Earlier this week, I wrote a story about the debacle in the desert last Sunday, when the Green Bay Packers were completely throttled by the Arizona Cardinals 38-8 at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Although there was a lot of blame to be passed around for that sorry performance in Glendale, the most obvious issue that the Packers had was the disappointing demonstration by the offensive line.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was hit 12 times, sacked eight times and fumbled three times (two of which were returned for touchdowns). After Rodgers was thankfully removed from the game, backup quarterback Scott Tolzien was also sacked once.
Part of the problem with the offensive line for the Pack is the injury situation. Left tackle David Bakhtiari didn’t play against the Cardinals due to an ankle injury. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga missed most of the second half, also due to an ankle injury.
That meant that Don Barclay started at left tackle and Josh Walker came in to play right tackle after Bulaga hurt his ankle. Barclay had the worst performance of his career, as he gave up 4.5 sacks. Walker looked even shakier if that’s possible, and the Packers ended up putting in JC Tretter to play right tackle.
In addition to that, left guard Josh Sitton (back), center Corey Linsley (ankle) and right guard T.J. Lang (shoulder) are all playing hurt.
My take on the game was that Ted Thompson has put together a roster which is woefully weak in the depth department at the offensive tackle position. That is not a good thing, as Bulaga has had a checkered career in terms of missing games due to injuries.
When he’s healthy, Bulaga is one of the best right tackles in the NFL. But it’s a fact that he has missed 28 games due to hip, knee and ankle injuries.
Bakhtiari never missed a NFL game before last Sunday, but he’s been hampered by a knee injury since training camp.
Right now, the Packers have been using Barclay as their swing tackle, both at right tackle and left tackle.
I have always liked Barclay, but there is a reason why he wasn’t drafted after he had played left tackle at West Virginia. No. 67 just doesn’t have the foot speed necessary to take on edge rushers at the offensive tackle position in the NFL.
That’s why the Packers moved him to guard initially, because he is a much better fit at that position. But due to injuries to Bulaga, Barclay moved to right tackle, where he started 18 games in 2012 and 2013.
Barclay is a better-than-average run blocker, but his pass blocking is very suspect, especially taking on edge rushers. That has been quite apparent over the course of his NFL career.
This past Wednesday, I had a chance to talk with NFL scout Chris Landry about the offensive line issues that the Packers are having. I talked to Landry on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show, which was guest-hosted by Todd Wright the past couple of weeks.
I gave Landry my take on the putrid performance of the offensive line of the Packers last Sunday and also asked if the Packers should make drafting an offensive tackle in the 2016 NFL draft a priority.
“I think that they need to add a couple of spots in the offensive line,” Landry said. “It definitely needs upgrading. It’s been the biggest problem they have had this year. And it’s contributed mainly to their inconsistency in running the football.
“When they’ve had some success, it’s when they are running the football. It’s a perfect example of what we talked about in the first segment [of the show]. It’s balance. Balance is about being able to dictate to the defense. But now defenses are dictating to the Packers.
“When they can’t run the football successfully, good pass-rushing teams are getting to Aaron Rodgers, plus receivers are not getting open. Formulate this in your mind, although I know it’s radio. You’re dropping back and you can’t run the football. People are teeing off on their pass rush.
“You can’t protect, receivers aren’t getting open, the quarterback is having to hold the football and extend the play. Do that in your mind. There is no where to go with the football and you’re having a lot of mistakes and a lot of turnovers.
“You’ve got to be able to run the football, which slows down the pass rush. And it gives you some time to work the play-action, so that you can make plays in the passing game.
“That’s been the problem with Green Bay and it’s been their undoing and will probably be their undoing the rest of the way into the playoffs regarding of where they are seeded or regardless what happens Sunday night.”
Yes, Sunday night. The 10-5 Packers will host the 10-5 Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field. The winner of the game wins the NFC North and will be the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs.
If the Packers win, it will be their fifth consecutive NFC North title. Earlier this season, the Packers beat the Vikings pretty convincingly 30-13 at TCF Bank Stadium.
In that game, the Packers were able to run the ball. Eddie Lacy ran for 100 yards, while Rodgers threw two touchdown passes and was sacked only twice.
The weather on Sunday night calls for typical Green Bay weather this time of year. The temperature is expected to be in the teens.
If you look back at Lacy’s history with the Packers, you know that he normally excels in the latter portions of the schedule as the weather gets colder. He did that both in 2013 and 2014 seasons.
Since that game against the Vikings on November 22 earlier this season, Lacy has rushed for 416 yards. Three of those games have seen No. 27 run for over 100 yards. But there have also been some clunkers. Games in which Lacy ran for just four yards and 23 yards.
That illustrates perfectly what Landry was talking about. The running game has been inconsistent.
For the Packers to win on Sunday night and throughout the playoffs, the running game has to stay consistent in terms of production.
That will certainly help the passing game, plus it aids in keeping the defense of the Packers fresh.
Just remember the 2010 postseason for the Packers, when they team ended up hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy after Super Bowl XLV. Aaron Rodgers had a fabulous postseason that year, but No. 12’s production was buttressed by the performance of James Starks, who ran for 315 yards in four games.
Starks and Lacy can do the same thing this postseason, but only if the offensive line can stay healthy and start blocking better.
The odds of that happening are somewhat ominous, at least based what has occurred throughout the season thus far.
Bottom line, no matter what happens this Sunday night or in the postseason, the Packers have to fortify the depth of the offensive line. Especially at the tackle position.