Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY

Better Pass Protection Should Aid Packers in Rematch

The Packers allowed nine sacks against Arizona in Week 16. Whether it's the return of David Bakhtiari or the play of J.C. Tretter, the Packers should be in a better position to protect Aaron Rodgers.

Other than the final score of 38-8, the most memorable number from the Arizona Cardinals’ demolition of the Green Bay Packers in Week 16 was their nine sacks.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers fumbled on three of those sacks, with the Cardinals recovering two of them and returning them for touchdowns to turn the game into a romp.

Green Bay should be in a better position to protect Rodgers in Saturday’s night’s NFC Divisional playoff rematch at Arizona. After missing the last three games with an injured ankle, left tackle David Bakhtiari could be ready to return to the starting lineup. On Monday, Packers coach Mike McCarthy anticipated Bakhtiari practicing on Wednesday.

Bakhtiari’s replacement in the first matchup, Don Barclay, allowed four sacks – two of which resulted in fumbles. After moving left guard Josh Sitton to left tackle for the season finale vs. Minnesota, they went with J.C. Tretter at left tackle in Sunday’s Wild Card victory over Washington. The results were much better. After allowing a first-quarter sack and safety, Tretter didn’t allow so much as a pressure against Preston Smith, the NFL’s rookie sack leader. Tretter played so well that McCarthy wasn’t forced to sacrifice a target in the passing game by using a tight end or running back as an extra blocker.

“I think they understood I was fine,” Tretter said about the safety after the game. “I just had to fix what I needed to fix and I don’t think they were really worried at all. It was just about settling down and fixing my set and moving on from there. I think they knew I wasn’t going to panic or anything like that.”

The line’s play was a major reason why Rodgers got on a bit of a roll. After allowing 14 sacks the past two games, Green Bay allowed just one. The Packers had allowed at least two sacks in the final 13 games of the regular season.

“We feel the offensive line did a really good job last night,” Packers offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said on Monday night. “J.C. did a good job. We had the one sack on the safety; certainly, the communication could have been better in that situation. But overall, they did a really good job and moving forward we feel we’ll continue to do that.”

The play of the Packers’ offensive line was evident to Cardinals coach Bruce Arians. Not only did the Packers not have Bakhtiari, but right tackle Bryan Bulaga dropped out in the third quarter with an ankle injury. His replacement, Josh Walker, gave up one sack, which resulted in a fumble that was returned for a touchdown.

With Tretter at left tackle and Bulaga back at right tackle, the Packers scored 35 points in the final three quarters to beat the Redskins.

“They ran the football extremely well and protected,” Arians said during a Tuesday morning conference call. “I expect them, especially if Bakhtiari’s back, to have their full complement. They were down three offensive linemen the last time they were here.”

Bill Huber is publisher of 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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.


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