Line Cures Fundamental Flaws in Final 7 Games

Finally become a regular starting quintet down the stretch, the offensive line's improved play has resulted in Aaron Rodgers driving the offense to points rather than being driven to the turf. Improved health and the return of Tauscher have been two of the keys.

The obvious line of demarcation for the Green Bay Packers' offensive line was when Mark Tauscher assumed the starting spot at right tackle.

A better spot might be two weeks later. On Nov. 22 against San Francisco, Chad Clifton started at left tackle, Daryn Colledge at left guard, Scott Wells at center, Josh Sitton at right guard and Tauscher at right tackle.

That quintet started the final seven games together. In the first nine games, the Packers allowed 41 sacks and averaged 25.8 points per game. In the final seven games, the Packers allowed 10 sacks and averaged 32.7 points per game.

"It's amazing what we can get done when everybody's doing their own job," Colledge said. "Everybody's playing their own position."

"The biggest key for us offensively, really, it starts with the offensive line, is the health of our offensive line," coach Mike McCarthy said on Thursday. "Just to have the opportunity to have continuity now for the second half of the season has been a huge boost for us. Just having the ability to practice the same five offensive linemen week in and week out and play with the same five during the course of a game, and just get that continuity that's building each week. That's something that we didn't have in the first half of the season."

Everything came together once that starting five began practicing together on a daily basis and getting through games without swapping positions. Ryan Grant's average per carry went from 4.17 yards per carry in the first nine games to 4.85 in the final seven games. Rodgers, who was efficient all season, didn't throw an interception in six of the final seven games.

"It's harder for your skill players to function up to their potential if the line doesn't give them the opportunity, whether it be the running game or the quarterback being able to set his feet and allow the receivers the time they need to run their routes," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "They're a critical element of the attack. They're probably best when you don't hear much about them, and the last half the season, we haven't heard as much about them. That's a good thing."

Asked what his offensive line was doing right to keep out of the news, offensive line coach James Campen said: "Same thing that was wrong earlier: fundamentals. Fundamentals were much improved and they're doing the fundamental things correctly and it's equating to some success."

Part of that fundamental improvement goes back to being healthy and locked into one spot on the line. Philbin said he was thinking about the line's improvement during Thursday's practice, recalling weeks when the team had only eight linemen to get through practice rather than the 10 (including practice squad) on the field this week.

Scott Wells has been solid at center.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
With healthy and refreshed bodies settled in at one spot, improved fundamentals and improved performance followed.

According to Pro Football Focus, Clifton allowed two sacks during an injury-plagued first half of the season and two sacks while starting the final seven games. Colledge, shuttled between guard and left tackle early in the season, allowed eight sacks in the first nine games and two in the final seven. Wells, who allowed two sacks in the first nine games, has pitched a shutout since. Sitton has been steady and consistent all season. Tauscher has allowed two sacks; the man he replaced, Allen Barbre, allowed six.

McCarthy called that early period — punctuated by back-to-back six-sack performances in midseason games against Minnesota and Tampa Bay — "challenging." Campen said "panic" never entered the equation. He used the word "urgency," instead, and said that sense of urgency to fix those fundamental problems took "too long."

"One thing about this group of players, when it's recognized — it just took a while, longer than we anticipated — to their credit, they right that ship and they made it turn to the right," Campen said. "There's no substitute for fundamental football. You got tired of hearing it every week. ‘Fundamentals, fundamentals.' So you asked the same question (every week). There was nothing magical that happened."

The closest thing to a magician is the venerable Tauscher. Barbre was nothing short of a disaster at right tackle, but Tauscher — without the benefit of a training camp after suffering a season-ending knee injury last December — has been a godsend. For whatever physical skills Tauscher lacks due to age and injury, he's made up for it with veteran guile and know-how.

"He's a guy you can count on," Philbin said. "He's extremely professional. You don't worry very much when he's in the ball game. At the end of the day, usually his guy isn't around the quarterback a whole lot. That's a comforting thing."

Added Campen: "Any time you can add a veteran guy who's started over 100 games, he is a stabilizer from the standpoint that young players can look, see how he approaches the game, see how he studies, see what he does in the meeting room."

Put continuity and fundamentals together, and you get a major reason why the Packers are on a roll entering Sunday's playoff game at Arizona. As is typically the case for the offensive line, the only time you notice them is when the quarterback's getting pick up off the turf.

"I'm happy for those players because they worked their tails off," Campen said. "They've taken a lot of criticism in the press and it's nice to see them have some success. To the man, they certainly wouldn't raise their hand up and say we're a finished product, by any means."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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