Packers day-after observations: O-line struggles, special teams penalties and more

GREEN BAY, Wis. — There are plenty of cheeses to choose from in Wisconsin. Cheddar, mozzarella, gouda, blue, Colby.

On Thursday night, the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line chose Swiss.

There were holes everywhere.

Are the Packers going to be as stout up front without their two best offensive linemen? Of course not. And do the Detroit Lions have a really good defensive front? Of course they do. Even so, Green Bay was far too porous in pass protection in a 34-20 loss at Lambeau Field.

“It’s hard to throw on your back,” coach Matt LaFleur said of quarterback Jordan Love. “We’ve got to protect him better.”

Love was sacked five times on Thursday night. According to TruMedia and Pro Football Focus, right tackle Zach Tom was charged with allowing six pressures, left guard Royce Newman with five, right guard Jon Runyan and left tackle Rasheed Walker with four and center Josh Myers with two. The Lions sent only four rushers on 39 Packers dropbacks — they blitzed only three times — and still registered an astounding four sacks and 43.6 percent pressure rate on plays they didn’t blitz.

This was a team that, according to PFF, ranked first in the NFL in pass-blocking efficiency entering the game, but Thursday night was a catastrophe.


‘Manhandled’ and ‘whooped,’ Packers face reality check after 34-20 dismantling by Lions

The Packers placed left tackle David Bakhtiari on injured reserve Thursday with a knee injury, so he’ll be out until at least Week 9. Left guard Elgton Jenkins hasn’t been placed on IR since suffering a sprained MCL in Week 2, so the likelihood is the Packers give him Week 5 and the Week 6 bye to rest before returning Week 7 in Denver. And Tom, who suffered a knee injury late in last Sunday’s win over the New Orleans Saints, didn’t look like himself playing 100 percent of the offensive snaps four days later.

“It’s not not trusting the protection,” Love said when asked how hard it is to play QB when you don’t trust your protection. “They’ve got a good D-line and we didn’t do good enough. I think it takes all 11. It’s not just the O-line. It’s me not getting the ball out quick enough on some plays. Reads were open. It goes back to just not executing. But it’s definitely not just on the O-line.”

On second-and-10 on the Packers’ opening drive after safety Rudy Ford’s interception, defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson ran a stunt before bullrushing his former college teammate Runyan and sacking Love for a loss of 9 yards (it looked like a coverage sack because Love had the ball for about four seconds). On first-and-10 on Green Bay’s next drive, defensive tackle Isaiah Buggs worked Myers and Newman’s help wasn’t good enough in a seven versus four protection as Buggs sacked Love for a loss of 6. Those plays, in part, are why the Packers faced third-and-19 and third-and-16 on their first two drives of the game.

Even when Love wasn’t sacked, the Lions made his life difficult. On third-and-3 late in the first quarter, Love threw high and wide of an open Romeo Doubs over the middle. He barely had room to throw, however, because defensive end Romeo Okwara beat Walker inside and defensive tackle Alim McNeill bullied Runyan, both to get right in Love’s face as he released the ball. On first-and-10 from the Packers’ own 8-yard line in the second quarter, Hutchinson schooled Tom inside and maintained pursuit of Love before forcing him into a left-handed throw to tight end Luke Musgrave to avoid a safety that gained 1 yard.

There were plenty more instances of Love’s protection not holding up, but the bottom line is this: The offensive line needs to be markedly better or Green Bay’s offense is going nowhere. The line’s best player isn’t coming back in the next month, either, and who knows if he’ll ever be back.



Packers place Bakhtiari on IR with knee injury

“There was a bunch of four-man rush and they were getting home,” LaFleur said. “They did a nice job moving Hutchinson around and they did some nice jobs with some of their line stunts. We’ve got to do a better job up front, no doubt about it. Again, with just little techniques, because there were some times we had some play actions where we had a true gap protection, so you’re basically trying to build a wall with your offensive line, and we’ve got some guys that are oversetting and it’s leaving creases on plays where you max protect. You’re assuming you’re going to have an opportunity to at least hit a checkdown if the deeper developing concept isn’t there and that wasn’t always the case.”

The leftovers

• The Packers have seven special teams penalties in their last two games, a holding infraction each against the Saints by safety Jonathan Owens, cornerback Rasul Douglas and edge rusher Kingsley Enagbare and an Enagbare false start, Dallin Leavitt holding, Ben Sims holding and Quay Walker leaping against the Lions. These penalties are damaging Green Bay’s starting offensive field position and, in Walker’s case of jumping over the line with more than a yard head start to try and block a 30-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, damaging the last sliver of hope the Packers had to come back on Thursday night.

Walker’s penalty gave the Lions an automatic first down and they scored a touchdown to go up 17 points four plays later instead of settling for a field goal, all while milking the clock from 8:10 to 6:00.

“I’m not going to sit here and blame Quay,” LaFleur said. “Obviously, we’ve got to do a better job of educating our players about what the rules are.”

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Quay Walker’s penalty on the Lions’ fourth-quarter field goal effectively ended any chance of a comeback. (Benny Sieu / USA Today)

Regarding Leavitt’s holding call on a kick return Keisean Nixon took up the middle for 27 yards to Green Bay’s 21-yard line, LaFleur said, “Kei’s got to follow where the return is designed to go. It’s no different than on offense, when a back maybe bounces a play that shouldn’t go outside. When he bounces it outside, it puts somebody in a bad position.” Regarding the holding call on Sims on Nixon’s 41-yard kick return to Green Bay’s 39 to start the second half, LaFleur seemed to think tight end Josiah Deguara actually committed the infraction, a claim backed up by the film. Deguara appears to throw down cornerback Chase Lucas on the edge as Nixon takes the return from the left to right side of the field.

“Josiah’s got to have better fundamentals, better techniques,” LaFleur said. “He’s got to keep his cool. I get it. It’s a pretty emotional game and sometimes somebody will do something a little bit out of character, but that is definitely an area of concern for us. It’s hard to set yourself up with good field position … I mean, we’re having enough struggles offensively. The last thing we want to do is start backed up on like the 10-yard line. It is well noted and has been addressed. Now we have to go out there and execute.”

• For those wondering why the Packers didn’t feature running back Aaron Jones and wide receiver Christian Watson more, they were both on a pitch count, LaFleur said. Jones had missed the past two games and change with a hamstring injury and Watson the first three games of the season because of a hamstring issue.

Jones played 20 offensive snaps to AJ Dillon’s 38 and first touched the ball with 13:19 remaining in the second quarter and the Packers trailing 24-3 (he ran for 5 yards on the play). Jones took a beating in his first game back, too. He got helicoptered on a botched sprint option play when Love tossed him the ball on the edge, drew an unnecessary roughness penalty on inside linebacker Alex Anzalone after a run of 9 yards up the left side, got jacked up by safety Ifeatu Melifonwu on a 1-yard completion in the right flat and got pummeled by inside linebacker Jack Campbell on another play. After touching the ball 11 times for 127 yards and two touchdowns against the Bears in Week 1, Jones touched it six times for 14 yards on Thursday.

Watson was targeted four times and caught two passes, one a 24-yard gain over the middle and the other a 1-yard touchdown grab. He played 26 offensive snaps, fourth most among wideouts behind Doubs (50), Jayden Reed (38) and Dontayvion Wicks (33).

Watson said Friday he felt good after his first game action of the season and hopes to return to a full workload with the extended break before facing the Raiders next Monday night in Las Vegas.

“Definitely gonna take advantage of these next couple days that we’re off and just find ways to come back so I can just go out there, be 100 percent confident in where my body’s at and just go out there and fly around,” Watson said.

LaFleur also said he’s hopeful both Watson and Jones will be back to full capacity against the Raiders.

• The lone bright spot(s) from Thursday night’s debacle were the first-year kicker and punter, Irish punter Daniel Whelan especially. According to Schneidman Punting Analytics, here is how each of his five kicks went:

• 4.73 seconds hangtime from 2 yards deep in own end zone to opposite 35-yard line (67 yards)
• 4.39 hangtime from own 17 to opposite 25 (58 yards)
• 4.74 hangtime from own 17 to opposite 20 (63 yards)
• 4.71 hangtime from own 18 to opposite 23 (59 yards)
• 4.73 hangtime from own 23 to opposite 15 (62 yards)

Rookie kicker Anders Carlson also made field goal tries of 34 and 50 yards and, after a rocky preseason, has made all five of his field goal attempts and all nine of his PATs this season.

• LaFleur called his first timeout of the first half with 41 seconds remaining and the Lions facing a third-and-6 in hopes his defense would force a field goal attempt and give the Packers enough time to score before halftime. Down 27-3, Love completed a pass to Deguara for 6 yards on first-and-10 to Green Bay’s 31-yard line with 30 seconds left. LaFleur didn’t call his second timeout, instead allowing 12 seconds to tick before the ball was snapped again. The Packers eventually reached the Lions’ 47-yard line, but there were only three seconds left. Those extra 12 seconds might’ve helped them get into field-goal range with another play or two.

“Yeah, we probably should’ve (taken a timeout after Deguara’s catch),” LaFleur said. “Looking back at it, absolutely should’ve. Wanted to get something on the ball, was hoping to get obviously the deeper throw. Looking back on it, that was a mistake.”

• That speed option play that has failed three times this season? It ain’t going anywhere. It got Reed jacked up for a loss of 2 yards on the second play of the season, got Jones launched into the air for another loss of 2 yards on Thursday and saw Love fall short of a two-point conversion that would’ve cut Green Bay’s deficit against Detroit to eight in the fourth quarter. LaFleur was asked Friday if that play is done.

“Probably not,” he said. “Listen, I called that at an inopportune time (on the one to Jones). Typically, you never quite know what a defense is going to play when you put two halfbacks out there and they stay in their base defense. Probably not the best play call for that situation, so we gotta have a way to get out of it is my point … it hasn’t looked great. Yeah. We ran a bunch last year and we had a lot of success with it. It’s one of those things where it could be game-by-game. You just never know when it’s gonna be up.”

• Cornerback Eric Stokes, the Packers’ 2021 first-round pick, is eligible to return to practice next week after missing the first four games of the season while on the physically unable to perform list with a foot injury suffered in Week 9 last season that required Lisfranc surgery. “We’re hopeful, but we’ll see,” LaFleur said when asked about Stokes returning to practice ahead of the trip to Vegas.

(Top photo: Morry Gash / Associated Press)

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