The offensive line was the last position group to come out of meetings on Monday, and with good reason.
It was hunkered down in its film room, watching last year’s 7-3 loss at Detroit, a game that some will remember as the one in which Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was knocked out with a concussion. What shouldn’t be forgotten from that game, however, was that even with Rodgers on the field for the majority of the first half, the Packers’ offense couldn’t function in large part because the Detroit Lions’ defensive front dominated their offensive line.
It was a scoreless game when Rodgers took a combination hit from a pair of Lions defenders on a scramble late in the second quarter. Rodgers struggled to get to his feet but stayed in the game for three more plays, including one on which he was sacked, before he was ruled out because of the concussion that would keep him out of the following game against New England.
The Lions sacked Rodgers twice and backup Matt Flynn twice. They totaled six tackles for losses and put eight hits on the Packers’ quarterbacks. The Packers had three offensive line penalties — holding on center Scott Wells and left tackle Chad Clifton plus a false start by Clifton. They couldn’t run the ball, either. Brandon Jackson carried seven times for 19 yards, while James Starks had six rushes for 8 yards.
“If you go back and watch the game like we just did, you’re looking at some things and you’re like, ‘Gosh what are we doing there?’” right tackle Bryan Bulaga said on Monday. “That wasn’t us, and that team went all the way last year. You can just see we did not play well. We didn’t do anything well, and we obviously cleaned it up later in the season and got hot and went on a run. But that game, there wasn’t much that went right.”
The Packers’ line was out of sorts almost from the beginning. Left guard Daryn Colledge left the game with a knee injury on the Packers’ second offensive play. They tried Jason Spitz, but he struggled and was pulled in favor of T.J. Lang, who this season is the starting left guard.
Like Bulaga, right guard Josh Sitton thought the problems were self-inflicted rather than anything the Lions did.
“Nothing stood out about them necessarily, but I’d say our fundamentals as an offensive line weren’t great in that game,” Sitton said. “I think we’ve got to start from within, and I think that starts with practice and watching film and looking at what we did. It’s more about us than them.”
This year, Rodgers appears to be directing a more potent offense. He’s the odds-on favorite to win the NFL’s most valuable player award, and his myriad weapons make the offense nearly impossible to slow down. But with Thursday’s Thanksgiving game against the Lions at Ford Field looming, there’s added pressure on the offensive line.
In their turnaround season, the 7-3 Lions have developed a reputation for having a nasty streak on defense, especially from their front. Budding superstar defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who has three sacks this season, met with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell during the Lions’ bye week in order to get some clarification on why he has been penalized and fined for rough play.
Sitton will draw the assignment of blocking Suh most of the time.
“Good football player,” Sitton said. “But like I said, it’s about us.”
Regardless of their style of play, the Lions’ front, featuring former Packers defensive tackle Corey Williams on the inside with Suh plus ends Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril, has been formidable. That foursome has combined for 16½ sacks this season. The Lions line up their ends wider than most teams, using the “Wide-9” technique similar to the scheme employed by the Philadelphia Eagles. That means in most cases, the Lions’ ends are lined up outside of where a tight end would be if one is used on the line of scrimmage.
“Especially in a loud environment like it is there, you’ve got to be able to get out and get some depth so that (the defensive end) doesn’t have an easy edge to get around,” said Bulaga, who will be charged with blocking Avril most of the time. “It gives that defensive end a good opportunity to do a three-way go out of it. If you under-set him, he’s going to go around you. If you over-set him, he can hop inside real quick. Or he can get a full head of steam and bull rush. You really have to be smart with your sets and your fundamentals when you’re playing that type of technique because they have a different approach.”
That will involve a heavy dose of film work, especially in a short week during which practices will be scaled back considerably.
Monday’s offensive line film session, which was a player-only meeting, was nothing out of the ordinary. The group regularly watches film on its own in addition to sessions with position coach James Campen.
But others in the Packers’ locker room believe the offensive line has extra motivation this week.
“Oh yeah, they do,” Packers defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said. “We’ve got good, hard-working, tough guys. I’m pretty sure they’re going to have it out for them this year.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @RobDemovsky.