Line Will Have Hands Full

Everyone in Packerland knows about the Packers' pass protection issues. This week they face a dynamic duo for the Cowboys with a depleted offensive line that might include a rookie making his first start at a new position. Matt Tevsh has the story.

With five sacks in Week 2 against the Packers, Antwan Odom had a career in one game for the Bengals.

With 7.5 sacks in two games this season against the Packers, Jared Allen all but made his season for the Vikings.

And with 1.5 sacks and four quarterback hits last Sunday against the Packers, Stylez G. White went from a guy with a ridiculous name to a legitimate NFL player for the Buccaneers.

Now here is the scary part for Packers' fans — it might get worse on Sunday.

Giving up a league-leading 37 sacks through eight games, the Packers' offense will face its toughest inside-outside pass rush combination this weekend when the Cowboys come to Lambeau Field.

For Dallas, it starts with outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, the NFL's top sacker at the linebacker position over the past five years.

"He's a unique player," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "He has excellent range. Everyone wants to talk about his pass rush, but he has an excellent motor, and he's definitely someone we're going to have to target and contend with."

Then there is Jay Ratliff, a smallish nose tackle (6-foot-4, 303 pounds) with atypical skills for the middle of a 3-4 defensive scheme.

"He's a good player. Excellent get-off, can be very disruptive," Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "Good pass rusher. He's been very impressive on film."

Ratliff leads all NFL nose tackles with four sacks, following up his first Pro Bowl season in 2008, when he led all nose tackles with 7.5 sacks.

Ware is tied for 14th in the league in sacks, but after being shut out the first four games, he had five sacks in a three-game span. He has 58.5 sacks in 72 career games, including a career-high 20 a season ago (just 2.5 off the NFL single-season record).


NT Jay Ratliff
Al Bello/Getty Images
On the surface, it looks like it could be a big day for Ratliff and Ware, not to mention anyone else the Packers might make into a household name by the end of the day. It will take a combination of things to go right for the Packers' offense to have success, but one thing might trump all the others.

"We're really going to have to take some pride in winning our one-on-one battles," rookie offensive lineman T.J. Lang said. "It's going to be a big day for our tackles, whoever is out there. We're just going to have the faith that we can go out there and do the job."

Lang could be a key on Sunday. He has taken snaps in practice this week at a new position, right tackle, with injuries to Mark Tauscher (knee sprain) and Allen Barbre (concussion). He also could see action at guard for Daryn Colledge, who has been ineffective, depending on how the injury situations shake down at the tackle position by the weekend.

Chad Clifton (ankle) is expected to start at left tackle. He played most of last week's game at Tampa Bay and is not listed on the injury report.

In any case, Lang said Thursday he is preparing to play either position, studying Ware and Ratliff on film this week. In the past month, Lang has made two starts at left tackle when Clifton was down, including a start against the Vikings' Allen.

It will be imperative for Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to get rid of the ball quickly on Sunday as pass protection issues have forced McCarthy to alter his play-calling. Bringing in extra blockers or going max protection, like he did for much of his first season in Green Bay (2006), is not something McCarthy wants to do, even with a rookie tackle in the game.

"How far do you go is the question you have to answer each week as far as dealing with your issues," he said. "It's something I've talked about with the whole offensive team. Are we going to pass out blocking mitts for the receivers and go that way? Maybe they don't even go out. That's your last option. I would like to think that we would never get to that here in Green Bay. I'm not trying to be funny, but you have to look at all of those different types of things dealing with protection. I don't think that we're in that position. There are things that we can do better fundamentally and there are things that we can continue to help them with schematically, and that's been our approach. Because when you feel you have a strength as we feel that we do with our wide receivers, to put them in blocking mitts I don't think is very smart."

While center Scott Wells will draw the assignment of blocking Ratliff man up, the Cowboys like to move Ware around on the outside, making him a matchup problem. That means Clifton, Lang or another tackle will get their shots at the 6-foot-4, 262-pound Ware.

"He's the whole package coming off the edge," Lang said. "We've had a couple of good days of practice and preparation, but with a guy like that, you really have to be on top of your game, physically and fundamentally sound."

The Packers have made nearly every opponent this season look like world beaters in the pass rush department. They have given up at least four sacks in six games. And though Odom, Allen and White have a knack for rushing the quarterback, the trio of defensive ends has combined for just 7.5 sacks in 18 non-Packers games.

The Cowboys' defense is tied for 11th in the league with 20 sacks — after posting a league-high 59 last year — but McCarthy knows he is up against something much better than that.

"I would say it's definitely a top-rated pass rush, no question," he said.


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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com


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