Room For Improvement: Offense, Part 1

New coordinator Tom Clements listed four things the Packers' record-setting offense can improve upon. We break those down, leading off in Part 1 of this series with Clements' desire to limit unnecessary sacks.

What can the Green Bay Packers' offense do for an encore after a record-setting 2011, and how can new offensive coordinator Tom Clements put his stamp on that prolific unit?

"We're going to try to be as good as we can be, and whatever that puts us (statistically), that's where it'll put us," Clements said on Tuesday. "Our goal, we don't have many statistical goals as an offense, but our goal as a team is to win the championship. To do that, we're going to have to be efficient on offense and be productive, be explosive, take care of the ball."

When asked by Packer Report to name a few areas of improvement, Clements pinpointed four areas. We bring them to you in this four-part series. Statistics are from Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus.

"Taking unnecessary sacks"

For as long as Aaron Rodgers is the Packers' quarterbacks, the Packers probably will be among the teams giving up the most sacks. It's Rodgers' tight-rope approach to playing quarterback, and it's served him well, by and large. Before last season, then-offensive coordinator Joe Philbin's goal was to get the sack number cut to 24. Instead, Rodgers absorbed 36 sacks — tied for sixth in the NFL — and Matt Flynn was sacked three times to push that total to 39. In Rodgers' four seasons as the starter, he's taken 34, 50, 31 and 36 sacks, or an average of 37.8. Last season, Rodgers was to blame for eight sacks.

On the other hand, Rodgers has made a bunch of big plays, with his ability to buy time allowing his prolific receivers that extra split-second to break loose in the secondary. That's partially reflected in his league-high 131.4 ranking against the blitz — the second-best figure in the NFL since the league began tracking that stat in 1993.

Last year's sack total obscures the fact the Packers protected Rodgers relatively well. Last season, of the 36 quarterbacks who participated in at least 25 percent of his team's offensive snaps, Rodgers felt pressure 27.4 percent of the time — ninth-best in the league. To underline the underrated performance of the offensive line: In the New York Life Protection Index, a propriety formula used by STATS LLC that's comprised of a length of a team's pass attempts, penalties by the offensive line, sacks, hurries and knockdowns, the Packers' offensive line ranked ninth. That's the team's first top-10 finish since 2007.

Reason for hope: Marshall Newhouse will get better. Thrown into the fray after Chad Clifton' early-season hamstring injury, Newhouse allowed eight sacks. Of the 58 offensive tackles (left and right) who played at least half of his team's snaps, that was tied for the 14th-most allowed in the league. Moreover, he tied for the 10th-most quarterback hits allowed with seven, allowed the fifth-most hurries with 39 and tied for the fifth-most total pressures allowed with 54. Those are big numbers considering he started 13 games.

"The thing is with him is he doesn't make the same mistake twice," offensive line coach James Campen said on Tuesday. "He's building his library as a professional football player. He's a very smart kid that understands how important it is to protect the back side of the quarterback. He will get better. I expect him to make big strides."

Reason for pessimism: In 2009, Rodgers was sacked 50 times. That number was reduced to 31 in 2010. Philbin wanted that number reduced further, but instead, Rodgers was sacked 36 times and at least once in each of his first 14 starts. Rodgers has learned from experience in one regard — going from back-to-back seasons of 10 fumbles apiece to back-to-back season of four fumbles apiece — but when it comes to sacks, Rodgers is content to trade sacks for big plays.


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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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