GREEN BAY, Wis. – It wasn’t just left tackle David Bakhtiari who was missing from the Week 16 game against the Arizona Cardinals. During the blowout loss, the Green Bay Packers also lost right tackle Bryan Bulaga and played a few snaps without center Corey Linsley and right guard T.J. Lang.
In fact, the only lineman to play all 72 snaps against the Cardinals in the 38-8 loss on Dec. 27 was Don Barclay, the fill-in left tackle who allowed four of the nine sacks.
It’s not just the anticipated return of Bakhtiari, whose limited participation in Wednesday’s practice has him optimistic he will be able to play for the first time since his Week 15 ankle injury. It’s the idea that all five preferred offensive linemen could be back together that has the Packers feeling better about their chances.
“You talk about chemistry all the time up front,” Lang said. “The more snaps you get together, especially in one particular game, I feel like the better we’re going to prepare. If you’ve got guys coming in here, guys coming in there, you probably overthink it a little bit too much. When I’m playing next to Bryan and somebody else come in, it’s like, me and Bryan just have that chemistry. We don’t even have to talk sometimes.
“Now, you’re over-communicating. Part of you feels like, ‘I’m going to have to help him out with his duty,’ and now I’m not doing my job to my full ability. It’s something that any time you can stay healthy and play every snap together, I think the better results you’re going to have.”
Lang lost his partner on the right side of the line halfway through the Arizona game when Bulaga went down with an ankle injury and couldn’t come back. Coach Mike McCarthy first tried Josh Walker, but, like Barclay, he allowed a strip-sack of Rodgers that the Cardinals recovered and returned for a touchdown. Walker lasted just 26 snaps before he was pulled in favor of JC Tretter, who went the rest of the way.
“We've just got to stick together and believe in each other,” Rodgers said this week when asked about the offensive line injuries.
Rodgers took the brunt of Arizona’s pass rush, absorbing eight of the nine sacks before McCarthy finally pulled him in the fourth quarter.
“It’s not fun to watch it; it’s not a good film to watch,” Bulaga said. “But you’ve got to do it, you’ve got to see what happened. There’s nothing on the tape that’s really great to watch. It was a learning tape to take a look at, correct and move on.”
What's especially difficult about preparing for the Cardinals is their high blitz rate. According to ESPN Stats & Information, they blitzed (defined as sending five or more pass rushers) on a league-high 45.1 percent of opponents' dropbacks in the regular season. They finished third in pressure percentage despite only 36 sacks, which ranked 20th in the league. One-quarter of their total sacks for the season came in the one game against the Packers.
Bakhtiari wouldn’t make any guarantees about his availability for Saturday’s rematch, other than to say his sprained left ankle feels “seven days better” than it did at this point last week, when he was unable to practice.
“It would be nice to have all five starters out there,” Bakhtiari said. “The last time we played the game, we had four and then with Bryan going down in the middle of the game and guys shuffling in, that’s always frustrating, but it would be good this week if we can have all five guys out there.”