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Packers offensive line getting the ball rolling

Special teams found end zone, but must be wary of weaknesses now on film


GREEN BAY—Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw 36 passes on Sunday. He scrambled three times. He was sacked once.

"The offensive line has really started the charge here," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday. "It starts up front. Those five guys continue to play together each and every week."

That continuity is proving valuable, as the Packers' offense has been on a roll since late September. With the exception of a couple of red-zone hiccups in New Orleans right before the bye, the offense has been borderline unstoppable for the better part of seven games, or almost half a season.

The line's starting five of tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga, guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang and rookie center Corey Linsley handled an active and aggressive Eagles defensive front with hardly a miscue on Sunday. Rodgers has been getting out of games early, and clean.

"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.

"They're playing very well and you can't really say enough about Josh and T.J., having little to no practice over the last two weeks and being able to play and play well."

The offensive line was no better than on three consecutive third-and-longs on a first-quarter TD drive. Rodgers was able to convert third downs requiring nine, 18 and 10 yards with pinpoint passes. He helped himself on the middle conversion by reducing it five yards, drawing the aggressive Eagles offside.

"At one point it was third-and-23. It was up there quite a bit," Clements said. "To get a first down and go on to score a touchdown, that's big. They were probably looking forward to a punt, stopping us, but then we were able to overcome the long yardage situation and get points. It's a big plus."

The Packers also dealt with a formidable challenge from the Eagles' special teams, considered at or near the top in the league.

Early on, that battle tilted in Green Bay's favor as Micah Hyde returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown. It turned the tables on the Philadelphia special teams, which had scored multiple TDs in 2014.

"Undoubtedly one of the best units we've seen. They're having an excellent year," Packers Special Teams Coordinator Shawn Slocum said. "For us, creating that touchdown, it was a very important part of the game. It kind of broke the game open, and I think it created some confidence in the return game. We need to make those plays."

Slocum credited Davon House with a good block on one of the gunners to give Hyde enough room to catch the ball and get started. Several teammates made strong blocks down the field, and the score put the Packers ahead, 17-0.

"Micah did a great job with his patience," Slocum said. "He's got good awareness, he's got a lot of courage, and he takes the ball vertically quickly."

Added McCarthy: "It gave us a chance to jump out in front and give you the type of lead you like to play with, especially at home."

The Packers special teams had its struggles as the game went on, though. The list included a bobbled snap on a PAT, a blocked PAT, a blocked punt and a missed 50-yard field goal.

Slocum attributed the two blocks mostly to protection breakdowns, and he called for his units to get back to the basics.

"We need to do a better job fundamentally," he said. "We've played a number of guys in there, and we need to get some continuity for the rest of the season and into the playoffs. That's going to be important for us, particularly with the way the weather is."

The blocked punt is the second against the Packers this year, and two placekicks have now been blocked as well (a field goal in Chicago was the first). The vulnerabilities on film are there for future opponents to try to exploit.

"I think they identify what they view as a weakness and they attack that," Slocum said. "One thing about this league, you'd better stop what you've done poorly, or you will get exposed."


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