Packers offensive line aims to block ‘to infinity’ for Rodgers
GREEN BAY, Wis. — There goes Aaron Rodgers again, beating a defense with another brilliant throw outside the pocket.
Extending plays is a specialty of the Green Bay Packers and their two-time MVP quarterback.
The Atlanta Falcons know they’ll have to try to stay patient on defense when they face the Packers on Sunday in the NFC championship game.
But the five guys who block for Rodgers might have jobs as tough as any defender.
Protecting Rodgers for as long as possible can be a challenging task for an offensive lineman, a job in which success is often measured in seconds.
“We didn’t really come into the season saying, ‘All right, let’s go out there and protect 9 seconds,'” left guard Lane Taylor said. “But that’s our job, the way we make things go.”
Holding a block for 3 seconds is typically a success.
Rodgers is dangerous enough as it is inside the pocket, where he can dissect defenses with quick strikes to receivers.
But a skill that makes him unique is the ability to use his legs to extend plays under pressure while receivers work to get open.
“One of the hardest things to simulate, you can imagine, is when a person gets outside the pocket to get down the field, and the term defensively that we use is called ‘plaster,'” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said this week. “How do you match up on the receivers? How do you take care of the quarterback? So it takes a lot of work.”
There’s not necessarily a set play that the Packers run through in practice, either. At the same time, the Packers linemen are familiar with Rodgers’ tendencies.
The phrase drilled into linemen from Day 1 of practice is to block until the whistle is blown.
“No matter what the play is, it’s not like we go into a play knowing it’s going to be extended,” left tackle David Bakhtiari said.
“We go in blocking, and I don’t know when the ball is out. I kind of get a feel from my defender. I’m going to block until I hear the whistle.”
But those extended plays earlier in the season didn’t always lead to big gains. Things have changed over the past two months, with Green Bay taking care of the ball.
Rodgers has 21 touchdowns and one interception over an eight-game winning streak stretching back to the regular season.
“Earlier in the season, it was getting a little frustrating because you’d block for 7, 8 seconds and he’d scramble around and throw the ball out of bounds, and it’s like we just wasted all that time and energy for nothing,” Pro Bowl right guard T.J. Lang said. They stuck with their mindset of blocking “to infinity, just however long it takes.”
There are no specific nuances or skills that come with blocking that long, linemen said.
If a lineman is free and Rodgers is still looking to make a play, a lineman must keep his head up and look around for any oncoming defenders.
For a lineman still engaged, it’s simply about sticking with the block.
“After about 3 seconds, you know you’re going to be battling for a little while, and that’s when it kind of kicks in,” Taylor said.
“All right, I really have got to stay in front of my guy, extend this play, do what I need to do to keep him off Aaron.”
Continuity has also contributed up front, with Bakhtiari, Taylor, Lang and right tackle Bryan Bulaga having played together for most of the season.
At center, Corey Linsley took over at midseason for the injured JC Tretter, though Linsley was on track again to start at center in the opener if not for a hamstring injury.
Rodgers rarely passes up an opportunity to give thanks to his front five.
“They kind of know on certain situations or stunts or protections, the opportunity might be higher in those situations. So you’ve seen at times anticipation of me rolling one way or another, them kind of hooking the guy and giving me some extra time,” Rodgers said. “So they’ve done a great job for us. I appreciate those guys.”