2

March

Green Bay Packers 2010 Player Evaluations — Offense — Chad Clifton

1) Introduction: A couple of games into the 2010 season, many of us were convinced Chad Clifton was finished. He looked old, slow, overmatched and hobbled. Replacing Clifton with rookie Bryan Bulaga seemed like a logical move to avoid getting Aaron Rodgers killed. But Mike McCarthy insisted that Clifton was banged up, and that once he got healthier (we probably will never be able to say Clifton is fully healthy), he would keep his job. That patience paid off.

2) Profile:

Jeffrey Chad Clifton

Position: T
Height: 6-5    Weight: 330 lbs.

Born: June 26, 1976 in Martin, TN
College: Tennessee (school history)
Drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the 2nd round (44th overall) of the 2000 NFL Draft.

3) Expectations coming into the season for that player: Above average. Clifton signed a three-year, $20 million contract in the offseason. Normally those types of salary figures come with high expectations, but I’m not sure that was the case with Clifton. Everyone could see Clifton was aging and breaking down, and he was resigned because he was the only other logical option (unless you were comfortable with Bulaga the rookie). Not many expected a pro bowl season out of the grizzled veteran.

4) Player’s highlights/lowlights: Clifton took on Peppers for most of the season finale and kept him away from Rodgers. He also handled Lamar Woodley and James Harrison during the Super Bowl. Lowlights included a bad first two games and giving up a costly sack late in the Redskins game.

5) Player’s contribution to the overall team success: Significant. It was a down year for left tackles in the NFC, but that shouldn’t diminish Clifton’s pro bowl selection too much. Clifton never blinked against the likes of Jared Allen and Julius Peppers. He wasn’t quite lights out in pass protection, but he was very good. Clifton struggled to run block, but he was probably just saving his energy whenever the Packers called a running play so he would be fresh to protect QB1.

6) Player’s contributions during the 6-win end-of-season run: Clifton was a big reason why Rodgers played his best football down the stretch. Clifton was left on an island against some solid pass rushers late in the season, and he delivered big time. You could sometimes see Rodgers get a little jumpy when he saw Bulaga engage his man near the line. That was never the case with Clifton.

4

February

Packers Super Bowl Scenario – Big Games Needed by Brandon Jackson and Interior Offensive Line

Scott Wells needs to help contain the Steelers interior blitzes.

While everyone talks about how Aaron Rodgers and the Packers wide receivers match up against the Pittsburgh Steelers secondary, don’t forget about Brandon Jackson, Scott Wells, Daryn Colledge and Josh Sitton. If the Packers put up big passing numbers, chances are these four guys had good games.

I think rushing attempts by both teams will be few and far between, especially after the first quarter. Once both teams go to the air, Rodgers and the Packers wideouts have an advantage over the Steelers secondary, but that advantage can be negated by the Steelers pass rush.

That’s where Jackson and the interior offensive lineman can come to the rescue.

As the crew at Football Outsiders points out in its Super Bowl preview, the Steelers like to send crash blitzes up the middle, which allows outside linebackers to either come through the wreckage on a delayed blitz or jump back into pass coverage and mess up the quarterback’s hot reads. The theory is that by crashing the middle, you’re attacking a team’s worst pass blockers (center and guards) and forcing the running back into the middle of the chaos (which means he’s not a dumpoff option in the flat and he’s in the quarterback’s throwing lane). It also forces your tackles to win one-on-one battles on the outside.

If Wells, Colledge and Sitton hold up against these inside blitzes, I don’t see how the Packers offense is contained on Sunday. If they struggle, it’s up to Jackson to step up, make the correct read in blitz pickup, and buy Rodgers the extra time he needs to move around and make a play.

It sounds relatively simple, but if the Packers’ interior protection breaks down early, it’s going to be an uphill battle. I don’t want the Steelers collapsing the pocket early and forcing Rodgers to worry about pressure in his face while at the same time crossing his fingers that his rookie right tackle holds up against either Lamar Woodley or James Harrison.

Scott Wells has quietly put together another solid season, and I’m confident that he’ll be able to set the protection at the line of scrimmage before each play. Unfortunately, identifying who to block and then actually making the block are two different things.