Line's struggles ground rushing attack

From missed blocks to simply being overpowered, PackerReport.com's Steve Lawrence saw an offensive line Thursday night that was dominated by Jacksonville's front seven.

Three yards and a cloud of dust.

The Green Bay Packers can only wish their rushing attack was that good.

Facing the kind of test they'll have against NFC North rivals Chicago and Minnesota, Green Bay's running game failed miserably during Thursday night's preseason loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

If you're looking for blame, there's plenty to go around.

Start with the No. 1 offensive line, which was supposed to be the strength of a suspect offense entering this season. You heard the offseason spin coming out of 1265 Lombardi Ave. Young guards Jason Spitz and Daryn Colledge and center Scott Wells were more experienced. They were more powerful, thanks to a year in Rock Gullickson's strength-training regimen. They were no longer neophytes in coach Mike McCarthy's zone-blocking scheme.

I bought into the hype, too. It all seemed so logical.

So what happened on Thursday? The Packers rushed nine times for 10 yards during the first half, when it was starters vs. starters.

To be fair, injuries have slowed the development during training camp. With the Packers thin in the backfield, McCarthy admittedly has called more pass plays during preseason games than he would have liked. In the first half on Thursday, the Packers ran 28 passing plays (27 attempts and one sack) and just nine runs.

On top of that, Spitz left the game in the first quarter after aggravating a calf injury.

Still, the on-the-field work offered plenty of reason for pessimism with little time to get the errors corrected.

On the first play of the game, for instance, dependable left tackle Chad Clifton badly missed his block against right defensive end Reggie Hayward. That forced fullback Korey Hall to pick up Hayward, leaving linebacker Clint Ingram free to force the play outside to cornerback Brian Williams, who easily beat the block of receiver Greg Jennings and stopped Brandon Jackson for a 1-yard gain.

On other occasions, the Packers' blockers whiffed in their attempts to block linebackers. On the opening possession, after four consecutive passes, Colledge and Spitz both missed their blocks against Jaguars linebackers, limiting Jackson to 2 yards. Later, when the Packers actually won at the line of scrimmage, Spitz's replacement, Junius Coston, missed linebacker Mike Peterson, who limited Jackson to a 2-yard gain.

When Jackson fumbled in the first quarter, it was because Spitz failed to cut off defensive tackle Marcus Stroud. Stroud simply beat Spitz down the line of scrimmage and blew up the play. It was a tough block for Spitz — Stroud was lined up to Spitz's left on a running play to the left — but those blocks are critical in the zone scheme.

Too frequently, the Packers missed their backside blocks, so when Jackson cut back to daylight, he was swallowed up. On one play, right tackle Mark Tauscher didn't block anyone. When Jackson cut back to the right to what should have been alley, he was brought down for a 1-yard gain.

Other times, the line was simply overpowered. On a second-and-6 toss late in the first quarter, no fewer than seven Jaguars defenders had penetrated the Packers' side of the line of scrimmage before Jackson even had time to think about making a move. He gained 1 yard.

The Jaguars, with massive and talented tackles Stroud and John Henderson anchoring last year's second-ranked defense, provide a perfect test for a Packers team that will play four games against the mighty defensive tackle tandems the Bears and Vikings put on the field. On Thursday, the Packers' blockers simply weren't up to the task.

The line wasn't always to blame, though. On that toss I just described, the play might have worked anyway had Donald Driver, who was lined up in a tight slot to the right, not been pushed 4 yards into the backfield, causing a pileup at the point of attack.

Neither of the fullbacks, Brandon Miree or Hall, did anything to warrant being the opening-day starter. Jackson's inexperience doesn't help, either. Once, it looked like he might have had some space, but instead of following Hall to the outside, he cut back inside and was tackled for a minimal gain.

Then, there was the play-calling. Perhaps it was McCarthy being cautious due to the injury situation, but he called back-to-back runs only once in the first half. It's tough to get into a groove as a run blocker when you're a passive pass blocker on three out of every four plays.

McCarthy summed up the run game perfectly when asked if he would consider keeping both of his talented kickers.

"If one of them can run block," McCarthy said, "maybe we can find a spot for him."

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


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