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Packers’ offensive line wants to stand its ground

By Tom Silverstein, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel –

GREEN BAY, Wis. — It’s not as if Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers will have a mutiny on their hands if they don’t commit to running the ball more, but if they remain pass-happy they better be prepared for frustration to boil over as it did after the Green Bay Packers’ 30-27 loss to Indianapolis Sunday.

Both guards, T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton, made sharp comments after the game questioning the scarcity of run plays called in a game the Packers led 21-3 at halftime.

They felt Colts pass rushers were able to keep their engines revved the entire second half, knowing there wouldn’t be any reason to throttle down for a run play. In all, McCarthy and Rodgers — the quarterback often has freedom to change McCarthy’s call from pass to run or vice versa at the line of scrimmage — called 25 pass plays to just six runs in the second half.

The result was a sack-fest that saw Rodgers go down five times and the Packers manage six points.

“I think we were both definitely frustrated after the game,” Lang said. “I think we both probably said some things that we didn’t really mean. I think we have to just take more advantage of the (run) opportunities when they’re called.

“Coach always talks about practice (performance); I agree with him. I think we have to give him that confidence in the run game. There’s been times in practice that it really hasn’t looked the way it’s supposed to.”

On Sunday, McCarthy and Rodgers didn’t give the line very many opportunities to prove itself after starter Cedric Benson left with a foot injury. The Packers didn’t run the ball until their third possession of the second half when the Colts had crawled back into the game, 21-13.

Green gained minus-2 yards on three carries during the eight-play drive. He had two more carries before busting off a 41-yard run with 4 minutes 44 seconds left, setting up the Packers for a go-ahead touchdown.

“That’s a tough situation to get into and I think that’s where the frustration came out of,” center Jeff Saturday said. “But ultimately, as an offense, whatever the play is we have to make the best of it.”

Three years ago, a similar thing happened with the line after an embarrassing loss against winless Tampa. During an offensive meeting, players were allowed to clear the air and Rodgers and the linemen expressed their expectations of each other.

The Packers won seven of their last eight to make the playoffs.

None of the offensive linemen interviewed Wednesday said anything like that happened this week. They said their job is to carry out the play given to them and that there was no need for a gripe session.

“It’s not really in our place to say anything,” Sitton said. “We’re just kind of the worker bees; do what we’re told and try to do the best we can.”

Benson was put on injured reserve Wednesday, which raises doubt whether McCarthy will trust Green and oft-injured James Starks to carry the ball against a hard-to-crack Houston Texans defense that ranks ninth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed.

But how much success can he have throwing the ball 70 percent of the time against a defense that also ranks fourth in sacks. The one thing the linemen would prefer not to see is a bunch of Texans pass rushers tearing loose every play as the indoor crowd makes it next to impossible to hear anything.

“We have to go back to what makes us good and I think offensive line-wise you always feel better when you’re balanced,” Saturday said. “I think that’s where the frustration came.

“It puts a ton of pressure on you up front when everybody in the building knows: This is what you got. I mean, everybody criticizes you for giving up pressures and sacks, but when everybody in the building knows (what you’re going to do), it’s tough.”

The Packers rank 31st in sacks allowed per play. Some of the sacks are their fault, some are the receivers’ fault for not getting open and some are Rodgers’ fault for holding on to the ball too long.

Somehow, they have to figure out a solution or the 2-3 start to the season is going to be 2-5 by the time their three-game road stand is complete.

“I’m going to try to find ways to get us in good situations on Sunday and make the smart plays,” Rodgers said. “I think as a whole, we just need to be entering the game on Sunday with a greater urgency of how badly we need to play well this week.”

McCarthy has not given anyone — at least publicly — any assurances that he’ll run the ball more than he did against Colts, but Rodgers said he understands what balance means not only to the line but the entire offense.

Like McCarthy, Rodgers has to have trust in Green and Starks, so that if the Texans are leaning too much toward defending a particular pass play, he’s willing to check out of it and give the ball to his back. It was easier to do when an eighth-year veteran like Benson was behind him.

“Obviously, with Ced in there, we wanted to give him some opportunities — 15 to 20 rushes, bare minimum,” Rodgers said. “I think it (his absence) makes the backfield more of a running back by committee with Alex and James and Brandon (Saine).

“But we’re still going to try to have balance — probably more than we have in the past.”

Lang said that the linemen talked about their frustration and decided that they have to prove to McCarthy that they can consistently create movement up front so Green and Starks can be successful. He said it would start with practice Thursday, the only day the team is in pads.

“We like to be balanced as linemen,” Lang said. “It takes a lot of pressure off us when those guys have to respect both aspects of our game. But I think we have to take advantage of the opportunities we get in practice and give coach confidence on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday instead of just trying to prove it on Sunday.”

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