That protection will be put to the test on Sunday at Buffalo.
The Bills feature the NFL’s best pass rush with a league-high 48 sacks. Through Week 14, defensive end Mario Williams is tied for sixth in the league with 12.0 sacks, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus is tied for 10th with 10.0 sacks and defensive end Jerry Hughes is tied for 12th with 9.5 sacks.
“This is going to be a tough week,” Rodgers said on his weekly radio show on ESPN Milwaukee on Tuesday. “This is a great defense. This is a team that has played well at home and they really get after the quarterback. They have three guys in the top 12 (in sacks); three different guys with at least 9.5 sacks. That’s pretty impressive. They throw a lot of different things at you.”
Green Bay is tied for 14th in sacks allowed with 27, though that is something of a misleading stat. According to ProFootballFocus.com, the Packers’ line has allowed 16 sacks and ranks fifth in the league in pass blocking efficiency, which measures sacks, hits and hurries per total passing plays.
“I think this is going to be an excellent matchup between all the lines,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said on Tuesday. “It’s going to dictate the way the game goes based on who wins the battle in the trenches. I think you’ve got matchups on both sides of the ball, offense and defense. Our offensive line’s playing very well. Their defensive line’s playing very well. We’re playing up there on a fast track on their FieldTurf. Crowd noise will be a challenge. Buffalo’s a tough place to play, so this will be a big challenge for our guys.”
In the last five games, Rodgers has been sacked six times. Only three of those have been charged to the line. Against New England and Atlanta, Rodgers faced a steady diet of four-man rushes or three-man rushes with a fourth defender serving as a spy. Those defenses weren’t trying to sack Rodgers as much as they were trying to corral him in the pocket to prevent him from making big plays by breaking containment.
“There hasn’t been a lot of really nice rushes where they’re jetting upfield and trying to get you off the spot. It’s more of a containment rush with a lot of spying,” Rodgers said.
It hasn’t worked. Against those teams, Rodgers threw for 695 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions.
As he did after the game, Rodgers saluted his blockers on Tuesday. The same starting five have opened 12 of the 13 games. Guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton have been dominant. Rookie Corey Linsley has grown into a top-tier center, right tackle Bryan Bulaga has had a big bounce-back season after missing most of the last two seasons with injuries and left tackle David Bakhtiari has continued to improve after an impressive rookie season.
“They’ve been healthy since Week 3,” Rodgers said. “We’ve had the same offensive line and the guys have really jelled together. Dave’s gotten bigger, gotten stronger and he’s been very consistent for us. T.J. and Josh are guys who are plateauing at their peak. They’re playing really, really good football and they’ve stayed at their peak the last few years, and that’s a credit to the way that they take care of themselves and their preparation. Bryan Bulaga, being healthy has been great because he’s a right tackle who can really set the edge but also handle the bull rush. And then Corey Linsley has been a very talented guy for us at center who just gets better every week.”
Give Rodgers time and the defense is going to pay. For the season, his rating with at least 2.6 seconds in the pocket is a league-high 128.8, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Buffalo, with 12 players having at least one sack, will stress the Packers’ protection to the max.
“When I have the kind of time that I’ve had, especially the last couple weeks, guys are able to keep moving and I’m able to extend plays and get things happening,” Rodgers said. “Every now and then, there’ll be a player where I have to juke a guy in the hole and make stuff happen but, the majority of the time, it’s having 3, 4, 5 seconds back there as they’re taking away the early looks and I’m able to move and guys are able to do second and third reactions, and then good things happen.”
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