GREEN BAY—It wasn't the smoothest of starts to the season for the Packers' offensive line, but it's no accident that the growth and steadiness of that unit has coincided with the entire offense playing its most efficient football of 2014.
"That's a group that has a chance to be really, really good," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday, one day after a dominant, 38-17 victory over Carolina. "You're seeing some plays that look just the way you draw them up. That's what you look for.
"We had a couple runs yesterday we'll be using on our teaching tape. You're seeing things come together."
Using "maturity" as the first word to describe the offensive line, McCarthy likes what he has seen from the group's youngest members, second-year left tackle David Bakhtiari and rookie center Corey Linsley. Bakhtiari and right tackle Bryan Bulaga were awarded game balls from the coaching staff for their performances in the win. McCarthy referred to veteran left guard Josh Sitton as the most consistent performer and to right guard T.J. Lang as having his best season to date.
The group has already come a long way from getting knocked off-kilter early with Bulaga's knee injury in Week 1 and an admitted sub-par performance at Detroit in Week 3. The Packers haven't lost since then, of course.
Against the Panthers, the unit helped pave the way for both Eddie Lacy and James Starks to average better than five yards per rush while quarterback Aaron Rodgers recorded the second-highest passer rating of his career (154.5) and third-highest in team history.
Lang called it the closest the line has come to playing a "complete game" this season.
"I still don't think we're where we want to be as far as the blocking," he said. "You never want to be satisfied. You're always striving to get better. I think we definitely took a step forward from what we did last week in Miami. We ran the ball better and we protected Aaron better."
Both Lang and Sitton said the linemen need to continue focusing on finishing blocks, or re-engaging with defenders after an initial block, particularly with the number of tackles Lacy was shedding on some tough runs.
"We were standing around, not doing anything, looking like (jerks), not blocking and Eddie is squirting out of there," said Sitton, eliciting laughter from the media assembled around his locker. "He probably did it four or five times. It was impressive."
The tackle-breaking extended to the receivers as well, most notably Randall Cobb. McCarthy said he was given statistics at halftime that indicated the Packers had broken 16 tackles in the first two quarters of the game.
"That's off the charts," he said.
Twice on Sunday, Cobb took short throws from Rodgers and broke big gains, totaling 80 of his 121 receiving yards on two catch-and-runs. One of them came as Rodgers scrambled to his right and Cobb made "a heck of a catch, spins out of it and goes another 40 yards," McCarthy said.
"You go back through the years, that's one of the base principles of a passing game – getting the ball out on time and getting the ball in space to your playmakers."
Next up is an opposing offense that focuses on the exact same thing in the New Orleans Saints and quarterback Drew Brees, who have proven to be very tough to beat in the Superdome. In prime time on the road, the Packers will try to extend their winning streak to five games heading into their bye week.
"I'd like to think our whole team understands we're getting ready to go into a hot box down there in New Orleans," McCarthy said. "A big-time environment, big-time game. These are the games you like to play. Everybody wants to get this one and get to 6-2."
ADDITIONAL COVERAGE - OCT. 20