Offensive linemen stand out among many stars
The running back always gets the stats and glory. The blockers get nothing more than the satisfaction of a job well done.
Such is life for those along the offensive line, who play a thankless position and rarely get recognition.
The run blockers of the Green Bay Packers deserve a good deal of credit for the 195 yards rushing produced during Sunday’s 31-12 win over the Miami Dolphins.
Second-year running back Aaron Jones is a budding star, with the instinctive vision and shot-out-of-a-cannon quickness necessary to find the holes and burst through them with speed. But someone has to make the holes, and the Packers’ run-blocking group did plenty of work Sunday night.
Jones’ biggest runs against the Dolphins revealed a common theme. Not only was the offensive line consistently winning at the point of attack, but they were getting to the second level and creating the creases Jones needed to break into the secondary for huge chunks of yardage.
“I think they dominated the line of scrimmage,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “We ran the ball well, we used tempo and cadence at times, but (Aaron) Jones doesn’t need a lot of space on his runs, and we had a couple nice schematic things that we did and then a couple just double teams at the point of attack. It was nice to sit back and watch that tonight.” They got to work right away. On the Packers’ second play from scrimmage, left guard Lane Taylor, tight end Marcedes Lewis and left tackle David Bakhtiari delivered seal blocks on the edge, and center Corey Linsley’s secondlevel block allowed Jones to cut it back and sprint upfield for 12 yards. He was left one-on-one with the safety and was a missed tackle away from a big play.
Blocking is easier when a running back has the natural athleticism to identify an opening and burst through it without losing speed.
“His ability to see the hole and hit it full speed, and to cut at full speed is what makes him special,” Bakhtiari said.
A few plays later, coach Mike McCarthy dialed up a lead draw. Once again, execution at the point of attack was close to perfect.
Right guard Bryon Bell sealed his man. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga allowed his defender to get upfield before sealing him off. Tight end Lance Kendricks led through the resulting hole and eliminated a linebacker. Tight end Jimmy Graham released to the second level and disrupted the other linebacker in the box.
The result? Jones wasn’t touched by a defender until he was 10 or 11 yards downfield.
Not known for his blocking, Graham produced several key blocks to spring big run plays against the Dolphins.
“I was blocking tonight,” Graham said with a smile. “On a couple of those big plays, I was in there making some pretty big blocks.”
Graham delivered one on Jones’ 67yard run in the first quarter.
The playcall required the offensive line to deliver double-team blocks inside. Each successful block took away a defensive tackle. Graham shot to the second level and blocked one linebacker, and Rodgers’ fake bootleg eliminated the other, allowing Jones to crease the Dolphins defense right up the middle.
“Just seeing a big ol’ lane, like the seas parted,” Jones said when asked what he remembered from the play.
The Packers running back wasn’t touched until a Dolphins defensive back chased him down inside the 5-yard line, setting up a touchdown.
Jones’ second score was another masterclass of run blocking.
The cutback run started left but quickly flowed back right, where Bulaga sealed his defender inside, Linsley took away one linebacker at the second level and Graham did just enough to seal off defensive end Cameron Wake. Jones raced through the alley and pinballed off a few defenders at the goal line for the touchdown.
“You know I love running the football,” Bell said. “It’s a great thing as an offensive line to get over 100 yards rushing.”
Jones was over 100 yards rushing by halftime. He finished with 145, a new career high. The Packers rushed for a season-high 195 yards, the team’s most since a December win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year.
“The run blocking unit played very well,” McCarthy said. “I think we gave Aaron some really clean creases and he definitely hit them and had some big runs.”
Through 10 weeks, the Packers lead the NFL in rushing yards per attempt at 5.2. Only 31 teams since 1970 have finished a season averaging at least 5.0 yards per attempt.
Jones’ dynamic running style has helped transformed the Packers’ running game, but the foundation of the league’s most efficient rushing attack is still the blockers working up front.
The group dominated the Dolphins during Sunday’s win and will likely provide the horsepower for any potential second-half run by the Packers.
The Green Bay Packers’ offensive line opens up a huge hole for running back Aaron Jones, who breaks free for a 67-yard run against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.