Bryan Bulaga had a poor first half in the Green Bay Packers’ Sunday tilt against the Chicago Bears. Bulaga spent the entire game going up against Khalil Mack, Leonard Floyd, and Aaron Lynch. In limited snaps, Mack was credited with a forced fumble, a sack, and an interception that was returned for a touchdown in addition to several other pressures, but all of his production came in the first half. Mack probably should have had another sack, too, but DeShone Kizer narrowly escaped.
Let’s look at the latter play. Bulaga puts his hands on Mack first and Mack excellently counters by swiping Bulaga’s hands down.
It wasn’t all bad early on; on occasion, the Packers mitigated the possible damage coming from the right side by having their tight ends chip on defenders and using quicker passes. And, when asked, Bulaga showed he was able to contain Mack.
The two plays that, when looking at the box score, made Khalil Mack look like a world beater were the strip sack and the interception for a touchdown. Let’s take a closer look at the strip sack.
Davante Adams and Randall Cobb are lined up closely to Bulaga’s right side. McCarthy gives Bulaga help by having Adams chip against Mack, which slows him down considerably. By the time Mack even gets to Bulaga, who is waiting for him, Kizer has taken his drop and pump faked to nobody. Kizer’s eyes are up as there’s no pass rush, and Geronimo Allison was schemed open perfectly. Cobb runs a curl route who’s sole purpose is to hang up Allison’s defender while he runs a drag route over the middle. Adams runs a funky little corner-post route to get the middle linebacker’s attention and make him sag deep, leaving literally nobody near Allison.
Kizer instead hesitated, which allowed linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski to sort of come back to Allison (he was still wide open). Once he decided that his initial read wasn’t there anymore (it still was) Kizer bails on the pocket and tries to roll right, going directly into the path of Mack.
While it looked bad on the scoresheet, you can’t pin this one on Bulaga.
The other high impact play of the first half isn’t something you can pin directly on Bulaga either. The play itself was designed as a middle screen to Montgomery, who was lined up next to Kizer in the shotgun. Each tackle will pass block like any other traditional play, the guards and center take a quick pass set and let their guy through, and the running back tucks in right behind them. All of that was executed well. This looks like a successful play:
The only thing wrong was that Mack took too long to get into his pass rush, saw Montgomery out of the corner of his eye, and peeled off Bulaga’s block. We all know the rest.
This play put Green Bay down 17-0 with a few seconds left of the second half, and the Packers looked like they didn’t belong on the same field.
Things picked up in the second half. The Bears’ defense was held without a sack for the rest of the game, and nobody from Bulaga’s side even came close. A few things contributed to that; the first is that Bulaga himself settled down. The second contributor to better protection, as fellow Acme Packing Company writer Paul Noonan pointed out on Tuesday, was scheming. An injured Aaron Rodgers meant Mike McCarthy was (hopefully) going to protect his quarterback, and he did this mainly through faster timed throws. Can’t get sacked if the ball isn’t in your hand...besides, quick throws are the staple of the West Coast offense, something that McCarthy and staff have gotten away from in the past few years.
Let me digress here a little bit. Mack has a tendency to take a minute to get into his typical pass rush move. He likes to take his first step outside, feign going inside by taking a jab step inside and shaking his shoulders - this makes the blocker have to slow his feet in order to not give up the inside - then he either dips his shoulders and goes outside, or bull rushes. The key here as a blocker is to not over commit to the inside; it’s a dangerous proposition, because if he gets an easy inside release it’s the fastest way to the quarterback. The thinking goes, if the defender beats you outside, at least it takes them a few more steps to get there, giving your QB an extra half second. Take a look at Mack’s move:
This, combined with the quickened pace of the routes, meant the pressure was off of a hobbling Rodgers in the second half. Whether it was third and one;
The ball was coming out quickly, and the offense was moving down the field with ease. Rodgers finished with 286 yards with a 66.7% completion percentage and three touchdowns. More importantly, he finished the game upright and with a win.
A strained MCL will limit Rodgers’ mobility in the upcoming weeks, so the offense will hopefully see an uptick in the number of quicker passes. Let’s just hope that Bulaga and the rest of the offensive line can settle into their own rhythm quicker than they did against the Bears.