It took 374 days for Green Bay Packers offensive tackle David Bakhtiari to return to the field after tearing his ACL in 2020, but the All-Pro lineman looked like his old self on Sunday against the Detroit Lions.
Bakhtiari’s injury was suffered in practice on New Year’s Eve prior to the team’s playoff run and eventual elimination against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Championship game. While there was hope that he could return at the beginning of the regular season, Bakhtiari was placed on the PUP list at the beginning of the year.
Even after being activated to the roster in November, it took Bakhtiari a bit more time to get healthy. A couple weeks after being activated, a report was released that the starting left tackle would miss a bit more time after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.
Despite concerns that Bakthiari would have to wait to make his 2021 debut in the playoffs, he was able to finally return to the field in Sunday’s meaningless game against the Lions. Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams, and the rest of the starters played the majority of the first half in order to get a feel of the new-look offensive line.
Before he even played a single snap, I knew that this week’s film study would be on Bakhtiari. What I wasn’t expecting was how well he would play, and it looks like the All-Pro tackle has very little rust to shake off. Let’s take a look at some of the plays that stood out.
From his very first snap back on the field, Bakthiari looked ready to go. With the Packers running play-action on the opening play of the game, Bakhtiari came out with a “jump set”, attacking the defender to make it appear like a run block before resetting and treating the assignment as traditional pass protection.
Bakhtiari's first snap in over a year.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) January 12, 2022
Nice jump set to engage, reengages with his hands after the initial pass-rush move, solid anchor at the tail end. pic.twitter.com/Icm6AicF6Q
I like the way Bakhtiari resets his hands here, disengaging to gain some depth before striking his opponent and engaging again. The anchor is also worth noting, but we’ll get to his anchor in a bit more detail in a moment.
Yosh Nijman deserves a lot of respect for how he handled playing left tackle as the team’s third option at the position this season. While he wasn’t perfect, his effort helped keep Rodgers upright most of the season.
That being said, Nijman’s anchor left a lot to be desired, especially over his last couple of starts. Defenders were able to bull rush and collapse the pocket quickly, forcing Rodgers to get the ball out faster than he’d like.
When Bakhtiari is on the field, that isn’t the case. Watch as the All-Pro slows down his feet and utilizes his excellent lower body strength to stonewall the pass rush and stop it in its tracks.
2nd and 10. Lions wanted to test Bakhtiari's knee with a bull rush.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) January 12, 2022
Great anchor here. Stops the rush in its tracks and keeps Rodgers' throwing platform clean. pic.twitter.com/FCUNAotfjk
It was obvious that the Lions wanted to test Bakhtiari’s knee early by throwing a variety of different pass rush concepts his way. The fact that he wasn’t phased and continued to keep pressure off Rodgers was a great surprise for Packers fans concerned about any potential rust.
One of the biggest things I wanted to keep an eye on was how Bakhtiari would move laterally, given an ACL injury completely inhibits the ability to do so. It was shocking then to see how effortlessly Bakhtiari was able to read and react to an inside pass-rush move on the opening drive of the game.
Lateral movements was something I wanted to keep an eye on for Bakhtiari coming off a torn ACL.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) January 12, 2022
Look at how well he handles this inside move! pic.twitter.com/AaCvlOYnzt
With the biggest question about Bakhtiari’s post-injury ability answers, Packers fans should breathe easy regarding his effectiveness heading into the playoffs.
Along with his abilities in pass protection, Bakhtiari can also be a key factor in the run game, something that Matt LaFleur and the coaching staff want to continue to work on as the postseason approaches. We saw a handful of plays from Bakhtiari that should give the coaches an idea of what they’re working with as they begin to gameplan and decide which run concepts to bring into their matchups.
Not every run block is going to result in the offensive lineman driving defenders back, but they can still be effective when they prevent the defensive player from disengaging to make a play on the ball carrier. This rep from Bakhtiari is a good example of that, with the left tackle keeping his hands in a great position and locking out to keep the defensive player from getting away.
Good job staying extended here and keeping the defender from disengaging to allow Taylor to cut back. pic.twitter.com/9zGV3rgmhC— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) January 12, 2022
Bakhtiari’s football IQ has never been in question. As one of the league’s best left tackles, he consistently knows the situation and what’s being asked of him.
On this toss concept, Bakhtiari knows exactly where he needs to be. He lets the edge defender go past him knowing that Equanimeous St. Brown will crack block him and create a natural rushing lane. Bakhtiari does a nice job of immediately getting to the second level and walling off the linebacker before he can pursue the running back.
Playbook clearly wasn't an issue for Bakhtiari.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) January 12, 2022
69 understands his assignment here. Leaves edge rusher to be blocked by EQ while he walls of LB at the second level. pic.twitter.com/wyBaBV4bzI
It ended up being an impressive game from Bakhtiari, but the Packers tackle was pulled in the second quarter after playing just 27 snaps. Head coach Matt LaFleur said the left tackle was pulled due to fatigue, but the on-field play suggests that it may have been more a load management situation as he continues to rehab his knee.
Regardless, having one of the NFL’s best left tackles return was a massive win for the Packers as they sit back and wait to find out who they’ll be playing in the divisional round.