For the State Journal
GREEN BAY — Yosh Nijman wasn’t going anywhere near the question.
The Green Bay Packers backup left tackle is a smart guy, so when he was asked in the aftermath of last Sunday’s loss at Minnesota whether he’d had a pretty good idea all week long that he was going to be starting instead of David Bakhtiari — and that Royce Newman would be starting at right tackle instead of Elgton Jenkins — Nijman smiled.
“Um …” Nijman said, hesitating, “I think that’s something you should take up with coach LaFleur.”
Whether Matt LaFleur knew all along that the coaching and medical staffs were going to play it safe with Bakhtiari and Jenkins — both of whom were coming off torn ACLs in their left knees, with Bakhtiari’s having happened on Dec. 31, 2020 in practice and Jenkins’ on Nov. 21, 2021 in a game against the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium — the coach wasn’t about to acknowledge that, either.
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Just as LaFleur surely won’t tip his hand to the Chicago Bears in advance of Sunday night’s prime-time matchup at Lambeau Field. If the Packers are going to wait another week (or longer) on getting Bakhtiari and Jenkins back to game action, well, everyone will have to wait until the inactive list is issued 90 minutes before kickoff.
After all, when asked immediately after the loss to the Vikings when he knew he wouldn’t have Bakhtiari or Jenkins for the game, LaFleur ignored the question in his answer.
“Like we said all along, Dave and Elgton are doing everything they can do and are day to day,” he replied. “But certainly, it does put a little bit of strain (on the offense). But that’s not an excuse. We’ve got to adapt. We’ve got to adjust. We obviously didn’t do that. We’ve got to do better.”
While LaFleur and the linemen were critical of their performance against the Vikings, the line’s performance probably didn’t rank in the top three or four reasons why the team lost. Even if you don’t grade on the curve of not having Bakhtiari or Jenkins, at least half of the four sacks could be deemed coverage sacks where quarterback Aaron Rodgers held onto the ball longer than he wanted to.
And while short-yardage failures also trace back to the line, Rodgers said that his decision to go with the run choice on their fourth-and-goal run/pass option play at the 1-yard line — on which running back AJ Dillon was stuffed for no gain — wouldn’t have mattered had he improvised and kept the ball himself.
Rodgers, who did point out that the line botched multiple blocking assignments on other plays among the offense’s mental errors, said he would have “walked in” for a touchdown on the fourth-and-goal play had he just kept the ball himself.
“There was a lot of good things and then there was some things that were not so good. I think, by and large, that was pretty much how we played up front for the most part,” LaFleur said after critiquing the game film. “There was some moments of good and some not so good.”
Nijman opted to focus on the not-so-good part of LaFleur’s assessment.
“We gave up four sacks. If you give up four sacks, it’s not to our standard,” Nijman said. “We were 0-for-2 on fourth down, we were 3-for-9 on third down — you can’t really win a game if you’re doing that.
“It starts with us, first. We get a push on those third downs and on those fourth downs — especially the one at the goal line — then it’s probably a different game.”
Added center Josh Myers: “Obviously, I think we were not off far off from where we need to be. But there’s just certain plays that we can’t let happen. (So it was) encouraging and frustrating at the same time, I guess.
“(Minnesota) did a nice job with different looks and different blitzes. We’ve just got to be more firm. We’ve got to hang on for longer. We weren’t blocking for long enough.”
Complicating matters for Sunday night, the line also lost left guard Jon Runyan to a concussion on the opening possession of the second half. Rookie fourth-round pick Zach Tom took over and played the final 30 offensive snaps there.
“That’s a tough spot for him to be in; first game in an environment like that,” Myers said. “That’s tough. He did an alright job going in there.”
With Runyan’s status uncertain, the Packers signed mammoth 6-foot-9 tackle Caleb Jones off the practice squad on Tuesday and placed No. 3 inside linebacker Krys Barnes on injured reserve with an ankle/calf injury. Jones, an undrafted rookie from Indiana, impressed in camp but lost out at the final roster reduction to seventh-round pick Rasheed Walker for the final line spot.
If Bakhtiari, Jenkins and Runyan all sit, the Packers would presumably go with Nijman at left tackle, Tom at left guard, Myers at center, Jake Hanson at right guard and Newman at right tackle.
And if Bakhtiari and/or Jenkins get the green light?
“I mean, look, they’re two All-Pro guys. Obviously, that’s going to be super helpful,” Myers replied, “But if they’re not (out there), so there is no excuse. We have to be better than that.”