Packers come up short playing with patchwork offensive line

Tom Silverstein
Packers News
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Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) signals at the line against the Atlanta Falcons Sunday, September 17, 2017 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Ga.

ATLANTA – If the Green Bay Packers are going to go anywhere this season, they’re not going to do it with an offensive line in tatters.

For one September evening they were able to function offensively without both their starting tackles, but if this is the offensive line that they have to win with in the playoffs, they’re going to be in trouble.

The effort Kyle Murphy and Justin McCray gave filling in at the two tackle spots was as good as anyone could expect, especially against the defending NFC champions opening their brand new stadium.

The two fought off the speedy Atlanta Falcons defense as best they could in a 34-23 loss Sunday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. But quarterback Aaron Rodgers was under pressure the entire night and his two turnovers were devastating to a team that needed to match the Falcons’ high-scoring offense.

“Two new tackles, brand new loud stadium, on turf, nine-man rotation defensive line, it is all part of game planning,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “We were prepared to play in whatever direction we needed to play. That’s the NFL. That’s football.”

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It’s also the route general manager Ted Thompson decided to go this season, counting on second-year tackles Jason Spriggs and Murphy and first-year guard/centers Lucas Patrick and McCray to back up his starters.

Thompson could have scoured the waiver wire for a veteran once he decided to put veteran Don Barclay (ankle) on injured reserve, but he chose to go young. When he needed another lineman this week, he called up undrafted rookie guard Adam Pankey from the practice squad.

Having Spriggs (hamstring) healthy would have been nice, but he had not been playing as well as Murphy and probably wouldn’t have given Rodgers as good of protection on his blindside as Murphy did.

The Falcons game gave McCarthy an in-depth look at what life might be like if one or both of his tackles suffer season-ending injuries. Maybe Murphy and McCray will get better, but what he saw Sunday is pretty much what he has.

McCarthy made the decision to move Murphy from right tackle — the position at which he started for Bryan Bulaga in the season opener — to left tackle after it became clear that David Bahktiari’s hamstring injury would not allow him to play.

Murphy started his second NFL game at the offensive line’s toughest position and played better than some other emergency fill-ins the Packers have had to go with over the years.

 “The guy competed and fought his ass off,” Bakhtiari said. “For someone who plays the positions and understands what he has to do… I know he wants to be better and he’s going to be better.

“I don’t give an (expletive) what anybody else writes about him, he competed. Kyle competed his ass off tonight.”

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Bakhtiari was listed on the injury report all week with a hamstring injury he suffered against Seattle in Week 1, but he tried to practice Wednesday and Thursday. After spending all day rehabbing Friday, he let Murphy take all the reps at left tackle during Saturday’s practice and waited until Sunday to make a final decision.

He did some work before the game, but ultimately it was determined that he would not be able to play.

“We were just being smart,” Bakhtiari said. “The injury sucks. I don’t like not being out there. I don’t like missing practice or games. It’s tough. But it’s a decision we thought was best for the team.”

Bakhtiari said it was too early to know what his status for next week would be. He said he would continue on the same schedule he was on last week and do everything he could to be ready for the Cincinnati Bengals.

“I think we’re going to go the same approach,” Bakhtiari said. “Attack the training room and do what I can on the practice field and put myself in the best situation to suit up with the 46 on Sunday. That’s all I can do (to the best of) my power.”

With Murphy on the left side, someone had to fill in for right tackle Bulaga, who was also ruled out. It was less of a surprise given he had missed two days of practice with the flu and hadn’t gotten a chance to work on his injured right ankle.

Realizing that they could run into this problem later in the week, the Packers smartly started working guard/center Justin McCray at right tackle. He split reps with Murphy at the position in an attempt to re-acquaint himself with right tackle, a position he played quite a bit during his sophomore and junior years in college.

“After the Seattle game, I was telling them that I wanted to be available to be wherever or do whatever they needed me to do,” McCray said. “I got a lot of work to make sure I was prepared in a short amount of time.

“They split us around to make sure we got reps where we might possibly end up. The did a good job of that.”

Atlanta didn’t do anything exotic to confuse Murphy and McCray, but they didn’t need to. They sacked Rodgers three times and knocked him down four times, several of them vicious hits, including one that resulted in Rodgers throwing a backward pass that was returned 15 yards for a touchdown by Desmond Trufant.

Even though the offense carved out a nice 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive on its first possession, it couldn’t sustain anything until the fourth quarter when McCarthy went to no-huddle and a quick tempo.

“Offensively, wish we would have played the game like we did the first series with the mix of the run and pass and moving the ball,” McCarthy said. “Also, the tackle situation, I thought Kyle Murphy did a heck of a job from the middle of the second quarter on we didn’t help him anymore.

“We had Justin McCray ready to go out there and play out of position. I thought he showed a lot of fight. The turnover ratio, they definitely won that.”


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