We are six games into the 2022 NFL season and the Green Bay Packers offensive line remains an ineffective mess. It’s far from the only problem on the offense right now, but the poor play of the offensive line is related to many of the other problems.
The issues were on full display in the Week 6 loss to the New York Jets. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked four times and hit nine times and rarely had enough time to throw the ball downfield.
The offensive line also failed to open holes for the running game. As a team, the Packers gained just 60 yards on the ground in this game on 20 carries, a paltry 3.0-yards per carry average. Neither Aaron Jones nor A.J. Dillon had room to roam. They were hit soon after they got the football and the result was the team couldn’t run the ball consistently.
“I don’t know that today was the day to really stick with the run,” Rodgers said after the game. “I think we were at our best when we were really spreading them out and dinking and dunking.”
In pass protection, the Packers had difficulty picking up stunts. The Jets responded by stunting repeatedly and it was effective nearly every time they tried it.
When you can’t open holes for the running game and don’t do a good job in pass protection, the result is a mere 10 points scored and in the modern NFL, 10 points won’t win many games.
“Bottom line is if we don’t get it blocked up front better, it’s hard,” head coach Matt LaFleur said. “We didn’t run the ball effectively. Felt like there was a lot of pressure on our quarterback. I know Aaron took a ton of hits today and that’s where the game starts. So, we’ve got to coach better. We’ve got to come up with something that alleviates some of the pressure.”
Some struggles along the offensive line were expected early this season. The Packers two best linemen, David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins spent all preseason on the PUP list. That meant the team was rearranging their lineup early with right guard Royce Newman opening the season at right tackle and Jake Hanson filling in at right guard. After Jenkins returned to the lineup in Week 2, Newman moved back to right guard.
Unfortunately, both Jenkins and Bakhtiari struggled a bit upon their return to the lineup. This wasn’t unexpected although it was frustrating at times. Jenkins was also playing a new position at right tackle after earning Pro Bowl honors at left guard in 2020 and playing well at left tackle in Bakhtiari’s absence in 2021.
Jenkins seemed to have a better game against the Giants but struggled again against the Jets. In addition to struggling in pass protection, he had two holding penalties and a false start in last Sunday’s game at Lambeau.
Newman has been the weak link on the offensive line all season. He struggled to pick up stunts and blitzes as a rookie but hasn’t improved this season and is still getting beaten with regularity. He has allowed too many pressures throughout the year and the Packers benched him for Hanson against the Jets. Hanson suffered an injured biceps and after a few plays, Newman was back at right guard. He didn’t play any better.
Jon Runyan Jr. has been consistent at left guard, at least until the Jets game when he had a subpar performance. Bakhtiari played well against the Jets, the only bright spot along the line in that game. He also played the full game after alternating with Yosh Nijman in some earlier games to bring him back gradually.
“We’ve got to go back to the basics. That’s all we can do,” Bakhtiari said. “It goes back to being consistent across the board. A guy here, a guy there, if five guys have one mess-up, that’s five bad pass-pro attempts. The film, we’ve got to go back, we’ve got to correct, we’ve got to be honest with ourselves, something that we talk about with the line.”
LaFleur has always said he wants to get the best five offensive linemen on the field. Right now, he clearly doesn’t have that. The group that he’s playing now just isn’t getting the job done.
“Whether it was our schemes or the execution, or it could have been all of the above, it wasn’t good enough,” LaFleur admitted. “Everything’s on the table moving forward in terms of trying to get our best people out there to give us the best opportunity to move the football.”
Newman has been the weak link all season and should be benched. The Packers have options after that but no sure bets. They could move Jenkins to guard and put either Yosh Nijman or Zach Tom at right tackle. There are questions about both possibilities.
Nijman has done well at left tackle for the Packers this season and last year but has never played the right side in the NFL. He did play there for one season in college. The coaching staff has yet to put him in at right guard despite opportunities to do so.
Tom is a rookie and may not be ready to start. The Packers didn’t put him into the lineup yesterday even when things broke down. He has played 30 snaps on offense this season, all of them in Week 1 against the Vikings. He hasn’t played since.
Still, what the Packers are doing right now clearly isn’t working. If the offensive line doesn’t open holes for the rushing attack or protect Rodgers consistently, the offense will continue to falter. The Packers have scored 10 points in their last six quarters and are averaging just 17.8 points per game this season. That won’t get the team where they want to go this season.
Making tough decisions is why coaches get paid the big bucks and LaFleur has to figure out something to restore the team’s confidence.
Bakhtiari summed it up best after the game. “The inconsistency, that’s the number one thing,” he said. “Coaches always preach from top down it takes all 11. We’ve got to be more consistent, and we’ve got to be more honest moving forward about what we’re doing. Whether that’s run or pass, we’ve all got to be on the same page, and we’ve all got to execute our jobs. That’s our job at the end of the day.”
Time is running out to get that job done. The schedule gets tougher after Week 7 and the Packers are just a .500 team right now. The offensive line holds a big key to the offense’s potential for the rest of the season. If it doesn’t improve, neither will the team.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
Click here for more great Packers coverage