Packers notes: Difficult decision looms on injured tackle Bryan Bulaga
GREEN BAY – Right tackle Bryan Bulaga has a long road ahead after suffering another torn ACL, but Green Bay Packers offensive line coach James Campen said he expects the veteran to bounce back.
Bulaga returned from a torn ACL in his left knee that cost him all of 2013 to become one of the top right tackles in the NFL, earning a five-year, $33.75 million contract after the 2014 season. He was relatively healthy the past three seasons, missing only five games. He played in all 16 games last season for the first time since his rookie year.
Then Bulaga tore the ACL in his right knee this month against the Detroit Lions.
“You feel really bad for the player,” Campen said, “because he’s on the rise, had a really good year last year, everything is pointing upwards for the guy, and that happens. It’s easy for all of us to say, and we’re all guilty of saying, ‘Well, that’s just football.’ And it is. I get that. It’s football and life, and things happen. But when it happens to one of your own, it hurts.”
The Packers will have a difficult decision to make regarding Bulaga’s future. With ACL surgeries in both knees, it’s uncertain what kind of player Bulaga will be in the future. There are still two years left on his contract, but the team can opt out of it this spring, leaving them with only $3.2 million in dead money.
Campen noted that even though Bulaga is one of the team’s longest-tenured players, he’s only 28. Bulaga is still the youngest player in NFL history to start a Super Bowl (21 years, 322 days). He won’t turn 29 until March, an age at which he should have plenty of good football years left, if healthy.
Bulaga already has recovered from one torn ACL. His offensive line coach believes he can do it again.
“From the mindset of that kid? Absolutely,” Campen said. “Heck yeah. He loves playing ball, he’s young as heck. Look at him. He’s built good.
“I expect him to bounce back from that.”
Flacco factor: Joe Flacco has what Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers calls a “big arm,” but it hasn’t helped the Baltimore Ravens quarterback post big numbers this season.
Flacco ranks 27th in the NFL with 1,551 passing yards, and 31st with a 72.7 rating. He has eight touchdowns against 10 interceptions and is dead last among 33 qualified passers with 5.33 yards per pass.
For context, that’s lower than Packers quarterback Brett Hundley’s 5.7-yard average.
But there is one area where Flacco has been adequate. He has been sacked 19 times this season, and though that’s tied for 15th in the NFL with Aaron Rodgers — who has missed the past three games and was behind a backup offensive line when he did play — that still puts Flacco well behind the league's most-sacked quarterbacks.
“He won’t hesitate to get the ball out of his hand right now,” Capers said. “There’s certain schemes that they have where, I don’t care how much pressure you come with — five- or six-man pressure — the ball’s out. He’s experienced enough to recognize those things. They will max up when they want to throw the ball deep, and give him plenty of protection.”
It presents a significant challenge to the Packers' pass rush, which awoke last Sunday in Chicago after weeks of slumber. The Packers rank 25th in the league with 18 sacks, even after taking down Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky five times. Most troubling, the Packers were unable to get to Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford two weeks ago, even though the 30 times Stafford has been sacked this season are third-most in the NFL.
But Capers is confident his unit still can get to Flacco.
“There’s been times that people have gotten him off the spot,” Capers said, “because he’s more of a pocket guy. Sitting in there, that’s when he’s at his best, when he can sit in there and use his arm strength.”
Injury update: Rookie cornerback Kevin King was among four Packers players listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Ravens.
King (shoulder) was joined in that designation by outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks (back), defensive tackle Quinton Dial (chest) and reserve guard Lucas Patrick (back). Brooks played through his back injury last week in Chicago, and Dial said this week he expects to play Sunday.
Four players were ruled out against the Ravens: running backs Aaron Jones (torn MCL) and Ty Montgomery (ribs), safety Morgan Burnett (groin) and right tackle Bryan Bulaga. Jones will be out three to six weeks with his injury, while Bulaga will miss the rest of the season.