It’s been well documented. The Green Bay Packers have struggled on the offensive line this season.
The Packers offensive linemen have given up an inordinate amount of sacks (25), committed far too many penalties and haven’t done much to help the struggling ground game. That is, until they played the Cleveland Browns last Sunday.
The offensive line didn’t give up any sacks, penalties were down and Ryan Grant ran for a season-high 148 yards. There are two possible reasons for this.
The first is obvious. The Browns are terrible on defense. That fact isn’t debatable.
The second is less obvious. Injuries to starters on the Packers offensive line may have actually helped the team. Both left tackle Chad Clifton and center Jason Spitz were out with injuries against the Browns and backups T.J. Lang and Scott Wells played admirably in their absence.
Certainly, the Browns ineptitude played some part in the equation, but it’s a fair assumption that both Lang and Wells factored into the Packers success as well.
Clifton has been downright bad this season, something we’ve documented several times. Spitz hasn’t been much better, despite being in a contract year. Their injuries – Spitz has missed two games with a lower back injury, and Clifton has missed two games in the current stretch with an ankle sprain – have given Wells and Lang the opportunity to impress. And impress they have.
Wells, who lost a training camp battle with Spitz for the starting center spot, handled the Browns Shaun Rogers on Sunday. Rodgers is probably the best player on the Browns defense and at 6-4, 350, a formidable run stopper. Wells also played commendably against the Vikings Pat Williams, one of the league’s best interior linemen, when the Packers first met Minnesota. At the time, Spitz was playing guard because Daryn Colledge replaced Clifton, who was dealing with his first ankle injury of the season.
Lang, meanwhile, is still prone to rookie mistakes, but plays hard and makes adjustments during the game. He also seems to suffer fewer mental lapses than Clifton, who committed four penalties before getting injured against the Detroit Lions.
Lang would draw the unenviable task of blocking the Vikings Jared Allen on Sunday. Allen has 7.5 sacks on the season, 3.5 of which came against Colledge. After Colledge went down with an injury against the Vikings, Lang finished the game. In 18 snaps, Lang gave up a sack, but played strong once he got into the flow of the game.
The Packers coaching staff has consistently praised Lang, who looks to be developing into the team’s left tackle of the foreseeable future. If there’s minimal difference between Lang and Clifton, or if Lang is already better than the declining Clifton, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be getting the reps now.
While their recent level of play indicate Lang and Wells should be in the lineup, the Packers coaches haven’t announced any changes. It may prove telling that the Packers plan to open practice today with both Wells and Lang on the first unit. While Clifton isn’t entirely healthy yet, Spitz is fully cleared.
Clifton could return to practice on Friday, but even if that happens he may go into the Vikings game as a backup.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy told reporters on Monday the team would be planning to go with the five linemen that finished the Browns game, and was non-committal on Spitz’s role.
It looks like the changing of the guard, or in this case the center and the tackle, may be upon us. And comparing the Packers line play the first few weeks of the season with the last few, that can only be a good thing.