Throwing a block party

Two third-down conversions against the Rams last week show how much the Packers' offensive line — which has protected Brett Favre better than any unit in the league — has improved since Week 1.

Nobody will mistake the Green Bay Packers' offensive line with such renowned groups as the Washington Redskins' "Hogs" of two decades ago. Nobody will mistake rookies Jason Spitz, Daryn Colledge or Tony Moll with All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson. Nobody will mistake center Scott Wells with Chicago's Olin Kreutz.

But the most pleasant surprise of a disappointing 1-4 start to the season has been the development of Green Bay's offensive line.

That was evident in their final game before last weekend's bye. The Packers mounted their best running game of the year, with third-teamer Noah Herron posting his first career 100-yard game and the Packers finishing with 121 rushing yards, or a 4.7-yard average on 26 carries.

Beyond those numbers, the Packers converted both third-and-short opportunities (three yards or less) in which they ran the ball after failing on three of five such runs in their first four games.

"That's one group that has improved," coach Mike McCarthy said. "You can sit there and watch it. Week 1 through 5, they have improved."

Both conversions against the Rams came on third-and-1, and it's not as if the Packers gained four feet when they needed three.

On the first, coming on Green Bay's first drive of the game, Vernand Morency picked up three yards on a running play to the right. Had Scott Wells finished his block against talented defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy, the play would have gained at least another five yards. As it was, right tackle Mark Tauscher pushed defensive end Victor Adeyanju about five yards down the line of scrimmage, right guard Spitz fired out strong to take care of one linebacker, backside guard Colledge cut another linebacker and impressive young fullback Brandon Miree plowed through a safety.

Late in the first half, the Packers converted a third-and-one even more forcefully, with Herron surging through a huge hole off the right side to gain nine yards. Tight end Bubba Franks and Tauscher dominated their men — with Tauscher pushing a lineman to the turf. Spitz whiffed on his block, but got in the way well enough that Herron got past. The backside cut blocks, which the line had been failing to execute early in the season, were made expertly by Colledge and left tackle Chad Clifton.

"I've been telling you guys from week to week to week that it's getting better and better and better," offensive coordinator and zone-blocking guru Jeff Jagodzinski told reporters last week. "We're going to continue to get better, and it's going to get faster, and it's going to get more fundamentally sound."

Contrast Green Bay's rushing numbers against the Rams with what they did in the first four weeks — 81.3 yards per game and 3.3 yards per rush — and the line's improvement is evident.

"It's just getting used to each other," Tauscher said. "We're getting more and more confident that guys are going to be where they're supposed to be. Trust and confidence are big in this system."

The pass blocking — aided in part by rollouts and the frequent use of an extra pass protector — has been sound most of the season. In five games, Green Bay has allowed seven sacks, or one for every 29.6 pass attempts. That rate was tops in the league entering Week 6. The league leaders in fewest sacks allowed entering this past weekend's games, Denver and San Diego, had allowed five sacks in four games, but had attempted barely half as many passes as the Packers.

The Packers' line will be tested severely when the team returns to action on Sunday in Miami. While the Dolphins are one of the league's major disappointments at 1-5, their run defense is as good as it gets in the NFL. They entered Week 6 allowing a league-low 2.9 yards per rush, and they yielded 103 yards on 27 attempts (3.8 average) in Sunday's loss to the New York Jets.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com.


Packer Report Top Stories