My high school football coach used to say, “The world would be a better place if an offensive lineman were president!”
I would tend to agree with my coach. Offensive lineman have all the qualities that you would look for in some of the best football players on the field, which are also things that make a great president. They have to be smart, strong leaders, and excellent in communication. Think about it like this; all five players have to be doing their job up front and trusting the player beside them. Really, it’s one of the hardest position groups to master and to coach.
I’ve always considered myself an offensive line enthusiast. While many fans are looking for the highlight plays, such as the deep ball that goes for a touchdown, I’m looking at the players up front who made it possible for the quarterback to complete that pass.
John Madden is the first analyst that I can remember who made being an offensive lineman “cool”, which was right around the time of the infamous “hogs” in Washington. The offensive line never seemed to have much coverage before then. I think in the world of sports media today that a lot of fans are misled when it comes to this position group. They see a defensive player get a sack and instantly want to point the blame on somebody up front. The truth is, none of us really will know, simply because we’re not in the huddle. However, understanding the protection scheme will shed some light on how you watch a Packers game. My goal in this article is to help shed some light on how you view the Packers offensive line.
To understand pass protection, you must first look at the sets used by the offensive line. The first set we are going to take a look at is the jump set. The jump set is mostly used in quick throws. The goal of the jump set is to lock up with a rusher and sell the pass. I like this look because it really gives the lineman a chance to let loose and be physical.
Let’s take a look at each offensive lineman across the board and see how it looks. Before we get too far into the breakdown, it is crucial to know the fundamentals of any good pass block.
These are the things that I always look for in any pass block:
- Hand placement
- Wide base
In the above clip, take a look at how Bulaga blocks this play up. He’s going to attack the defensive end. He’s really wanting to sell the run and get the defense to come up so Rodgers can find something underneath.
His first step looks good. Notice how quickly he comes off of the line of scrimmage and gets hands on the rusher. He also does a good job at getting the inside leg anchored down and taking away any possibility of the inside rush. The pad level and hat (helmet) level also look good. This is a good example of a solid jump set.
Turner, Jenkins, and Linsley do a nice job on the inside. Turner especially does a nice job mirroring the rusher. This comes back to footwork. The lateral movement drills that we see at the combine every spring really come in to effect on plays like this. He’s able to mirror the rusher step for step and keep him out of the offensive backfield.
The inside step by Bakhtiari is crucial on the backside. He’s able to help out and seal the backside off after the rusher rips back to the outside of Jenkins. Backside blockers can never go to sleep in the event that something like this happens.
Here’s another example of a successful jump set. The block by Bulaga is again critical as he’s playing on the wide side of the field. At the snap of the ball he brings the feet as well as the hands in a swift one-two punch. Again, in a jump set the goal of the offensive line is to fire out and attack the rusher. It all looks good across the board here. Notice the combination block by Linsley and Turner on the field side 3 technique. Many times in a protection scheme offenses will use the combination block on a rusher who poses the biggest threat. Both players do a good job at getting shoulder to shoulder and eliminating any chance of the rusher splitting the double team.
As I mentioned earlier, the jump set can freeze the inside linebacker and take him out of the play. This is a good example of that on this quick throw. The inside linebackers’ first steps are the most important. Many linebackers will take a “read step” and then redirect based on their read. The offensive line, as well as the linebackers key (Aaron Jones), do a good job of selling the run and taking him out of this play. You wouldn’t think that the linebacker could make this play, but oftentimes they will flow towards the throw and take away the cutback run.
Zone blocking schemes have become increasingly popular over the past couple of years, especially with teams like the Rams and Eagles. From college to the NFL, many teams are running zone pass blocking concepts to mirror what they do in the run game. As opposed to BOB blocking (big on big), in a zone concept, a player is responsible for blocking a particular zone, as you can probably guess.
As I mentioned earlier, the footwork is everything when it comes to pass blocking. In zone concepts, the offensive line’s first step should be a flat lateral step. They want to get lateral as quick as possible so they can take away their respective zone. In the clip above, watch how the line moves swiftly at the snap of the ball to get to the short side of the field. I like zone-blocking because it gives the possibility for the double team block, as opposed to the BOB scheme. Linsley and Jenkins again do a good job of eliminating the rush of the interior defensive lineman. A good zone block can be simplified to this: speed over power. The lineman must get to their zones in quickly in order to make this work.
Tight End Influence
The tight end can be an important piece to the puzzle when it comes to pass protection. Whether attached (lined up next to the tackle) or detached (lined up in the slot), the tight end can make life easy for a tackle. In the above clip, Graham lines up next to Bulaga in the attached position. As soon as he releases off of the line of scrimmage, the defensive end is forced to get hands on him to try and force the reroute which slows up his rush, helping Bulaga. Bulaga can’t get too relaxed, as he has to have the hands ready and maintain a wide base to take on the rusher when he comes upfield. This is a really good way to take the rusher out of the play for a split second and buy Rodgers some time.
Here is another example of how the tight end can influence the rush, only this time from a detached position. Again, the defensive end drops off for a split second and then redirects to get in on the rush. Bulaga does a nice job of looking inside to help any rush that is coming and then getting eyes back on the defensive end. The tackle has to have his head on a swivel and be alert from a rush coming from both angles.
For the most part, I think the offensive line did a solid job in pass protection against Detroit. Week after week we have seen improvements across the board. I think this unit could be one of the better ones on the team, as each position has really started to gel. Detroit was a good test for this offensive line. They show multiple looks up front and the offense did a nice job adjusting to what Matt Patricia threw at them.
Look for them to have another strong showing as they take on the Raiders this week at Lambeau.
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