Packers O-line faces stiff test against St. Louis
GREEN BAY — Aaron Rodgers hasn’t lost confidence in the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line.
But the reigning NFL MVP knows that his guys will face their biggest challenge of the season Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.
"Most teams have either great guys outside or guys that are going to move the pocket inside. This front four can all get after the passer," the Packers quarterback said Wednesday, as he prepared for the Rams’ foursome of Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers and Chris Long. "That’s the kind of D-line you’d love to have as a D-coordinator."
The Rams will come to Lambeau Field tied with the Packers for second in the NFL in sacks with 17. Donald (3 1/2), Quinn (3.0) and Long (2.0) have accounted for 8 1/2 of them.
In Sunday’s 24-22 victory at Arizona, the Rams sacked the Cardinals’ Carson Palmer four times and had 10 quarterback hits.
The Packers are coming off a 17-3 victory at San Francisco in which Rodgers was sacked a season-high three times after he’d been sacked three times in the first three games combined.
"Their ability to create penetration really sets the whole tone for their defense," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "It’s a big test for us."
There may be help on the way, however. Veteran right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who missed the past three games after suffering a left knee injury in practice three days before the team’s Sept. 20 game against Seattle, returned to practice on a limited basis Wednesday.
Bulaga, who missed the entire 2013 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, avoided the same fate this time, reportedly only damaging the medial collateral ligament and meniscus.
Still, he said he’ll have to do more during Thursday’s in-pads practice to show he’s ready to return to game action, especially against a group as good as the Rams’ line.
"They’re a very good front. It’s a good team," Bulaga said. "This is the NFL. Anytime you’re going to come back you’re going to play good pass rushers or good D-linemen or good defense.
"I’m not really looking at it from that standpoint. Just getting back into action after three weeks off is a challenge. Tomorrow is a new day and we’ll see how that goes."
Bulaga’s replacement, Don Barclay, struggled against the 49ers, allowing three sacks. The Packers coaches didn’t give Barclay much blocking help from their running backs and tight ends, however, and if Barclay is the starter again Sunday, they may have to alter their approach.
"We do it when we think it’s necessary," associate head coach-offense Tom Clements said of giving protection help. "There are times maybe we should do it more. It’s always easy to say after the fact that you wish you would have done things a little differently. That happens every game, whether it’s a pass play or a run play. You sit back and you analyze and you see what happened and try to make adjustments going forward."
Something else happened against the 49ers that hadn’t happened in the first three games: The Packers’ three interior linemen — center Corey Linsley and guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang — allowed San Francisco’s defensive tackles to push them back and collapse the pocket — giving Rodgers less room to operate and fewer escape routes.
The Rams will look to do the same thing Sunday.
"That’s something we’ve got to do," Donald said on a conference call on Wednesday afternoon. "He’s a mobile quarterback. He can take off and run. He can move great in the pocket and he can throw on the run. (We need to) just keep him contained, not let him get too comfortable back there because the type of quarterback he is, if he gets comfortable back there, it’s going to be a long day.
"We just have to collapse gaps and don’t give him any step up lanes or throwing lanes to get free. If we do that and keep him bottled up, we should be fine."