Packers’ line ready to protect?
On the surface, the matchup seems to be a mismatch: The Green Bay Packers offensive line that has allowed a league-worst 44 sacks against a Baltimore Ravens defense that delights in confusing and intimidating opponents.
But Ray Lewis isn’t necessarily expecting a free-for-all in tonight’s game at Lambeau Field.
The Ravens’ linebacker knows the Packers have brought their protection problems under control of late, giving up three sacks in their past two games.
Improved blocking, quicker throws from Aaron Rodgers and a more solid commitment to running the ball have played a pivotal role in a three-game winning streak that has brought Green Bay into playoff contention.
“They’ve really pieced some things together here at the end,” Lewis said. “The offensive line is communicating way better and kind of playing much better. I don’t think you want to get caught up in what happened earlier, I think you get caught up in what happened lately. And as of late, they’re covering him up and protecting him well.”
Baltimore’s defense isn’t the fierce pass-rushing force it has been in the past. The Ravens have gone two games without a sack and rank in the lower half of the league with only 21 sacks this season. And linebacker Terrell Suggs is struggling with a knee injury and doubtful for Monday.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh knows his team will have to get after Rodgers.
“Early on they struggled, but they seem to have gotten that straightened out,” Harbaugh said. “They’re protecting very well the last three weeks, and it’s a good offensive line. It’s a very good quarterback. He understands pressure, and they’ve got a great receiving corps—as good as any in the league, top to bottom. So it’ll be tough for us.”
Rodgers says the Packers’ return to an offense based on short passes has helped the offensive line gain confidence.
“We’ve had a lot of plays where I get the ball out of my hand quickly,” Rodgers said. “... I think those guys can win a high percentage of their one-on-one battles when they feel confident in the protection schemes.”
The Packers have been boosted by the return of veteran right tackle Mark Tauscher, who was re-signed in October coming off a major knee injury and has worked his way back into the starting lineup. And after some concern about a nagging hamstring injury that limited veteran left tackle Chad Clifton in practice this week, Clifton is probable for Monday’s game.
If the Packers’ protection can hold up and Rodgers can steer clear of safety Ed Reed, there might be some opportunities for big plays in the passing game.
Reed, though, did not practice Thursday and Friday because of ankle and hip injuries.
If Baltimore’s relative weakness is in the back end of its defense, its strength is up front. The Ravens lead the NFL in average yards allowed per rush, holding opponents to 3.54 yards per carry.
And the Ravens still are one of the league’s best defenses in the only statistical category that really matters. Baltimore is giving up 17.1 points per game, fourth-best in the league.
“Obviously, we know what kind of players those guys are,” Rodgers said. “They’re probably first-ballot Hall of Famer guys, guys who have been playing at a very high level, Pro Bowl level for a number of years. So they’re definitely guys we need to account for every play and be aware of.
“But they put their uniform on the same as all of us, and they’ve got to line up and play against us as well. They’re talented players, but we’re definitely going to stick to our scheme and hopefully be able to make some plays.”