GREEN BAY – They remember the noise. A week after that opening-night win in Chicago, left guard Lane Taylor said it was the loudest he’d ever heard Soldier Field. They remember the resulting discomfort. The unfamiliarity. The mistakes.
They remember the win, too. Can’t forget that. Made the next day’s film review easier to stomach. Because much of the Green Bay Packers’ 10-3 win at the Bears in Week 1 was marked by an offense – particularly an offensive line – that looked awfully beat.
“They took it to us,” coach Matt LaFleur said of the Bears' defense.
On that opening night, the Packers' offensive line faced an almost impossible task. They were implementing new personnel into a new scheme … on the road … at night … against maybe the NFL’s best defensive front. And they looked like it.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked five times, tying a season high. Aaron Jones was the Packers’ leading rusher. He had 39 yards.
“We had a lot of MAs,” right tackle Bryan Bulaga said, and that’s death on an offensive line. Because nothing gets a quarterback in trouble quicker than missed assignments in front of him.
The Bears' defensive front wreaked havoc in the opener. Left tackle David Bakhtiari was called for two holding penalties, almost matching in one night his three from all of 2018. Center Corey Linsley couldn’t sustain a block against Roy Robertson-Harris on one sack. Right guard Billy Turner was blown off the snap by Khalil Mack on another.
“For me personally, as a player, watching the film of that game,” Turner said, “I was late off the ball probably four or five times. And that was just hearing adjustments at the line of scrimmage and just getting everything kind of under control, especially with a new quarterback and a new cadence that I was not used to.”
That opening night leaves no uncertainty of where the Packers must improve as they host the Bears for a rematch at Lambeau Field on Sunday. Against this defensive front, any success originates from the offensive line.
It has been an inconsistent season for a unit that possesses plenty of talent. The Packers have allowed five sacks three times, each on the road. At home, they’ve mostly kept Rodgers’ jersey clean – at least until last week’s four-sack game against Washington. Even then, the Packers gashed Washington for 174 rushing yards, with Jones averaging 8.4 per carry for a season-high 134.
The Packers are hoping a different venue helps Sunday, but also the 15 weeks the offensive line has had to familiarize as a unit.
“No, it wasn’t a great night,” Turner said, “but – not that there are any excuses or anything like that – but it was the first game of the season, it was in a hostile environment, yeah, and we were still getting ahold of how the offense was going to be run. So there were a lot of factors that came into play during that game that everyone was figuring out, and it was the first time for all of us.”
It’s the Bears that will have more moving parts Sunday, and with it less familiarity. Linebacker Roquan Smith’s season ended last week when he tore his pectoral muscle. Defensive tackle Akiem Hicks is likely to return from injured reserve, where he has been since mid-October because of an elbow injury.
Hicks has been a recent terror for the Packers. He has sacked Rodgers twice in the past two seasons, though both times came in Chicago. Linsley said he expects the Pro Bowler to be fresh and ready.
“He’s been doing this a long time,” Linsley said. “I don’t expect anything but his normal self. He’s a really good defensive lineman, one of the best in the NFL. So we’ve got to be ready for him. I’m not planning on him being rusty. I’m definitely not planning on it. We had to prepare for him when he was there in the first game, so we’ve got to prepare for him this game.”
Because the opener was such a daunting task, Linsley said offensive linemen didn’t ruminate on the performance. They watched that film review, then moved on.
Cohesion up front remains a work in progress. Linsley said it took about a month to start feeling comfortable together. Turner said the growth has been incremental throughout the season, though he feels it’s trending positive.
They’ll get a chance Sunday to test how much their unit has truly grown over the past three months.
“I think we’re a lot more comfortable in the offense,” Bulaga said. “A lot more comfortable playing as a unit together. We’re all more comfortable with each other, I think. There’s always a little rust to get kicked off in that first week. I think it was one of those games where we didn’t play good enough collectively as a unit, and we need to build off those types of things.
“You need to get better, you need to improve. You need to watch it, take the criticism, don’t be too personal about it. When the corrections start to happen and just build off of it and improve and get better. I think we’ve done a good job of that."