Packers pondering an offensive-line shuffle in Bryan Bulaga's absence
GREEN BAY – Matt LaFleur didn’t shirk responsibility, adopting a similar tenor Monday as his open and honest explanation of what went wrong the last time his Green Bay Packers returned from a West Coast disaster three weeks earlier.
Part of accountability for a head coach, though, is assessing which players should be on the field. LaFleur sounded like he’s considering his options when it comes to his offensive line.
It’s unclear when right tackle Bryan Bulaga will return from a knee injury that knocked him out of Sunday night’s loss against the San Francisco 49ers. What became apparent Monday is if Bulaga can’t play next Sunday at the New York Giants, backup Alex Light is not guaranteed to replace him.
LaFleur agreed Light, who struggled against the 49ers' pass rushers, would benefit from getting more reps in practice this week than when Bulaga was healthy, but left open the possibility those reps might go to someone else.
“I think definitely that’ll help,” LaFleur said. “And we’ve got some other thoughts potentially to make sure that we put our best five out there.”
Among the options if Bulaga is unavailable could be sliding Billy Turner to right tackle and inserting Lucas Patrick as the starting right guard. Turner, a free-agent signee last spring, has played right tackle in the past. Patrick has played guard admirably in spot duty with the Packers before this season.
Coaches generally try to avoid moving one starter to another position as a replacement for another starter on the offensive line. That approach could leave the Packers without two preferred starters instead of one. Light’s struggles might give LaFleur no choice.
LaFleur said there was “some good” in Light’s performance, but quickly transitioned to the overall poor play from the Packers' offensive line.
“That was probably our worst game up front all season overall,” LaFleur said. “It wasn’t good enough. Again, I always want to look at myself critically and making sure that we’re doing everything in our power to make sure we’re putting those guys in good position, and I don’t think we did. That’s on me.”
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was hit 10 times and sacked five.
"We didn't get the job done enough (Sunday)," Light said. "I need to come in and be critical of myself. We just didn't play our brand of football. I don't know what it was. It just wasn't in us tonight. We have to regroup and get ready for the Giants."
While Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams found some running room off the right side, the second-year backup tackle had his issues with Arik Armstead and Nick Bosa.
"Take it as a learning experience," Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari said of his message to Light. "And at the end of the day, everything is valuable – whether positively or negatively. It can either negatively impact you as a player, you as a man, and your career, or you can use it positively to learn from your mistakes, grow and take them as learning lessons. I mean, myself, I’ve had a lot of success in my career, I’m still reinventing myself every year, every week, every game, every play. Because there’s a lot of film out there of me.
"So I had a little talk with him after the game, just letting him know he is a starter in this league, and he has the intangibles. It’s your ability to watch the film, be critical and grow from what you do well, and also grow from your mistakes."
'Overly reliant' on Adams
LaFleur said the Packers have been “overly reliant” on getting Davante Adams the football since his return from turf toe. The problem, though, is the Packers have gotten very little production from other receivers. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who had his first catch since Oct. 27 at Kansas City, had a chance to secure his first touchdown since Oct. 20 vs. Oakland, but he was unable to stay inbounds while hauling in a Rodgers pass in the back of the end zone. Rodgers’ pass could have been thrown more inbounds, but LaFleur said his second-year receiver still had a chance to make the play.
“I think you’d like to have some awareness right there,” LaFleur said, “in terms of he made a nice catch. It’s just when you’re getting tight, you’ve got to try to drag your feet as best as you can.”
King not to blame
LaFleur basically confirmed 49ers tight end George Kittle’s 61-yard touchdown in the second half was not cornerback Kevin King’s fault. King initially covered Kittle on the play, but he turned to guard against the outside of the field at the top of Kittle’s route. Kittle turned inside on a post route, finding nothing but open space in the middle of the field.
That open space shouldn’t have existed, LaFleur said, because King should have had help inside.
“They ran a keeper corner post to Kittle,” LaFleur said, “and we cut the crosser and didn’t have anybody replacing on the back side to make sure we plug the middle of the field. That was versus quarters coverage.”
After a strong start to the season, punter JK Scott is in the midst of a deep slump. Scott averaged 37.2 yards on six punts against the 49ers. His last two punts were 32 and 31 yards, respectively, and his longest was only 41 yards. Most troubling, it was the fourth straight game Scott averaged fewer than 40 yards per punt.
“He struggled last night, to be perfectly honest,” LaFleur said, “and I think he knows that. I told him, we have so much confidence in him. He’s proven it. He’s done it. So there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s going to work through this, and sometimes that happens, and you go through a rut. But I’ve got all the confidence in the world that he’s going to figure it out. He’s way too good.”
The bigger problem is what happens when the Packers’ opponents punt the ball. The Packers returned two punts Sunday night, increasing their season total to nine. They’ve lost minus-11 yards total on the season on punt returns, an unfathomable and historic lack of success.
“I think we’ve got to do a better job of holding up on the outside,” LaFleur said, “and making sure to allow our returner to get going, to get Tre (Williams) going. Yeah, we’ve got to block better for him.”
Hitting the 'rest button'
It’s uncommon for players to receive an off day after such a meltdown of a loss, but LaFleur, as he has done since the start of training camp, prioritized health Monday. With the Packers' plane not returning to Green Bay until after 4 a.m., LaFleur told his players to get their rest Monday. Only players with injuries were asked to come to team facilities so they could meet with trainers. All players were also required to lift weights at least once before Wednesday.
“We’re going to hit that rest button,” LaFleur said, “and go onto the Giants and plan accordingly.”
Part of that plan will be to practice Thursday, LaFleur said. The Packers will have a “condensed” schedule for Thanksgiving, pushing parts of their typical Thursday to Friday.
“We’re going to have a normal practice like we do every other Thursday,” LaFleur said, “and then we’ll cut them loose, and then we’ll come in and probably extend Friday by about 30 minutes so we can watch that tape. Once practice is done on Thursday, we’ll get them out of the building. I think it’s important for them to spend time with their families and friends.”
Davante Adams didn’t want to say much, wary his words could cost him money, but the Packers receiver was clearly agitated with his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty early in Sunday night’s loss to the 49ers.
Adams was a bit exuberant after a 10-yard reception on the game's second play, bumping into 49ers safety Emmanuel Moseley. Officials deemed that light contact – and, presumably, whatever words were exchanged – as excessive enough to warrant a penalty.
The Packers were able to keep their first down on the play, but the 15-yard penalty effectively lost yardage on what should have been a positive play.
“That was just like some college stuff,” Adams said. “I never seen a flag get thrown over what I did. I bumped chest with the dude, but this is the league. I’ve gotten much worse happen to me without no flags. At the end of the day, I don’t want to comment because I know they’re fining all types of stuff, but at the end of the day, I wasn’t excepting that.”