The development of the Green Bay Packers' running game, and their consistent commitment to it, has been one of the stories of their season. Some of the credit has gone to an offensive line that settled down when coaches decided on rookie Don Barclay as the replacement for injured right tackle Bryan Bulaga, which then allowed T.J. Lang to move back to left guard.
It's only fair to mention, however, that pressure on quarterback Aaron Rodgers has increased over roughly the same span. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Rodgers was sacked or put under duress on 28.1 percent of dropbacks over the Packers' final seven regular season games. That was the fourth-highest rate among NFL teams over that span; Rodgers' duress rate was 20.1 in the previous nine games, the 12th-best in the league.
(ESPN defines "duress" as any time a quarterback is forced from the pocket, had his throwing motion altered or faced a defender with a clear path in his line of sight.)
That's why the relatively anonymous Barclay will play an important role in Saturday night's divisional playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers. Barclay figures to get at least a few matchups with 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith, who brutalized another NFC North team -- the Chicago Bears -- for a 5.5-sack game in Week 11.
Rodgers typically plays well in such situations. His 81.7 Total Quarterback Rating (QBR) while under duress was the NFL's best by a long shot during the regular season. But you still don't want to see a pass rusher like Smith running free in a playoff game. Hence, this week's Blogger Blitz.
Related: Elizabeth Merrill's Hot Read profile on Smith.