Green Bay Packers Unsung Heroes: The White Wall
By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider.com senior editor
~Aaron Rodgers is a bad man, as Stephen A. Smith says.
But lost in the trenches of this record-setting Packers offense, far away from the spotlight on Aaron Rodgers and the end zone where Jordy, Randall, Eddie, and Davante are often found, are the unsung heroes: The White Wall.
From left-to-right, LT David Bakhtiari, LG Josh Sitton, C Corey Linsley, RG T.J. Lang, and RT Bryan Bulaga have remained healthier than recent years past (knock on wood) as they haven’t missed any starts yet.
Starting with the hardest possible tests, at Seattle, vs NY Jets, at Detroit, the Packers offensive line has progressively gotten better.
Yesterday against the Eagles, they allowed only one sack to a defense that had just gotten eight sacks of Cam Newton the previous game.
“The offensive line has been playing well all year, really, everyone in the protection unit,” Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements said. “Yesterday they played very well. We only had the one sack, and multiple times Aaron had a lot of time to throw and was able to go to secondary receivers.
True, the Packers have allowed 22 sacks in 10 games, but that’s middle of the pack, 16th in the NFL. This despite every opposing defense aiming for him. That’s each defensive coordinator’s primary focus all week leading up to facing Rodgers.
True, the Packers rushing game is only 18th in the NFL in yards per carry at 4.1, and 18th in yards per game at 102.2.
But as long as Rodgers is getting time to pass, and Nelson, Cobb and Lacy remain healthy, the Packers are going to light up most defenses. And we’ve seen that now for pretty much the past seven weeks.
Now of course Rodgers is getting all the pub, which he does deserve as he’s a surgeon out there and he’s leading the NFL in passer rating, again. He’s the leader in the clubhouse for the MVP again, at this moment.
Nelson and Cobb are also much more important than most people realize. They’ve both stayed healthy so far through 10 games and it makes a huge difference. Take one away, and the other guy gets doubled all the time and his production drops while the other guy is gone. Packer fans of old remember that from the Favre Era in the 90’s when Robert Brooks or Antonio Freeman were out. The 1996 Super Bowl team had to bring in Andre Rison to get the offense back on track.
And when Bill Schroeder was a starter? You wonder why Favre slowed down in the late 90’s, early 00’s when he still had the arm left.
Back to the trenches.
At left tackle, second-year left tackle Bakhtiari continues to make Ted Thompson looking like a genius for grabbing this guy out of Colorado last year on Day-3 of the 2013 Draft. He was expected to be a backup, a la what Donny Barclay was last year.
But both of them became needed starters last year due to, what else, injuries. Now a year later, Bakhtiari is better and more confident, and doesn’t need help nearly as often as last year’s rookie season.
Over at right tackle, Bulaga has been solid as well, for the most part. He had some issues with Cameron Wake of the Dolphins in week six. He also, as he often does on the road on turf against speedy edge rushers, had some issues at New Orleans. But he’s been healthy and reliable and Rodgers will take him like this every day, for the next six games and then for three or four more in January.
The guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang have played the past two full weeks on wounded wheels. Lang has an ankle while Sitton has a torn ligament in his big toe. The fact that they’re both playing through it is impressive. But the fact that they’ve played well is extra special. These grizzly old veterans deserve a lot of credit.
Josh Sitton is simply as good as it gets in the league at guard, and Lang is getting closer.
At center, perhaps this year’s most surprising rookie Corey Linsley has been the key. Drafted late, like Bakhtiari a year ago, Linsley was expected to be a young backup, afforded a chance to sit and learn as a rookie. But with J.C. Tretter going down right before the season started, Linsley was forced in as starter without even one preseason game to practice with Rodgers.
And he had to start his career at Super Bowl champion Seattle, on national TV, with Seattle still on fire from winning the Super Bowl. There could be no tougher test for any center than that. Great defense, and loud. He did fine and has only gotten better. There have been calls for him to make the Pro Bowl this year. According to Pro Football Focus, the only center in the NFC graded higher this year has been Max Unger of Seattle. Linsley has not been charged with a sack yet.
Now this line hasn’t faced anywhere near the caliber of interior defensive linemen the past month or so as they did early against Detroit, Seattle, and the Jets. But what’s been accomplished recently, mostly at home, has a lot to do with how well these guys have done in the trenches.
Another challenge against Suh and the Lions awaits at the end of the season, and New England comes to town on November 30th, with Little Bill (Belichick) always creative going after opposing quarterbacks.
“The offensive line has really started the charge here,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said at his Monday presser. “It starts up front. Those five guys continue to play together each and every week.”
What happens the rest of the year remains to be seen, but if this current group can stay healthy and on the field (along with #12, #87, #18, #27), the Packers will continue to light up the scoreboard.
If the Packers ultimately end up in Glendale on February 1st, the White Wall will most likely be the Unsung Heroes. And perhaps they will get to pay a visit to the White House in February.