GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers lost their starting right tackle in free agency and their starting right guard due to injury.
And yet, they have allowed a sack on 2.16 percent of Aaron Rodgers’ dropbacks this season. That’s not only the best sack percentage in the NFL but there hasn’t been a lower season-ending rate since 2008.
Will Rodgers’ jersey get out of Tampa, Fla, free of grass stains on Sunday? The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defense ranks fifth in the NFL with a sack rate of 9.50 percent. Their defense boasts last year’s NFL leader in sacks, Shaquil Barrett. Barrett is one of seven players on this year’s defense with at least two sacks. The sacks have come from traditional players, such as edge rushers Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul, and nontraditional players, such as safeties Jordan Whitehead and Antoine Winfield.
“We’ve got to be fundamentally sound,” All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari said on Wednesday. “We have to be on the same page. It’s going to take all 11 of us to [help] our offense have that consistent timing both in the run and the pass. There’s going to be a lot of pressure. They’re going to try to get after our quarterback. They do a good job stopping the run, so we just have to make sure we dot all our I’s and cross our T’s come Sunday so we know exactly what to do and how to do it, so we can play at 100 percent, because it’s going to be a good matchup.”
It will be a defining matchup against blitz-happy Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
Rodgers has been blessed with oodles of time this season. According to Pro Football Focus, he’s thrown from a clean pocket on 78.8 percent of his dropbacks, the second-highest rate in the NFL.
Those clean pockets start up front, obviously, but begin with coach Matt LaFleur.
“I think it’s not just the consistent play from those guys,” Rodgers said of his line, “but I think what Matt’s been doing with mixing up the launch points with action and movement and misdirection has given us some different opportunities to throw from clean platforms.”
According to PFF, Green Bay’s offensive line hasn’t given up a sack or quarterback hit all season. It’s been an impressive performance. Last year’s starting right guard, Billy Turner, was one of the worst pass-protecting guards in the league by PFF’s data. He’s been excellent at right tackle, though he hasn’t faced anyone as accomplished as Barrett. And career backup Lucas Patrick stepped in at right guard to replace Week 1 starter Lane Taylor.
“I think we’re playing with pretty good fundamentals,” offensive line coach Adam Stenavich said. “That’s one thing we’re always stressing is just playing with good body position. There’s a lot of times we get ourselves in bad position but we’re using our hands well or we’ve got our feet under us or whatever it is.
“There’s a lot of times we talk about you can have a bad play as an offensive lineman, but you have to make sure you learn from that play, so the next time you go up against the guy you don’t make the same mistake twice. Sometimes you can get away with one every once in a while, but if you keep repeating the same mistakes, you’re going to obviously get in trouble. I think our entire offense – the backs, the tight ends, the quarterback, the receivers getting open – (is) doing a really good job of understanding kind of what we’re trying to do. ‘12’ looks so much more comfortable in the pocket, directing our protections and stuff like that. I think it’s just a collaborative effort of everyone being on the same page.”
Given time, Rodgers has been in MVP form. His clean-pocket passer rating of 141.1 is the best in the NFL. His 12 touchdowns vs. zero interceptions are a big reason why the Packers lead the NFL in scoring.
“Obviously, we’ve got guys open early in the progression and I haven’t held the ball a lot,” Rodgers said. “It’s been deal the ball quickly and finding guys in rhythm and on time. When I have to move, it’s making the smart decision, extending it when I can extend it, and getting rid of the ball when I’ve got to get rid of the ball. Just kind of putting all those together, it’s been really good protection.”