One of the best football writers out there is Ben Muth; many people claim not to know much about offensive line play, but this man obviously is not one of them. If you don’t follow or read his stuff, stop reading this article and head over there now, you’ll thank me later. In a little bit of a homage, I’ve decided to do a “Word of Hobbes” on the Packers preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals. I choose Aaron Rodgers’ 50 yard bomb to James Jones not because it was a big play, but because Rodger’s held on to the ball longer than he probably should have, thus forcing the offensive linemen to hold their blocks a lot longer, which exposes technique and athleticism.
The Packers are in a 3-1-1 personnel group (3 WR-1TE-1RB), although since we are looking at offensive tackle play this is largely unimportant; perhaps the most important thing to note about the receivers is that neither the tight end nor the running back are responsible for any blocking assignment, both immediately go out on their routes without chipping or really trying to influence the defensive line. So for all intents and purposes this is a straight 5 OL vs 4 DL battle. As this is the preseason, you aren’t going to see many complicated stunts or exotic blitzes, so really it’s a 1 on 1 battle with rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari vs. Matt Shaughnessy and right tackle Marshall Newhouse vs. Calais Campbell. Also keep in mind Newhouse has the bigger issue on his hands as Campbell is a considerably better pass rusher than Shaughnessy and is also huge at 6’8″
Immediately after the snap Campbell goes for a swim move, and Newhouse makes matters worse by completely whiffing on his initial punch with his right arm (which you can see is at Campbell’s left arm instead of on his frame). Shaughnessy on the other hand opts to go with a pure speed pass rush, either hoping to outrun or outturn Bakhtiari to the quarterback. However Bakhtiari easily matches Shaughnessy with his kick slide. Also notice how much lower Bakhtiari and how much more his hips are sinked compared to Newhouse, who due to his whiffed punch now is up close with Campbell
Ben Muth has his “yellow X of shame” and I’ll pay homage to him with my “Oh S**t” thought bubble of shame. Just look at that terrible technique. From the bottom up: Newhouse’s feet are almost crossing which gives him no base or power to do anything, his right arm still hasn’t gotten back to Campbell’s frame and with Campbell closing the distance between the two of them, the best Newhouse can do now is grab him by the side of the stomach (which you can see in the next image). Finally, Campbell’s got his right arm over Newhouse’s left shoulder and as a result it pushes Newhouse’s shoulders (and neck since they are attached) down so Newhouse is staring straight at Campbell’s feet without a clue of what’s going on. At this point, right guard TJ Lang already knows no good is going to come from this and starts to peel off his combo block with center Evan Dietrich-Smith in order to prevent a disaster. Keep in mind Newhouse gets beaten so fast Shaughnessy has gone about 1 yard since the last image and still hasn’t come in contact with Bakhtiari, who is still in his kick slide.
At this point Campbell is only adding insult to injury, who now has both arms over Newhouse’s back (For all you Surviving Sunday fans it looks like Campbell is going to pile drive Newhouse). On the other side Bakhtiari keeps his base low and turned well is is still straight on with Shaughnessy; if Shaughnessy decides to loop back in, Bakhtiari is in position to redirect and block him outright and if Shaughnessy decides to continue on his pass rush, Bakhtiari can probably just ride him out of the play.
On the right side, Newhouse actually manages to recover pretty well and with the help of TJ Lang coming in manages to stop Campbell from reaching the quarterback. It’s debatable if Newhouse could have recovered well enough to handle Campbell on his own; Aaron Rodgers has the option of sliding to his right at this point since Campbell has gone inside with Newhouse. At this point Bakhtiari is beginning his punch as Shaugnessy has to turn the corner for any realistic shot at getting to the quarterback; note Bakhtiari is still lower than Shaughnessy and still has a nice base. Also note so far Bakhtiari has kept his hands up through out the entire play, which obviously makes his punch faster, something that many rookies fail to do starting out.
On the right side, so much for the recovery. Even with help from TJ Lang, Campbell is still destroying Newhouse as you can see Newhouse’s helmet by Campbell’s waist. I’m almost positive that Newhouse’s left leg is also off the ground and he gets thrown to the ground right after this image, luckily with Lang there to hold off Campbell no damage is done. On the left, Bakhtiari makes his first mistake on the play, he misses his punch and desperately tries to lunge, which doesn’t do much as Shaugnessy has already turned the corner on him. Considering Shaughnessy doesn’t have the time to trying anything complicated like trying to beat Bakhtiari on the inside, Bakhtiari probably would have been best just to flip his hips and ride Shaughnessy out of the pocket. Luckily, Bakhtiari has drawn out the pass rush long enough that Shaugnessy is already behind the quarterback, who has the added benefit of having the option to step up with his interior line giving him a clean pocket.
Overall, a couple of observations that are highlighted from this play
- Marshall Newhouse is Marshall Newhouse; he is going to be beat, but at least he has nimble enough feet and enough experience to recover and more often than not get enough of the defender to give his quarterback a chance to slide or scramble. Would you want him as your blind side protector? No and that’s why the Packers swapped the entire offensive line to avoid Newhouse playing at left tackle.
- Speaking of Sitton and Lang, bonus points for both of them as well as Evan Dietrich-Smith. Sitton basically just stone walls his defender the entire play and Evan Dietrich-Smith has enough control of his man that Lang has the chance to slide back and save Newhouse. Lang of course gets the gold star of the group as he not only has the awareness to know Newhouse is getting beat but also the athleticism to get out there and stop Campbell from killing the quarterback.
- There’s a lot to like about David Bakhtiari but he isn’t the next Chad Clifton yet that many in the media are making him out to be. He made his own share of mistakes and something that I didn’t highlight was his mess of a run game (which then again fits right in with the rest of the Packers’ offensive line). However, I think the most important thing to take out of all of this is that Bakhtiari looked like a offensive tackle playing offensive tackle (i.e. he passes the eye test), the game didn’t look too big for him and he did what he was supposed to do, something which can’t be said with all rookies, especially those taken in the later rounds.
The next coming weeks should be very interesting for David Bakhtiari; if he can build on his performance from the first preseason game into the next couple, he will be the starter at left tackle. Even if he were to let his play slip slightly, I still would predict that the Packers will roll with him at left tackle during the regular season and hope that he takes his rookie lumps quickly. As for Newhouse, schematically he’s never going to be the starting left tackle (as you’d have to switch Lang and Sitton again) so unless a spate of injuries occur, Newhouse and Don Barclay are going to fight it out at right tackle. Add to that Newhouse let Graham Harrell get sack-fumbled later and Newhouse might not even make the team if Derek Sherrod ever gets off the PUP.——————
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.