Sunday, November 15, 2009

Reading Up on Packers O-Line

The Packers O-Line has never recovered from the loss of Mark Rivera and Mike Wahle at the end of 2004. Two veterans of the old O-Line remain: Mark Tauscher (RT) and Chad Clifton (LT). Both are injury prone, as one would expect of ten-year veterans in this vicious sport. Tauscher is backed at right tackle by Allen Barbre, a third year player. Clifton is backed at left tackle by T.J. Lang, a rookie, who also backs up left guard. Our current center, Scott Wells, is back in his job again after having been ousted by Jason Spitz, our former right guard. Spitz is out for the year with a back injury, so Wells is in again. At left guard we have Darren Colledge and second-year player Josh Sitton is right guard. Sitton and Wells are both backed up by Evan Dietrich-Smith, a rookie. The unit is run on a “musical chairs” philosophy. It has no coherent identity beyond the fact that, as a unit, they suck.

Aaron Rodgers has been sacked a total of 37 times in eight games. That’s nearly five sacks a game. That old man who works in Minneapolis has only been sacked 18 times this season. That’s a little more than twice a game. And that doesn’t tell the story. Aaron Rodgers is mobile. We can’t say that Brent moves that well. He’d be toast if he still played here.

Last summer, when McCarthy purged the defense coaches and started anew, he didn’t bother to change his offensive line strategy at all. This is a problem. This is how Pete Dougherty of The Green Bay Press-Gazette summed up the coaching history of the line.

When McCarthy became the Packers’ coach in 2006, he brought with him Jeff Jagodzinski, a Gibbs protégé, to teach Gibbs’ distinct and idiosyncratic branch of the zone-blocking scheme.

Gibbs, whom McCarthy worked with in Kansas City in 1993 and 1994, had a track record of success, especially in Denver (1995-2003) and then Atlanta (2004-06). In both stops, he was allowed to fully implement his comprehensive run scheme that emphasizes smaller, quicker offensive linemen, extensive cut blocking, and decisive one-cut running by the backs.

But considering no one running Gibbs’ system has duplicated his success, maybe there’s something about it that’s too dependent on Gibbs himself.

So we’re trying to build a miracle O-Line that operates with sprightly leprechauns instead of the beefy motherfuckers that everyone else favors for all their O-Line needs. Our sole link to the mystical body of the canny and sagacious Alex Gibbs, the only man able to create this miracle O-Line, was a guy named Jeff Jagodzinski. Jagodzinski left the Packers at the end of the 2006 season, the season that O-Line was looking just a little bit better.

So, you ask. Who is the Packers O-Line coach now, Talal? They knew that this strategy was motherfucking hard and can’t just be pulled out of your ass. They got a specialist, right?

Our current O-Line coach is James Campen. Here’s a bit from his profile on the Packers website:

Promoted to offensive line coach Jan. 15, 2007, by Head Coach Mike McCarthy, Campen moved up from his position as assistant offensive line coach in McCarthy's first season at the helm. Prior to that, Campen filled the role of assistant offensive line/quality control coach for two seasons following nine years in the high school ranks.

That’s right, boys and girls. They put the head coach of Ponderosa High School in charge of the Great Experiment, because the kids get mighty high-tech in Shingle Springs, California. The guy watches Jagodzinski for a year, and suddenly he can coach the Miracle O-Line Zone Blocking Scheme.

Give McCarthy his due. He’s an excellent quarterback coach. I like the way the Kid turned out. I truly do. But that’s all I like about McCarthy. So long as he's coach, this line is never going to perform.

What floors me is the way the media covered this. I'm a crummy football fan. Kirk sends me website URLs to read up on what a zone blocking offensive line is supposed to be. I heard about the Broncos's success with the approach and experienced it first hand at the most unfortunate Super Bowl game of my life. But until I found this recent Dougherty piece, I didn't know that no one has had success coaching it besides Alex Gibbs. And Jagodzinski left at the end of the 2006 season. He's the last guy who has worked with the guy extensively. Then they bring in the high school coach. But no one over three seasons says anything. Yeah, they're under pressure from the team to be rally the troops. But I have to wonder just how knowledgeable reporters are in sports. The reason I ask is that very few are much good as analysts in politics. I know that because while I'm not a beat reporter, I can often cull together decent analysis based on what they can feed me, because I know the Levant well (and not as well as I want, by the way). This data has been there for a while. In this case, they didn't pick up on it, or were too afraid of the team's response to use it. My gut tells me it's mostly the former.

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