'Everybody plays a part' in protection issues
MINNEAPOLIS - He danced in the pocket. One second. Two. He cradled the football. Patted the football. Scanned downfield. Three seconds. Four. He rolled to the sideline. Became a running back. Five seconds. Six.
It happened over and over Sunday night. Aaron Rodgers searching, waiting, running out of time. The Green Bay Packers quarterback was sacked five times. Lost 33 yards.
Hard for an offense to score when it keeps going backward.
“It felt like a combination of a lot of things,” right guard T.J. Lang said of the Minnesota Vikings’ constant pressure. “I know we tend to get blamed up front a lot for those sacks. We’ve got to do a better job blocking. We’ve got to do a better job of staying on time with our throws. Everybody plays a part in that.
“Definitely, up front, there were a few plays there where we have to be better. More of a team thing there, but obviously it’s not a good recipe for winning. So we’ve got to get it cleaned up.”
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The natural reaction is to see five sacks, consider the ear-splitting noise inside newly christened U.S. Bank Stadium, and give the record crowd of 66,813 credit. Vikings fans brought their A game Sunday night.
Lang said U.S. Bank Stadium was “not as consistently” loud as the Metrodome, but he left Minnesota impressed. He put the Vikings’ new stadium in the “top-three” loudest environments in the NFL, right up there with Seattle’s CenturyLink Field.
But don’t blame presnap communication on the Packers’ coughing up five sacks. The Vikings were called for four false-start penalties Sunday, two on consecutive snaps. The Packers had none.
“Yeah, it was loud,” Lang said. “I don’t think we had any trouble in the communication department today. It’s always tough. It always poses a lot of difficulty when you have to rely on hand signals (with a silent snap count). But that wasn’t the reason why we lost today. Communication was great. I think everybody was on the same page for the most part.”
For the most part.
There were communication issues after the snap. Unprompted, Lang gave one example. With the Packers driving for a potential game-tying field goal, they had a first-and-10 at their own 49-yard line. Up front, Lang said, the protection was “sprint” right.
Not everybody went right.
Vikings defensive tackle Linval Joseph — who Lang said the Packers did a good job blocking otherwise — got his lone sack of the night for a 4-yard loss. Two plays later, the Packers faced third-and-14. Their last-ditch drive ended with Rodgers’ lone interception.
“It was supposed to be a sprint to the right,” Lang said, “and for whatever reason Aaron kind of floated to the left. I don’t think it was anything he did on that. It just — not everybody was on the same page there.”
The Vikings played Rodgers like most teams. They rarely blitzed him, preferring to sit back in coverage and contain Rodgers inside the pocket.
At times, Rodgers was able to make plays with his feet. He rushed for 29 yards on three carries, a 9-yard-per-carry average. But the Vikings’ contain rush made Rodgers’ five sacks only more problematic.
“They did not come after us a ton,” Rodgers said.
If not communication problems, what led to the Packers coughing up five sacks?
In short, Lang said, one factor can't receive all the blame. The veteran leader of the Packers offensive line reserved plenty of blame for his unit. Linemen need to sustain blocks longer, Lang said.
BOX SCORE: Vikings 17, Packers 14
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But the time between snap and pass kept ticking longer and longer. Lang knows it’s a fine line the Packers have to straddle. When he’s clicking, Rodgers’ greatest strength is his ability to extend plays. Nobody in the NFL becomes a magician more often, making something out of nothing.
Perhaps nobody in the NFL puts more stress on an offensive line.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Lang said. “I’m not trying to blame someone else. We definitely have to be better up front, but it felt like there were a couple plays there where it starts getting to five, six, seven seconds, and it can be a little frustrating at times. We know we’ve got to block as long as Aaron is holding the ball, because that’s when he can make some of the big plays when he extends it. But, yeah, it’s a team game.
“If we’re not getting anybody open, and he’s scrambling around and he gets sacked, it’s on the whole offense. Everybody’s got to do their job. But, yeah, I don’t want to point fingers at anybody else. First and foremost, we’ve got to be better up front, but when it comes to you see some of those hits and sacks kind of late in the play, it gets a little frustrating.”