Packers' O-line will block 'to infinity' for Rodgers

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  • By Jeremy Bergman NFL.com
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Behind every great quarterback, there is an offensive line willing and able to protect him for as long as is necessary. (Or in front of, depending on your vantage point.)

So, it's no surprise that behind Aaron Rodgers on his final masterful roll-and-strike to Jared Cook in last week's thrilling win over the Dallas Cowboys were his five linemen, warding off a four-man pass rush both inside and outside the numbers.

It wasn't the first time that game, or the first time this season, that Green Bay's big uglies had been charged with protecting Rodgers for more than five seconds in a moving pocket. The man's made a habit of it, and if Rodgers calls for that brand of protection during Sunday's NFC Championship Game in Atlanta, the Packers' offensive line will be ready.

"We didn't really come into the season saying, 'All right, let's go out there and protect nine seconds,'" left guard Lane Taylor said this week, per FOX Sports. "But that's our job, the way we make things go."

Rodgers has wandered outside the pocket often this postseason. The Packers signal-caller has thrown for more yards from outside the pocket than all other playoff QBs combined (223 to 174) and has posted a near-perfect 157.5 passer rating on throws far from the spot of scrimmage.

While other quarterbacks roll out because they are keeping away from oncoming rushers let in by a shoddy line of defense (see: Russell Wilson, 2016), Rodgers plays to his line's strengths by escaping the pocket and extending the play. But his linemen weren't always a fan of Rodgers' backfield antics.

"Earlier in the season, it was getting a little frustrating because you'd block for seven, eight seconds and he'd scramble around and throw the ball out of bounds, and it's like we just wasted all that time and energy for nothing," right guard T.J. Lang said. But things have changed, and, trusting in Rodgers, Lang says Green Bay will block "to infinity, just however long it takes."

"No matter what the play is, it's not like we go into a play knowing it's going to be extended," left tackle David Bakhtiari added. "We go in blocking, and I don't know when the ball is out. I kind of get a feel from my defender. I'm going to block until I hear the whistle."

That relentless pursuit of protection is evidenced in Rodgers' stellar stats when given more than 2.5 seconds to throw. On those plays this postseason, the QB's passer rating improves by more than 36 points (117.6) and Rodgers has thrown six touchdowns next to zero interceptions.

For the most part, Green Bay's sturdy unit has stayed in tact this season, save for center JC Tretter, who hasn't played since the Packers' last trip to Atlanta in Week 8. Corey Linsley has been fine in his return to the middle of a line, bolstered by Taylor, Bakhtiari, Lang and Bryan Bulaga, a quartet that started a combined 61 games in 2016.

After outlasting a fearsome Giants pass rush in the wild-card game and manhandling Dallas' mediocre ends, Green Bay's line will be tasked with one of its tougher tasks this weekend when it goes up against league sack leader Vic Beasley and an improving Falcons front.

In their Week 8 matchup, Beasley had one sack, while Adrian Clayborn tallied two. (Clayborn is out for the remainder of the postseason with a bicep injury, alleviating some worry on the Packers' part.) A quick edge rusher, Beasley has the ability, if he can blow by Bulaga, to harass Rodgers, who doesn't fare well against pressure -- his passer rating against the blitz this postseason is 70.6. Beasley's skills as a QB spy will also come into play on Rodgers' patented roll outs.

But if the Packers' line keep Beasley away from their quarterback, allowing him to continue his outer-pocket experience, then Rodgers will look to splice a vulnerable Falcons secondary that hasn't played top-tier QB play in weeks.

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