The offensive line of the Green Bay Packers will likely take a worse beating in the days ahead from all the pundits than it did on the field Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, just as it did earlier this season when Aaron Rodgers was taking too many sacks.
But let’s not forget two axioms that have stood the test of time in the NFL. One, great running backs make great offensive lines more so than the other way around. Two, great quarterbacks rarely get sacked.
Granted, the Packers have some issues in their offensive line. Marshall Newhouse doesn’t do much more than get in people’s way as a run blocker, although he’s better than Chad Clifton was his last few years. Jeff Saturday isn’t as good as Scott Wells.
But how many dominating offensive lines are there today? In fact, name one. How many great offensive linemen are there? The two best might be Joe Thomas of Cleveland and Jake Long of Miami, and they play for two of the worst offenses.
The Packers’ line is as good as most and was by no means largely at fault for the offense’s anemic effort against a Jacksonville defense that was minus three starters in the secondary, as well as inside linebacker Daryl Smith, a longtime stalwart against the run.
Green left too many yards on the field. He has speed, and he catches and blocks better in the passing game than probably anyone expected. But he lacks vision and patience.
For example, with 4:56 left in the second quarter, the Packers were in an inverted wishbone and D.J. Williams led through the hole for what looked like a possible 4-, 5-, maybe 6-yard gain. Instead, Green took it outside and got 2 yards. Two plays later, the line didn’t get any movement. But sometimes holes open late and if Green would have taken that one outside, he might have at least gained something.
Then on the third-and-1 play when he tripped over Bryan Bulaga’s foot if Green had stayed patient, he might have been able to pop it for a 14-yard touchdown.
There were times Bulaga was driving his man 3, 4, 5 yards downfield, and Green was making bad cuts and running into piles. He needs to slow down, let things happen and the holes will open. Then again maybe he’s just a third-down back.
Sure, there were times the line didn’t get the job done. What’s more, the Packers missed John Kuhn’s blocking. But it’s almost like last year with Ryan Grant, when the Packers didn’t even have a back that looked like one. James Starks doesn’t appear to be the answer. He can run the ball, but he’s always hurt and can’t catch.
Jordy Nelson puts pressure on safeties to the outside; Greg Jennings keeps safeties honest inside with his ability to turn slants and posts into big plays. Without those two, the Packers had nobody to stretch a two-deep zone – vertically or horizontally -- even one without both of its starting corners.
Randall Cobb is more suited to play the slot. He’s not big enough or fast enough to be as effective on the outside. At full strength, Aaron Rodgers can throw the ball up along the sideline and Nelson is tall enough to jump and make the catch. At 5-ffoot-10, that’s not Cobb’s game.
James Jones makes an occasional play deep, but that’s not his game, either. He’s more of a stout, short- to medium-range receiver.
What’s more, Donald Driver and Jarrett Boykin had to play extensively, and they might not be good enough to play for any other team in the league. Driver caught two passes for 10 yards: One against the Jaguars’ fifth cornerback and the other for a 4-yard TD against their third safety. Boykin caught one pass for nine yards.
The defense allowed Blaine Gabbert to throw for a career-high 303 yards and there were some issues: Lack of intensity, lack of pressure especially up the middle, and some soft and blown coverages.
But the Jaguars also settled for field goals on two of three trips into the red zone and failed to pick up a first down in the third quarter after scoring 9 points in the final 1:03 of the first half.
Whether that was more the result of Jacksonville’s anemic offense or the Packers playing stout defense is debatable, but it’s usually a little bit of both.
From the first play, when wide receiver Justin Blackmon ran his pattern behind the line of scrimmage to lose Davon House and gain 15 yards, it was clear the Jaguars were trying to exploit the inexperience of the Packers’ secondary. They did to an extent.
But keep in mind even the best get beat. The Jaguars’ longest run was for 21 yards in the first quarter when Clay Matthews turned his shoulders and failed to set the edge. Five plays later, Rashad Jennings ran the some play and Matthews not only set the edge, but fended off a block and dropped him for a 2-yard loss.
Rookie safety Jerron McMillian followed the same script on two passes in the flat to Jennings. Late in the first half, McMillian didn’t come to base and missed the tackle, and Jennings gained 24 yards. But on third-and-5 at the Green Bay 12-yard line with 7:34 left, McMillian dropped Jennings for a 2-yard loss with a low, driving tackle.
House blew a coverage, but also blocked a punt for the biggest play of the game. He’s a big guy and that seems to be a trend if you look around the league: Cornerbacks are getting taller and more physical.
Brad Jones is no Desmond Bishop at inside linebacker, but he can be serviceable. That was a heads-up play on his sack. A.J. Hawk was eating blockers on a cross blitz, but Jones saw an opening and rather than follow behind Hawk shot through to the quarterback.
That said, coaches preach to linebackers: If there’s nothing in front of you, find work. Get depth, Get depth. Jones, at 6-3, has the length to do that. But on a 35-yard pass late in the second quarter, he hesitated in zone coverage and then just floated back. If he had gotten any depth at all, it would have been hard to throw over him.