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O-Line Dilemmas Could Define SeasonNicole Haase. 23rd September, 2008 - 1:50 pm
It might not matter what Aaron Rodgers is capable of.
A month ago, who could conceivably believe that the success of this team would rest on someone else?s shoulders?
If Sunday night showed us one thing, it?s that the Packers are sadly thin on the offensive line and if they don?t figure a way to deal with injuries and fortify this line, Aaron Rodger?s performance won?t matter ? he?ll be too busy running for his life.
This is an offensive line that has been built from the ground up during the Ted Thompson regime and, on paper at least, should be one of the better lines in the league. The Packers have used seven picks in the past four drafts on the interior offensive line, and yet they?re still having a problem when they face bigger lines.
On a Milwaukee radio show Monday morning, Daryn Colledge sounded overwhelmed by the Cowboys' D-Line, going as far as to exclaim, ?One guy was an entire helmet taller than me!?
This is an offensive line that should get veteran center Scott Wells back this week for the first time since the Aug. 16 preseason game in San Francisco. Wells? recurring lower-back pain appears to have been taken care of. He was activated for Sunday night?s game even though he did not play. If he returns this coming week, Jason Spitz, our interim center, should be able to move back to right guard while Tony Moll, who has been filling in, should be relegated to the sidelines.
This is an offensive line that should be strong and solidified, providing more than adequate protection for Rodgers. While the return of Wells should help the situation, it's hard to imagine the return of one player will make a significant difference in a line that failed to provide running lanes for Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson and allowed Rodgers to be sacked 5 times.
This is an offensive line that committed half of the team?s penalties on Sunday night, including one on Colledge that negated the only run of any consequence that the Packers were able to put together.
The lack of a running game is going to continue to have ramifications for this offense. The longer it takes for the Packers to put one together, the further the effects will be on the passing game. Secondaries are going to max out on the Packers' receivers. When Rodgers was getting too much pressure, we pulled more guys back to block, leaving even fewer receivers out there to be covered by the entire Cowboys' secondary.
James Jones and Ruvell Martin are two of Rodgers' favorite targets. Jones left Sunday?s game with an injury, and Martin never saw a down. That leaves obvious attention on Donald Driver and Greg Jennings. When that happens, as it did Sunday night, rookie Jordy Nelson was left as the go-to guy in the final quarter.
The effects of the failure of the O-line don?t stop with QB sacks and 84 rushing yards per game. Rodgers was clearly flustered by the line?s inability to provide protection, and it spooked him. He?s young, and that constant battle at the line sent him scurrying around the field prematurely more than once this game. If the line can?t find a way to keep their passer protected, Rodgers is going to have a hard time finding comfort in the pocket. Giving a first-year starter that kind of situation is going to lead to nothing but bad things for the Packers.
And the problems won?t only be on the offensive side of the ball. This O-line dilemma is causing short series, which means the Packers defense isn?t getting the rest it needs. That kind of pressure is going to continue to weigh on the already thin and injured defense. When Atari Bigby returns, it will be on a tender hamstring. Charles Woodson has been fighting toe issues since last season. Al Harris is likely out for the season with a ruptured spleen. All this means teams playing against the Packers are throwing more passes, testing their secondary, and likely putting more points on the board.
In turn, that puts pressure on Rodgers and the offense to score. Opposing defenses know the Packers' run game is non-existent. Rodgers and the offense will be forced to pass, and opposing defenses will know it. That means they?ll blitz, which the O-line hasn?t proved it will be able to handle. This will cause Rodgers to be even more frenetic behind center and can only mean bad things for the future of the Packers' offense.
Want proof that Rodgers wasn?t comfortable? With the exception of an 11 play drive in the third quarter that ended in a field goal, from the end of the first quarter until there were under 6:00 left in the game, the Packers had five drives. Four of the five were 3-and-outs that gained 5, 7, -10 and 0 yards, respectively. One drive went for all of five plays and racked up 22 yards. Obviously, that kind of production isn?t going to suffice for the rest of the season.
Defenses certainly aren?t scared by the 166 yards Grant?s put up in three games. He?s not a threat, and Packer fans have to be wondering if he?s still bothered by the hamstring injury or if the team was extremely premature in signing him to a four-year contract. Either explanation doesn?t reflect well on the front office.
If he?s hurt, please sit him. You?re not fooling anyone when you limit his carries. Defenses know that when he?s in the game, he?s getting the ball. He continues to run right up the gut, and frankly it?s shocking to know that he?s averaging a little over four yards a carry.
While it?s true that the Packers are the cream of the crop in the NFC North, Sunday night made it abundantly clear that the Packers have a long way to go before they can begin to think about being the class of the NFC. Packers' fans have to decide if they?re happy with a playoff berth or if they?re looking for more from this season. Playing a stronger, faster, better coached Dallas team served to exploit every hole the Packers had. Fans have to remember that the first two weeks? victories came against teams with a combined record of 1-5. The Cowboys' game was a true test, and the Packers did not get a passing grade.
Nicole Haase is a RealGM contributor and her work can also be found on CuteSports.blogspot.com