Every Green Bay Packers offensive lineman knows how important is to keep star quarterback Aaron Rogers upright through the NFC Championship Game at Seattle on Sunday.
“It’s crucial,” said second-year left tackle David Bakhtiari. “He makes this team unbelievable. When he gets the ball in his hands he’s the best player in the game. Of course, you want the best player in the game to be on the field.”
The line’s responsibility might seem even more crucial now, as Rodgers has been hobbled by a calf injury that he admitted hurt throughout the 26-21 playoff win over the Dallas Cowboys last weekend.
However, Green Bay’s offensive linemen say they don’t plan to do anything differently against the Seahawks.
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And that’s because protecting Rodgers is always part of their job description.
“Our goal each week is to keep our quarterback clean,” said center Corey Linsley, a rookie out of Ohio State. “Sometimes you succeed at that, sometimes you don’t. But we know that’s our goal every week: to keep his jersey clean. … We know what kind of quarterback he is.”
What kind? Rodgers’ career passer rating of 106 is the best in NFL history. He finished this season first in interception percentage (1.0), second in passer rating (112.2) and third in touchdown passes (38).
However, Rodgers strained his left calf in the regular-season finale at Tampa Bay and has acknowledged feeling pain since.
Linsley said Rodgers’ limited mobility doesn’t necessarily make the offensive line’s job more difficult.
“There’s even more of a premium on (holding our blocks when he leaves the pocket),” Linsley said. “You know that if you let go of your block while he’s scrambling, a guy’s going to catch him and knock him down.”
During the regular season, Green Bay allowed 30 sacks, tied for ninth-fewest in the NFL. By comparison, the Seahawks with hyper-mobile quarterback Russell Wilson allowed 42.
The line also has paved the way for a Packers’ ground game that averaged 119.8 yards per game, 11th in the league.
“The offensive lines prides itself on the run game,” Linsley said. “That’s what we want to do every week is establish that.”
It has helped that the offensive line has functioned as a consistent unit for almost the entire season. Linsley, Bakhtiari and guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang started all 16 games of the regular season. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga started 15.
“I think the offensive line has been probably the most important component of our success,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “Anytime offensive lines have the chance to practice together with five offensive linemen playing cohesively is so important. I think our guys have really grown that way.”
Bulaga returned after spending the entire 2013 season on the injured reserve after suffering a knee injury in a preseason scrimmage.
He was limited to nine game in 2012 after suffering a season-ending hip injury.
“Bryan is an amazing player,” Linsley said. “That’s a guy that I looked up to even when he at Iowa. I can’t say enough about Bryan and how physically tough he is. He’s really smart, really into this offense. You can’t say enough about Bryan. … You lose anybody like that, it’s extremely difficult.”
Sitton is in his seventh season, Lang his sixth, Bulaga his fifth season and Bakhtiari his second. Linsley is finishing up his first season after being a fifth-round pick out of Ohio State.
Yet he has quickly gained the respect of the veterans alongside him, who apply a simple test for success.
“Go unnoticed,” Bakhtiari said. “On the offense line that’s plain and simple. … If you go unnoticed that means you’re doing your job as an offensive lineman.”