Clifton, Tauscher to the rescue?
With sacks piling up at a record rate and quarterback Aaron Rodgers now hobbled by a pair of foot injuries, Packers coach Mike McCarthy strongly hinted Wednesday that recently re-signed veteran right tackle Mark Tauscher could start Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay—his first action since a major knee injury last December.
Veteran left tackle Chad Clifton might be ready to return from a nagging ankle injury, too.
“No substitute for experience, and Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton have a ton of it,” McCarthy said. “You see that just in the practice today, just some of the things that they do. Any time you add experience to your group, it’s definitely a benefit.”
Clifton and Tauscher both were active last Sunday but did not play against Minnesota.
Rookie T.J. Lang started in Clifton’s place at left tackle for the second straight game Sunday, and Allen Barbre made his seventh straight start at right tackle. Vikings defensive ends Jared Allen and Ray Edwards combined for five of the Vikings’ six sacks on Sunday.
Clifton went into this season as the Packers’ starting left tackle, but hasn’t played a full game since the season opener because of a right ankle injury. Tauscher tore his left anterior cruciate ligament last December and was out of football until re-signing with the team last month.
The Packers have allowed a league-worst 31 sacks and are on pace to break the dubious franchise record of 62 sacks allowed in 1990.
To make matters worse, Rodgers is now nursing a sprain on his right foot and a sprained big toe on his left foot. He expects to play Sunday, and doesn’t believe the injuries will make him a slower-moving target.
“Thankfully there’s this little thing called adrenaline that kicked in last week,” Rodgers said. “So I’m hoping that kicks in early and won’t be an issue.”
Rodgers said seeing Tauscher and Clifton working their way back to health is encouraging. Rodgers said he’s particularly happy that Tauscher is back with the team, if only because it gives him somebody to exchange smart-aleck remarks with.
Although he’s been dodging pass rushers all season, Rodgers has been careful not to criticize his line.
“We’re all in this together,” Rodgers said. “I think as you’ve seen, nobody’s pointing fingers at anybody. … I know sometimes they would like to protect a little better and obviously I should have thrown a couple away, maybe.”
There were no maybes about it for McCarthy, who reiterated that Rodgers must continue to work on his internal “time clock”—getting a better feel for when it’s time to get rid of the ball under pressure.
“That’s the one area that has a red line under it, there’s no question about it,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy said Rodgers’ ability to scramble out of trouble is a major asset, but the second-year starter still is learning when to extend a broken play and when to throw it away.
“You have to work through both scenarios,” McCarthy said. “Because if he wasn’t as productive with his feet and he was taking those sacks, now I think you have a legitimate issue with your quarterback. We’re talking about an athletic quarterback that makes a lot of plays with his feet.”
Rodgers acknowledged that he should have thrown the ball away on the first sack he took Sunday, a rollout to the left on third-and-5 at the Minnesota 16. Rodgers couldn’t find an open receiver and was brought down by Edwards.
Packers quarterbacks coach Tom Clements said Rodgers needs to work on his reaction to pressure.
“It’s a fine line,” Clements said. “You have to see when you have the opportunity to extend the play by using your feet, or when it’s better just to throw the ball away or get it out of your hand quicker.”