It's never just the offensive line. Sometimes, it's the line. Sometimes, it's the quarterback. Sometimes, the running back misses a block. Sometimes, the receivers aren't getting open. Sometimes, the coaching staff is to blame.
In that light, Packer Report talked to offensive coordinator Tom Clements, quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo, offensive line coach James Campen and receivers coach Edgar Bennett to find some answers for why the Green Bay Packers allowed five sacks at New York and 37 for the season.
Even with the alarming sack numbers, you might be surprised to know the Packers have protected Rodgers relatively well this season.
Of the 34 quarterbacks who have taken 25 percent of their team's snaps this season, Rodgers has been pressured 28.7 percent of the time. That's the 12th-highest rate in the league, according to data compiled by ProFootballFocus.com.
Sunday at New York, however, was a debacle. Not only was Rodgers sacked five times, but he was pressured on 21 of 33 dropbacks — a whopping 63.6 percent, according to Pro Football Focus.
"Any time that quarterback gets hit – it's not just sacks, it's a hit or a pressure – it's a big deal," Campen said. "The quarterback has to be protected. We all know at times he's not going to be and there's going to be times he gets hit, but the frequency is too great. Yeah, it's a big deal."
The pressure points against the Giants were at left tackle, where Marshall Newhouse was having an outstanding season in pass protection, and right tackle, where T.J. Lang was making his second start in place of Bryan Bulaga.
In the regular-season game at New York last season, Jason Pierre-Paul dominated Newhouse. Not this time. While Newhouse won against the explosive third-year defensive end, he couldn't handle veteran Osi Umenyiora.
"Fundamentals. He just got out of his fundamentals," Campen said. "There were times when you watch it as we do, over and over, he blocks him just fine and does a great job. Then he got out of his fundamental toolbox and things snowballed. It's another learning situation for him. That's what happened."
Pierre-Paul, on the other hand, thrashed Lang. Give Lang credit for battling, but he's out of position, fighting through a bad elbow and having to adapt to a position change on the fly and without the benefit of a training camp to settle in to the footwork, techniques and nuances of the position.
"No, it's not an excuse whatsoever," Campen said. "I believe in T.J. and everyone believes in T.J. and T.J. believes in himself, and he would be the first guy to say that's not an excuse. Whatever player goes out there and puts a helmet on is expected to play and (play winning football). That's the way it is. Our job is to win, and if you don't win, things happen. That would not be an excuse, nor would T.J. even use that as an excuse."
In Week 3, the Packers allowed eight sacks and Rodgers was pressured on 22 of 49 dropbacks in a 14-12 loss at Seattle. One week later, Rodgers wasn't sacked and was pressured on just seven of 42 dropbacks in beating New Orleans. With Lang making his first start at right tackle at Detroit two weeks ago, Rodgers was sacked three times and pressured on merely eight of 31 dropbacks against Detroit. So, perhaps the doom and gloom coming out of the Giants game is ill-founded.
"Those guys have more pride than you can imagine," Campen said. "Those guys are true pros and they're accountable for their actions, as everybody in this locker room is. Those guys are prideful men and they will have worked and displayed that time and time again and they will come out of this."
It's no secret that Rodgers is part of the blame for the high sack count. So long as Rodgers continues to make big plays without taking big shots and big risks, the coaches will happily accept some sacks for some first downs and touchdowns.
While pressured, no quarterback in the league can match Rodgers' production. According to Pro Football Focus, his seven touchdown passes lead the league and he's tied for first with one interception. Taking throwaways and drops out of the equation, Rodgers' accuracy is 77.8 percent — fourth-best in the league.
"We talk about the fundamentals and making sure we take care of the ball," McAdoo said. "There's a fine line. One of the sacks happened in the red zone when he came out and he had a chance on a third down but it was a shoelace tackle and he was ‘that far' away from getting out and making a big play. There are things that we talk about in the room to help minimize sacks, but there's a fine line as far as extending plays and making big plays out of the pocket, or just chucking the ball into the stands and not having those opportunities.
"He has a knack for it and a natural ability to escape pressure and to make plays. You don't want to handicap that, by any stretch of the imagination."
Running backs and receivers
Several times on NBC's coverage of the game, the producers showed split-screen shots of a receiver corps smothered by the Giants' defensive backs. There were several occasions when the line gave Rodgers ample protection, only for Rodgers to search and search and search for someone to get open.
Bennett was in no mood to talk about his unit's contribution to the problems, saying only: "I don't really have a response to that."
Clements didn't dispute our question about the receivers not getting open quickly enough to help Rodgers, but he also indicated that Rodgers might need to force the issue and trust his accuracy and receivers.
"You can look at a play and say a guy's open or a guy's not open," Clements said. "In the NFL, when a guy's open, he's not open by a large degree. There's going to be tight coverage. The only time a guy's going to be wide open is if someone blows a coverage. They're going to have defenders near them and the quarterback has to be able to throw the guy open, throw him away from the defender."
A better running game would help. Just like the Packers prefer to use their nickel personnel, opposing defenses prefer to play nickel against Green Bay's offense. That leaves six big bodies near the line of scrimmage instead of seven, which is an invitation to run the ball. The Packers, however, have had little success on the ground. On carries by running backs only, the Packers are averaging a dismal 3.24 yards per attempt.
The Packers have been pigeonholed as a pass-first team, so this might come as a surprise: The Packers have run the ball 146 times on first down and thrown it 137 times. That's a big commitment with little payoff. Alex Green is averaging 3.2 yards on first down. James Starks has been an upgrade with a 4.1 average. If the Packers can get more out of their first-down runs, they'll face less pressure on their second- and third-down passes.
After the game, coach Mike McCarthy took some of the blame and second-guessed his play-calling. Interestingly, on the first series of the game, the Packers had a couple of good running plays and then used Tom Crabtree and John Kuhn to block Pierre-Paul. That gave Rodgers time to hit Jordy Nelson for a long touchdown. For most of the game, however, McCarthy chose to spread the field. It didn't work, as Rodgers took a beating. Expect more six- and seven-man protections in the future, but not a reliance on maximum-protection plays.
"It's a tradeoff," Clements said. "Obviously, you're getting more protection and more help, but if you're max protecting, you might not get as many receivers out. Depending on what your mind-set is, you can get them out quicker; you can either have them check a guy, chip a guy, get out; check a guy and get out; or you can have them not check a guy and get out. You try to mix it up."
As bad as the Packers played against New York, Clements said he saw nothing that led him to believe the offense was in big trouble for the stretch run. Newhouse has played better and Lang probably will play better. Greg Jennings' return will bolster the receiving corps. A big loss has refocused everyone after a five-game winning streak.
"It's correctable stuff and we can do things from a scheme standpoint, possibly, to help out," Clements said. "We're going to do what we can to make us the most effective offense we can be."
Added McAdoo: "We look forward to going out on Sunday and taking care of business."
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.