Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer 24d

Packers' Bakhtiari, Bulaga up for Round 3 of the pass-rusher gauntlet

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- No, David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga have not switched to the Preston Smith-Za'Darius Smith approach to joint locker-room interviews, but there was Bulaga one day this week in the middle of a chat when the Green Bay Packers right tackle drew a blank on who Von Miller teamed with the last time he played the Denver Broncos.

"I think Von’s been over the right side most of his career," Bulaga began. "The last time we played them, Von was on my side and..."

Enter Bakhtiari with the name: "DeMarcus Ware."

"Yeah, DeMarcus Ware was over Dave," Bulaga confirmed.

Forgive Bulaga for failing to remember a rusher from four years ago. He and Bakhtiari have had plenty to worry about in the first three weeks of the season: from Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd in Week 1 to Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter last week to Miller and Bradley Chubb when the Broncos come to Lambeau Field on Sunday.

Bulaga, one of the few remaining Packers from the 2010 Super Bowl season, struggled to come up with a more formidable three-week stretch of pass-rushers in his NFL career.

"I can’t," Bulaga said after a long pause to ponder the matter. "Just trying to think back, I can’t really recall a time where we’ve gone against elite guys -- and I mean, everyone at this level is very, very good, but we’re talking All-Pro, potential Hall of Fame-type players¬†-- I can’t remember a stretch where we’ve had to do that."

And this one came at the start of the season when offensive linemen, especially ones who barely play in the preseason, need time to knock off the offseason rust.

"There’s no time to work in to the season," Bulaga said. "You need to be ready right now."

Four of the six edge rushers the Packers will have faced in the first three weeks posted double-digit sacks last season, led by Hunter and Miller with 14.5 each (tied for fourth in the NFL in 2018). Mack tied for 12th with 12.5 and Chubb tied for 14th with 12. Miller, with 98 career sacks, ranks third on the active career list.

"I was like, ‘This kind of sucks,'" Bakhtiari said. "I would like to have a good little warm-up to get into the season. I’m not discrediting any other pass-rushers in the league, but let’s call a spade a spade: Not everyone is as good as the other person. It’s definitely a gauntlet."

While the Packers offense has struggled in facets of first-year coach Matt LaFleur’s offense, it hasn’t been because of Bulaga and Bakhtiari. Floyd gave Bakhtiari some trouble in the opener, but Bulaga and Bakhtiari have handled everyone else. Hunter sacked Aaron Rodgers once last Sunday, but it came in a mismatch against tight end Jimmy Graham.

Last season, Bakhtiari ranked No. 1 among all NFL tackles in ESPN’s block-rate win percentage (94.5%). Bulaga was not far behind at 91.0%. Their numbers are similar this year through two games: Bakhtiari at 95.5% and Bulaga at 88.6%.

It might be time for Bulaga to start receiving some of the same accolades that have recently gone to Bakhtiari, who last season was named first-team All-Pro after two seasons as a second-team selection. At age 30, Bulaga has not only held onto his job when some thought he might be a salary-cap cut, but when healthy he has performed like one of the top right tackles in the league.

"They’re two totally different players, especially Bakhtiari than what he was in 2015, so that’s the last time we saw them, so just compare, watch film ... just go out and play," Miller said this week.

"He’s just a different player. His swag is different on the football field, the gear that he puts on, he’s just a different player. [Bulaga], he’s pretty much the same, he was good then, he’s good now, but [Bakhtiari] is a totally different player. So going back to old film and try to start get a bead on him ... he’s had a lot of great pass-rushers that he’s gone against in the NFC North. Just compare the film with the guys he’s gone against."

Surprisingly, Miller and Chubb have been blanked in the sack department the first two weeks of the season.

"We faced some tough ones the last two weeks," Rodgers said. "Obviously, the first week with a couple great ones, and last week with a couple great ones, and this week with a couple great ones as well. So the stress is definitely on our tackles every week. It seems like with these matchups, these guys will play more right and left with their outside rushers. So it's going to be Bryan on Von a lot, and Dave on Chubb.

"Both really great players and something those guys will be ready for. But you have to have a plan for them, and I think the two teams that have played them so far have had a plan, trying to slow them down with different things. That's the way the league, that's just great rushers off the edge. You have to give them different looks. You can't just tee off and knowing they're rushing against the tackle every single play."

ESPN's Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold contributed to this report.

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