Pack not sure when Clifton will return
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- As a first-year starter last season, Aaron Rodgers made playing all 16 games a significant goal -- and he did, despite playing through a serious shoulder injury.
The way things are going now, it'll be even more impressive if he does it again.
The Green Bay Packers have a serious pass protection problem, giving up 10 sacks in their first two games and leaving Rodgers exposed to big hits even when he can get rid of the ball. Now veteran left tackle Chad Clifton has a sprained right ankle, and it isn't clear when he'll be back.
Rodgers didn't call out his linemen after getting sacked six times in Sunday's 31-24 home loss to Cincinnati. But he did take offensive players, himself included, to task for their practice habits.
"We're two weeks into the season now," Rodgers said. "We're 1-1 and it's time to grow up and be a pro and practice and play like it."
Packers coach Mike McCarthy has seen enough of linemen getting beat in basic one-on-one matchups, guys who generally knew who to block and just weren't able to do it. He said the resulting hard hits haven't affected his quarterback's play yet.
"I thought he hung in there again this week, like he did last week," McCarthy said. "But it's only natural, it's all about trust. Every player's got to trust the other player to do his job."
The coach did say Rodgers needs to get rid of the ball more quickly in some situations: "He had his share of mistakes, too."
McCarthy didn't have a timeline for the return of Clifton, who was injured on the Packers' first offensive play of the second half and had to be carted off. His availability for Sunday's game in St. Louis remains unclear.
"We're preparing to play without him," McCarthy said.
The Packers would likely go with the same plan they used after Clifton was injured Sunday: former starter Scott Wells comes off the bench to play center, Jason Spitz slides from center to left guard and left guard Daryn Colledge moves over to replace Clifton at left tackle.
Colledge didn't get much work in practice at left tackle and missed much of last week's practice with a foot injury of his own, making Sunday's second half a challenge.
"It was a lot tougher than it should've been -- that's the facts," Colledge said. "I needed to play my technique. I had some very good drives; I did a good job on a couple. And then I had some complete meltdowns. That's just unacceptable."
Bengals defensive end Antwan Odom dominated Colledge, getting four of his five sacks in the second half. Odom said he was surprised the Packers didn't assign other players to help Colledge.
"I guess they believed in him and they thought he could block me one-on-one," Odom said.
McCarthy expressed confidence that Colledge can play significantly better if given a week to prepare as the starting left tackle.
"He just did not look comfortable out there," McCarthy said. "I thought he played well at left guard, he graded out well, but did not look comfortable at left tackle."
In all, it's another week of head-scratching for a first-string offense was nearly unstoppable in the preseason. Rodgers' late touchdown pass to Greg Jennings to beat Chicago in Week 1 covered up a host of offensive problems, and the Bengals exposed them.
Running back Ryan Grant said poor pass protection is the root of the problem.
"There should be a level of concern," Grant said. "We need to do a better job, from the back and from the line of protecting Aaron, make sure he doesn't get touched. That's the number one emphasis of our offense, plain and simple: Our quarterback doesn't get touched, and everything starts with that. We haven't gotten that done at any level."
Rodgers' teammates regretted that they couldn't get the job done.
"That's the guy we all depend on [to] take us to the Super Bowl," tight end Donald Lee said. "And when you're running routes or blocking and look back and see him getting off the ground, it's kind of hurtful."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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