O-Line Troubles will Haunt Green Bay if not Solved

Dating all the way back to the beginning of the Matt LaFleur era, the Green Bay Packers have won a lot of games. As a Packers fan, it’s been enjoyable the past three years to say the least.

A 39-10 start for LaFleur through three seasons meant the Packers were the first team in NFL history to win 13 games for three straight years. On top of this, LaFleur became the winningest coach in NFL history over his first three seasons.

However, all ten (and eleven counting the week 1 loss to Minnesota) have followed a similar formula. Team’s have dominated the line of scrimmage against Green Bay and created a nightmare for Aaron Rodgers and Co.

Teams such as the San Francisco 49ers, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Vikings in year’s past have been able to overpower the Packers with their pass rush and run the ball more efficiently. Despite Rodgers being a back-to-back MVP, if you can contain Green Bay’s run game and get pressure in the passing game, you have a good chance of beating them.

Week 1’s loss included four sacks from the Vikings, including one from former Packer Za’Darius Smith. Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison combined for 126 yards and averaged 4.5 yards a carry. Everyone will remember Justin Jefferson’s performance, but head coach Kevin O’Connell establishing the run was the key to victory.

Just looking at the box score, it may appear that Green Bay didn’t do all too bad running the ball as Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon combined for 94 yards on just 15 carries. However, most of these yards came in the second half when Minnesota began to back off up multiple scores.

The offensive line for Green Bay on Sunday couldn’t handle what Minnesota threw at them throughout the game and it was apparent they missed their two starting tackles, David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins.

At this point, nobody has a clue, maybe even Bakhtiari, when the former All-Pro could return to the lineup after tearing his ACL on New Year’s Eve in 2020 and continuing to have complications and more surgeries.

Jenkins’ situation is hopefully more similar as he tore his ACL last November and is still on a normal recovery time for a torn ACL of 8-10 months. While it’s frustrating to not have someone as skilled as him out there, a return in a couple of weeks is hopefully on the horizon.

Current starting left tackle Yosh Nijman is a fan favorite for some and you can argue he’s held his own in more games than not. Jon Runyan Jr. has been a respectable option at left guard for the past couple years. Josh Myers was praised by LaFleur for having the best performance in week 1 out of all the linemen.

2020 sixth round pick Jake Hanson earned the start at right guard on Sunday, but was the biggest disappointment as he looked overmatched all game. Smith constantly attacked him and either got to Rodgers or freed up other rushers. Tackle-turned guard Royce Newman wasn’t much better at right tackle.

In the last three drafts, the Packers have spent nine of those picks on offensive linemen. Many Packers fans applaud GM Brian Gutekunst for his drafting skills, but you would like to think a good portion of those guys would be able to hold their own. Yes, some of those picks include Jenkins, Runyan, and Myers, but others like Hanson and Newman must play better if called upon in games.

Two rookies this year, Zack Tom and Sean Rhyan, impressed in training camp and Tom even came in at left guard after Runyan left with a concussion. Perhaps Tom could play his way to a every-week starter and try to fix some of these issues.

While they lost Davante Adams, who looked like his All-Pro self in week 1, the skill positions issues will be solved as time passes. After all, the Packers were a Christian Watson drop and a converted 4th-and-goal from the one from having 14 points. Robert Tonyan returning from a torn ACL will also prove significant as he was one of Rodgers’ favorite weapons in his 2020 MVP season.

The issue that won’t work itself out, however, is if the offensive line doesn’t get healthy or other players begin to contribute. One would like to assume Jenkins will return at some point whereas Bakhtiari returning at any point would be an achievement in itself. But come January when the Packers have to play the 49ers, Bucs, or another emerging team that can get to the quarterback, they’ll be in trouble.

Is fearing Green Bay’s fate in the playoffs a week one overreaction? Probably. But what isn’t an overreaction is that all 11 losses in the Matt LaFleur era have resembled the same script. If the Packers can’t rewrite that script, then fans could find themselves disappointed again at season’s end.
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