The Green Bay Packers are better with David Bakhtiari. That much is obvious.
It’s telling, though, that there’s little concern over the possibility that the Packers will be without their franchise left tackle for the start of the 2021 season as he recovers from knee reconstruction.
That wouldn’t have been the case several years ago. Under Mike McCarthy, offensive success didn’t seem sustainable without a healthy offensive line, at least later in his tenure.
A Week 2 game in Atlanta in 2017 still induces nightmares. The Packers were without both starting tackles, and facing a Falcons team that A) Beat their doors off in the previous NFC Championship and B) was breaking in a new Georgia dome.
Predictably, quarterback Aaron Rodgers had to run for his life behind a rag tag offensive line and the Packers lost comfortably. One could argue that game was lost the moment inactives were announced.
That was life under McCarthy. He was going to call his plays regardless of offensive talent or player availability, and that stubbornness was one of his major downfalls. He and Rodgers refused to utilize players for extra blocking, even if the backup tackles were overmatched, citing the need for as many route runners as possible.
Thankfully, that’s not an issue under LaFleur. He benefits from a deep offensive line unit with several players capable of playing multiple positions. He’ll play Marcedes Lewis half the snaps, even with little offensive upside, because he’s a dominant blocker.
There’s no indication that Bakhtiari will be available Sept. 12 when the Packers head to New Orleans for their Week 1 game. Who knows if he’ll play in the month of September at all? Because Elgton Jenkins is such a maestro, Bakhtiari can take his time and the offense won’t suffer.
LaFleur, and in particular offensive line coach Adam Stenavich, deserve heaps of credit for developing a versatile line. Jenkins can play all five positions. Billy Turner started his Packers career as a right guard and now he’s playing tackle. Lucas Patrick is primarily a guard, but holds his own when necessary at center.
In fairness to McCarthy, he wasn’t dealt the same hand as LaFleur. Late general manager Ted Thompson’s approach was more, work with what you’ve got, even if you’re riddled with injuries.
His successor, Brian Gutekunst, doesn’t shy away from adding depth when needed. Bringing in Jared Veldeer in 2019 as a backup tackle was a savvy move. This July, he added veteran tackle Dennis Kelly, a 16-game starter last season for the Tennessee Titans.
Moves like that might not make or break a season, but they provide a greater margin for error if and when starters get hurt (and depth becomes even more important with the additional regular season game).
We’ll see when Bakhtiari is able to return. While the Packers obviously want him back, they don’t need him back, at least right away. And that’s a good thing.
Charles Woodson has an identity crisis
The Pro Football Hall of Fame is not like baseball. Players aren’t inducted as a member of any particular team they played for.
But it’s fair to wonder if such a system exited, who Woodson would favor.
If you asked the average football fan which team they more closely associated Woodson with, the Packers or the Oakland Raiders, most would probably say the latter. Just look at how Woodson’s induction was promoted — graphics on Twitter had Woodson sporting silver and black, not green and yellow. And while the hall of fame’s commemorative T-shirts of Woodson’s induction are available in both Packers and Raiders colors, most of the advertising seems to favor him as a Raider.
It’s amazing how quickly people seem to forget how unceremonious most of Woodson’s Raiders career was, and how if not for his seven years in Green Bay, Woodson might not be in Canton.
On Twitter over the weekend, @PackersHistory1 had a great thread documenting Woodson’s statistics with the Packers versus the Raiders, and they’re not even in the same stratosphere. Then you factor in Woodson’s individual accolades (two All-Pro selections and a Defensive Player of the Year award in Green Bay, none in Oakland) and team success (won his only Super Bowl ring with the Packers), it’s kind’ve hard to fathom Woodson not being remembered primarily as a Packer.
Woodson himself seems to revel more in being a Raider, though. And that makes sense on some level — the Raiders drafted him and he spent 11 years in Oakland, while only seven in Green Bay.
But in 50 years when NFL Films is streaming documentaries on the greatest defensive players ever, it’ll be Woodson’s highlights in Green Bay — or him hoisting the Lombardi Trophy with a Packers logo on his chest — that leave the most lasting image.