Packers sorely need left tackle solidified
Josh Sitton has no interest in disguising himself as a left tackle. It is the premier position on an NFL offensive line, the highest-paid player. It’s not his position.
The Green Bay Packers left guard is one of the best interior linemen in the league. He’s carved a solid reputation for himself. Three Pro Bowls. Twice, he’s been a second-team All-Pro. Sitton is a left guard, and a darn good one.
He is not a left tackle.
“High school,” Sitton said, answering when he last played the position. “A little while ago.”
A little before 5 p.m. Sunday, Sitton learned he would start at left tackle when the Packers hosted the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field. He’d known it was a possibility since Monday. With starter David Bakhtiari out because of an injured ankle, the Packers were forced to ask their best offensive lineman to become something he is not.
The stakes were pretty big. A fifth straight NFC North title hung in the balance. The Packers had no better option. Backup Don Barclay allowed four sacks among other miscues the previous week. So Sitton agreed.
“Josh is a heck of a team player,” center Corey Linsley said. “For him to do that, it would be easy for nine out of 10 guys to say, ‘You don’t pay me to play left tackle. I don’t play left tackle. Blah, blah, blah,’ but he didn’t. He went out there and did it against a guy who’s a pretty good defensive end. That says a lot about him and about his character, about the way he holds this team above himself.”
It went as well as anyone could’ve expected. Which is to say it didn’t go great. That “pretty good defensive end” got the better of Sitton. He allowed two sacks against Everson Griffen in the Packers’ 20-13 loss to the Vikings, which is pretty good for a left guard playing left tackle.
It’s not pretty good for a left tackle.
With the playoffs approaching, it’s clear the Packers sorely need Bakhtiari to regain his health. The third-year left tackle had never missed a start before the Packers’ game at Arizona two weeks ago, going 35 for 35 to start his career. He’s now missed two.
Bakthiari doesn’t get much appreciation for a player at his position. The former fourth-round pick isn’t a star. There aren’t a lot of No. 69 jerseys being worn around Lambeau Field. What he’s been is a solid left tackle. Bakhtiari has allowed three sacks this season, according to Pro Football Focus.
In his absence, the Packers’ left tackle position has allowed six sacks in the past two games.
“I don’t think I played great,” Sitton said. “I went out there and did the best I could. I’m not a left tackle. I think I’m a guard. I think I’ve proved I can play pretty decent at guard, but we needed somebody to go in there and play. I told them I would do it. I went out there and fought the best I could. That’s all you can really ask.”
Coach Mike McCarthy said he considered a “couple combinations” in practice throughout the week. They settled on Sitton at left tackle with backup Lane Taylor starting at left guard. Usually, Taylor is Sitton’s backup. They are not used to sharing the field together.
Taylor said he and Sitton discussed their assignments throughout the week, tried to sharpen their communication. Still, the Packers held out hope Bakhtiari could play. Bakhtiari spent a few minutes on the field during pregame warmups Sunday. He went through drills with offensive line coach James Campen before returning to the locker room.
That’s when Sitton and Taylor learned their teammate was unavailable.
“It was definitely different,” Taylor said, “because (Sitton) is a guard. But we watched a lot of film, went through a lot of scenarios, and just really tried to stay on the same page.”
Many factors feed a loss, but the difference on the scoreboard Sunday night came down to a third-quarter sack. Griffen beat Sitton around the edge, dislodged the football from quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn scooped the fumble and score 55 yards later, giving the Vikings a 20-3 lead.
“He just got around me,” Sitton said, “and got the ball.”
Simply enough. Almost a simple as handicapping the Packers’ postseason future if Bakhtiari doesn’t return soon. The Packers were missing top cornerback Sam Shields on Sunday night, so the offensive line isn’t the only area where injuries have hurt them.
It’s clear they need their starting left tackle to do anything in the playoffs.
“We’ve dealt with a lot of injuries,” Sitton said. “It would be (expletive) if I said that’s not part of it, but we just haven’t been the same offense we were. We haven’t found our identity.”