After three consecutive losses by the Green Bay Packers, where Aaron Rodgers has looked uncomfortable in the pocket in each game, the question has been raised - what is wrong with the offensive line?
Is the play of the offensive line itself the reason? Yes. And no.
Offensive line stats are hard to come by. Different websites give information on offensive line play, however they typically only give information on how the whole line is playing, not a ranking by player. There are a few clues. There are also a lot of issues, and none of them have a simple fix.
The offensive line this year was a group returning from a very successful year, ranking 8th in run blocking and 13th in pass protection. With Corey Linsley entering his second year at center and the group seemingly healthy, there were high expectations for a repeat or even improved performance.
That hasn't happened. At this point in the season the Packers' offensive line is ranked a less than stellar 23rd in run blocking and 17th in pass protection.
Aaron Rodgers was sacked 28 times in 2014. He has already been sacked 22 times in 2015. That could be a combination of Rodgers holding on to the ball too long combined with his offensive line perhaps being more porous than last season. Certainly, some of it is on the protection he gets from the offensive line.
David Bahktiari was the most penalized Packers lineman in 2014, with 8 penalties. He already has 7 this year.
While penalties are going to happen, consistent ones are an issue. It's also true that when offensive linemen are struggling, they resort to any method possible to protect their quarterback, as Jerry Kramer wrote about in Instant Replay.
That tends to result in penalties, especially in today's NFL. But penalties alone do not tell the story, either.
If it's hard to pin it on the total offensive line, much less an individual player, are there other contributing factors?
Opponents. In the first two of the three losses, the Packers played very, very good defenses in Denver and Carolina. The line struggled against Detroit, who does not possess a great defense, but that might be due to the next reason on the list.
Injuries. Even before the losses, the Packers were beginning to struggle on offense. Rodgers has looked rushed, and has taken several hits. Bryan Bulaga missed games with a meniscus tear, and while he is now back, during the Detroit game.
Bahktiari had to leave on a cart. This week, everyone but Corey Linsley reported injuries this week. At this point all the starting offensive linemen are expected to play, but one wonders how a banged up crew will do at enabling the offense to perform at its expected level.
Support. The lack of an effective blocker at tight end has also been a problem. While tight end isn't an offensive line position, blocking is a key part of the position, helping to pick up pass rushers especially to keep Aaron Rodgers safe and effective in the pocket.
Blocking isn't Richard Rodgers' strength and a place where the team is missing Andrew Quarless. With the addition last week of Justin Perillo, who showed a great deal of promise, the Packers might be on the right track to get the line some needed assistance.
Receivers. The Packers receiving corps has looked uncertain. Injuries haven’t helped, but an inability to separate from defensive coverage and achieve yards after catch is impacting the offensive line – who now have to defend the quarterback for increasingly lengthy periods of time.
Defenses will find a way to get around the offensive line, given enough time and opportunity. The added abuse to the linemen could also contribute to the injury issue.
As the Packers now face what increasingly looks like a tough remaining schedule - division opponents, the NFC West leading Arizona Cardinals - it is imperative the offensive line plays at a high level, and any problems that can be need to be solved. Fast.
It’s anyone’s guess whether or not that happens.