In the offseason, the Green Bay Packers made the bold decision to make some radical changes on the offensive line. The Packers “line switch” was one of the most talked about topics heading into this year’s training camp.
Last year’s starting guards, Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang, swapped positions. Lang move from left to right guard and Sitton from right to left guard. The tackles also swapped, but after Bryan Bulaga‘s season-ending injury early in camp, rookie fourth-rounder David Bakhtiari got the nod at left tackle. The swap also mattered very little to this year’s starting right tackle, Don Barclay, who played on this side of the line in limited action last year.
With a new starting center to begin the year in Evan Dietrich-Smith, all five starting positions on the Packers’ offensive line looked different than last year’s group.
Now, six weeks into the season it appears these offensive line adjustments have paid off. The Packers currently rank fifth in the league in rushing, averaging 140.8 yards on the ground per game, and are tied for second in yards per carry with a 5.2 average. They are also the league’s fourth-ranked passing offense with a 309.4 yards per game average.
A lot of this offensive production can be attributed to the improved offensive line play this season.
Despite the improvement, the Packers line has still given up 14 sacks this season. Not quite the number I’m sure Green Bay wants at this point in the season. But sack numbers have been up all around the league, probably due to the increasing emphasis on the passing game. In fact, the Packers’ 14 sacks allowed puts them in the middle of the pack when compared to the rest of the league.
Considering Green Bay is starting a fourth-round rookie and an undrafted second-year player at both tackle spots, I say the Packers line is playing pretty well.
What has been impressive to me is the way the offensive line has responded to adversity. They’ve given up pressures early in games. Eight of the 14 sacks the Packers have allowed have come in the first quarter. They seemed to start slow, but then figure it out and make the proper adjustments moving forward.
They’ve only allowed three sacks in the second half over five games this season. The Packers rushing average also jumps from 4.3 in the first half to 5.8 in the second. These numbers tell us the Packers offensive line only gets better as the game progresses.
At the center of the line’s solid play this season is fifth-year veteran, T.J. Lang.
Not many people are talking about how well Lang has played this season, but when you consider who’s he’s been matched up against each week, Lang has been nothing short of impressive.
Against Cincinnati, Lang squared off against arguably the most talented interior defensive lineman in the game in Geno Atkins. Lang completely shut out Cincinnati’s top defensive player. Atkins didn’t record a single sack, pressure, or tackle the entire game.
Lang also helped lead the way for a season-high 182 yards rushing against a talented Cincinnati front seven.
Lang put in another strong performance coming off the bye week and held Detroits’ Ndamukong Suh to only three tackles and one quarterback hit. Suh and Nick Fairley form one of the top defensive tackle duos in the league, and Lang and Sitton completely dominated the two Detroit defensive tackles and were pivotal in another 180-yard rushing day for the Packers offense.
With the help of Dietrich-Smith, Lang also held the league’s top nose tackle, Haloti Ngata, to just one tackle and zero pressures in last week’s win on the road in Baltimore. The Packers managed 140 yards rushing against a tough Ravens defense and were able to control the clock late in the game to seal the win.
Lang was named team captain going into the Baltimore game, and according to Aaron Rodgers on his weekly podcast, the right guard from Michigan gave an inspiring speech just before the game to get the team fired up for their first road win of the season.
In fact, Rodgers talked in length during his podcast about how Lang, Sitton, and Dietrich-Smith have really stepped up this season and become vocal leaders for the team. According to Rodgers, it’s been these three linemen who have rallied the team together and kept the energy up on the sidelines during games.
Lang, Sitton, and Dietrich-Smith form a solid foundation for a Packers offense that’s in the midst of redefining itself this season. They’re tough, gutsy, and don’t let people push them around in the trenches.
Going into this season, I already knew Sitton was an excellent NFL guard, but so far this season, I’ve been really impressed with the way Lang has taken his game to the next level.