Tackling running backs and running over tackles
If you’ve ever wondered which circumstance is worse for your football team — no viable offensive tackles or no viable running game — the definitive answer will reveal itself on Sept. 10, 2017 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. These two potentially fatal weaknesses will be on full display when the Green Bay Packers host the Seattle Seahawks in NFL regular season week one.
The answer to this question may well decide the game. To make it interesting, the two old foes have split this weakness evenly with the Seahawks fielding a duct-taped lineup of underwhelming tackles and the Packers offering a doesn’t-matter-could-be-anyone lineup of ball carriers. Both opposing defenses are licking their chops at the prospect of taking full advantage of these glaring weaknesses.
On the left
George Fant was considered to be a rising talent at the long-suffering left tackle slot this season for the Seahawks. Whether or not it was actually true is now a moot point as the Fant experiment ended early in the Seahawks’ preseason week two exhibition against the Minnesota Vikings. Fant tore his ACL in an unfortunate friendly fire collision and is now lost for the season. Enter Rees Odhiambo, who took over for Fant for the rest of the game. As of now, the 2016 third-round pick appears to be the putative leader at that spot, where he had practiced some while also splitting time at guard (as the clear backup to newcomer Luke Joeckel).
When the answer to “who’s our left tackle?” is “next man up,” shortly on the heels of “let’s try this guy who never played tackle in college,” you know it’s less than ideal. Odhiambo will have to fend off the Seahawks’ two new panic Monday acquisitions, Matt Tobin, who was acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday and street free agent Tyrus Thompson. Joeckel is also a possibility, but the Seahawks would prefer he stay at guard.
Offensive line coach Tom Cable was his usual effusive self in his assessment of the blue birds’ chances at fielding a respectable left tackle, “We have choices.” Coincidentally, Russell Wilson will also have choices: sprint wide left or wide right on every drop-back.
On the right
At the other end, the news may not be much better. Last year’s first-round selection, Germain Ifedi, has been moved from 2016’s position (guard) to right tackle. The job is his to lose and he may just do it. In his first 2017 preseason action, Ifedi allowed three pressures in 13 snaps. In week two, my impression of Ifedi was that he was doing an effective impression of a turnstile. Some say he improved over preseason week one, but I still counted two quarterback hits in about one half of action.
Theoretically pushing Ifedi at right tackle is 2017 second-round pick, Ethan Pocic. Pocic is also splitting time at guard (like Ifedi did in his rookie season) but he is built like a tackle (6’6”, 309 lbs.) and will ultimately sink or swim at the outside position. Against lesser competitors than Ifedi has had to go against so far in his two preseason games, Pocic appears to have a long way to go. He comically missed a second-level block against the Los Angeles Chargers’ backups in preseason week one. He got called for a hold in week two against the Vikings backups.
I think Russell Wilson is in trouble.
Also in trouble, the Green Bay Packers’ rushing game. Despite anointing surprise 2016 lead rusher Ty Montgomery as the starter and then drafting three rookie running backs in April, the Packers have yet to demonstrate any kind of impact from the position thus far into the preseason. Nobody is making the Packers forget Eddie Lacy.
Montgomery, the third-year converted wide receiver, is making his way through his first NFL preseason as a running back and has yet to demonstrate any of the sizzle that saw him gain 457 yards on 77 carries (5.9 YPC) in a partial 2016 campaign. To date, he’s had a total of three carries for zero yards, a lost fumble and a lower leg injury that held him out of the week two preseason contest in Washington D.C.
In his stead have been a litany of rookie running backs (three draftees, two free agents) who have yet to impress. Combined, the backs have received 31 carries for 74 yards, averaging a scant 2.38 yards per carry. It’s as if George Fant is carrying the ball for the Packers. Post-ACL injury.
The Packers’ running back culprits that will line up against the Seahawks in week one will consist of Montgomery and probably no more than two of the following five rookies: Jamaal Williams, BYU (round 4), Aaron Jones, UTEP (round 5), Devante Mays, Utah State (round 7), Kalif Phillips, Charlotte (FA) and William Stanback Virginia Union (FA) one or two fullbacks (Aaron Ripkowski, Joe Kerridge) who do not do anything other than pass protect and lead block.
Who of those two rookies will make it? Impossible to tell at this point and even more importantly—it hardly makes a difference. None have shown any ability to get more than what has been blocked for them. There is no rookie-vintage Thomas Rawls in the group.
The good news / bad news for Green Bay is that Aaron Rodgers and his deep, talented receiver corps remains the entirety of the Packers’ offense. They even imported two new free agent tight ends (Martellus Bennett, Lance Kendricks) to diversify the pass dispersals. The Packers will once again rely upon an aerial attack to move the ball and score. It’s worked in the past. It’s just never been the only option before. The Packers running backs will likely be judged more on their ability to pass protect and know assignments more than their rushing ability.
There will be two Achilles’ heels ready to snap in week one. The Seahawks’ and the Packers’ defenses could not be more pleased.
The Seahawks lost at Green Bay 10–38 in the last meeting between these two teams in 2016 week 14. Both teams were eliminated from the playoffs by the NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons.