Packers' o-line faces questions as Saints loom
On a mediocre night for the Green Bay Packers' backup offensive line, one sequence of plays was particularly troubling during the preseason finale against Kansas City on Thursday night.
After the Packers' defense forced a fumble to stop a potential Chiefs scoring drive, the offense took over on its own 15-yard line. A first-down holding call on Ray Dominguez backed the offense up near its own end zone. Three plays later, center Nick McDonald snapped the ball over the head of backup quarterback Matt Flynn and Flynn had to take a safety.
Sure, the Packers' backups were facing the Chiefs' defensive starters with nothing at stake - beyond roster spots, of course. But Green Bay's offensive line play has been uneven throughout the preseason, and there are questions for the Super Bowl champions going into Thursday night's regular season opener against New Orleans at Lambeau Field.
"A couple times, we had some obvious mistakes," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "When a defensive lineman runs right through to the quarterback, that's not the way it's supposed to go."
The pass protection problems aren't new. Nor are they limited to the Packers' backups; in limited duty, Rodgers was sacked six times in the first three preseason games.
Green Bay gave up a total of 16 sacks in the preseason, second-most in the NFL behind Kansas City's 17. The running game has been largely absent in the preseason; the Packers are averaging 72 yards rushing per game, lowest in the league.
Green Bay lost left guard Daryn Colledge to free agency. His replacement is third-year player T.J. Lang, won a training-camp battle with first-round pick Derek Sherrod, who was a tackle in college. The rest of the Packers' line is unchanged and should be as good as it was last year. The team added more stability on Friday, agreeing to a contract extension with starting right guard Josh Sitton.
One plus for the Packers on Thursday: In the No. 1 offense's only possession, they sprang Ryan Grant free for a 23-yard run. Then they marched for a touchdown.
But the ball simply stopped moving once the second-string offense came in, largely the result of problems up front. A pair of third-quarter field goals came only because of good field position after turnovers, and the Packers only won the game because of a defensive touchdown.
McDonald, who is listed as the No. 2 center on the depth chart behind Scott Wells, also had a false start and was disappointed with his mistakes.
"It's frustrating, because that's not me," McDonald said. "I haven't had a false start this year or a snap like that. It's frustrating because I know I'm better than that."
It was a final tune-up for the regular season, and McDonald said it should have been better.
"We knew what we were going up against - we were going against their 1s," McDonald said. "We should've thrived better. We should've protected Matt better. It's something guys are going to have to work on. We should've played better, for sure."
Should he make the Packers' final roster, McDonald - and other developing backup linemen - aren't likely to see the field when the Packers face the Saints. But what happens if the Packers have injuries?
Veteran left tackle Chad Clifton is going into his 12th season and has chronic knee soreness that must be managed throughout the season. If he got hurt or his performance suddenly dropped off, it's not clear what the Packers' backup plan would be.
Sherrod may turn out to be the team's left tackle of the future, but he's still learning how to play in the NFL. And he still has to cross-train as the backup left guard.
"I feel very confident in myself and my abilities," Sherrod said. "Just going out there and playing, that's the only thing to do. That's football."
The Packers' other options at tackle are alarmingly light on experience, and things don't look much better at guard or center.
With the opener less than a week away, is McCarthy OK with his linemen?
"I'm extremely comfortable with the 53 players that we pick," McCarthy said. "You can ball them all up into that. It's about picking the best 53, and I'm looking forward to getting started on the Saints. "
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