Analysis: Getting a line on Brett Hundley's chances for success

Eric Baranczyk and Pete Dougherty
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Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Hundley (7) throws as center Corey Linsley (63) blocks against the Detroit Lions Monday, November 6, 2017, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.

If the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line keeps playing like it did Monday night, Brett Hundley at least will get a fair shake in his bid to show he can win in the NFL.

The Packers’ starting line was in place for most of the game against the Detroit Lions for the first time since Week 6 at Minnesota, and no coincidence, the line protected Hundley well. In fact, two of the three times Hundley was sacked, he was primarily responsible.

Bryan Bulaga’s season-ending torn ACL in the fourth quarter, then, was a big blow for a group that finally got a chance to play together in the Packers’ otherwise-desultory, 30-17 loss.

Playing at that level for the second half of the season will be tougher with a backup replacing Bulaga at right tackle. But after watching the game video from Monday night, it still looks like if the other four starters finally can stay healthy, the line should give Hundley a fighting chance. That wasn’t the case for most of the first seven games of the season, when injuries, often at multiple spots on the line, left Aaron Rodgers and then Hundley often running for their lives.

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In fact, if Hundley had slid around and stepped up in the pocket better, rather than just bolting, he might have made a few more plays. It’s on him to learn from this one and adjust going forward.

The two sacks that were on Hundley stand out because both could have turned into good or even great plays if his pocket awareness had been better.

The first came near the end of the Packers’ first drive, which had them in scoring position. On first down from the Lions 23, Hundley took a deep drop, saw blitzing linebacker Tahir Whitehead blow past running back Aaron Jones’ block and took off upfield. Whitehead sacked him for a two-yard loss.

No question, Jones blew the block. He barely got a piece of Whitehead even though he had a clean shot at him. That’s a bad play by Jones. But the middle of the line — Lane Taylor, Corey Linsley and Jahri Evans — gave Hundley the room and time to step up and make the throw.

In fact, you might have seen the replay from behind Hundley that showed Jordy Nelson streaking wide open on a post route behind cornerback Quandre Diggs for what could have been an easy touchdown. But instead of keeping his eyes up field, stepping up and delivering the ball, Hundley started running at the first sign of trouble. That cost points, because the Packers came up empty on what had been an impressive opening drive when a bad snap led to kicker Mason Crosby’s 38-yard field goal getting blocked.

Similarly, the Packers were running their hurry-up offense in the final minute of the first half and approaching the red zone when Hundley bolted the pocket too early and was sacked for a two-yard loss. He had time to get the ball out and even had some room to slide around the pocket but didn’t use it. The protection wasn’t the issue.

In an indication of just how bad the injuries have been on the Packers’ line, they’ve had nine linemen play at least 32 snaps, or about half a game. Their two best linemen coming into the season, Bulaga and left tackle David Bakhtiari, have played less than half the team’s offensive snaps this season. And Justin McCray, a deep backup going into the season, ranks No. 4 on the line in snaps with 322 (out of 464).

McCray replaces Bulaga for now, though Jason Spriggs, who can come off IR in a week, might take over when he’s ready to play. That’s a big loss, but if everyone else stays healthy, then the line will be one of Hundley’s best friends the next few weeks.

Rookie rush

The Packers are looking for rookies Vince Biegel (fourth round) and Montravius Adams (third round) to boost their pass rush in the second half of the season, but the two didn’t leave much for a first impression Monday night.

This was Biegel’s NFL debut after coming off PUP (broken foot) last week, and Adams saw his first regular playing time (he had four snaps coming into the game) after having a foot injury early in the season also. Neither had a sack or quarterback hit.

Biegel played 19 snaps at outside linebacker and did OK against the run. He had two tackles and was in on the goal-line play when Lions halfback Ameer Abdullah lost a fumble.

But as a pass rusher, Biegel was a non-factor.

Keep in mind, Biegel hadn’t played in a football game since the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 2, and he’d been practicing for only two weeks after having been out since May because of surgery on his foot.

So this was his first experience of the speed of an NFL game. There was bound to be some rust, and he’ll need a few weeks to get into football shape. But if you were looking for a flash as a pass rusher that jumped off the video, it wasn’t there Monday night.

Adams, who had been a healthy scratch the previous four games, played 18 snaps, mostly as an inside rusher on passing downs. He didn’t show up on the stat sheet and didn’t show much explosiveness off the snap. He looks like he’ll need to get stronger and speed up his hands and feet if he’s going to add anything to the Packers’ inside rush this year.

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Extra points

After the game, McCarthy said running back Aaron Jones wasn’t in the “doghouse” for nearly whiffing on the block that led to the first sack of Hundley on the game’s first drive. But it was hard not to think that was a factor in Jones’ reduced playing time thereafter.

Jones played 12 of the 14 snaps on the first drive, then only eight snaps the rest of the game. The low snap total was in part because the Packers went to a hurry-up offense at the end of the first half, and again for most of the fourth quarter while trying to come back from a three-score deficit. That meant Ty Montgomery, or occasionally Randall Cobb, lined up at running back. They’re better in the passing game.

But Jones also played only one snap in each of the two three-and-out series immediately after the missed block.

» Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford played as well as his 132.4 rating suggests. His two touchdown passes were beauties against pretty good coverage.

The first was a perfectly thrown 25-yarder to Marvin Jones against Davon House. House failed to get his hands on Jones at the line but still was on the receiver’s hip when the ball was in the air. But Stafford’s throw over the top was just within Jones’ reach, so House had no chance to break it up.

The second was a fade to Jones for an 11-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. This kind of fade is especially difficult to cover because Jones was lined up inside, which gave him a lot of room to work with along the sideline in the end zone. Still, Damarious Randall had decent coverage, but Stafford’s pass was directly over Randall’s turned head, and the cornerback couldn’t poke it out as Jones came down with the ball.

Grade card

Quarterback: In back-to-back games now, Brett Hundley hasn’t made any game-losing mistakes (no interceptions) but didn’t make many plays, either. Grade: C-

Offensive line: The starting unit got in 42 snaps together before Bryan Bulaga’s season ended (torn ACL). This group protected well and was a bright spot on an otherwise bad day. Grade: B

Tight ends: With Martellus Bennett out (shoulder), Lance Kendricks dropped a pass that hit him in the hands, and he and Richard Rodgers combined for only three catches. Grade: D

Running backs:  Aaron Jones and Ty Montgomery combined to average 4.5 yards on 10 carries, which isn’t bad, but Jones missed a big block in pass protection and didn’t play enough thereafter to be a factor. Grade: C.

Wide receivers: Their numbers were padded in the fourth quarter when Hundley found a rhythm running hurry-up against a Lions defense protecting a three-score lead. They made only one big play (Randall Cobb’s 46-yard slant) and missed a couple blocks in the run game. Grade: C

Defensive line: Same story every week. Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels are gumming up the run, but they need to collapse the pocket more because the outside rush isn’t there. Grade: C

Linebackers: Blake Martinez, Clay Matthews and Nick Perry played well against the run. But Martinez was a liability in coverage, and Matthews and Perry produced half a sack combined. Grade: C

Cornerback: Despite Matthew Stafford’s big numbers (132.4 rating, 361 yards passing) this group (Kevin King, Davon House, Damarious Randall) played OK. They contested a lot of passes, and it took exquisite throws to beat House and Randall on the two touchdowns. Grade: C+

Safeties: Josh Jones’ tackling was suspect at times, and he might have had a shot at an interception if he weren’t so intent on destroying tight end Eric Ebron on one play. Grade: C-

Special teams: Long snapper Derek Hart botched his first snap, which led to a block of a Mason Crosby field goal. That can’t happen. Trevor Davis made a couple questionable calls returning kickoffs from the end zone. The hurry-onto-the-field and make of a 35-yard field goal in the final seconds of the first half was impressive. Grade: C


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