When it became evident that David Bakhtiari wouldn’t be ready for the start of this season, it immediately put the Green Bay Packers offensive line behind the 8-ball.
The All-Pro tore his ACL last December. Expecting him to be ready in Week 1 the following September seemed like a massive stretch. Fast forward to this December, and Bakhtiari still hasn’t played, Elgton Jenkins has a torn ACL, and yet the Packers’ offensive line has found harmony in a group that has mixed and matched incredibly well.
Green Bay entered the bye week coming off a win against Aaron Donald, Von Miller, and the Los Angeles Rams. The Packers tasked their third-string left tackle, Yosh Nijman, with protecting Aaron Rodgers’ blind side. Jon Runyan Jr., a backup to start the year, was again starting at left guard. The Week 1 starting left guard, Lucas Patrick, replaced Josh Myers at center. Royce Newman, a rookie fourth-round selection, was at right guard, and Billy Turner started at left tackle.
That group only allowed Rodgers to be sacked one time against LA’s vaunted front. They once again proved that names can carry only so much weight. What really matters is execution. Head coach Matt LaFleur rightfully gave that group their flowers following another stellar showing.
“Thought our offensive line battled, man,” coach Matt LaFleur said after the 36-28 victory. “I thought they did a great job. I think anytime you go against that type of front, that style on defense, I think that the fact that we dropped back 45 times and Aaron had the one sack, which he tried to scramble up on, I thought they did a hell of a job.”
He wasn’t the only one. Rodgers was giddy about the showing from Nijman, who started three games earlier in the season and was thrust back into a starter’s role yet again.
“You’re going against two likely Hall of Famers, and a stud in (Leonard) Floyd, that’s a tough job. To step in and play as well as he (Nijman) did, I’m really proud of him. I gave him a big hug after the game and told him I almost forgot about that side of the line, and that’s a huge compliment because I didn’t have any worries about my backside.”
It’s just the most recent instance of this group neutralizing a defensive front with a big-name presence. The stats back it up.
Green Bay is seventh in pass-block win rate and eighth in run-block win rate, according to ESPN’s Next Gen Stats. Considering they’ve gone up against players like T.J. Watt, Chandler Jones, Khalil Mack, Aaron Donald, Von Miller, Cameron Jordan, Nick Bosa, and others, it’s even more incredible.
The offensive line was, without a doubt, the unit with the most unknowns entering the season. Green Bay opted to start two rookies right from the get-go in Myers and Newman, and Jenkins slotted in at left tackle without Bakhtiari in the fold. It helps to have Rodgers at quarterback; there’s no doubt about that. But to have made it this far into the season without even one disaster from the offensive line is extremely noteworthy. There have been hiccups, as there are with every offensive line in football, but there hasn’t been the one dark-cloud game from this unit. At this point, it seems unlikely to happen, especially with reinforcements arriving.
On Monday, LaFleur said they could potentially get Bakhtiari back at practice this week. It doesn’t mean he’ll be available on Sunday night against the Chicago Bears, but it’s an encouraging update nonetheless. Quite frankly, Green Bay might not need him to suit up for this one. Without Bakhtiari and now Jenkins, they’ve not only been able to keep things afloat, but they’ve also excelled. It’s something that Turner and the rest of the group pride themselves on.
“The games are won up front,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what defense you’re playing. It doesn’t matter what offense you’re playing. It doesn’t matter what team, special teams, none of that matters. At the end of the day, if you can’t block up front, you ain’t gonna get the ball off. That’s my opinion. Makes it a lot easier when you got a guy like Aaron Rodgers, when you got a guy like Davante Adams, Marcedes Lewis, Aaron Jones. Those things make your job easier but, at the end of the day, if you cannot block, you cannot do those things.”
The big fellas up front often don’t get enough credit for their contributions. That’s not the case with this group in Green Bay. They were put under the microscope from the outset of training camp when it became clear they would be starting two rookies and not have Bakhtiari available. Instead of shelling up, they’ve dominated all year long in the pass protection and paving holes in the ground game. It hasn’t always been pretty, and there have been constant lineup shifts up front due to injuries, but this group has found beauty in the week-to-week chaos.