One of the post victory rituals I have on Sunday evening is going through the game threads and recap threads to get a pulse of the Packer fan base, and specifically the pulse here at APC. If it’s a loss then I mostly stick to the recap threads, depending on time and my mood. This week as I continued my tour of reactions to the Packers’ shaky performance one common reaction kept jumping out to me…the notion that once our offense becomes healthy the Packers will really start tearing things up. It’s an understandable thought in the grand scheme of things as so many of our key players start to become healthy. The problem is it’s not going to happen. The offense is not going to become 100% again this year no matter how many more skill players we get back…..there is just too big a hole left by Bryan Bulaga.
Shortly after Bulaga went down Kevin wrote a good piece stating that the Packers weren’t going to miss Bulaga very much. It was an optimistic analysis at the time, but not unsound…especially considering how much the offensive line seemed to improve against the Cardinals once T.J. Lang and Evan Dietrich-Smith stepped in their respective roles. What the analysis misses is the subtle improvement that Bulaga had made since his disastrous game against the Seahawks. Since then Bulaga has put up a solid, if a bit quiet, performance and arguably became the best offensive lineman for the Packers. Yes, the Packers are going to miss Bulaga and won’t be able to be the same sort of offense without him.
The other piece of the puzzle is who is replacing him. T.J. Lang is a fine offensive lineman, but don’t think for a moment that is comes close to what Bulaga can give you at right tackle. This is the same T.J. Lang that quickly became a regular for Dud of the Week honors while playing left guard….and now playing a more difficult position of right tackle. Lang’s performance did not inspire much confidence this past weekend either, allowing Cliff Avril to get a sack and a QB hit against the Lions.
Finally we must consider Lang’s replacement as well. Lang was doing an average to below average job at guard and now he is being replace by Evan Dietrich-Smith. EDS has always shown borderline starting quality talent at guard and center. He has had some notable victories at guard, most notably last Thanksgiving against Ndamukong Suh. He has also had some abject failures, e.g. last Sunday against Nick Fairley. It’s hard to consider EDS an upgrade, or even an equal swap, for Lang. Thus, the injury to Bulaga is causing a downgrade to two spots to an offensive line that was already struggling.
Make no mistake about it, losing Bulaga hurts and the offense is not going to become whole again this season. The good news is that there still seems to be enough talent to get by. The Packers should have enough ammo on offense to overcome this loss and still make a good push for the Super Bowl….but don’t be surprised if our patchwork offensive line becomes the Achilles’ Heel to our championship aspirations.