Can Packers Start Fast Without Bakhtiari?

Tough early schedule will test offensive line.

If David Bakhtiari isn’t one of your favorite Green Bay Packers, you’re not paying attention.  Besides being an All Pro left tackle, he is also a bona fide character who might be seen chugging beers on the big screen at Milwaukee Bucks games, or horsing around with teammates in the locker room.  At a media session during OTAs, Bakh was asked if he would be sufficiently recovered from his torn ACL injury to start on week one.  He couldn’t resist a playful response.  “I’ve got no problem saying I will be one hundred percent available for training camp” he said, knowing every beat reporter was breathlessly underlining the comment.  Then after a pause he smiled and added “...in 2022.” 

 

In truth, Bakhtiari’s availability for the start of this season is no laughing matter.  The Packers figure to be facing some of the best pass rushing defenses in the league in three of their first four games.  They open against the Saints in New Orleans.  The Saints no longer have Drew Brees, but they do bring back a defense that ranked third in the league in quarterback knockdowns, and eighth in sacks.  Week two will see the rebuilding Detroit Lions coming to Lambeau.  New head coach Dan Campbell says he will cultivate a brutally aggressive style of play and that his team will “bite your kneecap off.” 

 

The week three opponent is the Pittsburgh Steelers.  All they bring is the number one ranked defense in sacks (56) and QB knockdowns (80).  The San Francisco 49ers will follow.  The Niners’ defensive stats were down last season because the unit was riddled with injuries, but the prior year they were top five in sacks. 

 

There’s been so much attention given to whether Aaron Rodgers will start the season with the Pack, the likelihood of Bakhtiari missing multiple games at the outset has taken a backseat.  This may be due to the fact many Green Bay fans seem secure in the knowledge that the 9rh year veteran can be adequately replaced, at least in the short term.   Believe that at your own peril. 

 

It is true the Packers did reasonably well in six games without Bakhtiari last season.  Green Bay went 4-2 in those games.  Billy Turner slid over from right guard to start each one.  But take a closer look at those contests.  Bakh sat out weeks 7, 8 and 9 with a chest injury.  Week seven was played against a weak Houston team that was in organizational turmoil.   The Pack’s O-line gave up no sacks and just one hit on Aaron Rodgers, who drilled the Texans with 283 yards through the air and four touchdowns. 

 

Week eight saw Green Bay host a 2-5 Vikings team that whipped them 28-22.  Aaron Jones also missed that game.  Yet the O-line didn’t play all that badly.  Rodgers, playing catch-up all day, still threw for 291 yards and three scores, while being sacked only once and knocked down twice.  The greater blame for this loss was on the defense and its inability to stop Dalvin Cook, who ran wild for 163 yards and three scores. 

 

Week nine had the Green and Gold playing a 49ers team devastated by injuries.  Playing against a defense that was merely a shadow of itself, the O-line, without Bakhtiari, allowed just one sack and one QB hit in an easy 34-17 victory.   Bakh would return for the next seven games.  Green Bay went 6-1 in those games, losing only a nail biter at Indianapolis.  Then came the ACL tear during a freak incident at practice prior to week 17 versus the Bears.  Still, even with Turner back at left tackle, the Pack cruised through Chicago, and then the Rams in the divisional round of the playoffs. 

 

But there were signs of trouble to come.  In the Bears game, Chicago’s defense knocked down Aaron Rodgers six times.  It was the first real indication the Packers might be in trouble without their All Pro tackle. 

 

The roof collapsed in the NFC championship game.  The Tampa Bay Bucs ran over Green Bay’s front wall and sacked Aaron Rodgers five times, knocking him down eight times.  To be sure, all of the O-line, not just Turner, had no answer for the strength, speed and aggression of the Bucs’ pass rush.  Would the presence of Bakhtiari have made a difference?   

 

Which brings us to this year.  No matter whom is playing quarterback, the Saints, Lions, Steelers and 49ers are going to be a stern early test for Green Bay’s O-line.  As the NFC championship game showed all too painfully, even a future Hall of Fame quarterback can be beaten if he is running for his life.  The standard recovery period for a torn ACL is nine months.  That would place David Bakhtiari back on the field sometime in October.  Can the ex-Colorado star accelerate his rehab and be ready for week one?  Even he doesn’t know.

 

There is also the option of starting Elgton Jenkins at left tackle.  In his first two years with the Pack, Jenkins has played 29 snaps at left tackle, and 33 at right tackle.  During those plays, he has not allowed a sack or a pressure.  He may be a better choice than Turner, but he is not Bakhtiari. 

 

We do know that Bakh has not let injuries keep him down long during the first eight years of his career.  Out of 128 regular season games, Bakh has missed only ten.  Somewhat remarkable considering the beating that players take in the trenches.  Last fall the Packers made Bakhtiari the highest paid offensive lineman in the history of the game.  In February, he agreed to rework the deal to free up over $8 million in cap space.  He’ll be a Packer for life.  The question is, will he be a starter on September 12th?  And can the Packers get off to a successful start without him?   

 

“My job is to be the left tackle” Bakhtiari said at OTAs.  “And I intend to be the left tackle.” 

 

And this time, he wasn’t joking. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-----------------------------------

Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.

NFL Categories: 
5 points

Comments (33)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
NickPerry's picture

July 12, 2021 at 06:44 am

Getting Bakhtiari back ASAP will be huge no matter who's the QB. He's the best pass blocking LT in the game today and IMO the best LT overall too. The Packers schedule is no joke this year, even with Aaron Rodgers behind center, and the games Ken highlighted would be huge tests for the O-Line without Bakhtiari.

No matter what though running the ball is going to be huge, especially against the Saints, 49ers, and Steelers. NOTHING will slow down a pass rush faster than a good running game. With or without Bakhtiari, the Packers still have some excellent O-Linemen more than capable of holding their own, especially if Jones and Dillon are ripping off huge chunks of yardage. Lets see Dillon running OVER Jordon, Bosa, and Watt...That will slow their ass down!

12 points
12
0
Coldworld's picture

July 12, 2021 at 08:17 am

I agree, and think you hit on a great point, the key to helping an O line is not to do what we did in our last game. We have the tools to slow the rush: use them. That ability in itself will be important an key games even once Bakh returns. Get in the habit early.

6 points
6
0
NickPerry's picture

July 13, 2021 at 06:33 am

Agreed CW...I believe MLF will contine to move towards running the ball MORE this year than last.

In 2019 the Packers ran the ball 411 times for 1795 yards.

In 2020 the Packers ran the ball 443 times for 2118 yards.

In 2021, even if Rodgers is the QB which I believe he will be I think the Packers will go over 500 attempts. As much as I loved Jamal Williams and what he brought to the Packers, I think Dillon is a much better runner and we'll continue to see an increase in attempts AND yards.

2 points
2
0
dobber's picture

July 12, 2021 at 09:00 am

Defense will need to force TOs, too. Those first couple games where they'll see Winston/Hill, Goff, and Roethlisberger at QB--all of them will throw picks--it will be important for this defense to take advantage of its takeaway opportunities.

6 points
6
0
LambeauPlain's picture

July 12, 2021 at 02:26 pm

Agree Nick. The OL culture has greatly changed with Matt's arrival. Versatility has been cemented as a core value...yes to play multiple positions...but also to hire players who are equally adept in pass pro and wide zone run blocking, especially skillful getting to the second level. (See Jenks)

Most of their draft picks and FAs have these skills.

The most effective and efficient way to neutralize a stud pass rusher is to plow his carcass into the dirt on a run play....and keep him off balance and guessing.

1 points
1
0
stockholder's picture

July 12, 2021 at 06:47 am

I really don't believe the packers will start fast. Especially if Rodgers' isn't the Qb. But the sooner Bakh gets back at LT. The better. I just don't see any question marks with him. But I do if players keep moving around.

0 points
2
2
KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

July 12, 2021 at 11:34 am

After a serious injury it isn't unusual for a player to not have a great first game back. Simply it is a confidence thing. Finding out the knee actually will hold up under severe stress is huge. Whenever Bakh comes back I would not be surprised his first game is not his typical outstanding game.

2 points
2
0
GregC's picture

July 12, 2021 at 07:06 am

Elgton Jenkins looks like the best choice to replace Bakhtiari early in the season. Billy Turner has held his own at RT but got lit up at LT during the NFC championship game. I think with Jenkins at LT the OL can still be very good, as there are decent options to fill in for him at guard.

8 points
8
0
Irish_Cheesehead's picture

July 12, 2021 at 07:54 am

The Saints and Steelers will be a test. Detroit? I think I’ll wait to see them on the field rather than just base it off the words of a new head coach. The Lions always find a way to disappoint!

3 points
3
0
Coldworld's picture

July 12, 2021 at 08:09 am

I agree with you on Detroit. They’ve an easy task to be better than they were because they have a long way to come. Stafford and co always played hard against the Packers anyway.

0 points
0
0
dobber's picture

July 12, 2021 at 08:57 am

With the Lions, they win just enough games early on to get their hopes up.. They just haven't been able to play decent ball the last 10 weeks of the season since Suh was stomping on people. Without Stafford and Golladay, I think they'll be primarily a running team, and they've fortified their OL make that more of a priority. Packers will need to be ready for that.

1 points
1
0
Roadrunner23's picture

July 12, 2021 at 08:25 am

Bakhtiari will start out on the PUP list

From left to right

Jenkins
Runyan
Myers
Patrick
Turner

It’ll be a little rough at first especially with Rodgers most likely coming to camp late. But the Packers will ride the Jones/Dillon train early on until the Offensive heats up mid-season.

Super Bowl!!

Go Pack!!

6 points
6
0
dobber's picture

July 12, 2021 at 08:39 am

"Bakhtiari will start out on the PUP list"

I disagree. PUP is too restrictive. I think they'll want him active in whatever drills he can do early in camp to build strength, flexibility and confidence in that knee--and based on his participation in minicamp, that's not a stretch--which takes the PUP out of the equation. They'll want him on the active roster at the start of the season so they're not so limited as to when they can activate him. Assuming there's still a short-term IR, he might go there after the final cut-down if they think he needs a couple weeks.

6 points
6
0
Thegreatreynoldo's picture

July 12, 2021 at 09:27 am

Yes, that makes more sense than what I suggested a few days ago. I can't find any definitive word on whether the 3 game IR with unlimited returns rule will stay in place for 2021. The agreement about the 2021 Covid protocols has been reached but it dealt strictly with Covid. Here is a June 2nd article in which Pelissero suggested that the 2020 rules would likely be kept, for what it is worth.

https://www.nfl.com/news/nfl-nflpa-likely-to-keep-in-place-modified-ir-r...

5 points
5
0
dobber's picture

July 12, 2021 at 09:33 am

I thought the 3-game IR was a great add for game day and roster management. I hope it sticks.

I think the Packers will know early on what they'll need to do with Bakhtiari.

3 points
3
0
Coldworld's picture

July 12, 2021 at 11:04 am

Unless they make a conscious decision to give him time to regain full utility, I agree. While that sounds unlikely at first glance, if they have confidence in their OL without him, it might be a better long term strategy, depending on his physical progress.

I wish the NFL would come out and give a clear answer on rules. They offered the opt out, which suggests extending other Covid rules would be consistent. Personally, I much prefer the Covid rules on IR and the PS to the old regime, especially with an expanding season. Perhaps some owners are griping over money?

2 points
2
0
flackcatcher's picture

July 13, 2021 at 12:21 pm

All league front offices want the 2020 rules left intact for this season. Not one owner opposes it. Why New York is dancing on this is unknown. This is not an issue between the owners and union, so maybe only Rodger knows?

0 points
0
0
Roadrunner23's picture

July 13, 2021 at 09:05 am

Good points Dobber

0 points
0
0
GLM's picture

July 13, 2021 at 09:20 pm

Remember, too, Bak seems to be ahead of schedule... no point in rushing him back into the lineup, but I think he'll be ready sooner, rather than later.

0 points
0
0
Thegreatreynoldo's picture

July 12, 2021 at 09:20 am

I think too many folks have an irrational exuberance for the OL. Not sold on Runyan. No idea about Myers but I would guess that he'll be a downgrade from an All-Pro, and maybe a big downgrade. 29 snaps at LT is a small sample size: opposing teams will now look at the tape Jenkins put out there. OTOH, Jenkins probably will get some reps at LT, so I wouldn't be surprised if he can be average or somewhat better at LT. Turner was a downgrade from a healthy Wagner.

3 points
5
2
dobber's picture

July 12, 2021 at 09:31 am

I agree about peoples' expectation that this OL won't miss a beat: that's a lot to expect, especially if #69 is going to miss time. They're down 3 All-Pros (Bakhtiari, Bulaga, and LInsley) since 2019, and two from last season. If Bakhtiari is out (and he may miss a few weeks early in the season), there will be growing pains for this group. If Bakhtiari plays early and is close to himself, it's not such an issue, but it's hard to lose that much talent from your lineup and not have it show up on the field.

0 points
1
1
Coldworld's picture

July 12, 2021 at 11:12 am

Myers is almost certainly a downgrade at this point, seeing as he will be playing his first games. The question is how much of one and in what respects. Any LT is going to be a downgrade from Bakh. As to the rest, let’s see what happens in Camp. There is going to be a heck of a battle and we might just end up with an upgrade in there too.

On an allied point, I think we will be better set up to help the O line this year, with Daffney/Deguara healthy and a year in as well as Dillon. I’m hoping that is a message LaFleur has digested. I also think, with Sternberger out, we may see a more conventional TE option in Nuata, which adds blocking. If Love starts, there is also the added factor of the designed scramble or option, potentially.

1 points
2
1
CheesyTex's picture

July 12, 2021 at 12:28 pm

Very interesting, Coldworld, especially "If Love starts, there is also the added factor of the designed scramble or option, potentially."

Makes me wonder whether or not #12 might actually like the idea of going forward with something like Sean Payton did with Drew Brees and Taysom Hill. By 12's own admission, he likes Love and possibly could see that idea as a way to extend his career as he gets on in years. If he did, it could even be a catalyst to "kiss and make up" and work out a cap-friendly extension of his contract with the Pack.

Just dreamin', but would love to see a positive end to this summer's saga.

1 points
1
0
Stroh's picture

July 12, 2021 at 11:20 pm

Totally agree TGR. Any way you cut it there is a rather steep downgrade at C, LG and LT! Myers as a rookie is no comparison to the All Pro Linsley. At LG Runyan (or someone else) is no comparison Jenkins. And Jenkins can't compare to Bahktiari at LT.

They might be a decent group at those positions but overall it's a huge downgrade from Linsley, Jenkins,Bahktiari to Myers, Runyan, Jenkins!

We could be in for a rude awakening to start the 2021 season at OL!

3 points
3
0
jannes bjornson's picture

July 13, 2021 at 04:21 am

The comparison is valid as both are Ohio State trained centers and both will have started as rookies. Myers maybe the best center from the 2021 draft. Like Jenkins, a plug and play guy. Newman seems to be a wild card, we'll see how he performs in camp?

1 points
1
0
GLM's picture

July 13, 2021 at 09:22 pm

I disagree. I think we'll be pleasantly surprised by Runyan and Myers.

0 points
0
0
KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

July 12, 2021 at 12:40 pm

Ken,
Great article and one of the better written articles!

I agree there are some unknowns with the OL having lost talent with Lindsay. However, I will go on record and state I am very confident us fans are going to be very impressed with Josh Myers. Guy is an impressive human being and even as a rookie he is going to hold up well and only get better with each passing game. Personally, I just have this feeling Bakh will be back for game 1. He has a lot of pride. We will see if I'm right but if he starts he may not be at the top of his game for the first game until he fully develops confidence his knee will hold up. Game 2, we will likely see the old Bakh we have come to enjoy watching.

Undoubtedly, the OL has more depth this year but depth isn't good enough if your starters cannot hold up against elite defensive lines/LB's. While I value lunch box type players like Lucas Patrick I see him best as a backup swing player at the 3 interior line spots. Whether it is Jon Runyan, Simon Stepaniak, or someone like Royce Newman, a Coy Cronk, or a Ben Braden the Packers OL will be stronger at RG this year than last year offsetting any initial dip we may have in talent at Center until Myers develops. Assuming that Bakhtiari is back for game 1, I see the OL just as good as last year barring injuries. The OL will continue to get better as the season goes along as some of the these young players talent/confidence ascend with game experience.

Now....having said the above I believe you have to look at the totality of the offense vs just looking at the OL. Should Jordan Love start he has slightly better mobility than a 37/38 year old Rodgers. Rodgers of course brings 17-years of wily experience. The LF offense will likely become more balanced this year with more runs and shorter passes helping to neutralize those hot blitzes, particularly at the beginning of the season. Spreading the ball out more to more receivers/backs is only going to help. We have a talented Amari in the slot and a rapidly improving Tonyan. We have a hungry and healthy Josiah Deguara back as well looking to make his mark blocking and receiving. Than we add AJ Dillon who is going demoralize defenses as a power back.

When you put all this together I do not see how the OL, or even the offense will be less impressive than last year. Should Rodgers be the starter and he fully buys into the LF offense he brings 17-years of experience to help make the offense run smoothly, so I do not see a downside regardless of whether Rodgers or Love is the starter as they both bring different strengths. The offense barring injuries is going to be successful regardless who is behind center, or who is the starter at various positions along the OL. Us Packer fans have a lot to feel good about on the offensive side of the ball this year. I know I am excited regardless who starts at QB, or at various OL spots!

1 points
2
1
jannes bjornson's picture

July 12, 2021 at 08:37 pm

Newman should be a contender.

1 points
1
0
Thegreatreynoldo's picture

July 13, 2021 at 06:19 am

Cole Madison (5th)
Kofe Amichia (6th)
Kyle Murphy (6th)
Corey Linsley (5th)
Andrew Datko (7th)
Caleb Schlauderaff (6th)
Marshall Newhouse (5th)
Jamon Meredith (5th)
Breno Giacomini (5th)
Tony Moll (5th)
Junius Coston (5th)
Wil Whittacker (5th)
Scott Wells (7th)
Brennan Curtain (6th)
Mike Houghton (6th)
Mark Tauscher (7th)
Craig Heimburger (6th)
Scott Curry (6th)
Marco Rivera (6th)

These are the last twenty offensive linemen drafted by GB in rounds 5 to 7. I'd say 4 were good starters (Linsley, Tauscher, Wells and Rivera) and 2 more could play in the NFL (Newhouse and Giacomini). Newhouse's PFF grades include 3 years in the low to mid sixties and 6 in the fifties, 1 in the forties and 1 in which he did not play. Murphy played 236 snaps for the Packers in '16 and '17 and hasn't played a snap since. He has earned less than $100K in the last 3 years. Giacomini was drafted in 2008 and did nothing for 4 seasons. He finally found the field in 2012; overall he had two good seasons, one mediocre year and 7 bad ones.

20% success rate by year two and 10% of being a decent starter as a rookie. 2 of the 20 started as rookies (and were pretty good and quite good right away!) while the other two good players didn't do much until their second seasons. GB has 4 guys taken in the 5th-7th, two of whom I will treat as rookies (Stepaniak since he was on PUP almost all year and Van Lanen), so 20% chance for those two 40% chance for the other two (Runyan and Hanson the latter of whom has no buzz going) = 60% chance of one of these four guys being at least okay.

Even if Myers is good as Linsley was as a rookie he is likely to be a down grade from the 2020 iteration of Linsley, the first team all-pro. Second round is Jenkins, Spriggs, Colledge, Clifton, Dave Dreschler and Greg Koch. 67%? [Bill Bain, Dave Bradley and Tom Chichowski and Jon Morris would be 1 of 4 (Morris was good I guess), though Bain played a long time and seems to have stunk, but IDK him or any of these four guys at all.]

That leaves Newman and the UDFAs and waiver wire pickups. GB has Tretter, Bakh, Lang, Sitton, Barbre, Ferrario, Jeff Miller, Dan Knight, Carlton Simons, and Joe LeSage in the 4th (Um, all the way back to 1961 to reach 10 fourth round OL picks). 2 of the 10 were good as rookie starters and a third (Tretter) looked like he would have been. So, 30% chance of being a decent rookie starter. Lang was okay in his 2nd year and it took Barbre 3 years before he could show fans that he was not very good on the field. I can't calculate a probability for first year UDFAs and UDFAs entering year 3 and year 5 (Nijman and Braden, respectively).

TL: DR - I feel a little better about the OL, but still foresee a downgrade at OC, one of the guard spots until Bakh returns.

2 points
2
0
KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

July 13, 2021 at 08:53 am

TGR,
Amazing info and research!

However, you also brought up some names from the past that were long buried and I was hoping they would always remain forgotten.

0 points
0
0
Roadrunner23's picture

July 13, 2021 at 09:26 am

Wow! Good stuff there and it goes to show what a crap shoot it is in those later rounds.
No wonder the Packers are drafting all those OL guys the last few years.
It is actually a pretty good strategy, at least one is likely to hit....

WR-Moore-MVS-EQ,

RB-Williams-Jones-Mays

OL-Runyan-Stepanak-Hansen

CB- Edwards-Vinson-Mckensie

OL-Michael’s-Flanagan-Rivera

It is a strategy that works if you’re a GM, not putting all your eggs in one basket

1 points
1
0
GLM's picture

July 13, 2021 at 09:24 pm

Wow... your post made me realize it's been 17 years with Aaron (more like 14, but still)... Lord, how time does fly.

0 points
0
0
Matt Gonzales's picture

July 12, 2021 at 01:57 pm

Can they? Sure.

Will they??? Remains to be seen, but this team has all the pieces to control the clock and grind out wins, and i think any games early where we have to scratch and claw our way to victory will pay dividends later in the season.

4 points
4
0