The Green Bay Packers were bounced from the NFL playoffs by the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Divisional round. Now the team is left with many unanswered questions about how the season came to an abrupt end, and the fan base is quick to point fingers. One aspect of the team that can take blame in 2012 is certainly the offensive line.
Players, coaches and fans of the Packers were shocked as they all felt 2012 was their season, and a Super Bowl berth was most definitely in the cards. Unfortunately, the season did not end the way everyone had imagined after Green Bay allowed a franchise-worst 579 yards of total offense in the loss to San Francisco. However, the defense played well during the regular season as they allowed 21.0 points and 336.8 yards per game, both of which ranked in the upper tier of the league.
The offensive line is the part of the team that should be put under the microscope after they were unable to have any success running the ball or protecting quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Green Bay ranked 25th in the NFL in rushing yards per game (3.85), 20th in total rushing yards (1,702), 25th in rushing touchdowns (9) and recorded 85 rushing first downs, which fell well below the league average. To put it in a better perspective Rodgers rushed for 259 total yards, averaged 4.8 yards per game, ran for two touchdowns and moved the chains 20 times with his legs, the most on the team.
To break it down even further, the Packers offensive line had power success on 68 percent of their runs, which ranked 7th in the league. Power success rates the percentage of runs that are converted on third or fourth down with two yards or less to go. For the run to be converted it either has to achieve a first down or a touchdown. This statistic also includes first-and-goal and second-and-goal situations as long as it is two yards or less. As you can see, Green Bay was relatively successful in the power run game, although this is the only statistic that includes Rodgers’ numbers.
The Packers running backs were stuffed 19 percent of the time, with the NFL average being 20 percent. A player is stuffed when their momentum is stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage. Green Bay’s backs are good at falling forward so even when there were times this season it looked as if the offensive line had allowed a player to get stuffed, that player was able to find a way to pick up a yard or two.
A huge reason why the Packers were not successful running the ball this season is due to their inability to get to the second level or open field. Green Bay had only eight running plays that went for 20 yards or more and Rodgers accounted for two of those.
Cedric Benson, Randall Cobb, Ryan Grant, Alex Green, DuJuan Harris, John Kuhn and James Starks combined for 0.97 second level yards in 2012. If that sounds bad, it should – because it ranked 29th in the NFL in a season that saw a 1.07 average. Second level yards are any running plays that take place between 5-10 yards. The 0.97 is found by dividing the total amount of yards found in this level by the carries over the course of the season. The offensive line is only responsible for a 50 percent value on these runs because it takes place at least five yards past the line of scrimmage. However, the front five are also accountable for securing blocks on the second level in order for the run to be possible.
As if it could not get any worse, the Packers ranked dead last in the league with 0.28 open field yards. To put it in perspective, the NFL average was 0.72 and the league-leading Minnesota Vikings recorded 2.08 yards in the open field. Any running play that takes place at least 11 yards past the line of scrimmage is considered to be in the open field. This is where backs make their bread and butter as players that have breakaway speed are a sought after breed. The statistic is found by taking the total amount of open field yards and dividing it by the total running back carries.
It is hard to pin the open field yards statistic on the offensive line considering it is a 0 percent value due to the impossibility of a lineman being at least 11 yards downfield to block for a running back. However, just like the second level yards, the more defensive players blocked up front will allow the fullback and tight ends to get to the next level easier to seal protection. Therefore, the offensive lineman are still responsible to a certain point for the running back’s success downfield.
Many fans would forgive the poor running ability considering general manager Ted Thompson built the offensive line to be a pass protection squad. However, Green Bay was even worse at guarding Rodgers then they were at creating holes for the running backs. Rodgers was the most sacked quarterback in the NFL this season as he was dropped 51 times. That means he has been sacked 181 times over the past four years in which the number 51 has popped up twice. Not a good sign considering Rodgers is easily the most valued player in the organization and the Packers overall success relieves heavily on his ability to stay upright.
The obvious response to this truck load of statistics is that Thompson must fix the offensive line immediately. If they cannot run the ball or protect the quarterback then they simply have no purpose on the football team.
The problem is Thompson has invested heavily in the offensive line using two of the last three first round picks on offensive tackles. Not to mention, he believes what he has is good and has no intentions of drafting another top lineman or acquiring one through free agency as it is simply too expensive. The good news is of the starting five linemen that played in the 2013 postseason, two were fourth round draft picks, one was a fifth round pick and two were undrafted rookie free agents.
The other good news is that there is not a lot of money invested in the offensive line, although three players are signed long-term with a fourth on the way. Left tackle Marshall Newhouse will make $575,000 in 2013 and left guard T.J. Lang is awarded $750,000 plus a $750,000 roster bonus. Center Evan Dietrich-Smith is a restricted free agent while Jeff Saturday, who will most likely retire, is due $1.35 million plus a $1.4 million roster bonus if he elects to play. Right guard Josh Sitton, the most expensive member of the offensive line, is owed $3.4 million plus a $650,000 roster bonus and Bryan Bulaga, who is expected to return to the starting lineup in 2013, is due $862,000.
Left tackle Derek Sherrod, who will make $975,182 in 2013, is by no means guaranteed a starting job but he will have every opportunity this summer to earn the role. Don Barclay is one of the offensive linemen the Packers are very high on and could see playing time if any injuries take place. He is due $480,000 after signing a three-year, $1.44 million contract in 2012.
As you can see, Green Bay is fond of where their offensive line is financially and do not plan on making any drastic changes even if it is warranted. Thompson will most likely take a few cracks towards the end of the draft and will most likely sign a couple of undrafted rookie free agents. Other than that, the hopes of Sherrod possessing the same talent the Packers saw in him when they drafted him No. 1 overall in 2011 and Bulaga returning to form is the only help the team seems to be getting in 2013.
Michael is a MLB and NBA Featured Writer for Rant Sports, but covers topics for various teams in baseball, basketball, and football. Make sure to follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelTerrill and on Facebook.