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Packers’ Zach Tom played well in debut start but got a lot of help

Green Bay ran only six dropback passes without giving their tackles chip help vs Washington.

New York Giants v Green Bay Packers Photo by Vincent Mignott/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Until left tackle David Bakhtiari is fully healthy and can unquestionably go the distance in games, the tackle position is going to be a week-to-week story for the Green Bay Packers. Last Friday, Bakhtiari was not given a Sunday status by the team, as he was expected to start against the Washington Commanders after being a limited participant in practice from Wednesday through Friday. On Saturday, though, the team quietly gave him a “questionable” designation and by Sunday morning it was clear that Bakhtiari wasn’t going to play against the Commanders.

With right tackle Elgton Jenkins moving back to left guard, pushing Jon Runyan Jr. to right guard and bringing Yosh Nijman off of the bench to play right tackle, the Packers elected to replace Bakhtiari with fourth-round rookie Zach Tom at left tackle. Prior to Sunday’s action, Tom had only played 30 snaps in his NFL career, all against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 1 when he was asked to replace Runyan (then at left guard) who left that game with a concussion.

According to Pro Football Focus, Tom allowed no pressures against the Commanders over 35 pass protection snaps and was up there with center Josh Myers and Runyan among the Packers’ highest-graded offensive linemen for the week. Production only tells part of the story from Sunday, though, as the deployment of the line was just as important.

By my count, including plays that officially did not count due to penalties, Tom only recorded 11 total pass protection snaps where the team didn’t give him chip help on dropback passes. If you missed the Week 7 game, the Packers ran a lot of run-pass options (the team calls them “run solutions”) and screens that inflated the “pass protection snaps” count. For virtually the entire game, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was in catch-and-throw mode, leading to a very quick time to throw and a very short average depth of target.

On the 11 snaps where Tom was allowed to play one-on-one in true pass-rushing situations, Nijman was given chip help on five of them. That means the Packers only threw a half-dozen dropback passes all game in which their tackles weren’t assisted by a potential route-runner.

So while Tom and Nijman might have graded well from an efficiency standpoint, the fact that Rodgers was getting the ball out of his hands so quickly and that the tight ends were helping in protection needs to be noted. This summer, tight end Robert Tonyan spoke on how his production tanks when a backup tackle is in the game because the Packers tend to lean on him as extra protection to help them out. At least in this aspect of the offense, nothing has changed between the 2021 and 2022 versions of the team.

Typically, chip help is a situational call used to help out tackles against premier pass-rushers, not a down-to-down adjustment. In the Packers’ unique situation, where Tom wasn’t expected to start until Sunday morning after Bakhtiari tested out his knee, the team must have felt it’s what they needed to do to stay competitive with a first-time starter playing on Rodgers’ blindside.

It’s not a long-term answer, though, and the team needs to let Tom prove himself on an island more when Bakhtiari is missing. Quarterbacks can only do so much when they don’t have five players running routes against NFL defenses, especially when their receivers have struggled as much as the Packers’ have this season.