Pressure is on Rodgers to avoid sacks

Favre's pocket presence had as much to do with the Packers' low sack totals as his offensive line's prowess, Packer Report's Matt Tevsh writes.

Saying the Packers' offensive line looked horrible last week is a matter of perspective. Sure, the guys who provide the protection might say their performance against the 49ers failed to live up to standards, but surely they need more help from their quarterbacks.

In recent years, and for more than a decade really, Brett Favre gave Packers fans a false notion. He made them believe his offensive line could switch players around and not miss a beat. He gave them the impression his line pass protected better than anyone in the league. And more than anything, he made them think his big guys up front would be a non-issue on a weekly basis.

While Favre is gone, and the Packers and their fans have seemed to move on, much of the offensive line remains. That makes their performance on Saturday seem puzzling. Or should it?

Packers coaches, though they have been shuffling players along the interior offensive line for various reasons, will lead the public to believe the problems are minimal. Even general manager Ted Thompson seems to agree.

"I think we have more talent in the offensive line than ever since I got back here, and I'm encouraged by it," said Thompson, who returned to Green Bay in a GM role in 2005. "I think the young guys are doing well. I think some of our sophomores and juniors are coming on fine."

The 49ers, expected to be a mediocre defense at best, sacked Packers quarterbacks six times in a 34-6 preseason victory. Yes, it is just the preseason, but that hasn't happened to the Packers in a game since 1998.

The uncommonly high sack total was enough of an eye opener to raise some questions. At the top of the list is whether Aaron Rodgers, or even backups Brian Brohm and Matt Flynn, have the pocket awareness to avoid such damaging plays.

A quarterback's sixth sense in the pocket can mean the difference between allowing one sack a game and three or four, which can kill drives and precious scoring chances. It can mean finding the hot receiver in the face of a blitz, side-stepping or feeling an oncoming pass rush, or simply throwing the ball away to avoid a big loss.

The best quarterbacks in the game a year ago exhibited an uncanny ability to deal with defenders in the face of pressure. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Favre are known for their strong arms and mind-boggling statistics, but it is their presence in the pocket that makes them who they are. It also makes their blockers who they are.

Rodgers, in his first year as an NFL starter, is arguably a better athlete than Brady, Manning and Favre, and has all the skills to be successful, but all such traits will be thrown out the window if he fails to avoid the big hit, or the big loss, like last week. Same goes for Brohm and Flynn.

The Packers' offense will suffer this season if they put themselves in long down-and-distance situations like they did against the 49ers. Not only will it make for a difficult first down to gain, but it will take the focus away from the running game, make life difficult for the offensive line and perhaps most visibly, make Rodgers look like a bad quarterback.

The possibility pocket presence is not a learned quality should at least have some Packers fans concerned heading into the regular season. Everyone knows that the nature of the Packers' quarterback position this year will lend itself to mistakes, but certain inherent traits might not be correctable by quarterbacks coach Tom Clements, coach Mike McCarthy or anybody else, for that matter.

The Packers' offensive line is probably not as bad as it looked last week, but it might not be that good, either. Favre made them look better than they are. Just keep that in mind when Rodgers is under pressure this year.

Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com.


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