Packers' offensive line a pillar of strength

Michael Cohen
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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GREEN BAY - When quarterback Aaron Rodgers knelt for the final time Sunday, preserving for the Green Bay Packers a 23-16 win over the New York Giants, both sidelines spilled onto the field as players shook hands and embraced.

Just shy of midfield, somewhere around the Green Bay 45-yard line, two of the sport’s most expensive players shared a few words. There stood left tackle David Bakhtiari, he of the $51.67 million contract extension that placed him among the top five offensive linemen in the league. And he was greeted by defensive end Olivier Vernon, a massive offseason signing for the Giants whose deal consisted of $52.5 million in guaranteed money. (The total value of the contract was $85 million.)

But on this chilly October night, when the game-time temperature measured 49 degrees, their levels of play were nearly opposite. Bakhtiari resembled a rampart surrounded by a moat. Vernon’s pass rush was fleeting and at times he seemed like a ghost.

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The Packers’ offensive line was virtually flawless in its protection of Rodgers whose statistical output did not match the time he was consistently given. Bakhtiari and Co. stymied a defensive front assembled with large splashes in free agency and, perhaps for the first time this season, validated the words of their coach who thought this could be one of the strongest groups in years.

“I think we just played well as a group, obviously,” center JC Tretter said. “We passed off some (stunts) and we just played really well. I don’t think there’s anything specifically we did or schemed up. Everybody kind of played the fundamentals and did their job. That’s what happens when everybody does their job.”

For the Giants, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo plays an aggressive 4-3 defense with exotic and unusual blitzes. Up front the scheme is fairly simple, and the Giants did little if any inversion of their premier rushers: Jason Pierre-Paul lined up at left defensive end against Bryan Bulaga, and Vernon lined up on the right against Bakhtiari.

But unlike the loss to Minnesota in Week 2, when the Packers allowed five sacks and eight quarterback hits to another 4-3 defense, the visuals Sunday were of a clean, almost vacant pocket. So long was Rodgers alone that he might have used a basketball shot clock.

“I think it’s great that those guys can do that,” outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott said of his teammates. “As a defensive player I’m like, ‘Where is the pressure? Do they need to blitz more?’ I’m just thinking from a defensive mindset and I don’t understand it. As a defensive end, you go kind of crazy when he can sit back there and have all that time.”

Despite the routine clear outs for Rodgers, the craziness likely flowed both ways Sunday night. For all their spending, the Giants rank last in the league in sacks through the first five weeks of the season. They nearly have as many losses (three) as they do takedowns of the opposing quarterback (four).

For the Packers, who chewed up yards on the ground with 81 from Eddie Lacy and 33 from James Starks, the inability to ignite the passing game remains an ever-present frustration that lingers from week to week. The perfect protection allowed Rodgers to scan a defense with two injured corners and one inactive safety. But by the end, he had still played fairly poorly: 23-of-45, 259 yards, a passer rating of 65.

And it was not because of his offensive line.

“Against two premier pass rushers who are getting paid a lot of money, we did a good job,” Rodgers said. “ … The offensive line was great. No sacks tonight.”

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BOX SCOREPackers 23, Giants 16

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