by Dan Roth, special to Breaking Burgundy
Green Bay and Washington bring formidable pass rushing prowess into Sunday's playoff matchup. The Packers compiled 43 sacks, five more than the Redskins this season, though Washington didn’t find solid footing until the second half of the season.
The real disparity between the Packers and Redskins when it comes to rushing the passer, however, is not in how they execute but, rather, in how they defend against incoming pressure.
Washington’s offensive line conceded 27 sacks to Green Bay’s 47 this season, which were the fifth-most allowed by any team in the league and the most by any playoff team.
Green Bay’s protection woes stem largely from a battered offensive line that has dealt with injuries for much of the season. The Packers’ most critical malady in recent weeks was to left tackle David Bakhtiari, who sat out Green Bay’s final two games.
To compensate for Bakhtiari’s absence against the Vikings, left guard Josh Sitton was bumped to the tackle spot. Lane Taylor, playing in just his fourth game this season, took over for Sitton at the left guard spot. When asked about his fill-in’s performance at a position he’s not accustomed to playing, Bakhtiari was sympathetic.
“That’s tough,” Bakhtiari said Monday. “He’s a guard, and he’s a hell of a guard. He’s the best guard in the league. It’s tough to go out there and play [a different position], especially with limited reps.”
Bakhtiari, who said the ankle felt “good” Monday, remains questionable for Sunday’s tilt against the Redskins. Generating pressure against Aaron Rodgers could key a Redskins’ victory on Sunday, but containing Rodgers within a collapsing pocket will be equally as crucial. The Packers’ offense often deals its biggest blows during scramble drills, so it will be vitally important that Washington’s front seven don’t overextend themselves in trying to bring down Rodgers.
Helped by emergence of rookie linebacker Preston Smith, the Redskins had 14 sacks over the final three weeks of the regular season. Smith registered five of his eight sacks during that stretch and fnished second on the team behind Ryan Kerrigan (9.5).
The Packers' formidable pass rush finsihed seventh in sacks this season. Defensive end Julius Peppers led the unit with 10.5 sacks while linebacker inside linebacker Clay Matthews compiled 6.5 of his own, including one in the Packers’ season finale—a home loss, 20-13, to the Minnesota Vikings.
“Clay’s probably as healthy as he’s been for a while,” Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said Monday.
The Redskins allowed 27 sacks this season, tied for the fourth-fewest in the league. Statistically speaking, Washington boasts the stingiest pass-protection unit of any playoff team.
Protecting quarterback Kirk Cousins will certainly be a point of emphasis for the Redskins’ offense in the lead up to the Wild Card game at FedEx Field. From a statistical perspective, however, the Redskins’ pass rush ought to counter balance that of the Packers. If their offensive line continues their solid work in front of Cousins, that's where the real difference between the teams may take place.
Dan Roth is a freelance sportswriter and Breaking Burgundy contributor. Follow Dan on Twitter @danrothdc.
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