August 15, 2013

Packers Will Survive Without Bryan Bulaga

By: Andrew Megow

Aaron Rodgers was sacked a total of 51 times in 2012. Amazingly, Rodgers was able to play all 16 games last year, which is a testimony to Rodgers “iron-man” ability to stay on the field. Having only missed one game due to an injury in his entire tenure as the Green Bay Packers starting quarterback, it will become more likely that Rodgers could miss a game or two, as he gets older.

Packers OT Bryan Bulaga // courtesy // hawkcentral.com
That being said, it will become increasingly important for the Packers offensive line to be stable and healthy. Bryan Bulaga certainly isn’t helping that cause, as he tore his ACL and is out for the season.  He was the Packers intended answer to take over at left tackle, where Marshall Newhouse struggled last year. While the Packers' coaching staff did shuffle various pieces hinging on Bulaga's health and switch to LT,  Packer fans shouldn’t necessarily panic because this situation has happened before (see below).

2010 – Played 16 games
2011 – Played 12 games
2012 – Played 9 games 

The Upside:
This team didn’t see a significant drop-off in win/loss when Bulaga was in the lineup, compared to when he was not. While this is one isolated stat, it shows the Packers can win football games without Bulaga.
  • Total Win/Loss in 2012 with Bulaga on the Offensive Line: 6-3
  • Total Win/Loss in 2012 WITHOUT Bulaga on the Offensive Line: 6-3

Possible Consequences:
The problem with this injury is that the Packers simply may not have the personnel to safely protect Rodgers. The coaches don't really trust Marshall Newhouse on either side of the line, but he'll probably get playing time by default and based on his experience. The other topic that hasn't been discussed is Bulaga's injury on the Packers' running game. A great RB can solve some problems behind a makeshift OL, but no RB can be a star or be an impact player behind a bad OL. The big guys still need to pave lanes for the Packers' RBs and those lanes may not be big enough for the running game to take off.

Probable Outcome:
One potential player who will need to step up on the line is 4th round rookie OT David Bakhtiari, who has shown great strides so far in camp. Defensive End Mike Daniels told Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Bakhtiari, “…is a long guy. Strong kid. You can tell he’s been well-coached. He reminds me of Sitton. He’s got that real nice, cool personality, but when he gets on the field he turns into a psychopath.”

Packers OT David Bakhtiari
courtesy lombardidave.com
If the current starting five OL can stay healthy the entire season and if the running game can ease the pressure on Rodgers, I don’t see the Bulaga injury putting a damper on the Packers’ Super Bowl aspirations.

Bakhtiari’s First Game
  • The August 9 preseason match up against the Arizona Cardinals was our first glimpse of David Bakhtiari playing at left tackle for the injured Bulaga. Suffice to say, he was one of the better players in what was a rather putrid display of football from the Packers backups. Bakhtiari played throughout the first half of the game and had no obvious bad plays. 

Bakhtiari told reporters Friday night, “I just didn’t feel overwhelmed, that’s probably the best way to put it….I didn’t feel overwhelmed at all.”

Aaron Rodgers who passed for 62 yards Friday night said, “I didn’t get touched tonight……We had a few drop backs, I think five attempts, so I’m sure he (Bakhtiari) was pretty good over there. It’s nice when you’re not worried about him, and tonight I wasn’t worried about him. He’s a confident kid. I think he’s got a bright future for us.”

Conclusion:
No matter who is at left or right tackle, Green Bay still has 16 games to play and as long as the line can find some continuity, they should hold up. The 2012 Super Bowl winning team saw Rodgers get sacked 31 times. The 2011 Packers team gave up 36 sacks and went 15-1. Last year the team went 11-5 but seemed to struggle throughout the year because of the lackluster running game and lack of QB protection. 


Let us hope that a broken Bryan Bulaga is not the end for the Packers season and that Bakhtiari is good enough in a full game to be his replacement. A lot can happen between now and the playoffs but I predict most of us will forget this happened by November.

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