The Green Bay Packers will open the 2013 NFL season at Candlestick Park against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers has heard all the negative criticism towards his offensive line after opposing defenders recorded 51 sacks on the Packers quarterback last season—most in the NFL in 2012.
“I have a very high confidence level”, Rodgers said regarding his faith in the team’s offensive line. “Marshall (Newhouse) and Don (Barclay) played a lot, and David (Bakhtiari) is confident”.
Bakhtiari, one of three Packers fourth-round selections in April’s NFL Draft, replaces veteran offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga on the left side of the offensive line. Bulaga tore his ACL in the Packers’ family night team scrimmage, only days into August. Bakhtiari’s rookie debut suggests being quite the challenge, as he will primarily be responsible for keeping 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith off of Rodgers’ blind-side.
“He is up against a Pro Bowl guy who is continuing to get better”, Rodgers said about Smith, who has an NFL record 33.5 sacks in his first two NFL seasons. “He (Smith) is playing the run really well, but that is what you want though—if you want to be considered to be an elite player at your position, this is the match up you want”.
Rodgers was sacked on 8.5% of his passing attempts (worst in NFL) last season, but said he has trust in Bakhtiari, Barclay, Newhouse, offensive guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang, and center Evan Dietrich-Smith along the offensive line, and he doesn’t worry about keeping an “internal clock” in the pocket.
“You don’t want to play like that, and I am confident in those guys”, Rodgers said. “(Outside linebacker Ahmad) Brooks and Smith are two of the best in the league, and as a pair they bring a challenge. It’ll be a tough test but we have to win a lot of those battles”.
In last year’s 45-31 divisional round playoff drubbing at San Francisco, the Packers offensive line surrendered only one sack (and three quarterback hits) to the 49ers defense. Rodgers said he expects the offense to be ready by Sunday. “I expect guys to be prepared”, Rodgers said. “There will be physical mistakes, but the mental mistakes are what we have a hard time with. We expect guys to be prepared and be able to transfer it to the field. Mentally, we want them to be as close to perfect as possible”.
The Packers reshuffled their offensive line for the 2013 season, and added a couple of new starters at running back (Eddie Lacy) and offensive tackle (Bakhtiari). Despite the starters’ lack of playing time in the preseason, Rodgers said he believes the offense will be in-sync.
“I’ve played with all of those guys a good amount”, Rodgers said. “We started fast after the lockout season, too. We’ve played a lot of football together, and we expect to come out and put up some points and be effective”.
Besides Bulaga’s injury, the Packers also lost wide receivers Donald Driver (Retirement) and Greg Jennings (Free Agency) in the offseason, running back DuJuan Harris (Injury) in training camp, and released 2012 leading rusher Alex Green, but the offensive drums will continue the beat in 2013.
“I’m excited about our entire offense”, Rodgers said. “I’m excited to see Jermichael Finley, Randall Cobb, James Jones, Andrew Quarless, Jarrett Boykin—(San Francisco) is going to be a good test for us, but there is no time for us to start slow. We are pros—we are paid to play well, so I expect it”.
The Packers started and ended the 2012 season with losses to the 49ers. In the divisional round playoff loss at San Francisco, Rodgers completed 26/39 passes for 257 yards, and he threw two touchdown passes and one interception.
“When you play a great team like this, you have to get seven points in the redzone”, Rodgers said. “We scored 24 points last year (in the playoffs), which is pretty good against their defense, but we have to score more points. That game was a disappointing night for us, and they moved forward. It is all about the 2013 Packers, and we are trying to see how the identity of this team shakes out”.
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