Packers O-line ready for big test
He got one anyway.
This week, Packers linemen got together on their own to watch film of last year’s miserable 7-3 loss at Ford Field—an early step in their preparation for Thursday’s much-hyped game in Detroit.
The reigning Super Bowl champions are 10-0 going into a big Thanksgiving Day showcase and have been unstoppable at times on offense, but watching last year’s film was humbling.
“We were actually just watching that game, and we did not play well,” Bulaga said. “Didn’t do anything well, really. It was just a poorly played game. That may be a nice way of putting it, too.”
The Packers were forced to shuffle their offensive line on the fly in that game after an early knee injury to then-left guard Daryn Colledge. Jason Spitz replaced him, struggled, and was replaced by T.J. Lang.
The Packers couldn’t get anything going on offense, and the Lions knocked Aaron Rodgers out of the game near the end of the first half with a concussion. Backup Matt Flynn struggled, too, and a late attempt at a rally came up short.
The Packers allowed four sacks and several more quarterback hits that day while gaining only 66 yards on 20 rushes—and 25 of those yards came on a pair of runs by Rodgers.
“Let’s not take anything away from them,” Bulaga said. “They beat us, they were more physical than us. They deserved to win. We just didn’t play well enough to win that day.”
But right guard Josh Sitton dismissed suggestions that the Packers struggled because the Lions’ defensive line was superior that day.
“That’s not about them, necessarily,” Sitton said. “I’d say our fundamentals, as an offensive line, weren’t great in that game. We’ve got to start from within.”
But what about the player Sitton will line up against Thursday, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh?
“Good football player,” Sitton said. “But like I said, it’s about us.”
Packers coach Mike McCarthy acknowledged that watching film of last year’s game in Detroit is part of their preparation this week, but said they are far more concerned with studying what the Lions are doing on defense this year.
“It’s something we can learn from,” McCarthy said. “You pay more attention to what they’re doing on defense and the personnel matchups and the tendencies of the individuals. But, yeah, it definitely factored in the game last year.”
Detroit has 27 sacks this season, tying them for eighth-most in the NFL. While the Lions have been vulnerable to the run, they’re allowing 192.8 yards passing per game—fifth-best in the league.
“They’ve got as good a front four as you’re going to see and they rotate some guys in who can play as well, so it’s going to be important for us to control them when they’re just rushing four,” Rodgers said. “They’ve been getting after the passer really well with (Kyle) Vanden Bosch and (Cliff) Avril and they’ve got a good rush up the middle.”
The Lions have ruffled some feathers along the way, cultivating a reputation for playing to the whistle and beyond, but the Packers downplayed the Lions’ attempts to intimidate and irritate as a significant factor in Thursday’s game.
“I’m not too worried about that, and I don’t think anyone else is,” Bulaga said. “We’re going to do what we do, play our game and go from there. You can’t worry about that stuff going into it. Whatever’s going to happen is what happens. We just have to play smart and do what we do.”
Sitton said the Packers’ linemen generally avoid getting goaded into penalties.
“Yeah, you can’t stoop down to that kind of stuff,” Sitton said. “That’s playing anyone. You’ve got to keep your composure out there, and I think that’s something we do well. We don’t try to get into that extracurricular stuff. We’re pretty smart with that.”
From a technique standpoint, Detroit tries to challenge opposing offensive lines by using what is referred to as a “wide nine” alignment, where the defensive end lines up outside the tight end—or several feet wide of the offensive tackle if there isn’t a tight end on his side of the formation.
Lining up wider than usual gives a quick defensive end more options in pass rush situations, and Bulaga said the Packers have to be ready for it.
“You’ve got to be able to get out and get some depth so he doesn’t have an easy edge to get around,” Bulaga said. “It gives that defensive end a good opportunity to do a three-way go on you—If you under-set him, he’s going to go around you; if you over-set him, he can go inside real quick; or, he can get a full head of steam and bull-rush you. So you really have to be sound with your sets and fundamentals when you’re playing that type of technique because they approach it in a different way.”
Then there’s the crowd factor; given the Lions’ recent resurgence and the hype going into Thursday’s game, the Packers expect to play in a louder-than-usual environment.
“It’s going to be a pretty crazy environment,” Sitton said. “Thanksgiving, Packers coming to town, it’s going to be wild. I’ve played there three times and it hasn’t been like that. So I’m expecting kind of the Minnesota, Metrodome-type atmosphere.”