Personal Protectors

One overlooked reason why the Packers' passing game is so explosive is the protection work of the running backs. You've heard again and again about Brandon Jackson, but he's not the only man involved. Don't look for much to change under new position coach Jerry Fontenot.

Edgar Bennett's running backs were never the most flashy in the league.

While they didn't win games by juking defenders in the hole or making highlight-reel spin moves, they never lost games by flat-out blowing an assignment in pass protection — no small matter for a team that revolves around the talents of an MVP-caliber quarterback.

When Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy announced in February that he'd be replacing receivers coach Jimmy Robinson with Bennett and replacing Bennett with assistant offensive line coach James Fontenot, the immediate question was whether Fontenot could get his troops to protect with the brains and brawn that were such a hallmark with Bennett in charge.

Pro Football Focus recently published a study showing just how good the Packers' backs were in pass protection last season. Among running backs who stayed in for pass protection at least 60 times last season — pure pass protection, not chip-blocking before running out on a route — Quinn Johnson was the best in the NFL, with Brandon Jackson third and John Kuhn seventh.

The researchers' created this formula to determine Pass Blocking Efficiency: 1.0 for each sack allowed, plus 0.75 for each quarterback hit allowed plus 0.75 for each hurry, divided by the number of snaps in pass protection, multiplied by 100.

Johnson's PBE was a perfect 0.00, meaning he didn't allow so much as a pressure in the regular season or playoffs. Johnson had a couple of things working in his favor. One, he's a big, powerful man who's practically impossible to overpower. Second, there was an element of surprise involved when Johnson was in the game. Of his 284 total snaps, 196 of those were running plays — a whopping 69 percent.

Jackson's PBE was 2.07. The researchers marked Jackson down for allowing three pressures, including one sack. For the record, and showing how much of this can be subjective, our own play-by-play notes show Jackson didn't allow a sack all season. The one in question came against San Francisco on Dec. 5; we placed the blame on Rodgers for holding the ball too long. Either way, Jackson trails only Johnson and the Giants' Ahmad Bradshaw (PBE of 1.42 with three pressures and no sacks in 159 pass blocks) by Pro Football Focus' research.

Kuhn's PBE was 2.80, with four pressures (no sacks) allowed on 107 pass blocks. Down the stretch, Kuhn wound up taking a decent percentage of the third-down snaps that Jackson had been getting as McCarthy tried to find roles for James Starks (two pressures allowed, both in playoffs), Jackson and Kuhn.

As for Fontenot's philosophy? It won't change one bit from what Bennett preached.

"The second-most important job is protect the QB because we have a special one and we have to give him as many opportunities to succeed as possible," Fontenot said — the No. 1 priority being not fumbling. "In order to do that, we have to know what our adjustments are and we have to be able to get there and do a good job. Edgar did an outstanding job of coaching our running backs and making sure that they had a full grasp of the protection schemes. That is something that will continue."


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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.


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