Josh Sitton

Sitton has been the one highlight in run blocking.

The Green Bay Packers offensive line has been getting a lot of positive hype this season, primarily because they’ve kept quarterback Aaron Rodgers off his ass, for the most part.

Indeed, the Packers offensive line has improved in pass protection. They’ve allowed only 21 sacks so far this year, which is the 12th fewest in the league and a quantum leap from last season, when they gave up a league-leading 51 sacks.

In particular, left tackle Chad Clifton has been fantastic in pass protection in 2010, a year after he could barely stay on the field. Left guard Daryn Colledge has shown improvement from his sieve-like 2009. Right guard Josh Sitton is playing at a Pro Bowl level.

Center Scott Wells and right tackle Bryan Bulaga haven’t been as good, but they haven’t been terrible, either.

That’s only half the story, though.

The Packers are a passing team, so when people look at their offensive line play, they tend to focus on how often the Packers keep Rodgers upright. Although they’re not great, they’re doing fine in that area.

The area they aren’t doing fine — in fact, they’re starting to look terrible — is in the running game.

Everyone is quick to moan about the Packers lack of a running game and point to Brandon Jackson and the rest of the Packers’ backs as the reason for the problem, but that’s shortsighted.

The Packers’ running game is one cut and run, meaning the back gets the ball, chooses a hole, cuts and runs straight ahead. At times, Jackson has been too indecisive. There were a couple moments against Atlanta where this was obvious.

However, for the most part, Jackson is doing what he’s supposed to be doing. The same goes for Dmitri Nance, who’s received more carries the past couple weeks.

The problem is, most of the time, there’s nowhere for these guys to run when they make that cut. What’s even more confounding is, it’s not exactly like opposing teams are consistently selling out to stop the run. It’s no secret the Packers are going to pass the majority of the time.

Still, you see defenders in the backfield and plugging holes that were supposed to be there regularly when the Packers try to run. The numbers support how poorly the Packers are run blocking.

The Packers have 10 negative rushes to the left side, which is the 13th-highest total in the league, three negative rushes to the center, which is 24th-highest, and 10 negative rushes to the right, which is the 14th-highest total.

These stats seem to show the Packers are the most effective, or at least have the fewest negative rushes, when they run up the middle, which would make sense, since Wells and especially Sitton have created the biggest holes for the running game, this season.

Similarly, if you look at gains of 10-plus yards, the Packers again rank in the bottom half of the league in two of three areas. Runners have 12 10-plus yard rushes to the left (18th), six 10-plus yard rushes up the middle (18th), and 13 10-plus yard rushes to the right (12th).

The last stat is somewhat skewed because Rodgers, who has 245 yards rushing and is averaging 5.0 yards per carry, usually runs to his right when he’s flushed from the pocket.

What’s even more telling, and frustrating, are the power numbers. The NFL describes rushing power as the percentage of rushes on 3rd or 4th down with two or fewer yards to go that achieved a first down or TD. It also includes rushes on 1st-and-goal and 2nd-and-goal from the opponent’s 2-yard line or closer.

To the left, the Packers have converted only 14 percent of these runs, which is dead last in the league. They’re better when running to the right, where they’ve converted 55 percent, but that still ranks them only 22nd in the league.

The one bright spot is the power number up the middle. The Packers have converted 71 percent of these runs, which ranks seventh in the league.

Even with that, it’s pretty obvious the Packers offensive line as whole is pretty bad in the run game, which helps explain why no Packers running back is averaging 4 yards per carry.

Clearly, the Packers cannot run to the left, which is obvious both in the stats and when you watch the games. The right side hasn’t been a lot better and the one place the Packers have gained any traction — up the middle — seems largely due to Sitton’s increasing dominance.

So, the next time someone tries to sell you on what a great job the Packers offensive line is doing this year, don’t buy it.

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