Rodgers battered behind leaky offensive line
GLENDALE, Ariz. - Jerraud Powers, hoisting the football like a trophy, provided the final indignation to the most lopsided loss of Aaron Rodgers’ career.
The football bounced into his arms at the 8-yard line. Powers, the Arizona Cardinals cornerback, pranced his final two steps into the end zone. He basked in the approval of his hometown crowd.
There was a comedy of errors across the Green Bay Packers offensive line in a 38-8 loss Sunday. Rock bottom came with 3 minutes, 11 seconds left in the third quarter. Dwight Freeney, a 35-year-old defensive end signed in October, beat backup left tackle Don Barclay off the edge. The football jarred from Rodgers’ hands, ricocheted off center Corey Linsley’s back and dropped into Powers’ hands.
Rodgers took the first 30-point loss of his career, but he never had a chance. He was battered and bruised before being beaten. The Cardinals pounded Rodgers with eight sacks before he was pulled with 9:56 left in the fourth quarter. They got their ninth and final sack against backup quarterback Scott Tolzien.
“It’s a helpless feeling,” right guard T.J. Lang said. “We’ve got to do our job better, no matter what the play is. If it’s a pass, we’ve got to protect. If it’s a run, we’ve got to find a way to open holes. We didn’t get the job done up front.”
The Cardinals built a reputation for having one of the NFL’s top defenses through the season’s first 14 games. Their pass-rush prowess was not considered a strength. They entered Sunday tied for 27th in the league with 26 sacks.
With Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee injury) missing a start for the first time in his career, the Cardinals feasted on the edge. Freeney had three sacks, one shy of the total from his first nine games this season. Defensive end Calais Campbell doubled his season total with 2½.
Clearly, Rodgers will be sore Monday morning. Coach Mike McCarthy said he was “very concerned” with how many times his quarterback was hit: 12 times.
“That’s not the way we play,” McCarthy said. “We knew we were coming in against an aggressive defense, and you can not let your quarterback get hit. I take that personal. That’s not a good job schematically, execution — any way you want to shake it. He cannot get hit like that, and we’ve got to change that.”
The Cardinals’ defensive line has an intricate pass-rush scheme, complete with twists and stunts. They did not blitz much. Instead, they used their down linemen to outmatch and overwhelm the Packers’ offensive line, which wasn't nearly 100 percent healthy.
Bakhtiari wasn’t the only starter missing during Sunday’s game. An ankle injury knocked Bryan Bulaga out of the game in the second half. Right guard T.J. Lang also missed part of the third quarter. At one point, the Packers were facing one of the league’s top-ranked defenses on the road with three backups along their offensive line.
“I had trouble being on the same level with some twists,” Barclay said. “They were getting some good jumps on the ball, and the snap count and everything. I’ve got to pass block better.”
One game from the playoffs, there are no shortage of problems the Packers offense must fix. Rodgers hasn’t played at his MVP-caliber potential. Receivers aren’t getting open. The running game is inconsistent at best.
A leaky offensive line just adds to the pile.
At this point, there’s no question the NFC’s top two teams are the Carolina Panthers and the Cardinals. The Packers lost to both this season. In those two games, the Packers have allowed 14 sacks and 26 quarterback hits.
The offensive line must play better in January. Lang said it starts next week when they host the Minnesota Vikings with a NFC North title on the line.
“I think everybody’s got to take a hard look in the mirror, myself included," he said. "I’ve got to play better. I know that. I think everybody understands that. So we’ve got a quick turnaround. The biggest game of the year is coming up here in seven days, and we’ve got to find a way to get ready for it.”