GREEN BAY, Wis. – While their teammates were in the end zone celebrating another score, offensive linemen Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang walked slowly back toward the Packers sideline.
After another successful drive, it was time for the Green Bay's hobbled guards to get off their feet.
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' skill-position players might get more of the glory, but the offensive line has been just as instrumental in the success of prolific offense. Rodgers has been sacked just twice in the last three games.
He certainly hasn't forgotten about his front five, and especially veterans Sitton and Lang. After going to the end zone for the touchdown earlier this month against Chicago, Rodgers jogged right toward the duo up the field at the sideline.
"I mean, they're both battling through things," coach Mike McCarthy said this week. "It's that time of year."
Sitton has a torn ligament in his left big toe. Lang has ligament and muscle damage in his left ankle. Both were hurt during the 44-23 loss at New Orleans on Oct. 26.
They have either missed practice or taken part on a limited basis ever since — a practice blueprint likely to remain in place as Green Bay prepares for a high-profile showdown with New England on Sunday.
The line still hasn't missed a step. McCarthy has said this line has a chance to be the best front in his nine seasons as head coach.
Sitton and Lang lead the way. McCarthy has called them "exceptional football minds." The experience helps makes up for anything that the duo might miss in practice.
"They're older guys, first they know the system very well," offensive line coach James Campen said. "I know they would like to practice. Linemen like to practice and work on fundamentals and those things. A lot of times if you have a little something going on in your body you have to rely on your fundamentals. Certainly that's helping both of them."
Especially when it comes to making the split-second decisions needed to determine whether a pass-rusher breaks through to get to Rodgers, or if running back Eddie Lacy has the room to power through a hole for a big gain.
"If you know everything 100 percent like T.J. and I — I mean we know the offense through and through — we know what we're doing just as well as anybody," Sitton said. "When you know it that well, you can make those decisions in a split-second. If you're having to think and guess, you're not going to play as fast.
"The mental part correlates with how fast you play," Sitton added.
Both guards are leaders who have helped break in rookie center Corey Linsley, who has been playing well. Both are thoughtful, well-spoken players — though Sitton has more of a gregarious side.
"That's saying it lightly," Rodgers said recently with a smile at his locker.
"They're really dialed in to the pulse of the team and how to get it ready," Rodgers said. "But those guys cut it up with the best of them. They are two of the funnier guys, funnier teammates I've ever been on a squad with."
Rodgers said they also know their stuff. Sitton and Lang have offered input or suggestions to Rodgers, Campen or McCarthy on what blocking schemes might work best in the running game, or what techniques might best work on particular plays.
The running game has shifted because of the guards' influence, Rodgers said.
"When they've really kind of taken over it and made it their own, that's when you're seeing some jumps at least in the efficiency of some of the runs we've put in," Rodgers said. "In the passing game, they've done a great job of what calls kind of best fit the looks that we're going to see."
"They're given a voice because they're really great players, but also because they're really intelligent guys."
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