Are the Green Bay Packers OTs Prepared to Handle Redskins' Pass Rush?
Just one week after handling their business better than anyone expected them to, Bakhtiari and Barclay are now looking at another stiff pass-rushing challenge in the form of the Washington Redskins Sunday. And by all accounts, there's no such thing as an easy week when protecting $110 million worth of Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay.
Awaiting the young tackle tandem will be Redskins linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, two former first-round picks who gave the Philadelphia Eagles all they could handle in Week 1.
The No. 13 overall pick in the 2009 draft, Orakpo is a big (257 pounds), strong (31 bench-presses at the combine) and athletic (4.7-second 40-yard dash, 39.5" vertical) pass-rusher who tallied 28.5 sacks during his first three NFL seasons.
Source: Pro Football Focus
While a second torn pectoral muscle in as many seasons cost him 14 games in 2012, he returned healthy against the Eagles to tally five quarterback hurries and a hit, via Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Orakpo rushes almost exclusively from the right side, leaving Green Bay's rookie left tackle the task of keeping him out of Aaron Rodgers' back pocket Sunday.
The 21-year-old Bakhtiari likely couldn't have asked for a tougher assignment in his first NFL start. Lining up opposite him on 31 passing snaps was 49ers All-Pro linebacker Aldon Smith, who added 1.5 sacks Sunday to the NFL-record 33.5 he tallied over his first two NFL seasons.
Most fifth-round tackles making their first career start would be expected to struggle, especially against a pass-rusher of Smith's quality. Yet when digging deeper into the two sack-causing pressures he allowed, Bakhtiari's overall performance has to be considered a win for Green Bay.
On the first—which came during the second play of the game for the Packers offense—Bakhtiari attempts a cut block on Smith, who evades the attempt and brings down Rodgers with ease.
Here's the screenshot of Bakhtiari's block:
A couple aspects of the play shift blame away from the rookie tackle.
For starters, Bakhtiari wouldn't have attempted a cut block unless the football was designed to come out of Rodgers' hand immediately. That didn't happen, which made the sack look more egregious than it really was.
It was still a poor attempt at a cut, but who knows how Bakhtiari would have handled Smith one-on-one had he stayed in normal pass-block technique. And if the ball had come out quickly as planned, this play might have been nothing more than an afterthought.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy explained in his postgame press conference that a mental error from Jermichael Finley was to blame for the obvious mix-up.
"I can point to the second play of the game," McCarthy said. "Your primary receiver [Finley] doesn't go out for a pass, and another guy runs the wrong route, and we take a sack."
Bakhtiari's second sack allowed was due to a correctable technique error.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Packers went play action and left Bakhtiari one-on-one with Smith. The young tackle's technique failed him early in the sequence, however, as he was caught leaning to the inside and then waist-bending at Smith as he turned the corner.
Bakhtiari did his best to steer Smith wide of Rodgers, who sensed the pressure and stepped up into the pocket. But Smith is the kind of special athlete that can absorb that contact and still get horizontal to reach the quarterback. He got just enough of Rodgers to bring him down for a sack.
With better footwork and feel at left tackle, Bakhtiari can ensure this type of sack doesn't happen again. Not many rushers can pull off what the long, athletic Smith can either.
What grade would you give the collective performance from the Packers OTs in Week 1?
Both plays still had importance in the scheme of the game, as the Packers were forced to punt on each series that Bakhtiari allowed a sack. But overall, Green Bay had to be impressed with how he handled his 41 pass-blocking snaps in a game against an elite rusher on the road.
For as calm as Bakhtiari looked in his first NFL start, Barclay was equally impressive in his seventh (including playoffs).
Facing a heavy dose of the powerful Ahmad Brooks, Barclay allowed just three total pressures over 41 snaps and graded out as the Packers' best run-blocker, per PFF (subscription required).
While Green Bay naturally gave Barclay more help on the strong side of the line, he was rarely heard from against a very good 49ers front. A quiet day is usually a good day for Packers offensive tackles.
Below is just one example from last Sunday of Barclay taking Brooks completely out of the play. Keep in mind, this shot was taken a full two seconds after the snap, and most receivers are already finishing their routes.
The play is deep into its progression, but Brooks is still struggling to gain traction against Barclay. Given all day to throw, Rodgers eventually finds Randall Cobb for a third-down conversion.
Brooks (second team All-Pro in 2012) simply wasn't a big factor in Sunday's game, due in most part to Barclay's strong opener.
The Packers' second-year right tackle will need to be as good Sunday against Kerrigan, who is disruptive despite not being the same elite athlete that Orakpo is. Less quick-twitch and more power, the 260-pound Kerrigan can set the edge on the strong side and still collapse the pocket using a variety of pass-rushing moves.
Source: Pro Football Focus
According to PFF (subscription required), no 3-4 outside linebacker had more quarterback hurries in 2012 than Kerrigan's 50. He also tied for the position lead in batted down passes with five.
Against the Eagles, Kerrigan notched his first sack of the season and had three other hurries. His deflected pass on Philadelphia's first drive allowed DeAngelo Hall to walk into the end zone untouched for a defensive score.
Barclay will have his hands full keeping Kerrigan at bay Sunday, but his performance in Week 1 showed that he's made significant strides—especially as a pass-blocker—since his rookie season.
Given the difficult circumstances, Bakhtiari and Barclay each gave promising debuts in a hostile environment and against elite players.
The two must now build on the encouraging start, especially with a pair of disruptive pass-rushers coming to Lambeau Field in Week 2.
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