A Key at Offensive Line: Pressure’s on Wagner
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Last season, Green Bay Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga faced a gauntlet of elite pass rushers to start the year. In the first five weeks, he had individual battles against Chicago’s Khalil Mack, Minnesota’s Danielle Hunter, Denver’s Von Miller, Philadelphia’s Brandon Graham and Dallas’ DeMarcus Lawrence.
Bulaga responded with perhaps his best season. His excellence played a major role in Green Bay going 13-3 and reaching the NFC Championship Game.
With Bulaga departing in free agency, the pressure will be on his replacement, veteran Rick Wagner, to keep the pressure away from Aaron Rodgers.
Gone are the days when it was the left tackle who faced the opponent’s top pass rusher. Last season, 17 edge rushers collected at least 10 sacks. Of that group, six rushed from the defense’s left (or against the right tackle) at least two-thirds of the time and three others rushed from the left at least half the time. That’s nine of 17 – or more than half. In all, 12 of the 17 rushed from the defense’s left at least 40 percent of the time.
Sacks aren’t everything, of course. Green Bay’s schedule features 13 edge defenders who ranked in the top 30 in ProFootballFocus.com’s pass-rushing productivity, a metric that measures sacks, quarterback hits and hurries per pass-rushing snap. Of that group, six rushed at least 60 percent of the time from the left side of the defense (or the right side of the offense) and another three were essentially a 50/50 split.
Here’s how it lines up, week by week:
Game 1: at Minnesota. Hunter, who tied for sixth in PFF’s pass-rushing productivity, rushed 95.3 percent of the time from the defense’s left, meaning he’ll almost exclusively be Wagner’s responsibility barring a major schematic change from coach Mike Zimmer.
Game 2: vs. Detroit. The projected starting ends, Trey Flowers and Romeo Okwara, primarily rushed from the defense’s right last season. Trey Flowers, who was 33rd in PFF’s pass-rushing metric last year with the Lions, rushed mostly from the defense’s left while with the Patriots, so perhaps that will be the adjustment.
Game 3: at New Orleans. Cameron Jordan, who was 14th in PRP, rushed 88.7 percent of the time from the defense’s left. Left tackle David Bakhtiari will have to contend with Marcus Davenport, who was 18th.
Game 4: vs. Atlanta. Dante Fowler, who was 19th in PRP with the Rams, rushed 48.4 percent of the time from the defense’s left.
Game 5: at Tampa Bay. Shaq Barrett, who was merely 11th in PRP but led the NFL in sacks, rushed 43.1 percent of the time from the defense’s left.
Game 6: at Houston. The indomitable but oft-injured J.J. Watt, who tied for sixth in PRP, rushed 90.8 percent of the time from the defense’s left.
Game 7: vs. Minnesota. It’s Hunter again.
Game 8: at San Francisco. At more than 85 percent of the time, Dee Ford (third in PRP) and Arik Armstead (tied for 30th) were primarily left-side rushers.
Game 9: Jacksonville. Josh Allen, who was 23rd in PRP, rushed 61.1 percent of the time from the defense’s left.
Game 10: at Indianapolis. The Colts’ best rusher, Houston (26th in PRP), might fall primarily on Bakhtiari.
Game 11: vs. Chicago. Mack, who tied for 30th in PRP but is one of the NFL’s elite defenders, rushed 50.5 percent of the time from the defense’s left. His new sidekick, Robert Quinn (12th), rushed 100 percent of the time from the defense’s right while with the Cowboys.
Game 12: vs. Philadelphia. Graham, who finished 33rd in PFF’s pass-rushing metric, rushed 81.3 percent of the time from the defense’s left.
Game 13: at Detroit.
Game 14: Carolina. Brian Burns, who was 43rd in PRP and had 7.5 sacks as a rookie, rushed from the left 41.3 percent of the time.
Game 15: Tennessee. The Titans signed Vic Beasley, a formerly elite pass rusher, in free agency. With Atlanta, he rushed from the defense’s left 69.9 percent of the time. He was only 70th in PRP.
Game 16: at Chicago. It’s a rematch against Mack.