Meet an Offensive Line: Green Bay Packers

I'm saying nothing that will suprise the reader very much when I state that, in football, there's a great deal of interaction between the game's constituent elements. In these pages, for example, we've considered concepts like run-pass balance, fourth-down strategy, and one- versus two-point conversions. In each case, an emphasis on one element will change the effectiveness of the other.

If a coach, for example, announced before a game that his team would be running on every down, the opposing team would have an advantage in knowing that. If that same coach called a single pass play at some point, it would likely take the defense by surprise and would also therefore have a better chance of being successful.

There's also a great deal of interaction between players. If Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers completes a 15-yard pass up the middle to wide receiver Jordy Nelson, we know that both Rodgers and Nelson probably did something right on the play. Statistically, we credit both players with a certain quantity of Expected Points Added (EPA) for their respective roles in the play.

Of course, a bunch of other stuff probably had to happen for the play to work. Like, Greg Jennings had to cross the path of Jordy Nelson's defender to give Nelson a step's worth of space. And left tackle Marshall Newhouse had to hold off the blind-side defensive end for a long enough period to give Rodgers time to throw. And, before any of that -- like, months or years before -- offensive coordinator Joe Philbin had to conceive of and implement the play.

Unfortunately, with only the play log and box scores to guide us, we're unable to isolate the contributions of each of the 11 offensive players. As a result, we must content ourselves with crediting only the passer and receiver for the successful play. And even for those of us who understand the shortcomings of this method, it's difficult to separate the "skill" player from his WPA or EPA or yards-per-attempt numbers once they've been assigned to him.

It occurs to me that it might make sense to meet the players (a) who are part of the league's best offense but (b) whose names are absent from any of the leaderboards here at the site.

The best offense in the league, per GWP, is Green Bay's. That distinction has a lot to do with the Packers' league-best 8.5 net yards per pass -- and a lot of that, obviously, has to do with Aaron Rodgers being sent from his Father in Heaven down to Wisconsin to show humans the correct way to play football.

But the Packer offensive line has obviously played a part in Rodgers' success and the success of the passing game, generally. They (i.e. the Green Bay O-Line) also lead the league in -WPA, which measures how good an offensive line is at preventing opposing defenses from making plays that results in losses of WPA.

That said, there's a good chance that even so enlightened a readership as ours doesn't know more than one or two players from the Packer offensive line. Let's take a look at who'll be protecting Rodgers during Green Bay's game tomorrow (Sunday) against the New York Giants.

Player: Marshall Newhouse, #74
Position: Left Tackle
Notes: Newhouse is actually a replacement for Chad Clifton -- i.e. the starting left tackle for last season's Super Bowl team -- but the latter has been injured since Week Five, when he left with a hamstring injury. Clifton has recently injured his back, too, further delaying his return. Newhouse appears to've played well in Clifton's absence, however -- allowing no sacks or QB hits last week, for example, against the Lions defensive line. Before being drafted in 2010, Newhouse played left tackle at TCU, but made his first appearance this season as a substitute for Bryan Bulaga at right tackle.

Player: T.J. Lang, #70
Position: Left Guard
Notes: Lang has taken over the spot of last year's starter Daryn Colledge, of whom SB Nation's Packer site Acme Packing Company didn't have a particularly high opinion. Lang, in his third season out of Eastern Michigan, has received praise from that same footballing website.

Player: Scott Wells, #63
Position: Center
Notes: Wells is in his eighth year in the NFL and eighth with the Packers, for whom he's started basically every game since 2005. Some of those were at left guard, but Wells entered 2011 having started 30 straight games at center (35 including playoffs) and has started every game this year. If we might adjudge an offensive lineman's quality by how little he's noticed, then Wells is the star of the line.

Player: Evan Dietrich-Smith, #62
Position: Right Guard
Notes: Dietrich-Smith is most famous, at this point, for getting stomped on by Ndamukong Suh in the Packers' Thanksgiving Day game against the Lions. He was only playing, though, because starting right guard Josh Sitton left the game in the second quarter when Lions cornerback Amari Spievey rolled into his leg. Sitton signed a five-year extension over the offseason and is now the seventh-highest paid player on the Packers -- and second-highest on the offensive line after left tackle Chad Clifton. Dietrich-Smith's performance will be something to watch for Sunday's game against the Giants.

Player: Bryan Bulaga, #75
Position: Right Tackle
Notes: Bulaga is in his second year out of being selected in the first round out of the University of Iowa, where he started at left tackle. There was some indication that he might move over to replace Clifton after the latter's injury, but that task fell to Marshall Newhouse instead.

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1 Responses to “Meet an Offensive Line: Green Bay Packers”

  1. Joe Soriano says:

    Since I am a scouting mind who only somewhat dabbles in advanced stats in football (huge baseball geek), I want to note that there is a huge drop-off from starting right guard Josh Sitton to Evan Dietrich-Smith. Smith isn't terrible, but Sitton is one of the best guards in the league for sure. Center Scott Wells is a top five center who is an absolute monster as a run blocker. T.J. Lang is only about average in pass protection, but he is also a great run blocker. Bryan Bulaga was a huge weakness last season, but he has really come on strong this year and has been one of the better RTs in the league. Marshall Newhouse is about average and can hold his own, but I wouldn't say he has played well. That's a little too much praise to be honest, but he is only a rookie and has been alright as a relief player. Chad Clifton isn't the greatest player either, mainly because he really struggles against speedy pass rushers due to his age and injury history. He is only so-so as a run blocker, and his main strength is against bigger ends because of his strength. Wells is an underrated player and is the second best player on this line, only because Sitton is such a monster. I mean, all you have to do is watch a couple of weeks worth of tape last season to behold his awesomeness. I hope my "insight" wasn't too boring, and I like to offer my little scouting $0.02. I am a fan of this site, and I really love the wide receiver stats. My name links to my website, and I use your target, catch rate, success rate, and yards per target statistics to help evaluate receivers. Their offensive line has really improved since Rodgers first took over, and credit that to the emergence of the young talent such as Sitton and Bulaga. They aren't the greatest line out there, but they are solid and are around the 6th best group in the league. I also enjoy reading your work on FanGraphs Carson, and FanGraphs was the site that really got me into writing about baseball.

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