Have at It: Packers OL angst

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

More than a few of you noted how civil and intelligent the conversation went during this week’s Have at It debate. I’m proud of you. Really, I am. I knew you could do it.

We asked you to consider three warning signs -- Green Bay’s offensive line play, Minnesota’s run defense and Chicago’s running game -- and tell us which is most likely to continue as a trend and whether any were short-term mirages.

After sifting through your responses, it seems pretty clear that most of you consider the Packers’ front five the greatest concern and the most difficult to fix. Fayld encompassed the majority view well:

When your coach's response is essentially "we need to man up" and "we could have seven guys blocking but if our lineman gets blown up, there is nothing we can do about it schematically," that is a HUGE red flag to me. There is still time for the line to "gel" so to speak, but if individual blockers can't hold their own, no amount of "coming together" is going to help.

GB Arodge12 notes there is “no way they’ll give up 80 sacks this season,” as is their current pace. But left tackle Chad Clifton’s ankle injury has caused a ripple effect that is going to make it hard to maximize continuity. Indeed, left guard Daryn Colledge will have to move to replace Clifton, causing center Jason Spitz to move to left guard and center Scott Wells to reclaim his center spot.

Kacky102 wrote: “Green Bay's o-line woes look like the real thing. To have one injury to the LT affect so many positions is a BAD sign. There is no reason to think that this will not continue to be an issue all season.”

Most of you were hesitant to make dramatic conclusions so quickly about the Vikings’ run defense, which has given up an average of 109 rushing yards in its first two games.

Kjzero9 noted that “a team that knows how to stop the run doesn't forget overnight.” The fact that the Vikings have returned all of their run-stopping personnel, including middle linebacker E.J. Henderson, suggested to many that it’s only a matter of time before things tighten down. “Will they be the #1 run defense in the NFL?” asked jmrushton. “Probably not, but they don't have to be. Anywhere around top five will suffice.”

The Bears’ rushing game, which has led to only 84 yards on 38 carries for tailback Matt Forte, is the least of your concerns.

Biffjacker suggested that the Bears might have wanted to attack Steelers reserve safety Tyrone Carter last Sunday. And many of you agreed with Brees mole, who compared the Bears to a kid with a “shiny new toy” in quarterback Jay Cutler. The Bears are taking Cutler for a spin before settling back into their core philosophies.

My take? I can’t argue with what any of you have said. I’m most alarmed about the Packers’ offensive line situation, mostly because they really don’t have many options at this point if they truly believe their personnel is underperforming. Their depth is entirely untested and inexperienced.

Do you want a rookie (T.J. Lang) or near-rookie (Breno Giacomini) protecting quarterback Aaron Rodgers? Is there any reason to believe that unsigned veteran Mark Tauscher can suddenly ride in on a horse and save the day? Otherwise, how much can you improve an offensive lineman’s individual technique and performance during the course of a season? I’m not sure about that.

I touched on the Vikings’ run defense Thursday, and it’s important to have some perspective. While they’re giving up 35 percent more yardage than their three-year average, the total numbers are still solidly in the middle of the NFL rankings. And from a statistical standpoint, it would only take a couple of strong games to bring those averages back down.

The only concern I would have is if nose tackle Pat Williams, who turns 37 next month, has suddenly hit a wall. I have no reason to believe that, but the numbers suggest it will happen some day.

Finally, I’m not ready to draw any conclusions about the Bears’ running game. To me, you have to emphasize a running game for it to work over time. At Green Bay, the Bears had passing plays called on 23 of their first 33 plays. That’s not how you get your running game going. As for last week’s game against Pittsburgh, check the stats. Not many teams run well against the Steelers. At this point, I consider it a bad sample set and nothing more.

This was a fun exercise, but I thought waynewf put it in good perspective:

“Each team has shown some weaknesses so far ... now is when we really see what our coaches are worth and what sort of adjustments and game plans we all use going forward to make up for our deficiencies and play to our strength. Every team in the NFL has strengths and weaknesses, it's just a matter of taking advantage of what you do well and covering up what you do not.”

Good stuff.