Packers' front 5 helps keep offense humming

December 19, 2014

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) reacts after throwing an interception during the second half of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014, in Orchard Park, N.Y.

The Green Bay Packers keep absorbing the hits on the offensive line.

But as far as the linemen are concerned, better that they take the blows than quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Front fives don't usually draw much attention. The Packers' highlight reel is typically filled with pinpoint passes from Rodgers to receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, and pinball runs by Eddie Lacy.

But it's difficult to overlook how the Packers' front has performed this season, especially with injuries nagging the line.

"The five that play together practice together each and every week give you the chance to be the most cohesive group," coach Mike McCarthy said. He pointed to a combination of talent, ability and continuity on the practice field as keys to success.

They haven't all been full participants at practice, though, for about six weeks.

T.J. Lang is playing with an ankle injury, while fellow guard Josh Sitton has a left toe injury. They've either missed practice, or been limited at times since each player got hurt in the 44-23 loss on Oct. 26 at New Orleans.

Right tackle Bryan Bulaga left last week's 21-13 loss at Buffalo with a concussion. He did not take part in practice Thursday, though he was at least at the practice facility usually a positive sign that things are going well.

In this Sept. 4, 2014, file photo, Green Bay Packers guard T.J. Lang (70), center Corey Linsley, left, and guard Josh Sitton take the field before an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks in Seattle. The Packers can't be prolific with quarterback Aaron Rodgers on the ground. The offensive line has been keeping Rodgers clean and upright lately.

"Yeah, when (trainers) let him out of the building and go down to the Hutson Center, that's a good thing," McCarthy said.

The injuries started in the preseason, when swing tackle Don Barclay, who would have likely been the first lineman off the bench, had a season-ending knee injury.

J.C. Tretter was slated to start at center after last year's starter, Evan Dietrich-Smith, signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent. But Tretter injured an ankle two weeks before the season started, forcing rookie Corey Linsley into the starting lineup.

It turned out not to be a concern.

The Packers have allowed 28 sacks in 14 games, which ranks 13th. But there have been just seven sacks in the six games since the loss to the Saints in late October.

Similarly, after a sluggish start, the running game has picked up.

Green Bay ran for 179 yards on 30 carries two weeks ago against Atlanta, and 158 on 24 carries last week against Buffalo. They are the two highest rushing totals of the season.

"The cohesiveness just in the run blocking improves. The course, the footwork and course of the backs, it's better, they're playing a little faster," McCarthy said. "All those things I just think when teams have a chance to continue to work each and every day together, you improve."

The fifth member of the starting unit is second-year left tackle David Bakhtiari, who has improved as the season has worn on.

"Timing is definitely everything," Lacy said about the running game. "It's about the way (defenders) angle to the blocks, where the defense flows, and there (are) a lot of different factors."

That includes the five beefy Packers on the offensive line.

NOTES: Lacy was limited in practice for a second straight day with eye irritation, which McCarthy said wasn't related to football. Lacy said the eye started bothering him this week after taking out a contact lens. Lacy said he plans to wear contacts again on Sunday, but would rather not have to wear goggles. ... Cobb, in the last year of his contract, said he doesn't know of any talks about an extension, that he was focused on helping the Packers secure a playoff spot. Cobb is having a career year with 76 catches for 1,076 yards and 10 touchdowns.

 












 

Associated Press