Protecting quarterback Aaron Rodgers is always a tough challenge for the Green Bay Packers offensive line. Because of Rodgers’ penchant for not forcing passes and biding his time for receivers to get open, the offensive line needs to hold their blocks for extended periods of time. But the offensive line might be facing a new challenge. Rodgers suffered a knee injury in their opening win over the Chicago Bears. Although Rodgers came back in the second half to lead the Packers to victory, he lacked the mobility that he is known for. The injury is severe enough that his status for the Packers next game, against the Minnesota Vikings, is currently up in the air. If Rodgers does play, his immobility will put a spotlight on the Packer offensive line.
Green Bay Packers Offensive Line Will Face a Daunting Task
Head coach and offensive play-caller Mike McCarthy adjusted his offensive scheme after Rodgers injury in the second half. McCarthy implemented an offensive attack that had Rodgers getting rid of the ball quickly. The attack was reminiscent of the type of quick rhythm passing that the San Francisco 49ers utilized in the 1980s.
The offense, which saw Rodgers line up mainly in the pistol formation, turned out to be quite effective. Rodgers went 17 of 23 for 273 yards with three touchdown passes in the second half. For most quarterbacks, losing their mobility would shut down their production. But Rodgers isn’t like most quarterbacks. He lost his ability to scramble, but he didn’t lose any of his arm strength and his ability to get rid of the ball quickly.
Although Rodgers displayed another way he can beat a team, it does pose another challenge for the Packers offensive line. When Rodgers has two healthy legs, he sometimes is able to bail out his offensive line when their protection breaks down. With the knee injury taking that away, the offensive line now will need to make sure they can hold the opposing defensive line long enough for Rodgers to get rid of the ball. The quick-hitting passing attack, along with Rodgers lining up in the pistol, will help, but it doesn’t guarantee success. Rodgers won’t force passes, he won’t change that part of his game, so if he holds on to the ball for a period of time, it is essential that the offensive line can hold their blocks. If they can’t, they will be allowing Rodgers to take unnecessary hits.
The Packers offensive line improved in the second half in last week’s game. But anything would have been an improvement from how they played in the first half.
It was expected that Khalil Mack and even Leonard Floyd would have some luck creating pressure on the edge last week. Even with Mack not playing in the preseason during his holdout with the Oakland Raiders, Mack is one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. Floyd is no slouch either as a first-round pick of the Bears. Throw in that Bryan Bulaga was making his return after missing most of last season with a knee injury and pressure was expected. But what did come as a surprise was the play of defensive tackle Akiem Hicks.
Hicks registered one of the Bears four sacks. Along with his sack, he also chipped in three tackles. It isn’t much of a stretch to say that Hicks dominated Packers guard Jordan McCray throughout the game. Hicks also had his way with center Corey Linsley, when he lined up over Linsley and when Linsley was asked to help out McCray, which was frequently. Andy Herman of Pack A Day podcast recently tweeted out some visual evidence of how well Hicks played against McCray. If McCray plays at the level he played against the Bears this week, he will find himself on the bench.
Another Challenge Ahead
If facing Mack, Floyd, and Hicks wasn’t challenging enough, the Packers offensive line will face an even more challenging foe. The Vikings have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. They improved even more when they signed Sheldon Richardson this off-season.
Last week in their 24-16 victory over the San Francisco 49ers, the Vikings front four registered two sacks. If McCray and Linsley struggled against Hicks, it might get even uglier against Richardson and fellow defensive lineman Linval Joseph. With Rodgers having limited mobility, it will be essential for Linsley, McCray, and Lane Taylor to prevent penetration from up the middle.
Bulaga and fellow starting offensive tackle David Bakhtiari will also be facing a tough challenge from the edge. Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen are a dynamic pass rushing duo. Just like with the interior offensive line, Bulaga and Bakhtiari will need to be at the top of their game to protect the injured Rodgers.
The Vikings are coming off a season where they advanced to the NFC championship. Even with a healthy Rodgers, beating them would be a tough task. But the Packers won’t have that option going into Sunday’s game. If they are going to have any chance of coming away with a victory, the Packers offensive line is going to have to do their jobs.
Having come off a poor showing, at least in the first half, the Green Bay Packers offensive line will be under the microscope. If they perform like they did in the first half of last week’s game, not only will the Packers lose to the Vikings, but might also put their star quarterback’s health in danger.