Lining up for failure

Packers must get better in trenches on both sides of ball, says Packer Report's Bob Fox

The 2008 Green Bay Packers started out the season going 2-0 behind the excellent QB play of Aaron Rodgers. But the wheels have fallen off in the last two weeks as the Packers were beat in the trenches by both the Dallas Cowboys and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on both sides of ball.

The Packers offensive line has looked for consistency for a couple of years now. Even in 2007, it played well overall, there were times when players were not executing their assignments. Daryn Colledge was the biggest culprit then. The Packers drafted Josh Sitton and Breno Giacomini in April to upgrade the depth on the line. Sitton was given every opportunity to start at RG in the preseason, until a knee injury sidelined him.

Injuries have caused other issues on the line as well. Jason Spitz has had to play musical chairs along the line because of injuries to Sitton and center Scott Wells, who has been bothered by a lower trunk injury. First, Spitz played LG as Sitton started at RG. Then Spitz played RG as Colledge move in at LG. Plus, Spitz has had to play C because of the Wells' injury situation.

On top of all that, both veteran tackles, Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton, are not playing up to their usual excellent levels of play. The result? The ground game has been largely ineffective and the pass blocking has been very porous, especially in the Dallas and Tampa Bay games. Add to all of that, is the backs, namely Brandon Jackson, have had blocking issues with their blitz pickups.

To make matters worse, Ryan Grant has fumbled in two straight games at inopportune times. Plus, Rodgers has had to elude pass rushers the last couple of games, making his reads difficult. The first of Rodgers' three interceptions in the Tampa Bay game was caused by a receiver (Jackson) deflecting an excellent throw and the other was caused by a blindside hit. The third was caused by a blitz, where Rodgers failed to recognize his hot read.

The O-line started somewhat slowly in 2007, especially with run blocking, so the Packers have to hope that things will turn around quickly this year as well. It better, because Rodgers is already playing with a sprained throwing shoulder.

Grant needs to start playing like he did in the second half of the 2007 season pretty soon. The fumbling needs to stop. Grant was late to training camp because of his contract status. Then he suffered a hamstring injury. Supposedly, the hamstring is feeling pretty good now. The Packers desperately need a ground game to offset the pass rush that they have encountered the last two games.

As bad as things are for the offensive line, the defensive line took a BIG hit with Cullen Jenkins being lost for the year with a torn pectoral muscle. Jenkins was having an excellent year as well. The depth on the defensive line is now dangerously low and it was already an issue before Jenkins' injury.

Aaron Kampman is still a stud at LDE. But now the Packers have to scramble about making sure Kampman has a bookend on the other side. The Packers will probably use Mike Montgomery at first to replace Jenkins at RDE. Jason Hunter will also get opportunities. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila has been fairly ineffective as of late in pass rushing situations at RDE because of a sore knee. The Packers also just signed ex-Jaguar DE Kenneth Pettway to help offset the dire situation.

The play at defensive tackle has not been real effective as of late, either. The Cowboys rushed for more than 200 yards. The Bucs ran for 178 yards. The three man rotation at DT of Ryan Pickett, Johnny Jolly and Colin Cole have to play better. The Packers are hoping that help might arrive after Week 6 when Justin Harrell might be available after coming off the PUP list because of a back injury. Harrell has excellent potential, but injuries always seem to be knocking on his door.

An old saying goes that "football games are won in the trenches. I believe that adage. The Packers are still 2-2 and lead the NFC North, along with the Chicago Bears after a quarter of the 2008 season. But for improvement to take place in the remainder of the season, the Packers need to get the issues on both sides of the line taken care of. Otherwise, they will be lining up for failure.

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