Green Bay Packers must reconsider who plays on their offensive line after the New York Jets overwhelm them

Ryan Wood
Packers News
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GREEN BAY – Aaron Jones got the handoff and headed toward the open field ahead of him. His left tackle and tight end had sealed the New York Jets defense, letting a lead blocker pave Jones’ path.

It was early in the Green Bay Packers' flat 27-10 loss at Lambeau Field, too early to know their offensive line would become a train wreck, but they were about to get a clue. On the first play of the second drive, coach Matt LaFleur called an outside-zone run for his best player. The Packers blocked the perimeter perfectly, rolling out the green-grass carpet for what looked like a big gain to spark a dormant offense.

Before he could reach the edge and turn upfield, Jones smacked into a wall. From the interior, Jets defensive lineman Quinnen Williams made left guard Jon Runyan look like he was trapped in mud. Williams, the former third-overall draft pick, blasted through the Packers offensive line on a dead sprint for Jones.

The running back, who has made 5-yard gains the norm, was instead dropped for a 5-yard loss. A busted play. Drive halted. The Packers punted two plays later.

Then they kept punting.

“You could kind of tell the first few drives,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said, “we were just getting beat up front. We weren’t controlling the line of scrimmage like we have in the past.”

New York Jets defensive end John Franklin-Myers sacks Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers as guard Royce Newman attempts to keep Rodgers upright.

It’s the hidden problem overlooked with so much going wrong for the Packers offense. The lack of pop in their pass game. Aaron Rodgers’ decline. A season-long inability to commit to the run.

At the core is an offensive line in limbo, an offensive line searching for answers, an offensive line unable to find the right combination to unlock whatever this thin offense has to offer.

One play after Jones was stuffed, the levee broke. Williams beat Runyan for a sack, knocking the football out of Rodgers’ hand before he threw. The Packers recovered Rodgers’ fumble, but they stared at third-and-23.

Runyan was far from the only issue up front Sunday. In the second quarter, Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins tucked underneath edge rusher Carl Lawson and sacked Rodgers on an outside stunt to the left side. In the third, defensive tackle John Franklin-Myers tucked underneath Williams and sacked Rodgers on an outside stunt to the right side. Later in the third, Williams stunted ahead of Rankins, splitting center Josh Myers and right guard Royce Newman for his second sack.

“We knew they were going to (stunt) a lot,” Myers said, “but they did it all game.”

Aaron Rodgers fumbles as he is hit by New York Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams.

Aaron Rodgers gets hit more often than any game in two years

All game, the Jets handed this Packers offensive line one of its worst beatings in years.

Go back to Week 5 of the 2020 season, when the Packers traveled to Tampa Bay and were stomped 38-10, to find the last time Rodgers has been hit nine times in a game. His four sacks tied a season high and were his most in a game since the 2020 NFC championship matchup against the Buccaneers.

“We had way too many sacks,” Rodgers said, “hits on me.”

More troubling was the Packers’ inability to open running lanes. That’s the bedrock of this offense, the phase this team needs to dominate to move the football. The Packers appeared determined to recommit to their run game from the beginning Sunday after abandoning it a week ago in their collapse against the New York Giants. AJ Dillon got a carry on the game’s first play and was stuffed for 1 yard. Jones’ first carry lost 5.

It only improved a smidge after that. The tailback tandem combined for 60 yards on 19 carries, a 3.1-yard average. It’s only the second time since Jones and Dillon became the Packers one-two punch in the ground game at the start of last season that the duo has been held to 60 yards.

New York Jets linebacker Quincy Williams (56) celebrates tackling Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) for a loss during the third quarter of the Packers' 27-10 loss on Sunday at Lambeau Field. The Jets defense kept Jones and AJ Dillon from having any success.

All season, the outcry for more commitment to the run game has been at fever pitch. The Packers had to abandon it again Sunday, but not by their own will. The Jets defensive line left them no choice, pounding them into submission.

“I don’t know that today was the day to really stick with the run,” Rodgers said. “I think we were at our best when we were really spreading them out and dinking and dunking.”

Packers try one change to offensive line but it didn't last long

No, Sunday was a day to reevaluate the Packers best five players for their offensive line. It’s the same goal LaFleur has reiterated since his first season as coach in 2019. Doesn’t matter who plays where up front. Just get the best combination of five offensive linemen on the field.

By halftime, LaFleur already had rearranged the order. He replaced Newman with backup Jake Hanson, but that experiment lasted only three plays. Hanson left the field with a biceps injury and couldn’t return in the second half. LaFleur said he thought Hanson might give the right side of his offensive line a “spark,” something it desperately needed.

The real question is why that attempt to reignite the Packers offensive line didn’t come in the form of Yosh Nijman finally lining up at right tackle. It’s a move the Packers have dragged their heels on ever since Bakhtiari returned from his two-year hiatus recovering from a torn ACL. Bakhtiari played every snap against the Jets, suggesting he’s close to returning as a full-time player. Nijman stayed buried on the sideline.

It’s impossible to know whether lining up Nijman at right tackle is the answer. The Packers haven’t seen him on the right side, and until they do, whether he can play the position remains a mystery. They have seen him play almost 800 snaps over 10 starts the past two seasons at left tackle well enough to know he could start for many NFL teams on the blindside.

No, the two tackle spots are not the same position. They’re also not wildly different, much more similar than the past now that most defenses — like the Jets, for example — are stocked with a pair of pass rushers capable of reaching the quarterback.

“Everything’s on the table,” LaFleur said, “moving forward in terms of trying to get our best people out there to give us the best opportunity to move the football.”

Whatever impediment keeping the Packers from moving Nijman to right tackle, their excuse was ripped away Sunday. On paper, Nijman at right tackle would allow Elgton Jenkins to return to guard, where he was a Pro Bowler in 2020 — and where the Packers were desperate to find an answer against the Jets. What’s logical might not always be what’s right. It’s possible Nijman flops on the right side. Or, perhaps, the Packers will find their solution.

They won’t know unless they try. At this point, after as bad of an offensive line performance the Packers have had in years, there’s no reason not to see if the necessary spark can come from the blindside blocker who has kept Rodgers upright most of the past year.

“That’s not really a question for me,” Rodgers said. “I don’t make those decisions. I have a lot of confidence in Yosh, but I have confidence in the right side as well. We’ve just got to figure out what the best situation is over there.”

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