Packer Plus - - Analysis - TOM SIL­VER­STEIN

Healthy O-line would give McCarthy more op­tions

Green Bay – The Green Bay Pack­ers’ fu­ture at quar­ter­back the rest of this sea­son is writ­ten and there’s lit­tle to no hope any­thing is go­ing to change that.

The of­fen­sive line, how­ever, is an­other story.

When the Pack­ers re­con­vene af­ter the bye week, it’s likely they will have four of their five starters on the prac­tice field and pos­si­bly all five, de­pend­ing on how well guard Lane Tay­lor’s an­kle has re­sponded to an­other week of rest.

If the Pack­ers are go­ing to look re­spectable on of­fense again, the re­cov­ery must start with a healthy of­fen­sive line.

With their first five back, coach Mike McCarthy at least would be able to pro­tect quar­ter­back Brett Hund­ley and try to use his re­ceivers and tight ends in a strate­gic man­ner in­stead of wor­ry­ing about how his backup tack­les are go­ing to be able to hold up in pass pro­tec­tion.

It also would give him a chance to shift the em­pha­sis over to Aaron Jones, who in his only two NFL starts has cracked the 100-yard rush­ing mark both times. As good as Justin McCray has been run block­ing at three dif­fer­ent po­si­tions, McCarthy could use him as a tight end in a jumbo for­ma­tion if all five of his starters are back.

If you’re go­ing to put the onus on some­one to but­tress a shaky quar­ter­back, it might as well be mem­bers of a vet­eran of­fen­sive line with years of ex­pe­ri­ence sup­port­ing a great one. It’s a re­spon­si­bil­ity the of­fen­sive line wants, but it’s go­ing to re­quire good health for it even to be con­sid­ered.

“Any­time you get that group of men work­ing to­gether, that con­ti­nu­ity, it helps with­out a doubt,” of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Edgar Ben­nett said. “Those guys be­ing on the same page, work­ing as one, the com­mu­ni­ca­tion … It helps when those five guys are out there to­gether, be­ing on the same page and ex­e­cut­ing."

Judg­ing from the first half of the sea­son, though, it’s pos­si­ble it’s just one of those years for in­juries on the of­fen­sive line, pos­si­bly an evening of the scale af­ter the of­fen­sive line cruised through 2016 with hardly a scratch on it. The line's health was so good that it ef­fec­tively was miss­ing a starter in just three games the en­tire sea­son.

Dur­ing the first seven games of last sea­son, the start­ing of­fen­sive line missed only 32 snaps. Guard T.J. Lang missed the most with 20 and right tackle Bryan Bu­laga missed the rest. Ev­ery­one else (Corey Lins­ley and JC Tret­ter shared the cen­ter po­si­tion) played 100 per­cent of the snaps.

Now, com­pare it to this sea­son.

In the first seven games, the of­fen­sive line has missed 679 starter snaps. The start­ing five have played a to­tal of 15 snaps to­gether, all at the start of the Min­nesota game in Week 6.

Left tackle David Bakhtiari has missed 293 of a pos­si­ble 464 snaps. Bu­laga has missed 274. Left guard Lane Tay­lor has missed 108.

In or­der of high­est to low­est, the num­ber of snaps each line­man has taken this sea­son is as fol­lows: Lins­ley (464), right guard Jahri Evans (464), Tay­lor (356), McCray (322), Kyle Mur­phy (228), Bu­laga (190), Bakhtiari (171), Lu­cas Pa­trick (93) and Ul­rick John (32).

When your two start­ing tack­les aren’t even in the top five, you’ve got prob­lems.

And it’s not like the back­ups have been plugged in at one spot and stayed there. The Pack­ers have started seven dif­fer­ent of­fen­sive-line com­bi­na­tions and wound up play­ing with more than those when in­juries struck in the middle of a game.

McCray, for in­stance, has played right tackle, left guard and left tackle. Mur­phy played right and left tackle. Tay­lor has played left guard and left tackle.

Mur­phy is on in­jured re­serve af­ter break­ing his foot. Fel­low backup tackle Jason Spriggs has been on in­jured re­serve since Week 2 with a ham­string in­jury.

The Pack­ers cut re­serve Don Bar­clay from in­jured re­serve last week in part be­cause they weren’t con­fi­dent he was go­ing to be able to play this sea­son.

The stress cre­ated by an in­jured of­fen­sive line ex­tends through­out the coach­ing staff. When the of­fen­sive coaches gather to set their game plan for the com­ing week, they try to guess which in­jured play­ers have a chance to be ready and which don’t.

Of­ten, they take parts of the plan out when they find out one of the line­men won’t be able to play.

When McCarthy was asked how much en­ergy it takes each week for in­jured play­ers to get healthy, he im­me­di­ately went to the im­pact that in­jury ques­tions have on game prepa­ra­tion.

“It’s a real pain in the butt,” McCarthy said. “You just take last week (be­fore the New Or­leans Saints game). At the beginning of the week, we thought we were go­ing to have Lane Tay­lor and didn’t think we were go­ing to have Bryan Bu­laga. We had a whole pro­tec­tion plan set for that sce­nario, and par­tic­u­larly with Cameron Jor­dan, who (we) had a lot of re­spect for go­ing into the game.

“And then you find out Fri­day morn­ing that now it flipped. So, what do you do? Oh yeah, by the way, you’ve got the quar­ter­back in his first game, so now you’re go­ing to change all the pro­tec­tions on him, too. Those are the things you work through. That’s coach­ing in the Na­tional Foot­ball League.”

If his of­fen­sive line stays healthy the rest of the sea­son, it’s go­ing to be on McCarthy to fig­ure out how he can use it most ef­fec­tively. It’s pos­si­ble Hund­ley is not the man for the job and the best McCarthy will be able to do is get Jones and oth­ers a ton of work to pre­pare them for next sea­son.

But if he can some­how flip the em­pha­sis to the run game and find a way to get Hund­ley to man­age games, he might have a chance to win some of them. It should be en­cour­ag­ing to him that de­spite hav­ing a quar­ter­back mak­ing his first start against the Saints, he was still able to run the ball for 181 yards (7.5 avg.).

If he were to quiz the of­fen­sive line­men, they all would say keep run­ning it. Teams that don’t run the ball much typ­i­cally aren’t very good at it, which ex­plains the Pack­ers’ his­tory as a mediocre run­ning team un­der McCarthy.

“We have a back in Aaron Jones that sees things very well,” Bu­laga said. “Once he gets through that line of de­fend­ers, he can make a lot of guys miss. As an of­fen­sive line, we have to con­tinue to just get him in space and let him do his thing.

“Run­ning the foot­ball, it’s a mind­set, it’s a men­tal­ity thing. We’ll get bet­ter go­ing into De­troit (at Lam­beau Field on Mon­day night).”


Green Bay Pack­ers quar­ter­back Brett Hund­ley could call sig­nals be­hind an of­fen­sive line that has all of its starters back against the De­troit Lions on Mon­day night.

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