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[Packers] Offensive line shoots for big finish

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  • [Packers] Offensive line shoots for big finish

    It’s a long shot, but group could match Dolphins’ NFL record for fewest sacks

    By Pete Dougherty

    The Green Bay Packers are protecting Brett Favre nearly as well as any team has protected its quarterback in NFL history.

    Favre has been sacked five times in 10 games this season, which is on pace for eight sacks for the year. The NFL record for fewest sacks allowed in a season is seven, set by the Dan Marino-led Miami Dolphins in 1988.

    With six games still to play, beginning Monday night against St. Louis, the Packers will need an extraordinary finish to tie the Dolphins’ record, let alone beat it.

    But they’ve had five sackless games already this season, so while breaking or even tying the record has to be considered a long shot, it’s also not out of reach.

    “If we give up less than eight sacks, it would be a pretty incredible feat,” said Mark Tauscher, the Packers’ right tackle. “I don’t think we’re going to sit here and dwell on it. The most important thing is to be effective moving the ball. But it’s something, if we can break it, we’d like to do it.”

    The five sacks in 10 games is barely one-fourth of the league average of 22.9, and only two other teams are in single digits for sacks allowed: Indianapolis (six) and Denver (seven).

    It’s also a continuation of the Packers’ excellent pass protection last season, when they set the team record for fewest sacks allowed in a 16-game season with 19.

    Perhaps most surprising is that the Packers are protecting Favre better than ever without starting center Mike Flanagan, who was lost for the season in Week 4 because of a patellar-tendon injury. Grey Ruegamer, a sixth-year pro with only three career starts coming into the season, has recovered from a shaky start in his first game against the New York Giants.

    All in all, things are going so well that some of the offensive linemen fear jinxing themselves.

    “Just talking about it makes me nervous,” guard Marco Rivera said.

    As in the running game, pass protection is very much a collective effort. Halfback Ahman Green, the NFL’s eighth-leading rusher, helps because opponents have to honor his play-action fakes. The running backs and fullbacks play an important role in protection, too, both in picking up blitzes and chip blocking before they go into their pass routes.

    Also, Favre has an excellent sense for pass rushers closing in, and though he’s not the scrambling threat he was several years ago, he’s still adept at avoiding rushers and making throws outside the pocket.

    Nevertheless, the offensive line is the key to pass protection, and the Packers’ line is peaking with the bulk of that group in its fourth season starting together. Coach Mike Sherman ensured that continuity by re-signing left tackle Chad Clifton as the protector of Favre’s blind side for a $10 million bonus this past offseason. Clifton may be only an adequate drive blocker in the run game but has the footwork and balance of a first-rate pass protector.

    Guards Rivera and Mike Wahle are possible Pro Bowl candidates, and Tauscher is approaching the level of play he showed before blowing out his knee in 2002. Losing Flanagan was costly, because he’s one of the most mobile centers in the NFL, but that’s shown up more in the running game, where he was quick enough to get out on linebackers, than in the passing game.

    Those four have played together since 2001 and are held together by linchpin Larry Beightol, the offensive line coach. The 62-year-old Beightol is in his sixth season with the Packers and is respected as one of the better offensive-line coaches in the NFL.

    Beightol has been drilling this group with his hard coaching style since it has been together, though now that they’re veterans, he’s not as boisterous as in the past.

    “He’s just a stickler for detail. He’s always harping at us,” Rivera said. “If hand placement isn’t right or footwork isn’t right, he’s going to let you know about it in his own way. He keeps us honest. As players we shouldn’t allow ourselves to slack off, but when you have a coach that looks at that and doesn’t let down, it becomes part of you.”

    Though the Rams rank in the bottom quarter of the league (26th) in sack percentage, Monday night’s game presents a considerable threat to the Packers’ pass protection for two reasons: The potential absence of Green and the presence of St. Louis’ Leonard Little, who’s among the handful of top outside pass rushers in the NFL.

    Green is a premier running back, so if he doesn’t play — he’s questionable (50 percent chance of playing) because of sprained ribs — the Packers’ play-action game will lose its edge.

    Also, Little is an explosive outside rusher at left end who had 39 sacks combined from 2001 to 2003 but has only 4½ this season against constant double-teaming. The Rams are beginning to move him around the line of scrimmage on passing downs to avoid those double teams, though more often than not, he’ll be up against Tauscher. The Packers generally plan not to help one of their offensive linemen regularly unless that player struggles early.

    “You’re paid to block people,” Tauscher said. “I fully expect I’ll hold up very well.”

Related Topics


  • RamWraith
    Say, 'Cheese': Packers-Rams 5 Things To Watch
    by RamWraith
    By Jim Thomas

    Fabulous Favre

    There was a time when Brett Favre struggled indoors. Like the NFC playoff game in St. Louis six years ago, when he was intercepted six times by the Rams. Two of those six interceptions were returned for a touchdown by Aeneas Williams. But those days are gone. In four indoor games over the 2006 and 2007 seasons, Favre has posted a passer rating over 100 each time. He has 10 touchdown passes and zero interceptions in those contests. Under second-year head coach Mike McCarthy, Favre has been given more freedom to change plays at the line of scrimmage and seemingly has learned to reign himself in when it comes to throwing careless passes. Almost no one blitzes him these days because he gets the ball out so quickly. At age 38, Favre doesn't run much any more, but he can still escape the rush. So he's as tough as ever to beat, particularly with an improved running game and a top 10 defense on his side.

    "His is sort of revived," Rams defensive tackle La'Roi Glover said. "Now, with the sort of resurgence of a running game, it takes a lot of pressure off of Brett. He doesn't have to be the guy every single play, every single quarter, every single series. ... He's got a good supporting cast now."

    On the receiving end

    The Packers don't have any household names among their wide receiver corps, but they have put together one of the best and deepest pass-catching units in the NFL. The Packers are five deep, and will go "five wides" with an empty backfield 10-12 times a game. Don't be surprised if the Packers go "empty" more frequently against St. Louis in an effort to gain a matchup edge. The Rams are thin at cornerback following Tye Hill's season-ending wrist surgery. Donald Driver, with a team-high 73 catches, is the Packers' top interior receiver. He's used in the slot and is willing to take the pounding going over the middle. Greg Jennings, with his 11 touchdown catches in 11 games, is silky smooth, can adjust to the ball, and gets deep despite a lack of burning speed. Rookie James Jones, a third-rounder from San Jose State, is a power player (6-1, 207) with 43 catches. Veteran Koren Robinson has 13 catches in six games since returning from an alcohol-related suspension, and also returns kickoffs. Ruvell Martin has excellent size (6-4, 210) and has three touchdowns.

    "They're all pretty good," Rams cornerback Ron Bartell said. "They're capable of making big plays. The one thing about them, they're great at run after the catch. We're going to have to do a good job tackling."

    The Packers lead the NFL in yards after the catch (1,851).

    Ryan's song

    Who's the NFL's leading rusher since Week 8? Hint: It's not LaDainian Tomlinson, Willie Parker, or Brian Westbrook. Try Green Bay's Ryan Grant,...
    -12-16-2007, 09:53 AM
  • RamWraith
    Packers give the Rams extra motivation
    by RamWraith
    By Jim Thomas
    Sunday, Dec. 16 2007

    For the past couple of months, the Rams have been under the radar, out of sight
    and basically out of mind in NFL circles. That's what happens when you open the
    season with eight straight losses.

    On Sunday, the Rams play somebody from the other side of the tracks. For only
    the second time since October, the Rams play a team with a winning record. And
    it's not just any team. It's the Green Bay Packers, arguably the most storied
    franchise in NFL history.

    At 11-2, Green Bay can clinch a first-round bye with a victory, coupled with a
    Seattle loss (or tie) at Carolina. A Green Bay tie and a Seattle loss also does
    the trick.

    The incomparable Brett Favre, at age 38, can surpass one of the NFL's biggest
    passing milestones if he throws for 184 yards Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome.
    That total will allow Favre to break Dan Marino's record for career passing
    yards, set at 61,361.

    Even at age 33 and in his 12th NFL season, defensive tackle La'Roi Glover
    admits to being a bit more energized than usual because of the caliber of the

    "The motivation is there because of who Brett Favre is and the things he's been
    able to accomplish in the NFL," Glover said. "So it's going to be a little
    heightened excitement."

    But it's not as if the Rams are going to seek out Favre's autograph during TV

    "He's a quarterback who is good at what he does," running back Steven Jackson
    said. "But you can't get caught up in that. We are playing the Green Bay
    Packers. If you are in awe of who you're playing, then that's a loss already.
    We have to go out and take care of business."

    As for Favre's pending record, which can be achieved at the Rams' expense with
    that modest total of 184 yards?

    "I'm not worried about Brett Favre setting any type of records," cornerback Ron
    Bartell said. "I'm worried about getting the win. He's set so many records in
    his career, who cares about if he passes for 180 yards? I just want to get a

    For the Rams, 3-10 and officially out of playoff consideration, getting a
    victory will be no mean feat. Not only are the Packers ranked No. 3 in the NFL
    in total offense, they come to St. Louis with the league's ninth-ranked
    defense. With a special teams unit that ranks in the top 10 in most major
    categories, the Packers have few soft spots.

    "They can run the ball. They've got, to me, the greatest passer that's ever
    played the game," defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. "And they've got
    great receivers. So we have our work cut out...
    -12-16-2007, 09:54 AM
  • DJRamFan
    200 next on Favre's iron-man streak
    by DJRamFan
    By Todd McMahon
    One start a Hall of Fame legacy is not made. Yet, Brett Favre continues to mull all of these years later what might have been had he not gotten through that anxiety-filled first one.

    Head coach Mike Holmgren tabbed Favre as the Green Bay Packers' starting quarterback Sept. 27, 1992, against Pittsburgh at Lambeau Field.

    Seven days earlier, the 22-year-old Favre was summoned to relieve an injured Don Majkowski in the first quarter of a home game against Cincinnati. Favre rallied the Packers to a 24-23 victory, throwing a 35-yard touchdown pass to Kitrick Taylor in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter.

    With Majkowski still on the mend with a bum ankle, Favre was given his first shot in his second year as a pro to direct an offense from the outset of a game. The encore proved to be a smashing success, as Favre was an economical 14-of-19 passing for 210 yards and two touchdowns without an interception in a 17-3 win over the Steelers. The highlight was a 76-yard scoring strike to Sterling Sharpe.

    "I remember being extremely nervous and having a lot of uncertainty from my standpoint of, 'OK, what will happen? How will I play? Will we win this game? Things that really I couldn't control," Favre recalled this past week. "As I look back now, with so much experience under my belt, I think those were normal feelings. Now, I know what I can control and what I can't. That's as far as I go with it."

    Where the perpetually under-control Favre doesn't limit himself is how far he has been able to take what is shaping up to be one of the most hallowed achievements in sports, not just football.

    Having come a long way from that early-fall afternoon 12 years ago, Favre is set to make his 200th consecutive regular-season start Monday night, when the Packers host the St. Louis Rams.

    "Of all the awards that he's won and all the accomplishments that he's attained, I don't know if there's one he would be more proud of than the consecutive starts," said Mike Sherman, the Packers' head coach since 2000. "That embodies his character, and I think that's really what he's all about. I've never taken him for granted. I appreciate every day he's the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers."

    Technically, Favre reached the 200-start milestone for which he's garnered a lot of attention this week Nov. 16 last season at Tampa Bay. Counting playoff games, Favre has started 218 straight contests entering the game Monday.

    The league, however, doesn't combine regular-season and postseason time of service for statistical purposes.

    So, Favre will need to take the first snap in the Packers' initial series on offense against the Rams to become just the seventh player in recorded NFL history to start at least 200 consecutive games.

    -11-29-2004, 02:22 PM
  • DJRamFan
    [Packers] Packers relish Rams' visit
    by DJRamFan
    AP Sports Writer
    GREEN BAY, Wis. - The Green Bay Packers finally have the St. Louis Rams right where they want them: at Lambeau Field, on grass, in freezing weather.

    Forgive Brett Favre if he's not jumping for joy.

    "Well, I would much rather play them here than at their place. We haven't had much success at their place, and there's no guarantee that we will here," Favre said. "I think it's going to be a very difficult game. Either way. Here or there."

    That might be, but he tied an NFL playoff record by throwing six interceptions at St. Louis 22 months ago, then broke his right thumb there last year.

    The desperate Rams (5-5), who have lost three of four games, face the surging Packers (6-4), winners of five straight, on Monday night in a crucial game for two teams hoping to display some playoff pedigree in the jumbled NFC.

    The Packers are banged up in both backfields, which might very well negate any home-field advantage _ something that sure was missing the last time they played at home on a Monday night, a 48-27 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Oct. 11.

    "We'd like to erase that memory with a special Monday night performance and get rid of some of those ghosts we have from earlier in the season," Packers defensive end Aaron Kampman said.

    The problems with the Rams go back to Jan. 20, 2002, when Favre threw those half-dozen interceptions in a 28-point playoff loss.

    In October 2003, Favre broke his right thumb in a loss at St. Louis. Because he decided to play the rest of the season with a splint instead of having season-ending surgery, he kept alive his consecutive starts streak, which will reach 200 in the regular season Monday night, 219 counting the playoffs.

    Few teams have had Favre's number like the Rams, who capitalized on 12 Packers turnovers to outscore Green Bay 79-41 in their last two meetings.

    So the Packers have been looking forward to this night ever since the schedule came out.

    "They're a different team, as everyone knows, indoors," safety Darren Sharper said. "The fact that we have them at home hopefully will play into our favor. But we're just happy to see them because they put a whooping on us last year and we'd like to get a little payback."

    Payback? Guard Mark Tauscher is thinking more along the lines of a setback.

    "You can't do anything about what happened last year, or the year before," he said. "But we can give them a big setback and knock them off here and really give ourselves a big boost because anytime you struggle against somebody and then you get over that hump, that's big emotionally."

    Just like back in the 1990s, when the Packers lost seven straight to the Dallas Cowboys, three times in the playoffs...
    -11-29-2004, 02:21 PM
  • DJRamFan
    [Packers] Packers timing it just right
    by DJRamFan
    Green Bay has won five straight since it flopped in its last appearance on 'Monday Night Football'

    By Todd McMahon
    There was a time, not long ago, when a general consensus had formed that the Green Bay Packers' time was all but up in the 2004 season.

    They left a national TV audience equal parts flabbergasted and appalled the evening of Oct. 11. The Tennessee Titans stormed Lambeau Field and battered the Packers into submission by way of a 48-27 defeat, the most points ever surrendered by the home team at its sacred stadium.

    Like that, the two-time reigning NFC North champions had sunk to the unfathomable low of being at the bottom of the division with a 1-4 record spun out of a four-game losing streak.

    That was the last time the Packers had a co-starring role on ABC's "Monday Night Football." My, how the times have changed in the seven weeks leading up to their return engagement - and there's more to it than the network's catching flak for one of its desperate housewives baring herself to Philadelphia star receiver Terrell Owens in a recent pregame locker-room spoof.

    At 8 tonight, the coast-to-coast TV audience will be introduced to a Green Bay team that has taken on a new, albeit familiar identity. All the Packers have been doing since bombing in their last "MNF" episode is win.

    They put a five-game winning streak on the line against St. Louis (5-5) at Lambeau Field. At stake for the 6-4 Packers is maintaining a hold on the NFC North lead, a concept that seemed a pipe dream in the wake of the debacle against the Titans.

    "We know how it feels to be 1-4. That feels pretty bad. We've been through that, and we don't want to go back there," said right guard Marco Rivera.

    No turning, or looking, back is precisely the outlook head coach Mike Sherman drilled into his players' heads Wednesday morning. It was his first meeting with the team since addressing it late last Sunday night, following its gritty 16-13 comeback win at Houston in another prime-time game.

    He paralleled what transpired in those four quarters to how the Packers' season has unfolded to date.

    A 13-3 deficit through a dismal three quarters mirrored their 1-4 start in the win-loss ledger. "In that game, things weren't looking very good," Sherman reflected.

    Lo and behold, the Packers caught fire in the final 15 minutes to score 13 unanswered points, pulling out the victory on Ryan Longwell's 46-yard field goal as time expired. A microcosm of how they've rallied in the past month and a half to string together the five wins.

    "The guys hung together throughout the game; they believed in themselves," Sherman continued with the analogy. "You're down 13-3 going into the fourth quarter, and guys battled back. I thought...
    -11-29-2004, 02:21 PM