Jokes Aside, Tauscher To Rescue

Mark Tauscher, with that reconstructed knee and a body that is the butt of Aaron Rodgers' jokes, has been a godsend for an improving offense. Maybe it's an oversimplification, but since Tauscher has joined the starting lineup, the line's troubles have mostly disappeared.

Mark Tauscher doesn't look like much. Not with that doughboy body that Aaron Rodgers likes to fling verbal barbs at whenever possible.

"A clean one? I don't tell that many clean jokes," Rodgers said with a smile. "I just like to get after him in the training room when he has his shirt off."

So Tauscher might not have the body of Adonis and there's absolutely no chance that he can walk on water. But since Tauscher stepped into the sinkhole that was right tackle, the Packers' pass protection issues have gone from chronic to manageable.

To attribute all of that to Tauscher's presence would be a gross overstatement of things ...

"Very much so," offensive line coach James Campen interrupted.

But facts are facts. Since Tauscher came back after a one-week absence after tweaking his reconstructed knee, the Packers have allowed merely three sacks in two games. Contrast that to the 41 sacks allowed in the first nine games and the 31 sacks allowed during Allen Barbre's seven starts at right tackle.

"Absolutely not, no question," Tauscher said when asked half-jokingly on Saturday if he felt he was "the" difference on offense. "I just think we've done some things well in the last couple of weeks. We have a huge challenge this week in order to be efffective offensively."

Campen, as is his tendency of moderating performances, both good and bad, tried his best to downplay Tauscher's presence. There are other factors, of course. Daryn Colledge has settled in at left guard, Chad Clifton has performed well at left tackle and the passing game has been adjusted. Nonetheless, Tauscher's role probably has been the biggest difference.

"He's had an influence. Is it significant? I don't know, I don't judge those things," Campen said. "From the outside eye, I imagine you'd probably be correct in saying that. I just think other players have gotten better. I think that fundamentally, we've been sounder. We've all been on, as a protection unit, on the same page. Certainly, those things would have come naturally, but is he a part of it? Sure he is. Sure he is. The fact that he knows how to prepare, veteran, see it — you know, young people can see it. That certainly is a plus."

Rodgers might enjoy needling Tauscher, but there's no doubt in his mind that Tauscher has solidified a shaky situation. According to the NFL's official statisticians, STATS, Tauscher has allowed one sack in three games. Barbre allowed seven in seven starts and two relief appearances.

"He's just smart," Rodgers said. "He knows his limitations. He knows how people are going to attack him. You can't really bull rush him because he's stout. When you run upfield, he's just going to push you by. He's not extremely quick and like I said, he knows his limitations. I have a good feel that when he's in there and he's running a guy by, I can just step up, or if he's getting bull-rushed, I can just sit there for a bit. I just have a good feel when he's there."

That confidence is evident in Rodgers' play. For most of the season, Rodgers was playing with one eye down field and one eye looking to see which direction (or directions) the rush was coming. During Round 2 against Minnesota and when Tauscher was knocked out against Tampa Bay, Rodgers seemed to be playing as if he was expecting the rush, even when he had plenty of time.

Now, though, Rodgers is setting up in the pocket with confidence that he can take that extra split-second and with confidence that he can step into a throw rather than just unloading the ball. Against San Francisco, he completed 71.1 percent of his passes. Against Detroit, he completed 71.8 percent of his passes. In those games, he's thrown five touchdown passes and no interceptions with precious few bad decisions. The Packers have scored a two-game season-high 64 points in that span.

"He's played pretty well in the games he's been in," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "When you go back and you analyze over the seasons that Mark's played, at least that I've been around and I guess this is my seventh year, he's been here, what, 10? So I wasn't here for the first three, but you kind of tally everybody's sacks and everybody's hits, and lo and behold, at the end of the year you say, ‘Geez, he did a pretty good job of keeping his guy away from the quarterback.' And I think in these couple games, he's been doing pretty much the same thing he's been doing since he's been with us."

Making Tauscher's performance more impressive is that he's done it without the benefit of training camp. Tauscher, 10 months removed from a torn ACL, was signed on Oct. 12. Monday's game against Baltimore will mark the eight-week anniversary of the transaction. That's not much longer than training camp and the preseason. On Saturday, he said he's getting back the rhythm and timing that have been honed over his previous nine seasons in the league.

"Missing all of training camp, it's hard," Campen said. "You can't make that time up, but he's closed the gap on that. We've been trying to rotate him and things like that, rep count him, by design, and we think we've done a pretty good job with that. I think he's about ready to go."

He'll have to be ready to go against the Ravens, who reached the AFC title game last year but are playing for their season at 6-5. Baltimore allowed 24 or more points in four of the first six games but have yielded a total of 58 points in its last five games. So, it will be an improving offense squaring off against an improving defense in a battle of playoff contenders.

With Tauscher at right tackle, Rodgers will have one fewer concern while facing a defense featuring Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata and Ed Reed.

"I feel like I can kind of see him out of the corner of my eye and know what he's doing and I feel very comfortable with him out there," Rodgers said.

And that's no joke.


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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.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.


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