GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers have gone through so many offensive line combinations that they’ve started to recycle.
On Sunday against the Rams, Green Bay lined up with Yosh Nijman at left tackle, Jon Runyan at left guard, Lucas Patrick at center, Royce Newman at right guard and Billy Turner at right tackle. Nijman is the No. 3 left tackle, Runyan wasn’t the Week 1 starter at left guard and Patrick wasn’t the Week 1 starter at center. But, as unlikely a quintet as that was, it wasn’t the first time that Green Bay started a game with that group. It also did in Week 5 against Cincinnati.
“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.”
The Packers led the NFL in scoring last year. Aaron Rodgers received the bulk of the credit as he won NFL MVP honors. But the offensive line was stellar. Left tackle David Bakhtiari was All-Pro, left guard Elgton Jenkins was a Pro Bowler and center Corey Linsley was All-Pro. However, Linsley signed with the Chargers in free agency, Bakhtiari still hasn’t played due to a torn ACL sustained late last season and Jenkins missed three games with an ankle injury and now is out with a torn ACL.
Offensive line coach Adam Stenavich’s rebuilt and reconfigured line has played well most weeks, though. According to SportRadar, Green Bay has been stuffed on 6.7 percent of its running plays, with a stuff being a tackle at or behind the line of scrimmage. That’s the seventh-best rate in the NFL. In the passing game, Packers quarterbacks have been pressured 23.3 percent of the time, the 13th-best rate.
For comparison, Green Bay was No. 2 in stuffed percentage and No. 1 in pressure percentage last season. So, the line play hasn’t been as good – no surprise considering the personnel and injuries – but it also hasn’t been a disaster area, either.
ESPN.com, using Next Gen Stats data, has its own metrics called Pass Block Win Rate and Run Block Win Rate. The Packers are in seventh in both areas. Green Bay, Washington, Philadelphia, Kansas City and the Los Angeles Rams are the five units in the top 10 in both areas.
The LaFleur has mostly been able to run his offense with five starting line combinations and three starters out vs. the Rams has been remarkable. Jenkins looked like a legit left tackle in his eight games. Nijman has been no slouch in either phase. According to PFF, here’s the starting five’s sack numbers: Nijman with two in four starts, Runyan with two in 11 starts, Patrick with zero in eight starts, Newman with five in 12 starts (but none the last three) and Turner with three in 12 starts.
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Is help on the way? From the moment the season started, the hope was Bakhtiari would return at left tackle, Jenkins could move back to left guard, and the rookie combination of Myers and Newman would be playing like veterans by late in the season. Instead, Bakhtiari needed a minor procedure on his reconstructed knee, Jenkins suffered a season-ending knee injury, Myers has missed the last six games following knee surgery and Newman has battled rookie inconsistency.
The hope is Bakhtiari will be ready to resume practicing after the bye. Myers could be back at some point, too. Bakhtiari’s return would provide a major boost to the team’s championship hopes. Can he return after getting shut down a few weeks ago? And if he can, is it possible that he can return to his five-time All-Pro form in time for the playoffs?
Speaking truth last week was Turner, the bedrock of the line and underappreciated right tackle.
“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.”