The Packers’ offensive line is a mess.
But it doesn’t matter.
And that, folks, might be the biggest compliment to the greatness of Aaron Rodgers.
In five games, the Packers are 4-1 with five different starting combinations on the offensive line. And their preferred left tackle, David Bakhtiari, hasn’t played since the season-opener, although he’s back as a limited participant in practice this week and could return against the Vikings on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Three players have started at left tackle. Three have started at right tackle. In five games.
Watching the first 24 minutes of last week’s game, it seemed even Rodgers couldn’t wiggle out of the straight-jacket that the Cowboys wrestled him into at AT&T Stadium.
When Dak Prescott threw his third short, easy, basically pitch-and-catch touchdown pass with 6:10 left in the half, the Cowboys led 21-6 after only three possessions.
Dallas had run 33 plays for 207 yards with scoring drives of 12, 11 and 10 plays. The Packers had run 11 plays for 59 yards. Rodgers had as many sacks as Prescott had touchdown passes.
While the world rightly focuses on the end of this 35-31 Packers victory, let’s take a closer look at the start of this game. Here is a closer look at the three first-half sacks and how Green Bay could be in big trouble if it doesn’t protect Rodgers better than this when it gets to Minneapolis on Sunday:
Sack No. 1: First-and-10 at the Packers’ 25-yard line, 13:37 left in the half.
This is a very good example of why it’s not a good idea to have a guard playing left tackle. Lane Taylor, a 6-3 guard, has started at left tackle the past two games after starting at left guard the first three.
On this particular play, Cowboys right defensive end Tyrone Crawford does nothing special. It’s a four-man rush against a run formation that has a fullback and tailback behind Rodgers.
Crawford simply takes his big right mitt and swats Taylor off-balance to the inside. The backs do nothing to slow down the rush as they try to release into areas where they can be check-down options for Rodgers. The running back is Aaron Jones, a rookie making his NFL starting debut. He’ll need to be taught how to chip a charging DE who’s heading straight for the Hall of Fame QB.
By the time Jones releases to his left and turns to look at Rodgers, the quarterback is being pounded to the ground. And somewhere Everson Griffen must be thinking, “That’s all it took?”
Sack No. 2: Third-and-18 at the Packers’ 18-yard line, 12:51 left in the half.
Two snaps after the first sack exposes the Packers’ vulnerability on the blind side edge, the Cowboys expose some interior communication issues the Packers have.
The Cowboys show an inside blitz look by putting linebacker Justin Durant in the A gap between the center and left guard. Lined up just to Durant’s left is tackle David Irving.
At the snap of the ball, center Corey Linsley ignores the tackle, Irving. He turns to brace for Durant’s rush. But Durant drops into coverage.
Meanwhile, right guard Jahri Evans turns the other way, also ignoring Irving. Irving shoots through the opening and clobbers Rodgers.
As Rodgers is getting up, Linsley can be seen talking to Evans about the miscommunication. And these are the only two Packers linemen who have started all five games at the same position.
Somewhere, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer must be smiling. He’s the guy who popularized the trend of overloading the A-gaps to cause confusion for the offense.
Sack No. 3: First-and-10 at the Dallas 31, 1:58 left in the half.
The third sack exposes the Packers’ inexperience at left guard in this game. Justin McCray is a first-year player with three NFL starts. This is his first start at left guard after injuries forced him to start two games at right tackle.
On this play, Irving just beats McCray physically. You’ve heard of pancake blocks? Well, this was a pancake rush.
Irving knocks McCray on his behind with a straight power rush. McCray is on the ground when Irving goes over the top of him to sack Rodgers.
But, in typical Rodgers fashion, the Packers score a touchdown four plays later. And after a first half filled with poor play, the Packers, thanks to Rodgers, are only down by one score.