Green Bay Packers

The Packers Need To Adjust the O-Line For Rodgers' Sake

Photo Credit: Raj Mehta (USA TODAY Sports)

The offensive line is seen as the pillar for a transition period for the Green Bay Packers offense. The unit will go through a transformation without Davante Adams, and the necessity to dominate up front is higher than it has been since the Packers hired Matt LaFleur in 2019. However, the team’s two best offensive linemen suffered serious knee injuries, and their availability to start the season is in question.

The good news for the Packers is that, according to ESPN’s Dan Graziano, there is internal hope that both Bakhtiari and Jenkins might be available by Week 1.

“One significant concern for Green Bay: The offensive line, where tackles David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins are working their way back from injuries,” Graziano wrote. “The team is hopeful to have both back by the start of the season, but in the meantime the Packers will have to patch it together in practice and preseason games.”

And this is truly decisive for the Packers’ season because being under pressure is the factor that most affects Aaron Rodgers’ quality of play.

Vincent Verhei from Football Outsiders mentioned that Rodgers was the MVP last season in large part because of his performance from a clean pocket. But his level when pressured drops significantly — more than the normal difference for quarterbacks.

“Rodgers’ MVP campaign was fueled by a god-tier performance from a clean pocket: 77.2% completion rate, 7.52% touchdown rate, 0.23% interception rate, all the best in the league,” analyzed Verhei. “But he only completed 30.3% of his passes for 3.12 yards per throw when under pressure, ranking next to last in both categories, ahead of Zach Wilson and Tyler Huntley, respectively.”

Without Bakhtiari and Jenkins at training camp, pressure has been a theme for the offense. Starters Rashan Gary and Preston Smith are beating the offensive linemen. So are rotational players like La’Darius Hamilton, Tipa Galeai, and Jonathan Garvin. That’s why Rodgers admitted a scenario where it’s possible to add outside free agents to reinforce the protection.

“There’s definitely some spots open,” Rodgers said. “There could be interest in people not in the building right now. I’m not sure – I haven’t talked to Gutey (general manager Brian Gutekunst) about that, but we need to see those guys step up and somebody take it over.”

The only positions where the starter is basically defined on the line are center, with Josh Myers, and left guard, with Jon Runyan. If Bakhtiari isn’t ready to play Week 1, Yosh Nijman should play there, but fourth-round rookie Zach Tom has also been tested at left guard. The right side of the offensive line is even more concerning because both spots are open. Jake Hanson has been the right guard for most of the practices. But Royce Newman, the starter last season, is an alternative. Newman is the primary right tackle until Jenkins is back, but the Packers have also used Tom there.

Matt LaFleur’s system has been a big part of Aaron Rodgers’ resurgence in the last two seasons. He’s won back-to-back MVPs after four seasons in the previous five years with down statistical years (by Rodgers’ parameters). And the most significant factor in that is the ability to generate easy throws and to play fast, avoiding pressure. Meanwhile, the last two playoff exits are related to how much the quarterback was taken out of his comfort zone.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (especially in the first half) and the San Francisco 49ers were able to pressure Rodgers in the past two years, and his level of play was down. Bakhtiari didn’t play in either playoff run, and Elgton Jenkins was also out of the most recent with his injury. Those are real factors for the Packers falling short of their Super Bowl aspirations.

Asked if the offense will turn the tables against the defense during training camp, Rodgers offered a good reflection. “I don’t know if we’re going to,” he said. “I mean, they’re a talented bunch.”

Green Bay has to hope that the offensive line struggles say more about their defensive ability to apply pressure than about the offense’s capacity for resistance. The tests are coming due, with three preseason games and joint practices next week with the New Orleans Saints. If the issues persist, it may be time to find new solutions before it’s too late. September is going to have real challenges. The Packers will face good defensive fronts early with the Minnesota Vikings and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Starting the season well and keeping Rodgers healthy and effective are among Green Bay’s top priorities for the season. That’s why Bakhtiari and Jenkins are so important, and their injury timeline may decide the team’s fate in 2022.

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