Protecting Rodgers will be key to the Packers' hopes of 16-0

Each Monday, Pat Kirwan provides six observations from Sunday's action.

Is 16-0 in the cards?

Green Bay is now on a 16-game winning streak dating back to last year, and Sunday's win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers convinced me that the Packers could go 16-0. They were able to win even though they looked flat at times by turning up the heat when necessary. After the Bucs closed to within 21-19 in the fourth quarter, Aaron Rodgers promptly went 5 of 6 for 42 yards to set up the 2-yard touchdown run by John Kuhn that iced the game.

The biggest concern I have about the Packers going undefeated isn't the defense, which gives up too many points at times. What I worry about most is protecting Rodgers. In 2007, when the Patriots went 16-0, Tom Brady was sacked 21 times all season -- a rate of one sack per 28 pass attempts -- and he only ran the ball 37 times. Rodgers has already been sacked 25 times this season -- a rate of once every 14 attempts -- and has run 48 times. He's on pace to be sacked 40 times and run 77 times. The only way the Packers don't win all their games is if Rodgers misses time.

This Thursday, he faces the Detroit Lions with their ferocious pass rush -- a team that knocked Rodgers out of a game last season. Play smart, Aaron Rodgers, and go the distance.

Good day for the undrafted

I watched games all of Sunday with undrafted running back Arian Foster as the Houston Texans had their bye. It was great to see him smile watching Bucs running back LeGarrette Blount -- like Foster, a player who didn't hear his name called in the draft -- run for a touchdown and finish with 18 carries for 107 yards. "It's good to see a fellow undrafted guy do well," Foster said.

That got me thinking about some other undrafted players who played well Sunday. I had to look no further than two quarterbacks who live in a world of first-round picks as contemporaries. There were 17 first-round picks under center this weekend, but two undrafted guys had success. The Dolphins' Matt Moore was fantastic with three touchdown passes in Miami's third straight win, and Tony Romo did the same for the Cowboys with three touchdown passes of his own.

I wouldn't want to play them right now

The playoff picture is starting to take shape, and after watching Sunday's action, there are a few teams on the outside looking in that are especially dangerous. The Broncos and quarterback Tim Tebow seem to divide fans all over the country, but we're still waiting for someone to contain The Tebow Experience for all 60 minutes.

The Dallas Cowboys are 4-1 in their last five games and the "Romocoaster" is starting to look hard to beat. The Cowboys technically lead the NFC East due to tie-breakers following the Giants' loss to the Eagles, but these teams will meet twice before it's all said and done.

The Atlanta Falcons might be haunted by the decision to go for it on fourth down last, but they came back with a win over Tennessee. Now the Falcons are 4-1 in their last five games and managed to get a victory this week without Julio Jones, Sam Baker and William Moore.

Saving the best for last, we have the 3-7 Miami Dolphins. They haven't given up a touchdown in 12 quarters, and have allowed a total of 20 points in that span. Miami has given up the fewest points in the AFC East, and held Fred Jackson to 2.4 yards a carry Sunday. The Dolphins' pass rush has come alive with 10 sacks during their three-game winning streak; Matt Moore has thrown six TD passes and we've seen the best in Reggie Bush. Next week, the Dolphins meet another dangerous team, Dallas. I can't wait to see what happens.

Call it a learning experience

Week 11 was rough for the rookie quarterbacks, with five losing Sunday. Still, there were a number of highlights: Andy Dalton threw for 373 yards at Baltimore, Cam Newton had a respectable 280 yards, Jake Locker saw his first action and threw two touchdowns, Christian Ponder threw two touchdowns, and Blaine Gabbert drove his team for a potential game-winning score only to have his receiver drop a pass in the end zone. These five young men are starting to realize NFL defenses can play tricks on them with different coverages and pass rushers.

Brady's QB matchups not exactly daunting

The New England Patriots have a home game Monday against the Kansas City Chiefs, who are now led by QB Tyler Palko. It would be hard for any quarterback to match Tom Brady, but it's even more apparent when you see Palko's career stats (13 pass attempts and has never thrown a touchdown) along with the remaining passers on the Patriots' schedule: Palko, Vince Young (if Michael Vick is still out), Dan Orlovsky, Rex Grossman, Tim Tebow, Matt Moore and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

A little love for the O-line coaches

Ask any head coach in the NFL and he will place his offensive line coach on a pedestal next to his two coordinators. I like to recognize coaches whose teams win, rush for 100 yards and do not allow a sack. There are two winners and an honorable mention from Sunday.

»Atlanta offensive line coach Paul Boudreau is a 25-year NFL veteran. His line led the way for 116 yards rushing and didn't give up a sack in 32 pass attempts.

»San Francisco offensive line coach Mike Solari is a 20-year veteran, and his unit led the way for 164 yards on the ground and no sacks in 31 pass attempts.

»Honorable mention goes to Chicago offensive line coach Mike Tice, who has 28 years of NFL experience as a coach and player. The Bears' line, which has battled injuries all year, managed to keep Jay Cutler upright for 38 pass plays (but they only had 93 yards rushing).

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