Strong Pass Protection, With Less Help, Should Make Passing Game More Efficient

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One of the biggest reasons quarterback Brett Favre was sacked just 19 times while attempting an NFL-high 613 passes in 2006 was that the Packers' offense often kept extra blockers in to pass protect.

But the frequent use of that seven-man protection scheme - which keeps either two tight ends or a tight end and a running back in to block along with the five down linemen - came at a price.

With extra pass protection, Favre often had only three receiving options downfield, and that in part contributed to a career-low 56 percent completion rate on the season.

One of Head Coach Mike McCarthy's points of emphasis with the passing game for the upcoming season is to improve that completion percentage. And he's confident that will happen as his young offensive line, which had three rookies combine for 38 starts in 2006, doesn't need as much extra help in 2007.

"We can't throw the ball for 56 percent," McCarthy told a group of reporters at the annual owners' meetings in Phoenix on Wednesday. "That's not what we're looking for."

The protection scheme wasn't the only reason for the low completion percentage in 2006. McCarthy noted that dropped passes, poor routes and Favre's decision-making all played a part, and all can and will be improved.

But with the offensive line showing the most improvement of any position group in 2006, the foundation is there to grow from what was established last season and maintain, without as much help, the solid pass protection provided. The Packers ranked first in the NFC and third in the league in sacks per pass play.

"I thought we did a very good job schematically, helping people that needed to be helped appropriately," said McCarthy, adding that he used more seven-man protection last year than he ever has with his offense. "We took a protection-first mentality.

"But we'll be able to get back to more of the six-man and five-man protections that we didn't use very much."

McCarthy said he was particularly pleased with the play of center Scott Wells last season. Wells, in his first full year as the starting center, showed sound decision-making ability as the lineman calling the protection schemes, helping the young interior of the offensive line (with rookies Jason Spitz and Daryn Colledge flanking Wells most of the season) keep getting better.

One advantage to the Packers' approach last season, McCarthy noted, was that the seven-man protection is the base of the entire protection scheme. The six-man and five-man schemes are derivatives of the basic seven-man look.

That should make the transition to less seven-man protection a smooth one for the young and improving linemen, which should lead to more options for Favre in the passing game.

"The thing I'm really pleased about is when push comes to shove, when you go back to that base protection, our guys have a great grasp of that," McCarthy said. "So we have an outstanding foundation to move forward."

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