Bulaga's Injury Doesn't Kill Packers' Playoff Hopes, but Puts Them on Thin Ice

Andrew Garda@andrew_gardaFeatured ColumnistNovember 12, 2012

GREEN BAY, WI - NOVEMBER 04: Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers looks to pass as Bryan Bulaga #75 blocks Darnell Dockett #90 of the Arizona Cardinals at Lambeau Field on November 4, 2012 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the Cardinals 31-17. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It sure seems as if the Packers are in a constant state of updating their injury report. The latest news, that Bryan Bulaga will be placed on injured reserve with an injured hip, is the latest in a series of bad breaks for the Packers.

Unfortunately, it may also be the biggest one as well. Clay Matthews will be back soon (though the signing of linebacker Vic So'oto has some concerned Matthews' injury is more serious than believed), Jordy Nelson began practicing again on Monday, Greg Jennings really isn't missed, but Bulaga may expose an already thin offensive line.

While Bulaga's absence shouldn't kill the Packers' chances by any means, it puts them on perilously thin ice.

They are one injury away from plugging in either two undrafted rookies or an unproven second-year player coming off a big injury, which has taken him forever to get over.

We saw how poor the line was when Marshall Newhouse was out in preseason and the offensive line had to shift a lot of players around.

While the situation now is different (Bulaga is a right tackle, Newhouse was at the more critical left tackle spot), it's just as vital.

With Bulaga out, expect TJ Lang to switch from left guard to right tackle. It shouldn't be a big issue for Lang, who can certainly handle the right side. Evan Dietrich-Smith will step in at left guard. 

Dietrich-Smith is OK and will be helped out by Jeff Saturday at center, though Saturday is certainly not the dominating force he once was. Further, not having Lang's steady presence means Marshall Newhouse will be on an island by himself more often and will have to step up his game.

According to Pro Football Focus, he's improved over last year and is ranked 38th out of 69 tackles (premium stat). He's not tremendous, but he isn't horrific either.

So, while the left side should be fine, it is certainly weaker for Lang's absence. 

Lang on the right side is good as well and will hold up fine.

After this, well, it gets shaky.

You have Derek Sherrod practicing, but still on the PUP list. He's also just as unproven as the undrafted rookies, Don Barclay and Greg Van Roten.

That's it. There's nobody else right now.

Which is a scary thing to contemplate with some very difficult divisional matchups in the near future as well as a game in New York against the Giants. Five of their remaining seven games are against NFC North opponents, and this will not make things easier.

There is nobody, really, to add in free agency, and the practice squad doesn't have anyone ready to step in if someone else goes down. 

This is an offensive line which is tied for second most sacks allowed in the NFL. That's one more than the Bears, and they are tied with *gulp* the Eagles. (They are also tied with the 49ers, which seems darn odd to me.) They have allowed an average of three sacks a game, which is not all that good.

Sure, a bunch all came at once in the Seattle Seahawks debacle a while back, but even if you take those away, you're still giving up too many sacks.

That was with their best-case scenario line as well. Losing Bulaga removes an important player and shifts another one (Lang) away from a critical side of the line. 

Another issue is the injury to John Kuhn. He should be back (he did light work Monday), but if his hamstring acts up again, it's going to hurt the blocking.

Kuhn is a nice safety valve since he's an outstanding pass blocker in addition to being a solid third down back. If Newhouse or Dietrich-Smith have issues, Kuhn will help support them. If he isn't, that becomes a much weaker spot to exploit.

For now, it's wait and see. Bulaga's injury is a blow to the Packers' playoff aspirations, but not a death knell.

However, another injury along the line will be an issue, and it's the one place that the Packers don't have tremendous depth.

The NFC North is wide-open right now, and the Packers have as good a shot (perhaps better than most) to take the crown.

They just need to do better than limp across the goal line.

Check out the B/R NFC North Facebook page—like us and keep up with everything NFC North on Bleacher Report.

Follow me on Twitter at @andrew_garda.


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