Pack hopes rest on the line

GREEN BAY – Green Bay's offensive line needs to shake off one of its most brutal performances of the season and propel the Packers into the playoffs.<p> That was the message to the front five from Packers head coach Mike Sherman.<p>

Sherman singled out the line as the unit that must provide momentum for Green Bay in the last three games of the regular season and beyond.

"When our offensive line plays well, we usually win the football game," Sherman said. "I put pressure on them that they have to deliver for us the rest of the way. In the Super Bowl seasons of 1996 and 1997, the offensive line took control of games, and that's what we need to do."

This year's line has been solid enough to help running back Ahman Green rush for 1,103 yards in the first 13 games, and keep most defenders off the back of quarterback Brett Favre. Favre is on pace to escape this season with the lowest sack total of his career.

But there have been valleys along side those peaks. Against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Favre was constantly harassed. And last Sunday, against the Tennessee Titans, Favre was under pressure and Green rushed for a season-low nine yards on nine carries.

"I don't think we were getting off the ball as quick as they were in that game," Sherman said. "They were and we weren't. And that had a lot to do with them controlling the tempo of the game."

The line has played with some aches and pains. Left tackle Chad Clifton sprained an ankle and missed two games, then hurt his Achilles tendon. He had bad games against Jacksonville and Tennessee. Right guard Marco Rivera broke his hand and is playing with a cast on it. In the last two games Sherman switched right tackle Mark Tauscher to Rivera's spot, and played veteran Earl Dotson at tackle.

"Marco has done a nice job, but he is in pain," Sherman said. "Maybe we're relying too much on an injured player, but he has played well. All of these guys have played a lot of football, so I expect them to be ready and play."

Favre has been sacked only 19 times this season in 13 games, an average of 1.5 per game. If that holds up, he would finish with 24 sacks, by far the lowest of his career. He was sacked 31 times in 1997. And that came right after he was sacked a career-high 46 times in the Super Bowl-winning season of 1996.

"I think sacks are a result of numerous things," Sherman said. "You have to have a quarterback who is aware and is able to get rid of the ball. Plus, you hope your receivers are getting open and making catches. Overall, I think we have done a pretty good in protection."

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