Bryan Bulaga is 6 feet, 5 inches tall and weighs almost 320 pounds. But the Green Bay Packers’ right tackle probably felt like the smallest person in Lambeau Field after each of his four penalties in Sunday’s must-win game against the Chicago Bears.
Bulaga committed two holding penalties that negated Packers’ first downs. He was also guilty of two false starts. The Packers failed to pick up a first down after each of Bulaga’s penalties.
It’s impossible to give Bulaga a passing grade for Sunday’s game because of those drive-killing penalties. You simply cannot afford mistakes like that when the season is on the line.
But lets be as fair as we can to the big guy and examine the plays where Bulaga was not committing a penalty. In my opinion, he actually played decent.
Bulaga’s brightest moments came in pass protection on the two long Aaron Rodgers to Greg Jennings connections. The fourth quarter connection is especially highlight-worthy.
Aggressive at the line
Bulaga is matched up against Israel Idonije (I think it’s Idonije. It’s difficult to see on Direct TV’s camera angle). Idonije hesitates for a bit on the play-action, then tries to get up field and force Rodgers to move out of the pocket. Bulaga stonewalls Idonogie, which allows Rodgers to stand tall, go through his reads, and deliver a perfect strike to Jennings.
Rodgers also hit Jennings on a long pass late in the third quarter that eventually led to a field goal. On that play, Bulaga picked up Henry Melton, who originally tried to go inside before taking on Bulaga. Once again, Bulaga doesn’t allow any penetration, which gives Rodgers ample space to step into his throw and hit Jennings in stride.
Waiting too long
Contrast these two plays with the Third-and-goal sack of Rodgers near the goal line late in the third quarter. On that play, Bulaga is matched against Idonije and doesn’t engage him until Idonije is about two yards into the Packers’ backfield.
Idonije pushes Bulaga back just a little bit, and it seems to somewhat spook Rodgers. I think Bulaga had Idonije blocked, but because Bulaga waited to engage Idonije so deep in the backfield, Rodgers may have thought he had less time than he actually did.
If Bulaga engages Idonije closer to the line of scrimmage, perhaps Rodgers doesn’t get so jumpy and he stays in the pocket a bit longer to see if anything opens up in the end zone.
This is a pattern that repeats itself throughout the game. The Packers deep passing game seems to function best when Bulaga is aggressive and keeps his man as close to the line of scrimmage as possible. Of course, it is impossible to expect Bulaga to not allow any penetration for an entire game, but the Packers should consider using play-fakes and chips as much as possible to keep Rodgers’ right side open and unobstructed.
On running plays, Bulaga holds his own, but needs to do a better job preventing his man from making plays from the backside. Occasionally, Bulaga appears content to let his opponent’s momentum dictate the block.
On this Second-and-2 run in the first quarter, Bulaga is matched against Melton. Melton comes from the backside and is part of the pile-up that stops John Kuhn. It is a difficult block, but Bulaga needs to try and beat Melton to the inside and prevent him from crashing down on the line.
To be fair, many zone blocking schemes like the Packers run encourage offensive lineman to use their opponent’s momentum against him to open cutback lanes for the running back. But linemen also have to realize who is running the ball. In this case, Kuhn was not considering making any cutbacks. He was going to put his head down and plow forward. Bulaga needs to recognize that and not let his man crash down so easily.
Bulaga has made some obvious gaffes as this season, but he has also shown a lot of promise. I am not convinced that he is the long-term solution at left tackle, but I think he can more than hold his own on the right side.
Bulaga’s main deficiency right now is his occasional lack of aggressiveness. This will hopefully improve as he builds confidence and becomes more familiar with what the Packers expect of him and how opponents try to beat him.
For now, he needs to eliminate the penalties – all of them. He’s talented enough to help the Packers to a playoff win as long as he’s not single-handedly killing drives.——————