It's on Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers.
For the Green Bay Packers, the fate of this season rests in the hands of the offensive line coach, head coach/play-caller, quarterback, right tackle and left tackle. Not to mention anyone else involved in pass protection and a receiving corps that simply hasn't gotten open quickly enough often enough.
Everything else is just background noise. Pass protection — the need to prevent defenses from exchanging high-fives over the flat-on-the-ground body of Rodgers — is what will spell the difference between this being a championship season and just another season.
It wasn't quite as bad as the Seattle game, when Rodgers was sacked eight times in the first half, but Sunday night's loss to the Giants was a bad, bad omen for what's to come.
At 7-4, Green Bay is in control of its fate in the NFC North and the playoff race. However, its position is precarious, to state the obvious. The NFC is really good and the pass protection on Sunday was really bad.
Rodgers was sacked five times by the rampaging Giants. On 33 dropbacks, he was sacked, hit or pressured on 17 occasions. That pressure rate of 51.5 percent is the highest any quarterback in the league has faced this season, according to ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert and ESPN Stats & Information data.
"The New York Giants have an outstanding defensive line. We knew that coming in," McCarthy said. "We've really known that for the last couple years. We had a plan. We didn't execute it very well. We got away from it. We went to some spread things and that wasn't the answer. That was probably poor play selection on my part. But they did a hell of a job tonight. They were dynamic, very talented and very productive."
Lang, making his second start of the season at right tackle since moving from left guard to replace the injured Bryan Bulaga, had a miserable game. The Packers have no other options there. They'll have to sink or swim with Lang. At left tackle, Newhouse has had an outstanding season in pass protection but couldn't keep the Giants' talented defensive ends at bay one-on-one for the entire game. Osi Umenyiora's sick spin move against Newhouse, which resulted in a sack, fumble and turnover late in the first half, was a potential 10- or 14-point swing and essentially put the game on ice.
It's not all on the line, of course. The Giants' defensive backs were velcroed to the Packers' receivers for most of the game. Eleven games into the season, the Packers haven't found a way to beat Cover-2. Give McCarthy credit for sticking with the run, which is a big key to getting defenses out of Cover-2, but too often it's like banging his head into a wall. The lack of success has meant too many third-and-long situations, which means more chances for defenses to tee off on the porous pass protection.
Only Arizona has allowed more sacks than the 37 yielded by Green Bay. That puts it on pace for 54 sacks. That would be the second-most in franchise history, with Don Majkowski, Anthony Dilweg and Blair Kiel being flattened 62 times in 1990. Rodgers absorbed 50 sacks in 2009. That season, of course, ended with Rodgers getting sacked and the Cardinals returning the ensuing fumble for the winning touchdown in a wild-card game.
"When your quarterback is under pressure, I thought it affected me tonight. And with that, I probably didn't call the best game I've called in my time doing this," McCarthy said. "You have to protect your quarterback. It's the No. 1 responsibility of our offense. You'd be hypocritical to sit here and say that we built our offense around making the quarterback successful, starting with the runs, protection and into the passing game, and then we're going to go out and he's going to take that many hits. That's not what we're looking for."
The Packers need to find answers, and they need to find them quickly. The Vikings (next week and Week 17), the Lions (Week 14) and Bears (Week 15) boast three of the best defensive lines in the NFL. The season might boil down to that game at Chicago, which is tied for fifth with 30 sacks. The Bears are tied in sacks with the Giants, who at this point would be the opponent in the playoff opener. San Francisco or Atlanta potentially would await in the divisional round and/or the championship game. The 49ers' Aldon Smith leads the NFL with 16.5 sacks and the Falcons' John Abraham is tied for sixth with nine sacks.
"We'll have to look at the film and look at the execution and learn from it and get better," Rodgers said. "Teams are going to play us like this so we're going to have to have answers and execute better than we've done most of the season."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.