Packers’ pass protection problems making life rough for QB Aaron Rodgers _ Is help on the way?

By Chris Jenkins, AP
Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Pack can’t protect Rodgers _ Is help on the way?

GREEN BAY, Wis. — The possible return of veteran right tackle Mark Tauscher could be a step backward for current starter Allen Barbre, who won the job in training camp after the Green Bay Packers initially passed on the chance to bring Tauscher back from a major knee injury.

Now the Packers have given up a league-worst 20 sacks in their first four games, and even Barbre acknowledges that the offensive line can use some help.

“He’s a great guy, he can play good football and he’s done it for a long time,” Barbre said. “I’ve got nothing negative to say.”

After a stellar performance in the preseason, the Packers were expected to have one of the NFL’s most dangerous offenses this year. But after four games, quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the one who’s consistently in danger.

Rodgers was sacked eight times in Monday night’s loss at Minnesota. When the Packers went 13-3 in 2007, they allowed only 19 sacks all season.

“I think we’re very disappointed,” Barbre said. “We know we can play better than that, and we’re going to come back, work hard, and get that fixed.”

While coaches and players are going out of their way to say that the Packers’ problems go beyond the offensive line, that’s where the biggest change might be coming. Tauscher was in for a tryout Tuesday, and a deal to bring him back to the Packers appeared imminent heading into this week’s bye.

But offensive coordinator Joe Philbin cautioned that Tauscher shouldn’t be seen as a potential savior.

“There’s obviously a difference between doing change-of-direction drills with cones and blocking guys in a football game,” Philbin said. “We have to see if he comes back, and we’ll start working with him.”

If Tauscher does re-sign and has recovered fully from offseason surgery on his torn left anterior cruciate ligament, he could provide depth and veteran leadership — and possibly even reclaim the starting job he held for most of the previous nine seasons.

Even more critical to the Packers’ rebound from a 2-2 start is the anticipated return of veteran left tackle Chad Clifton, who has missed the last two games with a sprained right ankle.

It’s hard to imagine Vikings defensive end Jared Allen burning Clifton, a 10-year veteran, for 4 1/2 sacks. But that’s exactly what Allen did Monday night — first to Daryn Colledge, who slid over from left guard to replace Clifton, and then rookie T.J. Lang after an injury to Colledge.

“Your left tackle has to block the Jared Allens of the world,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “That’s the way we’re designed. I think (Clifton’s return) will definitely help.”

But McCarthy said the Packers’ protection problems aren’t just a function of shoddy line play.

“It’s just not one guy,” McCarthy said. “It’s really the combination of some of the things in the protection unit that we need to do a better job of. And frankly, some of it falls on the quarterback decision and his time clock. He’s making a lot of good plays with his feet, but it also has caught us sometimes.”

Translation: Rodgers needs to get rid of the ball more quickly.

“We didn’t call a lot of plays where we were holding the ball,” McCarthy said.

Meanwhile, Rodgers’ receivers need to get open and cut down on an uncharacteristic number of drops.

“We can’t put everything on the offensive line,” wide receiver James Jones said. “We watched the film. When you watch TV, it looks like it’s all their fault, but at the end of the day, when you watch the film, it’s a lot of people (out) there making mistakes. So we definitely need to take the time and come back, clear some things up and go get after Detroit.”

Still, Philbin says the team isn’t as far off as it might seem. Even giving up eight sacks Monday night, the Packers still put up more than 400 yards of total offense for the second straight game.

Finish off a few more drives, and the conversation might not nearly be so negative this week.

“If we can eliminate those kinds of mistakes, finish plays off better, we might be feeling a little bit better today, even in light of the problems we have and the things we need to get corrected,” Philbin said. “I don’t think it’s a total woe-is-us attitude. We know what the problems are, we need to work to get them corrected — quickly.”

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