Get the unit set early to build continuity.
Be more physical.
Play better at the start of the season.
So far, so very, very not good.
After two games — including Sunday's 31-24 upset loss to Cincinnati — Aaron Rodgers is on pace to be sacked 80 times. That's assuming he survives for all 16 games. A healthy Ryan Grant vowed he'd return to his 2007 form, when he averaged 5.1 yards per carry. Through two games, his 3.6-yard average is worse than last year's 3.9 average.
Taken together, the Packers have scored 45 points in two games. The defense is responsible for almost half of them, with three interceptions turning into one touchdown and setting up two others by putting the offense at the Bears' 1-yard line and the Bengals' 11.
"Our pass protection is a negative right now," coach Mike McCarthy said after Sunday's loss. "First of all, running the football will help that. I understand that, but when you set a plan, you put things into your plan, they are done with good reason and with the focus of putting players in the position to be successful. And we're not protecting the quarterback very well right now. I'm going to have to look at it. I don't know if he was holding the ball on some of those or so forth."
The Packers appear to be in big, big trouble.
They have so little faith in right tackle Allen Barbre that they spent a lot of the game giving him help with either a running back or tight end. Now, with Chad Clifton out with an ankle injury, they have just as big of a question mark at left tackle, where Daryn Colledge was thrashed by Antwan Odom.
"You're in the National Football League," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "You have certain responsibility on every play. In pass protection, your job is to keep your body in between the quarterback and the defender. We didn't do that well enough today in a lot of spots."
Other than to max protect on every snap, which would mean only two or three receiving threats running against five, six or seven defenders, McCarthy doesn't have many tricks up his sleeve.
Clifton went down on the Packers' first snap of the second half. Including that possession, which ended in a Grant fumble, and the next three, which ended in punts, Green Bay yielded a sack on every possession.
On most of the plays, McCarthy either called for a quick pass or kept in extra blockers, though Philbin disagreed with the notion that the line's problems rendered a large percentage of the playbook null and void.
"I don't think so," Philbin said. "We had a good plan. We felt good about the game plan against the Bengals. Felt confident in the plan that we put together. We thought we had practiced it a little bit better than we had the week before."
The execution, however, was horrible.
A few plays after Clifton was carted off the field with the Packers trailing 28-21, Odom beat Colledge for his second sack of the game even though only three players went into the route. Barbre and a tight end double-teamed left defensive end Robert Geathers, and fullback John Kuhn put a third body on Geathers. On the other side, however, Odom beat Colledge one-on-one for the sack.
"It was a lot tougher than it should've been. That's the facts," Colledge said of his move to left tackle. "I needed to play my technique. I had some very good drives; I did a good job on a couple. And, then, I had some complete meltdowns. That's just unacceptable. When you're filling in for a guy, you need to be better on your technique and need to be a better player. I know I'm Chad's backup, I need to be prepared to take that role on, and tonight, I guess I wasn't."
That drive ended at the Bengals' 35 on Grant's fumble, and the next drive reached the Bengals' 31. On first-and-10, McCarthy sent out only one receiver with two tight ends and two running backs. Tight end Donald Lee thumped Odom before going out on his route. That let Odom free, but Grant was there to pick him up. That was the plan, anyway. Grant put a shoulder into Odom but that barely slowed him down, and when Rodgers' first read — the only receiver, Greg Jennings — was covered, he was flushed from the pocket and sacked by Odom.
The Packers got the ball back with 9:30 remaining in the game and still trailing 28-21. A quick-hitting completion to Jermichael Finley picked up 17 yards to the 33. On second-and-10, McCarthy sent out all five eligible players (three receivers, a tight end and a back) for one of the few times in the second half. Both Barbre and Colledge were trashed by outside rushes, with Odom getting to Rodgers first.
Still trailing by seven with 4:02 remaining, Odom sacked Rodgers again on third-and-8 to force a three-and-out punt. This was the worst sack of them all. The three receivers went out but Finley and running back DeShawn Wynn stayed in to block.
Finley and Wynn bolstered the protection up the middle, where Geathers was crashing inside and Chris Crocker was on a safety blitz. Linebacker Brandon Johnson blitzed around the outside, but Barbre didn't pick him up. Johnson's pressure forced Rodgers to step up in the pocket, and Odom got free from Colledge and got his fifth sack.
That forced a punt, and a long return by Quan Cosby set up a field goal that made it a 10-point game.
From the time Clifton went out to Odom's aforementioned fifth sack, the Packers dropped back to pass 21 times. Two players went into the route once, three players were in the route eight times and four players went into the route six times. So, on 21 passing plays, there was at least one player to provide additional blocking 15 times. Of the five-man routes, one was a screen, two were quick-hitting passes and a fourth was a dump-off to Grant to take advantage of all of the Bengals playing coverage.
In Colledge's defense, if he's taken any snaps at left tackle this year, they have been few and far between. In hopes of building continuity up front, the since-traded Tony Moll acted as Clifton's backup throughout training camp rather than Colledge. When the regular season begins, reporters' access is limited, so it's impossible to say whether Colledge has taken any preps in place of Clifton the last two weeks. He certainly didn't on Friday, as he didn't practice because of a sprained foot.
"Not a ton," Philbin said when asked whether Colledge has practiced at left tackle since the regular season began. "We're trying to get guys reps at the positions we anticipate them playing in the ballgame to get the continuity that you want. Obviously, you have contingency plans built in with your personnel, ‘Who's going to go here when this happens? Who's going to go where when that happens?' You work that, but at the same point in time, you have X amount of reps that you get in practice. You've got to go with what you think you're going to go with."
With Clifton's status up in the air for next week, McCarthy and Philbin might be forced to cover up for both offensive tackles. Fortunately, the Rams don't have a sack in two games, but then again, the Bengals tied for 30th in the league in sacks last year. Maybe a running game would help: Grant wasn't effective, but he got the ball just twice after Clifton's injury.
"There's no excuses," Colledge said. "It doesn't matter how young you are or if you have to move positions. We need to find a way to perform."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.