The Green Bay Packers suffered multiple problems in their loss to the Detroit Lions last Thursday but essentially, they lost that game in the trenches. The Packers offensive line, which is trying to overcome significant injuries, was dominated by the Lions defensive line. The Packers allowed five sacks and 11 quarterback hits. With two key injured players unlikely to come back soon, Matt LaFleur and the Green Bay coaching staff must figure out how to address the problems the offensive line has been dealing with.
Injuries Have the Packers Offensive Line Shorthanded
The Packers missed the entire left side of their offensive line against Detroit. Left tackle David Bakhtiari was placed on the IR prior to the game. He continues to deal with complications from the knee injury he suffered at the end of the 2020 season. Bakhtiari went under the knife for the fourth time for this knee injury and he may have to have another surgery according to the Packers. The goal is to get the former All Pro healthy enough to play in 2024. Bakhtiari must miss four games after being placed on the IR but it’s likely his season is over.
Left guard Elgton Jenkins suffered a sprained MCL against the Falcons and has missed the last two games. Jenkins is a two-time Pro Bowler and he and Bakhtiari are clearly the Packers best two offensive linemen. The Packers did not place Jenkins on IR. The team is hoping he can return shortly although it’s not clear when the former Mississippi State star will be back in the lineup. Green Bay does have their bye week after Monday’s game against the Raiders.
The Packers Replacement at Left Tackle
The Packers opted to promote Rasheed Walker at left tackle in Bakhtiari’s absence. The former Penn State star did well in his first two starts when protecting Jordan Love’s blind side. Unfortunately, Walker struggled against the Lions although so did all his fellow offensive linemen.
Walker passed Yosh Nijman on the depth chart with a strong training camp and preseason. With Bakhtiari unlikely to play again this season, Walker is battling for the starting left tackle spot for the rest of the season. Because of Bakhtiari’s age (32), his high 2024 cap number (just over $40.5 million) and his injury history, he may have played his last game with the Packers. Walker is auditioning to be his heir apparent at the all-important left tackle position.
The Packers Replacement at Left Guard
Royce Newman stepped in at left guard when Jenkins went down in the first half against Atlanta. While he did a respectable job against the Falcons, he has struggled in the last two contests when he started and played the full game.
Newman started 16 games as a rookie in 2021. The former fourth-round pick out of Ole Miss struggled with blitz pickups and stunts and was considered the weak link of the Green Bay offensive line. LaFleur benched Newman for the Packers playoff game against San Francisco that year.
Newman lost his full-time job in 2022 but did start six games when injuries hit the offensive line. This preseason, Newman was guilty of taking too many penalties and still struggled with stunts and blitz pickups. He made the team in part due to a lack of depth at guard. While the entire defensive line struggled against Detroit, Newman again looked like the biggest problem.
Options for the Packers Offensive Line
Now the Packers must figure out how to put their best five offensive linemen on the field. Starting right tackle Zach Tom can play anywhere along the offensive line. He can take over at left guard which would move Nijman to right tackle.
The conventional wisdom says you don’t want to move too many players around the offensive line because you weaken multiple positions while trying to shore up one so that may not be the best option.
Another possibility would be to give second-year guard Sean Rhyan a shot at left guard and keep the rest of the starting offensive line intact. Rhyan suffered through a disappointing rookie year in 2022. He was slow to pick up the offense and adjust to the NFL game. He appeared in just one game and took one special teams snap all season. The NFL suspended the former UCLA star for the final six games of the regular season for violations of the league’s PED policy.
Rhyan outplayed Newman during training camp and in preseason but Newman was the first choice of the coaching staff when Jenkins got hurt because he had started 22 games in the NFL to Rhyan’s none. But Rhyan’s improvement and Newman’s lack of growth and poor performance may lead to a change.
There are other options for the Packers offensive line, but those two are the most logical and least disruptive.
Either way, the coaching staff needs to figure out how to protect the passer better and to open holes for Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon in the running game. If they don’t, the offense will continue to struggle, and the team’s record will as well.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
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