Packers' O-line proves upwardly mobile
If you’re looking for reasons why the Green Bay Packers beat the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday night, Aaron Rodgers’ mobility is as good a place to start as any.
That element was missing from Rodgers’ game because of his debilitating pulled calf muscle when the Seahawks beat the Packers in the NFC Championship last January. With his scrambling ability back, Rodgers had a big night outside the pocket and put up a 116.9 passer rating in the Packers' 27-17 win over the Seahawks at Lambeau Field.
But a look at Sunday night’s game video shows there was more to the story. Namely, the interior of the Packers’ offensive line played a huge role in enabling Rodgers to do what he does best, that is, break the pocket, create extra time for receivers to get open, and then deliver the ball on the money anywhere on the field.
The Packers’ tackles, David Bakhtiari on the left side and backup Don Barclay, who started in place of injured Bryan Bulaga, on the right side, had extremely tough matchups against outside rushers Michael Bennett, Bruce Irvin and Cliff Avril. Going in, the Packers knew Bakhtiari and Barclay were in for a difficult night, and that turned out to be right.
But the ability of center Corey Linsley and guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang to dominate as pass blockers consistently provided Rodgers with lanes to escape through. That was maybe the difference in the game, because Rodgers made a play more often than not when he left the pocket.
You saw it on the first touchdown of the game, Rodgers’ impressive 29-yard strike to James Jones in the first quarter. Bennett and Irvin tried to beat Barclay and Bakhtiari, respectively, with outside rushes. But Linsley and Sitton handled tackles Brandon Mebane and Ahtyba Rubin without giving up anything in the middle of the pocket.
So when Bennett and Irvin turned the corner, Rodgers had a huge lane to his left, which he ran through and made a throw that perhaps no other quarterback in the league can. Going left, he wheeled and fired across his body a laser into the end zone between two closing defensive backs for the touchdown.
Similarly, in the Packers’ drive to a field goal in the final seconds of the first half, they had a first down at the Seahawks’ 35. Avril speed-rushed Barclay, who took a deep set and made the trip to the quarterback a long one. By the time Avril turned the corner, Rodgers was headed through a gaping hole to his right that opened because Linsley and Lang had stonewalled Bennett, who rushed inside on that play, and Sitton handled Frank Clark without help.
Rodgers’ maneuvering gave receiver Randall Cobb plenty of time to break free on a crossing route, and Rodgers’ throw on the run connected for a big 25-yard gain that set up a field goal.
Basically, Bakhtiari and Barclay weren’t asked to sit, anchor and stonewall on bull rushes. Their job was to stay in front of their rusher as best they could and try to ride them outside so Rodgers could step up. It was a big challenge, and Seattle won a few of the battles. Bakhtiari gave up a sack each to Bennett and Irvin, and Barclay allowed several pressures.
But it worked because Linsley, Lang and Sitton didn’t get pushed into Rodgers’ lap. Rodgers usually had all the room he needed to skate around and do what he does like nobody else in the game: Make throws on the move outside the pocket.
On the run
The Packers looked like they had a whole new run defense Sunday night.
Just a week ago, they'd given up 141 yards rushing to Chicago’s Matt Forte. So what chance did they have against Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch, who might be the NFL’s best back not named Adrian Peterson?
But the difference in the team’s running schemes actually played to the Packers’ strength. The Bears’ running game with Forte is mostly designed to go outside the tackles and took advantage of the Packers’ failure to contain the edges. But Lynch is a power back and tackle-breaking machine, so the Seahawks run mostly between the tackles. And despite Forte’s numbers last week, the interior of the Packers’ defensive line — mainly B.J. Raji, Mike Pennel and Mike Daniels — had played OK against the Bears.
On Sunday night against Lynch, those three came through.
Typical of the night was a Seahawks run on the second play of the second quarter. Lynch tried a zone run to the right against the Packers’ base 3-4 defense, but Pennel wrecked the play by fighting through a double team block by guard J.R. Sweezy and tackle Garry Gilliam.
At the same time, Raji worked his way down the line without giving up ground to center Drew Nowak. Lynch waited for a lane to open, but there wasn’t one, and Pennel and Raji dumped him for a one-yard loss.
Later in the second quarter, the Seahawks had a first down at the Packers’ 37 and tried a similar run against nickel personnel. But Pennel split a double team, which forced Lynch off his track. Raji stalemated Nowak, and when Lynch cut underneath his center, Clay Matthews closed from inside linebacker and along with Raji dropped Lynch for a two-yard loss.
And on a third down late in the third quarter, Lynch tried a run right up the gut. But Daniels ran through Gilliam's block and tackled Lynch for no gain. Fourth down, end of drive.
That’s how Lynch ended up with a quiet night: 41 yards on 15 carries.
» Rookie receiver Ty Montgomery got the chance to show some of the playmaking talent that jumped out the first couple weeks of training camp. The Packers went to a four-receiver set late in the third quarter and much of the fourth, and Montgomery brought a dynamic element to the offense in that role on his four catches for 37 yards. Probably his biggest play was a third-and-6 with 4:16 left in the game and the Packers driving for the field goal that put them up 27-17. Montgomery ran a crossing route, and though he probably was Rodgers’ third read he caught the quarterback’s attention because he’d run past cornerback Marcus Burley. Rodgers hit Montgomery in stride for a 13-yard gain that kept the chains moving and the clock running.
» When Sam Shields tackled receiver Tyler Lockett for no gain on a bubble screen on the Seahawks’ first play, he celebrated like he’d just won the Super Bowl. Hard to blame him. He had a rough game last week against Chicago, including whiffing on a tackle. But seriously, that play set the tone for the Packers’ defense. The Packers tackled like it was a point of emphasis in practice last week, which it no doubt was.
— Former football coach and player Eric Baranczyk offers his analysis of Green Bay Packers games each week. Follow him on Twitter @EricBaranczyk1
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty