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Day-After Notes: Pass Protection Is Chief Concern

Head Coach Mike McCarthy didn’t need to watch the film on Monday morning to know this, but the team’s struggles in pass protection against the Chicago Bears on Sunday night are definitely the top concern heading into Week 2. "We’ve got work to do," McCarthy said. - More Mike McCarthy Press Conference Transcript - Sept. 14


Head Coach Mike McCarthy didn't need to watch the film on Monday morning to know this, but the team's struggles in pass protection against the Chicago Bears on Sunday night are definitely the top concern heading into Week 2.

"We've got work to do," McCarthy said.

After quarterback Aaron Rodgers was hardly touched in roughly six quarters of play in the four preseason games, the second-year starter took a considerable pounding from Chicago's defense, which showed it isn't as much in decline as some analysts have suggested.

Rodgers was sacked four times as the Bears registered a total of nine quarterback hits. Two of those sacks and at least a couple of the other hits were surrendered by right tackle Allen Barbre, who was making his first NFL start and had trouble with Chicago defensive ends Adewale Ogunleye and Mark Anderson throughout the night.

But McCarthy said on Monday that he's not making any changes on the offensive line for this Sunday's game against Cincinnati, and instead is focused on working to improve the unit as it stands.

"I'll say this about Allen -- he wasn't the only one who didn't play very well up front," McCarthy said. "Our protection unit did not play well, and that was a major cause for our frustration and our inability to move the football. The Bears defensive line did a very good job getting after our front last night, and we did not handle it very well."

Ogunleye had two of Chicago's sacks, while safeties Danieal Manning and Al Afalava had the other two on blitzes the protection unit failed to pick up. Manning's sack went for a safety and Chicago's only points of the first half.

"When I watched the film, as I kind of thought as I left the stadium last night, they had a real good defensive scheme, but there was nothing on that tape we haven't seen before or hadn't seen before from other teams," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "They executed their defense well and we didn't at times."

Both of the sacks Barbre surrendered to Ogunleye came in the first half, and the coaches noted Barbre's performance did improve in the second half. It wasn't the start to the post-Mark Tauscher era at right tackle the Packers were looking for, but Barbre will be given a chance to redeem himself this week.

"You just swallow your pride and go back to work," offensive linemate Daryn Colledge said. "The guy who finds a way to get better this week and not shut it down ... I'm proud of Allen. He struggled, and he'll be the first one to admit he had problems. But he manned up and he found a way to get it done in the fourth quarter when we needed him the most."

Colledge can relate, having experienced his share of bad days during his rookie season in 2006, and at times in 2007 as well, before locking down his spot in his third season last year.

"Everybody has a day like that," Colledge said. "You find the worth of a man when you find out how he responds to that. Allen didn't fold up his tent. A lot of guys would have sat on that bench and said, 'Put somebody else in,' or do something else, but he went back out there and found a way to keep fighting. That's what's most important."

For an offense that seemed nearly unstoppable in the preseason, to post just 156 yards through the first 571/2 minutes of Sunday night's game was not expected, nor acceptable. The troubles in pass protection contributed to some rather nightmarish down-and-distance situations, leading to a 4-for-14 conversion rate on third downs.

The line also allowed four tackles for loss in the running game, and a pair of holding penalties wiped out gains for first downs and backed the offense up.

"We were in second-and-long I think six times, greater than 10 yards," Philbin said. "That doesn't even include the second-and-8s, second-and-9s. And then I think we had third-and-11-plus six times during the course of the game. We probably went a month last year and didn't have six in a game."

The game-winning 50-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings was a short-yardage situation (third-and-1), but that didn't feature very good protection, either. McCarthy said the offensive line blocked the Bears' pressure wrong on the play, but Rodgers was able to step up and get rid of the ball quickly to Jennings, who was wide open.

"We just have to find a way to fundamentally get back to the offense we were in the preseason," Colledge said. "We've got to play with a swagger and a confidence that we know we have. We'll make those corrections today and we'll re-load this. The Bears are done, and we're on to Cincinnati."

Game balls

McCarthy noted that three players on defense - defensive ends Johnny Jolly and Cullen Jenkins, and linebacker Brandon Chillar - would receive game balls for their efforts on Sunday night.

They were three of the top five tacklers in the game for the Packers, and all three were in Chicago's offensive backfield on various occasions. Jenkins and Chillar recorded Green Bay's two sacks of Jay Cutler, with Chillar's coming when he hurdled running back Garrett Wolfe, who tried to go low to block him on the blitz.

Of all the notable defensive plays, Jolly's interception may have been the most improbable. He dove to his left as Cutler tried a short dump-off pass to running back Matt Forté on third-and-goal from the 8, got his left hand on the ball and hauled it in for the interception while falling to the ground.

"The play Johnny Jolly makes, I don't know how many other defensive linemen can make that play," McCarthy said. "It's a great play by Johnny there in a crucial time to keep points off the board."

{sportsad300}The offensive game ball went to Jennings, while linebacker Desmond Bishop received the special-teams game ball for his work on the return and coverage units. McCarthy hinted, as the coaching staff did during training camp, that Bishop is playing well enough to deserve time in the linebacker rotation on defense.

On Sunday night, the inside linebacker rotation included Nick Barnett, A.J. Hawk and Chillar in both base and nickel situations, while rookie Clay Matthews rotated in for Brady Poppinga at outside linebacker in nickel. Bishop worked exclusively at inside linebacker during training camp.

"It's a great asset to have, to have that many playmakers," McCarthy said. "We really have to find a way to get Desmond Bishop involved too."

Injury update

Safety Atari Bigby was undergoing tests on his knee Monday, an injury McCarthy termed a sprain.

There is no timetable yet as to how long Bigby might be out, but McCarthy did say Aaron Rouse would start at safety in Bigby's place if Bigby is unable to play on Sunday. Another option for additional depth at safety would be newcomer Derrick Martin, who played on special teams in the opener.

Both nose tackle B.J. Raji (ankle) and cornerback/returner Will Blackmon (quad) were "close" to being able to play Sunday but were held out. McCarthy said both players worked out on Monday and are doing well, and the coaching staff will evaluate how they perform in practice this week.

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