Not even ex-Texans QB David Carr can help but cringe watching the Green Bay Packers OL on the field.
For a Packers fan like me, the 2009 version of Aaron Rodgers and his offensive line so far has been the equivalent of watching a matador in a bullfight with a cape full of holes. Things are exciting and fun, but you just hope that the poor guy doesn't get hit. And then he does. And then again. And again. And yet again.
Since Chad Clifton's ankle injury in Week Two against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Packers OL has been shuffled like cards and Aaron Rodgers has been scrambling for dear life. Green Bay's 20 allowed sacks is the worst in the NFL, and is on pace for 80 on the year, good (or bad) enough for second all-time. Insult came full force to injury when A-Rodj was roughed up for eight sacks against heated rival Minnesota on Monday Night Football.
However, people who watched the Vikings game may notice that not all of the Packers' protection problems were the offensive line's fault. It's hard to lay blame on a fan-favorite quarterback who threw for 384 yards and a couple of TD's, but Aaron Rodgers had as much to do with the Vikings eight sacks as his injury-rattled offensive line.
When Clifton went down, the Packers shuffled three players to fill his spot. Starting left guard Daryn Colledge has proven that he's much better as that starting left guard than as a fill-in left tackle. Center Jason Spitz has moved over to Colledge's old guard spot while Scott Wells has stepped in as his replacement.
When Colledge left the Vikings game with a sprained knee, Green Bay was down to playing a third-string left tackle as defensive end. As can be expected, perennial Pro-Bowler Jared Allen finished off a career day with 4.5 sacks (and 4.5 of those stupid sack dances of his). After a dreadful performance against the Chicago Bears Week One in Lambeau, starting right tackle Allen Barbre isn't exactly having a season to write home about either.
That kind of shakeup would devastate just about any professional offensive line, and it clearly has the Packers, especially at tackle. Barbre has allowed five sacks, Colledge four, Clifton one, and T.J. Lang allowed two to Minnesota's Allen as a replacement on Monday. Those twelve sacks by four players are more than all but six entire teams have given up this season. The Packers interior linemen and running backs have allowed only two sacks, so when it comes to pass rushes, the problem is obviously limited to the edges.
But No. 12 deserves some of the blame for this year's beatings as well, and he showed why on Monday. On four of the Vikings eight sacks, Rodgers held the ball for more than three seconds and another play turned into a sack because of a bad miscommunication. Playing from behind and just attempting to make big plays downfield, Rodgers would hold the ball for far too long, even as Allen and Co. were ravaging the Packers offensive tackles. The Packers OL was outplayed by the Vikings front four the entire game, but instead of getting rid of the ball more quickly, A-Rodj would wait and try to make the perfect pass. It worked a lot (he threw for a career game-high 384 yards) but it also helped set up the Vikings pass rush's embarrassingly big day.
The worst of all came on a pass play with the Packers backed up at their own goal line late in the game. Colledge had just left for the sideline with his knee injury (after Allen had picked up 2.5 sacks off of him over the first three quarters). Coach Mike McCarthy elected to give third-string left tackle Lang some help by using tailback Ryan Grant as a blocker to double-team Allen. If Rodgers had only gotten rid of the ball on time, it would have worked as intended. Instead, he ended up pump-faking, pulling the ball down, pump-faking again, looking lost, and stepping up into the pocket looking for another option. The Grant-Lang double-team on Allen prevented him from getting free around the outside perfectly, but when A-Rodj stepped up to find an open receiver, it gave Allen a wide open lane to reverse directions and pull the hapless QB down from behind for the sack and a safety a full four seconds after the snap.
On another sack, Rodgers held the ball for an amazing six seconds before Vikings defensive end Brian Robison finally got free for the take down. The QB was just moving around looking for a receiver and struggling to find someone to throw to, and instead of dumping the ball short or throwing it to the sidelines he took a huge hit for yet another of Minnesota's eight sacks.
Now, all of this doesn't mean the porous OL is blameless; they've given Aaron Rodgers anything but protection four weeks into the season. Teams don't even need to send blitzes to pressure the Pack in 2009; on 75 percent of the sacks, teams have rushed only four men. To put it into perspective, four-man rushes have accounted for only 57 percent of sacks in the NFL through four weeks. That leads to a vicious cycle; since teams don't have to send extra pass rushers against the Packers OL, they can drop more men into coverage against Driver and Jennings and Co., which makes it harder for Rodgers to find an open receiver, which means Rodgers holds the ball longer which leads to (you guessed it) more sacks.
The 2009 Green Bay Packers are only 2-2 with a lot of football to be played; the season is far from over in Titletown. But one thing is for sure: GM Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy have to solve this issue over their bye week in Week Five, or A-Rodj is going to need a lot more Excedrin in the locker room. There is a lot of football to be played at Lambeau, but if the sacks don't stop coming, Aaron Rodgers is going to wish there wasn't.
Thanks to JJ Cooper at Fanhouse for help tying this together.