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Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Packers' Rodgers needs more help

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

Bruce Kluckhohn/US Presswire
Jared Allen and the Vikings defense did not give Aaron Rodgers time to get comfortable in the pocket. Allen collected 4.5 sacks Monday night.

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


MINNEAPOLIS -- If you want to wrap everything in a gift box and tie it up with a neat bow, here’s what you write: The Old Man outplayed the Young Gun. Brett Favre outfoxed his protégé. Aaron Rodgers, 384 yards and all, fell short.

Sorry, I just don’t see it that way.

My ESPN.com colleague Gene Wojciechowski will tell you all about Favre’s truly magical night at the Metrodome. I’m here to say that Green Bay didn’t give Rodgers a chance to outshine Favre in Monday night’s 30-23 loss.
Monday Night Coverage
-- Wojciechowski: Favre gets revenge
-- Seifert: Rapid Reaction
-- Zoom gallery
-- Monday Night HQ

Their pass protection was historically bad, continuing a baffling trend that began on opening weekend. Their receivers continued dropping critical passes. Monday night, it was tight end Donald Lee whiffing on a fourth-down pass in the end zone. And in the words of cornerback Charles Woodson, their defense “let” Favre make a few big plays against botched coverages.

“I don’t think we made a bad decision as far as going with Aaron,” Woodson said. “Not at all. I just think [Favre] landed with a better team right now.”

I can’t argue with that. Rodgers shared responsibility for a couple of the eight sacks he absorbed. There are times when he hesitated in the pocket, his timing perhaps thrown off by the footsteps he’s heard. But Rodgers was working with a nearly non-existent running game Monday night; the Packers only attempted 17 rushes. He was playing catch-up with a Vikings offense that scored at least one touchdown -- Bernard Berrian’s 31-yard reception in the third quarter -- when a Packers player missed a coverage assignment.

Most egregious, however, has been a pass-protection scheme that has allowed 20 sacks in four games this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that’s the highest four-game total for a Packers team since the advent of sack records in 1963.

“You can’t play that way,” coach Mike McCarthy said.

He is absolutely right, but what’s astonishing is that the Packers seem to have no answers. In Week 2, Cincinnati defensive end Antwan Odom had five sacks on his own. Monday night, Vikings defensive end Jared Allen -- who, unlike Odom, shouldn’t have been a game-planning surprise -- ran almost unencumbered to 4.5 sacks. (A "Monday Night Football" record, by the way.)

According to video analysis from ESPN Stats & Information, the Vikings rushed only four men on six of their eight sacks -- including all five of those Allen was involved in. By definition, that should be a numbers mismatch: The Packers’ five offensive linemen against the Vikings’ four defensive linemen.
Offensive Line Comparison
-- Packers O-Line Vikings O-Line
Pass Plays 45 32
Sacks 8 0
Sack Pct. * 17.8 0
QB Hits 9 1
* Percentage of pass plays with a sack

A defensive lineman will sometimes win his individual matchup, but a six-sack night in that scenario is a warning sign of either physical inferiority or a basic schematic flaw.

Rodgers had no choice but to endorse the latter theory and expressed hope the Packers can figure things out during their upcoming bye. One bit of (presumably) good news: Left tackle Chad Clifton (ankle) should return.

“I have confidence in those guys,” Rodgers said. “We just have to figure out what the best scheme is to handle the pressure. We get a week off to get healthy. Hopefully, we’ll get Chad back and we go from there.”

I’m not so sure it will be that easy. It’s pretty clear that right tackle Allen Barbre is going to struggle against athletic speed rushers. The first sack of the night came when Vikings backup Brian Robison ran past Barbre and pushed Rodgers into Allen’s arms. Meanwhile, I was amazed at how often the Packers put Colledge in a single matchup against Allen.

If Odom can get five sacks against the combination of Colledge and Clifton, why would anyone think Colledge could hold his own against Allen?

“That was fine by me,” Allen said afterwards. “I’ll take that. I’m not going to complain or second guess on that one.”

Colledge left in the fourth quarter after spraining his right knee; in a dark scene, he was injured when Vikings defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy shoved left guard Jason Spitz into his leg. Colledge said he suffered a sprain that should not keep him from missing a start, but you wonder what the Packers will decide after conducting a self-study during the bye.

“We went through the preseason and kept the guy completely clean,” Colledge said. “Now we have 20 [sacks]? That’s hard to swallow. You’ve got to find a way to protect the guy. That guy is important. He’s an extremely good quarterback and he’s extremely valuable to this offense. We have to find a way to keep him off his back.

“I take it very personal. It’s a slap in the face. For an offensive line that prides itself in an ability to one-on-one pass block, it’s a struggle. That’s hard. It’s gut-wrenching. You know how important that guy is and how special he is and we’ve got to keep him off the ground.”

Again, I think Rodgers shares some of the blame. Perhaps the biggest difference between him and his predecessor is that Favre has a better sense of the pass rush and when he needs to get the ball away. The clock in Rodgers’ head seems to be a little off right now.

I asked Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin if that could be a by-product of the early-season pressure he’s seen.

“When you start to overcompensate for things, everything gets out of whack,” Philbin said. “[But] we’ve got to do a better job protecting. I don’t know what else we can say. You open up a can of worms and invite teams to come after us. We have to do a better job.”

And at least give Rodgers a chance.