It’s no secret that the Packers’ offensive line is one of the weakest positional groups on the entire team, giving up 51 sacks as a unit last season. Certainly some of those sacks are due to QB Aaron Rodgers holding on to the ball for too long, but a vast majority of those sacks ultimately fall on the offensive line. The Packers decided to try and improve the production from the offensive line initially by shifting nearly every returning starter to a new position: RT Brian Bulaga shifted to LT, Pro Bowl RG Josh Sitton to LG, LG T.J. Lang to RG and Marshall Newhouse from LT to a positional battle at RT.
Concerns about the line became even more prevalent when Brian Bulaga tore his ACL during the Family Night Scrimmage, ending his season before it even began. Rookie 4th round pick from Colorado–OT David Bakhtiari–eventually beat out a cast of options and drew the start Week 1 against the vaunted San Francisco Front 7. But how did he perform against one of the league’s best set of pass-rushers, Aldon and Justin Smith?
Before the game, I expected the Packers to send a lot of help in the way of chipping fullbacks and tight ends, but that really was not the case. Aside from sliding some protections his way and a select few chips and doubles from backs and LG Josh Sitton, Bakhtiari was largely left on an island against the Smith brothers.
Many probably remember the second play from scrimmage when Bakhtiari attempted a low cut block of OLB Aldon Smith, but mistimed it. Smith reacted quickly, jumped over Bakhtiari and was able to sack Rodgers for an 8 yard loss.
Packers fans, including myself, were probably worried after that mistake that Bakhtiari would similarly struggle the rest of the game, causing a chain reaction where the Packers would have to commit a second blocker to the left side for much of the game and limiting their options in the passing game. But the Packers continued to leave him on an island and to his credit, he rebounded to have a really solid game.
On the next series, the Packers had a 3rd and 7 from about midfield. The 49ers ran their trademark defensive line stunt with Justin Smith, with Ahmad Brooks replacing Aldon Smith, as shown below:
The 49ers run this play a lot in obvious passing situations–like 3rd and long–and while Bakhtiari lost his man for a split second, he recovered in time to block Brooks. Unfortunately, breakdowns across the offensive line caused a hurried throw from Rodgers and a 3 and out for the Packers.
In my post about how the Packers tried to defend Colin Kaepernick, I explained how part of what makes it so difficult to defend mobile quarterbacks is getting pressure is almost a negative thing. While Rodgers doesn’t have the elite athleticism that quarterbacks like Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick have, his ability to throw on the run may be the very best in the NFL. This is perhaps most apparent than the 31 yard strike to Jordy Nelson in the 4th quarter below who is somehow able to keep both feet in-bounds:
This is probably Bakhtiari’s worst single snap of the game–he gets beat and pancaked almost immediately by Aldon Smith, and arguably gets away with a trip. Finley tries to help and gets just barely enough of Justin Smith to give Aaron Rodgers enough time to fire a strike down-field to Jordy Nelson who makes an incredible catch to pick up Bakhtiari. Plays like this illustrate why he doesn’t have to be Anthony Munoz or Walter Jones for the Packers offense to be successful: he just needs to be a few ticks above adequate.
Although Bakhtiari is a better pass-blocker, he did show some signs of at being at least an average run-blocker. Below is a run play just 2 plays after Nelson’s spectacular catch:
Bakhtiari takes Aldon Smith 1 on 1, blocks him effectively and allows Eddie Lacy to run up field for a 6 yard gain in the red zone. He had at least a half dozen similar blocks on running plays one on one against Aldon. At this point, he isn’t a road-grater by any means, but his success–especially throughout the end of that entire drive–was one of the main reasons Eddie Lacy scored his first NFL touchdown.
Overall, Bakhtiari gave up 2 sacks and 3 pressures, but more than held his own considering the men that lined up across from him and the number of audibles from Rodgers throughout the game. Of the 63 snaps Bakhtiari played, he only had help on 8 of them and some of the help from the running backs were not even necessary. He also had to face one of the best pass-rushers, either Aldon or Justin Smith, across from him on 53 of the 63 snaps. After one game, it seems at the very least he is an upgrade from Marshall Newhouse at LT.
If I had to grade Bakhtiari’s first game, I would probably give him a B without curving or adjusting for opponent, which I think most Packers fans would take going into Week 1. His job doesn’t get any easier in Week 2 with Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan manning the outside linebacker positions for the Washington professional football team.
To view my full analysis for every snap of David Bakhtiari’s game against the 49ers, click here.