OWINGS MILLS – Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been treated like a human crash dummy all season, subjected to a barrage of hits that have given Cheeseheads far too many reasons to cringe.
Due to a combination of injuries and inadequate pass protection along the offensive line and Rodgers’ tendency to hold the football until the last possible second, he has been sacked more times than any other quarterback in the league heading into Monday night’s game against the Baltimore Ravens.
While it’s true that the Packers have solidified their protection over the past few weeks with one sack allowed against the Detroit Lions and two against the San Francisco 49ers, it’s debatable whether the Ravens’ pass rush can exploit the porous holes in an injury-riddled offensive line.
The Ravens have only generated 21 sacks this season for an average of 1.9 per game, tying them for the eighth-fewest in the league.
And they haven’t registered a sack in the past two weeks ever since Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs sprained his medial collateral ligament on an illegal block by Cleveland Browns quarterback Brady Quinn.
“I think we’ve gotten pressure,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “You know, I think we’ve forced quick throws at times. We didn’t get any sacks this last week. We’d love to get sacks. We need to keep working on that.”
They’ll likely have to try to accomplish that goal without the presence of Suggs, who didn’t practice Thursday and is still limping around.
So, defensive ends Trevor Pryce and Dwan Edwards and outside linebackers Jarret Johnson and Paul Kruger will be counted on to create penetration in the backfield.
For the season, though, the Ravens rank 21st overall in sacks per pass play.
“We’ve got to cover longer or be better pass rushers, either or,” Edwards said. “The Packers are definitely playing well. They did some things to kind of cover that up.
“You look at the other games and you see guys giving up sacks and you want to do it the same way they did. There are those opportunities.”
Five times this year, Rodgers has been sacked at least five times.
The Packers have only had one game where he wasn’t sacked, and that was against the 1-10 Browns
The Packers are already way over last year’s sack total of 34 allowed. Due to injuries, the Packers have used six different starting lineups across the offensive line.
The Ravens aren’t buying into the perception that the Packers can’t stop anyone from harassing Rodgers, who has been sacked for 260 yards of losses.
“I think everybody else can get caught up in that,” middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. “That was early in the season for them. They pieced the offensive line back together the way it’s supposed to be right now, and they’re doing a good job really keeping Aaron Rodgers protected right now.
“Whether they’re struggling, wherever they’re struggling at, where we’re going to attack, that’s where we’re going to attack. That’s just who we are, but I just think we have to go in there expecting to play the Green Bay Packers and not expecting to say, ‘Oh, they’re giving up all these sacks,’ because that stuff will get you in trouble.”
With offensive tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher finally back from ankle and knee injuries, the line has stabilized lately.
“Early on, they struggled, but they seem to have gotten that straightened out,” Harbaugh said. “They’re protecting very well the last three weeks, and it’s a good offensive line.
“It’s a very good quarterback. He understands pressure, and they’ve got a great receiving corps. As good as any in the league, top to bottom. So, it’ll be tough for us.”
Although elite pass rushers like Jared Allen and DeMarcus Ware have punished the Green Bay offensive line, the Ravens don’t have anyone like that in their lineup currently.
Suggs’ continued absence is a big factor, a negative one.
“He’s a tremendous player, one of our better pass rushers,” Edwards said. “To not have him out there hurts us a little bit.”
Rodgers has been taking advantage of more time gained through chip-blocking as well as designed rollouts, completing 65.5 percent of this throws for 3,136 yards, 22 touchdowns and five interceptions for a 104.9 passer rating.
It’s imperative that the Ravens disrupt his timing. Otherwise, it could be a very long night.
“I think the key to stopping any quarterback is getting pressure,” Lewis said. “Aaron, if you watch them, what they do offensively, he gets out of the pocket a lot and he makes a lot of plays with his legs. Of course, our job will be to make sure to try to keep him in the pocket so he don’t get out of the pocket and make big plays to his receivers.”
The Ravens, who are led in sacks by Johnson with six and Pryce with five, established a season-high with four sacks during a 16-0 win over the Browns.
They did a nice job of occasionally catching Peyton Manning off-guard in a two-point loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
There wasn’t as much of a pass rush against Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Dennis Dixon, who broke containment for a 24-yard touchdown run during the Ravens’ overtime win.
“The funny thing about sacks is it’s not as an important a stat as people make it out to be,” cornerback Domonique Foxworth said. “It’s great to get them, but I think pressure is even better. It’s tough to say we need more pressure. When you look at the final score and we have more points than they have, we’ve done our job as a defense.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.