Packers' backup offensive linemen draw on past experience to find chemistry
GREEN BAY – There may be only four games left in the Green Bay Packers’ season and Jason Spriggs, Justin McCray and Lucas Patrick may not start another game together along the offensive line, but Sunday’s 34-20 victory over the Atlanta Falcons represented a culmination of sorts for the trio.
Most had an idea Spriggs would start, with starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga considered doubtful earlier in the week. But McCray filling in for Byron Bell at right guard and Patrick getting his first start of the year for Lane Taylor at left guard was a surprise announcement as interim head coach Joe Philbin called his first NFL game with a line that had not played together.
That wasn’t how it was perceived inside the locker room or on the practice field, however. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers called the past week of practice one of their better, cleaner efforts of the season in that regard.
But as for why that was the case, Patrick recalled the roughly 10 weeks he spent practicing next to left tackle David Bakhtiari in the offseason program while Taylor recovered from ankle surgery. Spriggs and McCray had developed a similar bond as Bulaga recovered from knee surgery.
“I felt like there was a chemistry,” said Packers running back Aaron Jones, who averaged 4.6 yards per carry and had 29-yard touchdown run off the right side behind McCray and Spriggs.
Center Corey Linsley, the only member of the offensive line to play every snap this season, said the practice week was no different than any other with Patrick to his left. And in the context of the offense, Philbin was going to establish himself as a play caller anyway, so the front five didn’t know if any of Philbin’s calls or decisions had to do with them, or his own personality.
But to a man, they all felt like the interim head coach had confidence they could execute whatever was asked.
“It’s pretty consistent that we’ve just got a great group of guys in our room, guys pay attention, guys are coachable, and we know each other, and we’ve been with each other for a while now,” Linsley said. “So, when we’ve got guys who fill in, nobody blinks. There are certain things we’ve got to get figured out, more between the guards and tackles, but honestly those guys, we didn’t blink when Lucas and Justin’s numbers are called up. It was a smooth transition.”
It showed up Sunday, too.
In the pass game, though Rodgers was sacked four times, he said the protection was good enough to allow him get to the top of his drop often and make his progressions. And, if he had to move out of pocket, he was afforded lanes to do so.
“They were sending pressures at them, stunts,” Jones said. “They did a great job handling everything.”
But Jones said the chemistry up front really showed in the run calls.
As the game wore on, Patrick, McCray and Spriggs were telling him to file away cutback lanes and reads off their blocks to daylight.
“Then it happens,” Jones said.
To the tune of 78 rushing yards, which was Jones’ third-best total of the season and the most yards he’d gained since his 145-yard effort against Miami on Nov. 11.
Overall, the 138 rushing yards as a team represented its best output since running for 191 against the Dolphins. It was also the team’s third-best output on the ground this season.
“The older guys in our room really set a standard and I felt like we stepped up to that (Sunday),” Patrick said. “I felt like we ran our base offense. It wasn’t a lot of back help. We were still pass pro(tecting) like we would if they went ‘Bak,’ Lane, Corey, Byron and Bryan. I felt like it still flowed the same and the same calls we were making all week.”