Offensive Line Leads Charge

Again and again during his postgame press conference, Aaron Rodgers pointed to his offensive line as a primary reason why the Packers won at Tampa Bay on Sunday. It's just the latest strong game by Green Bay's front wall. (Kim Klement/USA TODAY)

Aaron Rodgers might be the league’s 2014 MVP, but he left little doubt about who was the MVP of the Green Bay Packers’ 20-3 victory at Tampa Bay.

Time and again, Rodgers pointed to the offensive line as the driving force in Sunday’s playoff-clinching victory.

Was his movement impacted by a calf injury sustained on the second possession of the game?

“The line did good job blocking so I didn’t really have to move a whole lot to get out of the pocket,” Rodgers said.

How about Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson combining for 20 receptions for 244 yards?

“They made some great catches, some good routes. But it starts up front,” Rodgers said. “It starts with the protection. The protection was great. Guys did a great job giving me some time and I was able to sit back there and not have to move around a whole lot and throw the ball on time.”

Eddie Lacy’s power and speed on his 44-yard touchdown run?

“Well, I’ve got to give the line credit on that,” Rodgers said. “They blocked well. Eddie broke a tackle there right at the line of scrimmage but we’d actually talked about running that play the last couple days and how they were going to block it. They were going to make an adjustment to the way they usually block that stretch play.”

What about the last touchdown drive?

“The line did a good job of giving us some time and we made some plays,” Rodgers said.

And how about the offense going into a NFC North winner-takes-all matchup against Detroit and its league-leading defense next week?

“The greatest jump that we’ve seen from early in the season is the offensive line play,” Rodgers said. “It’s been so consistent. They’ve been healthy and it’s been the same group since Week 3. Because of that, there’s a great continuity with those guys and they’re blocking their butts off.”

The line deserves the credit and praise for its steady growth into a powerhouse unit. Heading into Sunday’s game, the Packers had averaged 144.0 rushing yards per game and 5.02 yards per carry since the bye. Those figures ranked sixth and second, respectively, since Week 10, according to STATS. That productivity stood in stark contrast to the start of the season. Through the first four games, Green Bay was averaging 73.0 rushing yards per game and 3.53 per carry.

On Sunday? The running game wasn’t dominant, with 28 carries for 124 yards before Matt Flynn took a knee on three consecutive plays to end the game. And it failed to get movement on third-and-1 on the opening series and second- and third-and-goal from the 1 in the third quarter. However, it was good enough against an improving defense that ranked ninth in total yards since Week 8. Lacy rushed 17 times for 99 yards, an average of 5.8 per carry, and fullback John Kuhn had a pair of 11-yard runs.

Despite limited mobility as he battled flu and a calf strain, Rodgers was sacked once, a sack-strip on the second series of the game, and hit just one more time the rest of the game, based on the official play-by-play. He’s been sacked only eight times in the last seven games.

The line faces one of its biggest tests of the season in next week’s division-championship game against Detroit, with the winner earning the No. 2 seed in the NFC and a first-round bye. The Lions held the Packers to seven points in Week 3, and they entered this week ranked first in points against and second in total yards — including first in rushing yards and rushing yards per attempt.

Plenty will be on the line — literally and figuratively.

“That’s definitely going to be a playoff game,” guard T.J. Lang said. “Who doesn’t want to play at home, especially the way we’re playing at home? And I know they would love to have a playoff game at their field, too. So, it’s going to be a big game. It’s going to be a good battle. Obviously, we want to do what we have to do to get a game or two in the playoffs at Lambeau, and it all starts with the Lions, getting a win there.”

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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