &amp; that makes his presence more easily-connected-with, and missed. In addition, Clifton &amp; Rodgers' ability to communicate on the ultimatum on whether Rodgers' blindside will be protected can be felt between those two in the moment, and seen in their eyes.

Ya Know . . . I'm thinking that tomorrow there will be a blog or story about this.

"One play in particular looked frighteningly like the play where Rodgers suffered his second concussion in Detroit last season." On that play I felt/saw the same thing and then I saw where ARodge looked both in back of himself extra-thoroughly, and in front of himself, before he left the pocket. He better be damn careful.

Spider

lebowski's picture

Have to get this fixed before Thanksgiving, or Suh, Avril and Fairley will rip Rodgers' head off.

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