Continuity Keeps Rodgers Safe

After a game of musical chairs last season, the Packers' offensive line will be intact for the 15th consecutive game. It's made a world of difference and will be a critical factor against the powerful Bears in the NFC Championship Game.

Maligned in 2009, when the unit employed six different starting combinations and surrendered 50 sacks against quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers' offensive line has been magnificent at times this season.

Good enough, obviously, for the Packers to advance to Sunday's NFC Championship Game at Chicago.

"After everything that happened last year, (and) everything that was said about us, it really is gratifying," left tackle Chad Clifton told The Sports Xchange just after the Packers had dismantled the Atlanta Falcons in the division round last Saturday night. "We feel like, if we do our job, there is enough talent on the group to move the ball against anybody. And (Rodgers) is playing like a special guy right now."

It doesn't hurt, of course, to have a quarterback riding the kind of hot streak that Rodgers is on for the work of a blocking unit to be enhanced. By the count of the Atlanta defensive coaches, Rodgers eluded four would-be sacks, rolling right or left to avoid "free runners" set into jail-break mode by the Falcons' well-timed blitzes, and using his feet to augment his accurate right arm. There were numerous times, too, that the ball came out of Rodgers' hand too quickly for the Atlanta pass rush to have an effect.

But to assign all the credit to Rodgers, who last season became only the seventh quarterback in NFL history to absorb 50 sacks and still throw for 4,000 yards -- a career-best 4,434 yards -- would be to ignore the work of a Green Bay line that has performed well for much of the season.

And which is turning it up even further in the playoffs.

"We've played together enough now that we've gained some continuity," said right guard Josh Sitton. "We all know our jobs. There's a comfort zone. There hasn't been the kind of shuffling that we had (in 2009)."

Relegated to a line-dance of sorts last season, when the unit used eight different starters, the Packers by comparison have been a paragon of consistency in 2010. The unit has used only six different starters. Four of the five positions have had the same starter for all 18 games, counting the postseason. The only multi-starter spot has been at right tackle, where 11-year veteran mark Tauscher was sidelined by a shoulder injury four games into the season, and first-round rookie Bryan Bulaga has been the starter for the past 14 contests.

It might be relatively easy, given the play of Rodgers and the galaxy of skill-position playmakers surrounding him, to overlook the line. Rodgers, though, certainly hasn't.

Said Rodgers, after passing for 366 yards and registering a 136.8 quarterback rating versus the Falcons, late Saturday night: "They've really played so well together. The stability has helped them ... and it's definitely helped me."

Counting the playoffs in 2009, Rodgers was sacked 55 times in 17 games. In the same number of outings in 2010 -- he missed the Dec. 19 game at New England with a concussion -- the six-year veteran has been sacked 35 times. There were nine games in '09, including an overtime playoff loss at Arizona, in which Rodgers was sacked three or more times. He's been sacked three times or more on just five occasions this season. In six of Rodgers' past seven starts, he's absorbed two sacks or fewer.

"The times that we've let down a little, he's picked us up, getting away from people," said left guard Daryn Colledge. "It works both ways."

Falcons' defensive end John Abraham, who posted one sack against Rodgers on Saturday but whiffed on two other would-be takedowns, said it was "frustrating" playing against the slippery quarterback. But he reserved some of his praise, too, for Clifton and the Green Bay blockers. "For a team that throws the ball as much as they do ... they're very good," Abraham said.

They'll have to be very good, too, on Sunday in the NFC title game. The Chicago Cover-2 scheme has been problematic at times for Rodgers, and Bears' ends Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije have had strong 2010 performances. But the Packers permitted the Bears only two sacks in two regular-season meetings -- none in a Sept. 27 loss -- and have been pretty diligent in protecting their meal ticket.

"We know," said Clifton, "that if we keep the pocket as clean as possible, he's going to make something good happen for us."

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