Sitton adjusts to move
It's a good thing Green Bay Packers guard Josh Sitton has an inner dialogue.
Otherwise, he would have been in big trouble when head coach Mike McCarthy and offensive line coach James Campen came to him and fellow guard T.J. Lang and to tell them they would be swapping sides.
“I thought they were idiots at first,” Sitton said.
Perhaps best described as a combination even-tempered bull and stubborn mule, Sitton could not believe his ears and immediately thought five years of work on the right side of the offensive line was going to go for naught.
Seven games into the regular season, Sitton has a different take on things.
“Now, I think they're geniuses,” he said.
There are any number of reasons why Green Bay's offensive line is carving out new territory in the running game and protecting quarterback Aaron Rodgers well enough that he can do his thing. But if you wanted to put your finger on one thing, it would probably be the strong play of the interior line and the emergence of Sitton as a force on the left side.
“Yeah, man, I'm playing good right now,” Sitton said, when asked if he was playing the best football of his career. “I feel comfortable, I feel confident. I feel confident in what we're doing as an O-line.
“The change has been good for me, really good in the run game. And the pass game, I've played well overall, but in the run game I don't have as many defaults as I did on the right side.”
Asked why he seems to be playing better on the left side, Sitton said he has absolutely no idea. He speculated that maybe it's easier for him to execute the difficult “reach” blocks—having to get to the outside shoulder of a defensive lineman who is lined up to the outside of the blocker—that are common in McCarthy's offense.
But when thinks more about it, he really shouldn't be executing that block as well as he has been because he often slips into right guard mode and uses the wrong footwork. That is not an ideal way of playing left guard, but it is part of the adjustment he has had to make.
“There's still a whole lot of time where I find myself in the middle of a play with my right foot back,” he said. “It happens all the time actually. So part of me still feels like a right guard out there. Like I've said in the past, it's all muscle memory. Sometimes I just end up looking like a right guard. But it's going well.”
The NFL tracks the direction of running plays and categorizes them based on which of the seven corridors they went into, one each for the five offensive line spots and two each outside or end positions. It's not an exact science given offensive lines are often on the move and their positions become muddled.
But using those statistics, the Packers rank No. 2 in the NFL on runs aimed at the left guard position with an average gain of 5.95 yards per carry. Only runs outside to the left average more (7.56) for the Packers.
A year ago, the Packers ranked 15th in the NFL in left guard runs with a per-carry average of 3.89 yards. They ranked dead last in left tackle runs (2.34) and 26th (4.49) in runs outside to the left.
Overall, the Packers ranked 24th in the NFL in rushing after seven weeks last year. They rank No. 3 right now.
“I think we're playing well right now,” Sitton said. “We were just talking about the switch, switching sides has helped out and for whatever reason it is T.J. does some things better in the run game on the right side and I do some things better in the run game on the left side.
“I guess we can give coach Campen all the credit for that one or Mike. It's worked well so far.”
Even as late as training camp, Sitton said he was pushing back against the move to the left side because he felt he wasn't making enough progress to justify the switch. He said he kept wondering if the coaches were not putting him in the best position to be successful.
Having made the adjustment he no longer questions whether he is where he should be. But he's willing to use the switch as a handy excuse when he makes a mistake.
“All through training camp and still when I make a bad play, I'm like, 'I should be at right guard,'” he joked. “There was definitely a lot of resistance—not resistance, but T.J. and I would talk with each other like, 'I can't do this, man. This sucks.'
“And I would tell coach Campen I feel terrible out here. As time has gone on, it's worked. I think we're starting to feel comfortable on our sides.”
Another aspect of the move that has paid handsome dividends is the chemistry Sitton has gained with rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari. All through the off-season, Sitton worked with veteran Bryan Bulaga at that position, but a week into camp everything changed when Bulaga tore his ACL.
Early on Sitton and Bakhtiari messed up some stunts, but they seemed to have cleared that up.
Sitton has been a rock pass blocking on the left side, giving up just a half sack the entire season. Bahktiari has gone four straight games against formidable opponents, including Minnesota Pro Bowl end Jared Allen, and not given up a sack.
“I've played against a lot of tackles, so I've had no problem with kind of taking him under my wing,” Sitton said. “He's a football guy, he knows football, so it's easy to talk football with him. He understands things. Obviously, there's bumps in the road; he's still a rookie. He doesn't have a 100 percent grasp of everything, but it's been successful.”
Bahktiari said he probably wouldn't have been able to hold up as well as he has without Sitton.
“He might have felt uncomfortable (at left guard), but to me he seemed a lot more comfortable than I was,” Bakhtiari said. “I appreciate him helping. I attribute some of going through very little growing pains as a rookie compared to other people, a lot of that is to him. He's helped me out a lot. He's a great guy.”